The king as jester, jester as king

​A not uncommon trope in the jester-king relationship is the reversal of their roles, either in jest, or to provide a corrective to the king, or if the king is forced to take on the role of jester, as in Frank Wedekind’s play King Nicolo (1901). 

In another play, Escurial by Michel de Ghelderode (1898-1962), the jester Folial changes places with the king in a game.  Then, in a somewhat unjesterly fashion, Folial almost succeeds in having the king as ‘jester’ strangled.  During their role reversal, the king-as-jester confesses that he had the queen poisoned as he suspected she was having an affair with Folial, the real jester. 

After the queen dies, the roles revert again and the real king has Folial strangled, then suffering pangs of regret, `My fool, my poor fool!… A queen, Father, is not hard to find, but a clown…’

Folial, apart from a regicidal moment, is a competent jester unafraid of his king, including the unbeatable line, `I know how to speak to kings and to dogs’.

See another instance of a jester putting the monarch on the same level as a dog.   

Source: Ghelderode, Michel de, Escurial (1929), trans. by Lionel Abel, in Modern Theatre, ed. by Eric Bentley (New York: Doubleday, 1957), V, pp. 178 & 167.

Image credit: Theatre poster for Escurial, Theatre des Celestins de Lyon, 1993


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