Book cover - Beatrice Otto - Fools Are Everywhere - University of Chicago Press

Blackwell’s online

It turns out that when you go looking for thoughtful research about the history and meaning of jesters, all roads lead to Beatrice otto.  If another scholar even mentions the topic today, he or she makes reference to Otto, deferring to her definitive and award-winning study.  

Professor Peter Steeves, Director DePaul Humanities Center, Chicago

You don’t do this show without Beatrice Otto.

Colin McEnroe, WNPR radio host  (I took it as a compliment)

Announcing TEDEd video animation on fools

Video: animation on fools launched by TED-ed

Delighted to announce the launch of a short animated lesson on fools, developed with TEDEd. Join over half a million others in watching this playful five-minute video, also on YouTube.

Interview: Human Risk Podcast

A fun and stimulating conversation with Christian Hunt, founder and host of The Human Risk Podcast, on fools and risk.

Interview: New Realm Podcast

An hour long lively conversation with Glenn Haines, founder and host of the New Realm Podcast.  Thank you Glenn!

Interview: jesters and fools

An hour long radio programme on WNPR dedicated to fools and jesters, hosted by Colin McEnroe, with Beatrice and some excellent other contributors.

Paper: The court jester is universal ...

A study of the role of the court jester and its potential in modern organisations, including a job description if you need to improve productivity and well-being in your outfit.

Australasian Humour Studies Network Digest - May 2022

Paper: Australasian Humour Studies Network Digest

An overview of the Fools Are Everywhere project – a chance to take stock of the current state of the foolscape

Interview: Fools Are Everywhere

Delighted to be interviewed by Marcus Smith on Constant Wonder, a BYU Radio programme. 

Australasian Humour Studies Network Digest - May 2022

Review: video review of Fools Are Everywhere

An enthusiastic video review of Fools Are Everywhere – in Spanish

To everyone: next time Beatrice is speaking somewhere, please attend, she is an  incredible storyteller!

Patricia Brun Torre, Geneva WordCamp Conference host

Event - presentation - Festival of the Fool 2023

Presentation: Festival of the Fool 2023

Delighted to do an illustrated talk at the Festival of the Fool on “Fools Through Artists’ Eyes”, sharing some of the gems I’ve been stashing in the Fooleum.  The Festival was again run by Transformational Play – find out more about their playful work here.

Presentation: Festival of the Fool

Met some skilled and subtle fools and story-tellers at the Festival of the Fool on 1st April, and was honoured to present an ‘Around the World Trip’ of fools.  The Festival was run by Transformational Play – find out more about their playful work here.   

Presentation: Incitatus Symposium on Political Humor

Honoured to be opening the two day Incitatus Symposium on Political Humor, hosted by the University of Paraná in Brazil, with a presentation on ‘Folly as a Stalking Horse: The freedom of the fool’.

Presentation: The DePaul Humanities Centre

An illustrated overview of court fools as part of the ‘Clowns, Jesters and Tricksters’ evening kindly hosted by The DePaul Humanities Center in Chicago.  

From the back cover: Lee Siegel, author of Laughing Matters: The Comic Tradition in India

‘Sparkling with enthusiasm and wit, the text is sustained with Otto’s love of her subject and informed by both her erudition and her very good sense of humor.  Undaunted by the vastness of her subject and its resources, she presents a dazzling and entertaining collection of quotes, anecdotes, epigraphs, jokes, and comic texts.  This is a fun book, bristling with pleasurable details.’

Colour: ‘merry gold’ by Iammintcondition

From the back cover: W.J.F. Jenner, author of The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China’s Crisis

‘Beatrice Otto has brought jesters back onto center stage, and their routines turn out to be surprisingly good.  This exhilarating journey through courts from one end of Eurasia to the other shows court jesters as far more significant and more fun than one might expect.  It should be as fascinating to the student of European cultures as to the sinologist; as valuable to the theater scholar as to the anthropologist; as intriguing for what it tells about the nature of monarchy as about the nature of humor and satire across cultures.’

Colour: ‘Sunny jester’ by Trixxie

I’m picking up good citations … it’s giving me excitations.

Click the icon above to see them…

Chris Riddell jester cartoon with Fools Are Everywhere

‘Beatrice Otto’s Fools Are Everywhere is apparently the only book in English that brings in a considerable amount of evidence from a specific non-Western context in an attempt to break the traditional Eurocentrism of the scholarly literature on jesters in Western languages.’  

© Ayşe Ezgi Dikici, Imperfect Bodies, Perfect Companions? Dwarfs and Mutes at the Ottoman Court in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Sabancı University, 2006

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by Court

‘Despite this book’s impressive scholarship, it is never pedantic. Otto writes with a contagious enthusiasm, and tells dozens of ancient stories with the wit of a comedian.

The book could easily be made into a documentary on the History Channel, or even a Broadway play.’

© John Morreall, Int’l Journal of Humor Studies, 2002

Colour: ”sunny jester’ by Trixxie

In Fools are Everywhere, Beatrice Otto mines a teeming corpus of material to provide the fullest ambit of cross-cultural study on the court jester.

