The fool is my favorite mythic archetype. This ancient role has often had good favor at the side of kings–a character able to speak bluntly to the king, offering a perspective that no other court official could—perhaps without being in fear of losing their head.
In modern culture, we think of fools as people who act in unwise fashion. But, archetypically speaking, the fool is one of the wisest of characters.
The fool has cast off any care about social judgment and acts out of his or her own sense of value, meaning and instinct.
Think about that for a moment. If you are like most human beings, you probably fear judgment of others. Most of us fear the judgment of our colleagues, our employers and, worse, our friends and family.
But the fool…has no care for such terrestrial antics.
The fool trusts in his or her own instinct and follows their inner impulses and personal sense of what is right and wrong.
The fool says and does as they so choose and is able to do so at the highest levels of social interaction (next to kings or before adoring crowds). They are immune to the normal retributions of behavior, as they are fools.
Shakespeare understood the value of this role and played with it often. Check out Wikipedia´s listing of Shakespearean fools:
* Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
* Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing
* Touchstone in As You Like It
* The Fool in King Lear
* Trinculo in The Tempest
* Costard in Love’s Labours Lost
* Feste in Twelfth Night
* Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice
* Lavache in All’s Well That Ends Well
* Yorick in Hamlet
* A Fool in Timon of Athens
* Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
* Thersites in Troilus and Cressida
* Clown in Othello
* Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors
* Speed in Two Gentlemen of Verona
* Launce in Two Gentlemen of Verona
* The Gravediggers in Hamlet
* Citizen in Julius Caesar
* Pompey in Measure for Measure
* Clown in The Winter’s Tale
* Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew
* The Porter in Macbeth
If you had no fear of social judgment of any sort, can you imagine the breadth of freedom you might feel? If you place no value on their judgments of others and refuse to be “put in your place”, imagine the freedom. No box can enclose you.
Some of my heroes are fools. I think of Willie Nelson as a fool, which I say with the greatest respect and affection. I think it is very safe to say that Willie Nelson follows the beat of his own drum and lives the life of his making and choosing.
I also think of Kinky Friedmon as a fool. Friedman is a comedian and Texas “Cowboy Jew”, who once ran as gubernatorial candidate for Texas on a platform of “Why the hell not”? Once again, I say this with the utmost respect and admiration.
Chris Rock plays this role well and is able to say things that most people would be held to a different measure on.
There are a number of fools in our communities and larger national culture.
We love our fools and, often, forgive them their blunt social observations and acts that are outside the realm of normal social conventions.
We need our fools, as they afford us perspective.
Whether through biting social satire and wit, through a casting off any care of social judgments or a refusal to submit to social structures and orders, fools play an important roll in our society.
If nothing else, they are able to perceive and call things as they perhaps really are. In doing so, the fool acts as a sort of “mirror to society”; holding the mirror up and putting society on display.
There is poetry and freedom in the archetype of The Fool and I certainly hope that one day, I might achieve and own such status. I aspire to be a fool.
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.