And why did the elite suffer these 'Fools'? Otto explains that in the pre-industrial world, jesters provided the entertainment that would later be displaced by radio, recordings, movies, television, and finally the computer. In short, bigwigs have always needed a good time and a good laugh.
Citing historical facts and quotations from all over the world, including such diverse cultures as East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, America, and Europe, Otto's book reveals that the role of court jester was often more prestigious, powerful, protected and outspoken than many members of the aristocracy's staff. The book is rife with anecdotes portraying classic cases of interaction between royalty and subject, where the entertainer uses his wry talent to affect official policy.
The study reveals that jesters were a curious, afflicted, and talented lot-including the deformed and disfigured, and addlebrained and oafish, as well as gifted musicians, acrobats, jugglers, storytellers, and actors.
What may be the most interesting and relevant revelation of the book is the fact that many of these so-called 'fools' were able to use their wit, harmless persona, and ability to entertain as a soapbox to address, influence, and mock the policies of the royalty they served.
Read an interview with the author of 'Fools', Beatrice K. Otto, who argues the need for jester-like characters in today's stressful corporate culture.