As the jester Giraff says in Victor Hugo’s play about Cromwell (1827), the jester can always save his skin, and in order to reach old age in a world full of uncertainty, there is no wiser guise. See a similar sentiment expressed by Leopardi around the same time.
We know that some people did pretend to be fools, perhaps because of a certain freedom it might afford them, and in Scotland this appears to have triggered a series of laws making the feigning of folly a crime.
A jester can always save his bacon.
To survive in this world, there’s no mistakin’,
Where all is uncertain, the way to be wise
Is to act the fool, it’s the cleverest guise.
Toujours de tout désastre un bouffon se sauva.
Pour vieillir sur la terre, où tout est de passage,
Il faut se faire fou: c’est encore le plus sage.
It isn’t clear that the real Cromwell had jesters, and it’s curious that Hugo chose to accord him several. Will report back if I find anything further on this.
Source: Victor Hugo (1802-85), Cromwell (1827), in Théâtre Complet, ed. by J.-J. Thierry and J. Mélèze, 2 vols (Paris: Gallimard, 1963), vol. 1, p. 651.
Image credit: Portrait of Cromwell by Samuel Cooper