King as court jester

Occasionally, more in fiction than reality, the king changes place with the jester, sometimes willingly, occasionally under compulsion.  There is an example of this role inversion featuring George Buchanan about whom many anecdotes classify him as a jester, although it is unclear if the real person saw himself as such. 

Frank Wedekind’s play King Nicolo has a dethroned king forced to disguise himself as a beggar and begin wandering with his daughter until the new king, Pietro, appoints him court fool in a speech which summarizes on the one hand the lowly status of the jester, and on the other, his power in standing between the king and the rest of the world:

There is a position next to the throne which until today I have left unfilled since I did not wish to make room for folly, and for which even the greatest amount of wisdom is inadequate.  You must take this post.  You will have even less power or rights than the lowliest of my subjects, but your great thinking must stand between me and the people, between me and the royal counsellors, and you will be allowed even to push with impunity between me and my child…  I appoint you my Court Jester – follow me!


Dicht naben dem Thron steht ein Posten leer, den ich bis heute unbesetzt ließ, weil ich der Torheit keinen Platz einräumen will, wo auch die größte Menge von Klugheit zu gering ist.  Du aber sollst diesen Posten einnehmen.  Rechtlos und machtlos sollst du sein gegenüber dem letzten Bürger meines Staates!  Aber deine hohe Denkungsart soll zwischen mir und dem Volke stehen, zwischen mir und den Räten der Krone, sie soll sich ungestraft zwischen mich und mein Kind drängen dürfen… Ich ernenne dich zu meinem Hofnarren.  – Folge mir!  (III.i.)

See another quotation from the same play, vaunting the powerful position of the fool in the human psyche.

Source: Frank Wedekind (1864-1918), König Nicolo, oder So ist das Leben (1901), in Frank Wedekind: Dramen, I, ed. by Manfred Hahn (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1969), p. 581.

Image credit: programme design for König Nicolo, by Heiny Widmer

Quotation: Frank Wedekind (1864-1918), König Nicolo, oder So ist das Leben
Quotation: Frank Wedekind (1864-1918), König Nicolo, oder So ist das Leben

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