The right to speak

A salient characteristic of the jester is the right to speak out, or in any case, freely.  Their licence to say whatever they feel like is widely acknowledged even if sometimes it was curtailed by an offended king or other bigwig in the moment.  After the court jester faded from view, there was a time when his role was partly and spontaneously taken on by some clowns.  This includes the Russian circus during a period, which appears to have returned, when speaking out could be a life-threatening condition.

Here is an interesting example of a call to silence these unscripted jokesters: an anonymous article in a Russian magazine in the 1880s demanding that the censorship applied to theatres be extended to clowns to curb their unlicensed tongues:

How, we venture to ask, do clowns amuse their public?  With words, of course.  And do they speak in public?  They do.  And so why does no one [in authority] take account of what they say and do?  Who has given them the right to speak like this?  There is only one answer: they have given it to themselves.

And now, would they have the right to speak?

Source: Dnevnik Russkogo Teatra, quoted in Catriona Kelly, Petrushka: The Russian Carnival Puppet Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 11-12.

Photo credit: Sasha Stone, Ohne Titel (Clowns der weiße clown auf dem Foto ist mein Vater René Rivel )(1931)

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