Gianni Izzo, ‘Playing the fool: jesters of the Safavid and Zand courts’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (2023)

Colour: ‘folly and fun’ by Angela.Schippers

‘This turns out to be a most learned study of the role of the court jester in world history. It looks as if it began life as a thesis, but it is to Beatrice Otto’s credit that only seldom does it read like one, and she manages to cover an astonishing range of cultural references without the narrative losing momentum.’

© David Profumo, Literary Review, March 2001

Colour: ‘jester’ by ShieliaAnastasiaMoon

‘Entertaining, enlightening, and splendidly researched … A pleasure to read, this book was clearly a labor of love: engagingly written, assiduously documented, finely illustrated, and handsomely designed.’

© Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor, 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by ChristineFelicity

‘Through anecdotes, historical details, analyses, and commentary, Otto brilliantly delineates the court jester, and quotations and illustrations do much to enhance this eminently readable text.’

© Carol Binkowski, Library Journal, February 2001

Colour: ‘jester yellow’ by Faeriepuffs

‘Every page quarries new veins of wit, ribaldry and pathos.’

© Murrough O’Brien, The Daily Telegraph, 7 April 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by lunalein

‘Otto’s first book, Fools are Everywhere, is a brilliantly crafted one and will delight readers. Her writing is extraordinarly gentle on the mind – eloquent and powerful.’

© Amanda Chesworth,

Colour: ‘in good humor’ by Anitra

‘Our understanding of the jester will never be the same after Beatrice Otto’s valuable book, which so fruitfully sounds the resonances between the European, the Chinese, the Egyptian and the Indian traditions. Her final plea for jesters in the world of Bush, Sarkozy and Putin is timely.’

© Simon Callow, The Guardian, September 2007

Colour: ‘folly and fun’ by Angela.Schippers

  • ‘Jesters are universal, but are they still relevant?’, Management and Organization Review, September 2015, 11:3, pp. 559-573
  • ‘In Risu Veritas: muitas verdades são ditas brincancdo’, Boca Larga: Caderno dos Doutores da Alegria, no. 2, 2006, pp. 13-25
  • ‘Los bufones están en todos lados: la naturaleza universal del juglar cortesano’, Revuelta: Revista Latinoamericana de Pensamiento, March-May 2006, no. 2, pp. 36-44
  • ‘Who’s the Fool?’, Lincoln Center Theatre Review, King Lear program, Winter/Spring 2004, no. 37.
  • ‘It’s a Living: Renaissance Fool’, BBC History Magazine, November 2004, p.24
  • ‘Of monks and madmen: court jesters in Italy’, Royal Opera, reprinted for every performance of Rigoletto.
  • Fools are everywhere’, History Today 50th Anniversary Issue, June 2001, pp. 33-39
  • ‘The oriental despot revisited’, Britain-China, Spring 1992, no. 49, p. 1
  • Book reviews of: Fools and Jesters of the English Court; Laughing Matters: The Comic Tradition in India; Shakespeare the Player; Playing Commedia; Two Jews on a Train; I Laugh Therefore I Am; Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters, and others.
  • Cie Vagalum Tum Tum, at the children’s theatre of Sao Paulo, November 2018.
  • Expo17, University of Leeds, on becoming a writer, October 2017.
  • Bouquins-à-Gogo, Leukerbad, on Fools Are Everywhere, October 2017.
  • DePaul University Humanities Centre, Chicago, ‘Transformations: Clowns, Jesters, and Tricksters: Laughing from Inside the Outside’, May 2017.
  • Hanken School of Economics, on ‘The Freshness of Fools, or fixing things through humour’, Helsinki, February 2015.
  • Appledore Book Festival, talk on ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, Appledore, Devon, September 2008.
  • Beijing Book Club, talk on ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, Beijing, June 2005.
  • Chicago University Press, author interview.
  • New Realm Podcast, interviewed by Glenn Haines, September 2020
  • BYU Radio, Constant Wonder, interviewed by Marcus Smith, August 2020.
  • Podcast with Jason Peck, April 2019.
  • National Public Radio, WNPR Connecticut, The Colin McEnroe Show, ‘Jesters and Fools, A history of wit and whimsy’, April 2016.
  • BBC World Service, The Why Factor, May 2014.
  • National Public Radio, WICN, Inquiry, interviewed by Mark Lynch, November 2007.
  • BBC Radio 3, interviewed by Michael Rosen for the Rigoletto interval, March 2002.
  • Australian National Radio, December 2001.
  • BBC World Service, Outlook, May 2001.

Prologue: The number of fools is infinite

Facets of the Fool

The Scepter and the Bauble

In Risu Veritas, or Many a True Word Spoken in Jest

Overstepping the Mark: The Limits of his License

Religion, Erudition, and Irreverence

All the World’s a Stage

Stultorum Plena Sunt Omnia, or Fools Are Everywhere

Epilogue: Future Fooling?



  • Table of Named Jesters
  • Glossary of Chinese Characters
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index

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Colours and fonts were chosen for aesthetic strength and because their names reflect the mission of Fonts: Quipley I Lustria I Wild Pen. Colours include: Jester Yellow by Faeriepuffs I New Laughter by Ilara ... you get the picture




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