Where can I learn about court jesters?
July 17, 2011 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Where can I learn about (and what should I learn about) court jesters, fools and similar figures?

I'm interested in the history and mythology of court jesters, fools and similar figures. Both real figures in history -- their backgrounds, roles in the court(s), notable events in their lives -- and notable examples of these characters in fiction.

To understand more about these characters -- either in real life or in terms of their presentation throughout various well-known fictional works -- what should I be reading? Anything from a full-blown history on the subject to particularly good wiki articles will be very welcome.

(For context, my extremely shakey history and literature backgrounds are focused on the UK; I'm interested in examples from other cultures, but would be very grateful for particularly easily digested sources for unfamiliar cultures.)
posted by metaBugs to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
A major example in literature is the Fool in King Lear. The introduction in the Arden edition (or any similar scholarly edition) should provide some background info on the concept and pointers to sources for learning more.
posted by Paquda at 4:53 PM on July 17, 2011


If you're a fantasy fan I suggest Tigana. And also the Assassin books by Robin Hobb.

I love the fool character as much as the trickster character. There is often overlap.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


This book
posted by edgeways at 4:58 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of this history and mythology is embedded in the Tarot cards The Fool and The Magician (the latter is often re-imagined as a ceremonial magician, but in early days he was "Le Bateleur", a common street carny).

The wiki pages have a lot of info, feel free to memail me if you'd like more sources from the Tarot world.
posted by hermitosis at 5:10 PM on July 17, 2011


Danny Kaye's The Court Jester probably counts as a notable example in fiction, even if not an especially educational one. (cf. wikipedia entry)
posted by mauvest at 5:39 PM on July 17, 2011


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jester
and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_jesters

Also amazon.com lists a heap of books.
posted by lungtaworld at 5:41 PM on July 17, 2011


Also, Yorick (as in "alas, poor...!") was a jester, described by Hamlet as "a fellow of infinite jest."
posted by mauvest at 5:52 PM on July 17, 2011


For a more modern take, you might consider watching a lot of The Daily Show. Jon Stewart is a Fool in the best sense of the word.
posted by elendil71 at 6:59 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 8:39 PM on July 17, 2011


Don't forget The Court Jester, with Danny Kaye!
posted by oceanjesse at 8:40 PM on July 17, 2011


It's actually one of my favorite movies.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:40 PM on July 17, 2011


I suggest Fools and Jesters at the English Court
and here is a good reference page for further reading. The traditional fool wore motley and in Elizabethan times his/her role was closely similar to the Harlequin. This was the then modern incarnation of something older; itself deriving from mytholology and early consciousness. Richard Tarleton, William Kemp, and Robert Armin are three documented fools who marked the change away from the medieval.
Armin wrote a book in 1600 "Fool Upon Fooles or Six Sortes of Sottes"
posted by adamvasco at 11:10 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


To Play the Fool, by Laurie R King, is a great fiction example of one.
posted by 8dot3 at 5:27 AM on July 18, 2011


Seconding Bakhtin (very worthwhile but not easily digestible)...but also, Shakespeare.
posted by Emilyisnow at 6:37 AM on July 18, 2011


Thanks for your answers, everyone. I have some great reading ahead of me!
posted by metaBugs at 4:02 AM on July 25, 2011


"Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World" was exactly what I was looking for, thanks edgeways. It feels pretty comprehensive and rigorous (although I'm not knowledgeable enough to judge), but manages to be surprisingly readable for someone with virtually no background in the Humanities, which is surprising for a book that seems to be a re-working of a PhD thesis. Fascinating and occasionally hilarious stuff. Thanks!
posted by metaBugs at 8:44 AM on November 2, 2011


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