Surely you jest! But Beatrice K. Otto’s new book is just that: a
well-researched look at the origin, evolution, and impact of the
court jester–an entertainer whose job it was to amuse, be laughed
at, and to laugh at those in power.
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
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.