This is from a 16th century German comic play featuring a jester who mocks the real fool of the story, the visiting doctor. The doctor is learned but condescending to his friend, the jester’s master, and disparaging about life in the country even though he is enjoying his friend’s hospitality.
Despite this he is treated courteously and the jester is warned not to make any jokes about the visitor’s big nose (allegedly a symbol of his moral defects), and is dismissed when he pretends to honour the doctor by referring to his nose. This happens again and again, and the third time the jester feigns indifference to the nose, drawing attention to it by pretending he hasn’t even noticed it:
Little Sir, I couldn’t care a jot
Whether you have a nose or not;
Whether it’s big or whether it’s small
Shouldn’t be something I’d notice at all
(Herlein, mich gar nit mer anficht,
Dw habst ein nassen oder nicht.
Sie sey geleich gros oder klein,
Sols von mir vnpekreet sein.) (ll. 279-82)
It’s hard to know if the jester is acting like a fool so he can mock the doc with impunity, or if he is a simple person who can’t help blurting out the remarkable fact of the big nose in front of him. Probably this is a fool-feint…
A similar story is told in England’s Merry Jester (1693), in which the jester appears to want to make amends for having humiliated the big-nosed man. He seems to believe that a voluble retraction will undo the damage and starts to shout `That Man has no Nose at all! No Nose at all! No Nose at all!’.
Source: Hans Sachs (1494-1576), Der Doctor mit der Grosen Nase, quoted in Kenneth Northcott, `The Fool in Early New High German Literature: Some Observations’, in Essays in German Literature, ed. by F. Norman (London: University of London Institute of Germanic Studies, 1965), vo. 1, p. 46; England’s Merry Jester; or, Court, City and Country Jests (London: 1693), pp. 73-74.
Image credit: German postage stamp commemorating Hans Sachs