On a street in Stratford-Upon-Avon you come across a bronze sculpture titled “The Jester” by James Butler. The bronze statue standing on a stone plinth features the jester ‘Touchstone’ from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ and the inscriptions on the panels below read
“O noble fool, a worthy fool’~~ (As You Like It)
” Foolery, sir, does walk
About the orb like the sun;
It shines everywhere “~~ (Twelfth Night)
” On the other, the fool doth think he is wise
But a wise man knows himself to be a fool”~~(As You Like It)
The clown,the jester or the fool figure remains one of the most intriguing stage characters in the Shakespearean oeuvre and appears in almost all his main dramas. Taking many forms, the Shakespearean Fool has over the years piqued the interest of many scholars, critics and audiences alike. He wrote many “fools” into his plays…clowns, who elicit laughter through their slapstick acts; dunces, who turn their lack of intelligence into a medium of humour; and finally those ‘princes’ of fooling, the court jesters, whose wit and pointed satire turn fooling into a respectable profession. The first two categories, the natural fools, who simply lack any grey matter and common sense were also used by Shakespeare to inadvertently reveal some home truths. But the ones, who many critics feel were the voice of the Bard himself, are the knowing, wise fools. They are professionals, employed by royalty and nobility to entertain but are shown as smarter than those in positions of authority and used by Shakespeare to mock them, reveal the truth of a situation and provide social commentary. Critics have compared them to modern day stand up comedians who have the license to say anything and get away with it. They were both clever observers as well as bold articulators of what they saw, yet at the same time provided “the world’s pleasure and the increase of laughter”
To have a fool attending on you in Shakespeare’s plays was to have an exalted position. His most memorable characters have their subtle comic teachers.To name just a few, Hamlet gets Yorick; Lear has his Fool; Olivia, Feste; Rosalind, Touchstone; Prince Hal gets Falstaff, who is a fool, and much more than a fool. The fool somehow brought out that the character retained some flexibility, could learn things and change…in a sense it was a sign that he/she was potentially wise.
What if we could all sometimes be our own ‘fools’, our own reality-instructors? What if we could just disengage from the drama of our life, observe it unfold and view it from the ‘fools perspective’? It would surely test our capacity to hear the truth in all its peculiar and often painful forms; but it could also coax us into being better selves.