The jester’s nemesis?

Eulenspiegel, commonly depicted in the full fools’ garb of cap and bells, was more a trickster than a jester.  But he had enough of the latter to put the wind up some of the court jesters he encountered, besting them on their own turf, precisely because he was more tricksterish than they. 

Here he presents himself at court as a painter and plays the great trick we all know from the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes: nobody wants to be seen to be a fool (or here, a bastard), so they’ll play along with the pretence.  This time his knavery gets him kicked out of court. 

He told the Landgrave of Marburg that he was a great painter and got a commission to paint the great hall.  He then gave it out that his paintings were invisible to bastards, consequently no one liked to be the first to admit that he could not see any picture at all.  When suspicions began to be aroused the Landgrave said: ‘This is Eulenspiegel’s doing, he is a scoundrel and he had better not return here.’

Curiously, as a child, my first encounter with fools was in a book of world fairy tales and legends which included a capering jester who played exactly this trick. 

See also a cover design for Richard Strauss’ ‘Till Eulenspiegel’.

Source: Enid Welsford, The Fool: His social and literary history (London: Faber & Faber, 1935), p. 45

Image credit: front cover of yet another book about Eulenspiegel – I love his mischievous expression. 


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