Sane laughter

The humanist writer and entertainer John Heywood (c. 1497 – c. 1580) used the padding of a jester’s folly to deliver his political views more effectively and to build bridges among factions.  He spoke in a direct manner to Henry VIII but with sufficient wit and humorous self-deprecation to be considered a jester-in-disguise:

One writer of the More group dared to speak of political matters before his royal master, but did it self-mockingly in the guise of an allowed fool whose jibes may be attributed to childish folly.  John Heywood was a professional entertainer who instinctively avoided giving unnecessary offense … Greater than that of any other humanist was his wish to bring disaffected factions together at court by resolving their differences in sane laughter.  His lightheartedness was not a frivolous dismissal of the humanists’ most serious problems, but an attempt to cajole through comic distance and self-effacement.   

Heywood’s The Play of the Weather also features a Vice who has all the characteristics of a jester, called Merry Report.

Source: David Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 64-66; John Heywood, The Play of the Weather (1527/28), in The Dramatic Writings of John Heywood, John Farmer, ed., (London, 1905), pp. 91-135

Image credit: Portrait of John Heywood (frontispiece of his “Proverbs”, 1556 ed.), featured in The Dramatic Writings of John Heywood, John Farmer, ed., (London, 1905)


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