What in the world you thinking of laughing in the face of Love?
What on earth you tryin’ to do?
It’s up to you. Yeah, you…
Ad Astra per Ardua
It’s up to us. Yeah, us.
We have to save the world, each other.
Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover’s fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
~ Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 3, scene 2
The mischievous fairy Puck brings his king Oberon to view a spectacle—what he calls a “fond [foolish] pageant.” Four Athenian lovers, lost in the fairies’ forest, have lately been acting very strangely, and Puck is partly responsible. Where Oberon had hoped to reconcile, with the aid of a love potion, the bickering lovers, Puck applied the potion to the eyelids of the wrong man. Before, Helena had pursued Demetrius, who had pursued Hermia, who was in love with Lysander. Now, because of Puck’s mistake, Lysander pursues Helena, and in the meanwhile Oberon has fixed it so that Demetrius pursues Helena too—the result he originally intended.
All this faery meddling doesn’t prevent Puck from blaming the lovers’ behavior on their own foolishness. As far as he’s concerned, their actions amount merely to a performance put on for the faeries’ enjoyment, while the lovers themselves treat the whole affair with deadly seriousness. Shakespeare’s judgment seems to be that love is a form of madness that prompts the lover to act in very foolish ways, indeed. As Duke Theseus says, lovers, like madmen and poets, are fantasists, “of imagination all compact [composed]” (Act 5, scene 1, 8). Though their fantasies are irrational, however, they are also acts of creation that produce “More than cool reason ever comprehends” (line 6). Theseus doesn’t wholly approve of the frantic delusions of lovers and poets, but the poet Shakespeare is implicitly more tolerant.
The Dizzy Fool:
Once again from the Rockpalast, don’t cha know?
Fools in Love they think they’re heroes, cats and kittens…
* WDIZ! will look at Look Sharp more Sirius-ly in the future.
The Dizzy Fool:
Keeping’ some Bad Company here at WDIZ!
Put up the spotlights one and all…
The professional Fools of medieval and Elizabethan eras were really the precursors to the modern Fool as we know her/him in society today: the stand-up comedian; social commentators like Colbert, Daily and Maher; Late night hosts like Conan, Fallon, Letterman and Leno.
These Fools, performing for us daily, become essential to our modern psyches. The commentators on our Time and Space. They are adept at and delight in exposing and drawing attention to our many and monumental foibles as a society and species.
Here come the jesters, one, two, three…
Richard Tarleton is recognized as the first of the professional fools. During his lifetime, he was able to interact with and be successful on all levels of Elizabethan society:
1) the popular culture,
2) the professional theatre, and
3) the English court.
Tarleton was the first rustic clown of the Saturnalian festivals to become a fool in the Queen’s court and eventually transfer his talents to the Elizabethan stage. During his career, his role as fool eventually merged with his personality to the extent that it became his public persona. He was an appreciated guest at many different kinds of social functions by all segments of society. His theatre activities as a clown were much the same as his role as rustic fool.
Tarleton’s clown can be regarded historically as a synthesis of the three types of medieval entertainer:
1) the professional minstrel,
2) the amateur lord of mis-rule, and
3) the role of “Vice” from the old morality plays.
His clowning came from a rediscovery of the fool qualities within the amateur mis-rule tradition, evolving from English countryside oral culture. At times the rustic clown that he portrayed is in response to the new urbanized London inhabitant who is involved in commercial life and lives in opposition to country life. Tarleton helped foster in Londoners a new sense of community, a sense of shared values and experience, all the while making them realize that they were active participants in the making of a new “modern” culture. He would draw an instinctual response from his audience as they would easily recognize his character, actions, and methods in connection with their own social, religious, and cultural traditions.
Will Kemp also merged his on and off stage persona to become a very successful fool who became influential as a social commentator and dilettante. Kemp is an example of the next stage in the transition from rustic country fool to the theatre construction, stage fool. Although the stage was not the focus of his dramatic talents, he excelled at:
1) table-side entertainment,
2) athletic English dancing(jig), and
3) the playing of traditional instruments.
Kemp was the consummate stand-up solo performer. He often imitated a natural fool and was notorious for his improvisations, especially in songs and poetry. At the end of a Theatre play, Kemp would engage the audience drawing them into a verbal jousting match. His quick-witted repartee was exactly what the audience had come to expect from the fool’s role in the mis-rule/inversionary tradition. In 1599 Kemp needed publicity and published a book of his experiences dancing from London to Norwich, his most famous publicity stunt. This stunt came about shortly after he had left the Chamberlain’s Men. Allegedly he had had a disgreement with the group’s dramatist, William Shakespeare, over his improvisations at the expense of the dramatic written material. He became a casualty of the changing dynamics between the social construct fool and emerging Elizabethan theatre, unable to adapt his comic role to the narrative’s dramatic structure.
Around 1600 the Ptolomeic world complete with a hierarchical cosmological order is no longer the organizing principle governing human social actions. The “modern” era begins to emerge in all cultural forms. In drama, acting style in Elizabethan Theatre began drifting toward a style and characterization based on notions of mimesis or representation–a superficial resemblance of one thing to another–and away from an acting style based on iconography or non-representational signaling. Stage actors began to communicate to an audience through a complex display of signs and actions rather than through being the sign itself, as fools were. This “new” acting style is the acting we consider to be the craft today. Rather than the representational characters of the morality plays, or the dancing, tumbling, and juggling of the carnival clown, actors become more and more responsible to the author’s written text. Robert Armin replacing William Kemp as “Shakespeare’s fool” is an example of this evolution.
When Armin joined the Chamberlains Men, the company’s playwright, William Shakespeare created a whole series of domestic fools for him. Armin’s greatest roles, Touchstone in “As You Like It,”(1599), Feste in “Twelfth Night,”(1600), and (the) fool in “King Lear,”(1605); helped Shakespeare resolve the tension between thematic material and the traditional entertainment role of the fool. Armin became a counter-point to the themes of the play and the power relationships between the theatre and the role of the fool–he manipulates the extra dimension between play and reality to interact with the audience all the while using the themes of the play as his source material. Shakespeare began to write well-developed sub-plots expressly for Armin’s talents. A balance between the order of the play and the carnevalized inversion factor of festive energy was achieved.
Armin was a major intellectual influence on Shakespeare’s fools. He was attuned to the intellectual tradition of the Renaissance fool yet intellectual enough to understand the power of the medieval tradition. Armin’s fool is a stage presence rather than a solo artist. His major skills were mime and mimicry; even his improvisational material had to be reworked and rehearsed. His greatest asset was as a foil to the other stage actors. Armin offered the audience an idiosyncratic response to the idiosyncracies of each spectator.
Eventually, Armin became a great biographer of fools. In 1600 he published Fool Upon Fooles or Six Sortes of Sottes, a work comprised of six sketches of natural fools. In another work, Nest of Ninnies, he categorized two kinds of fools:
1) naturals–mentally deranged or feeble-minded simpletons,
2) artificials–quick-witted allowed fools.
He was a master and pioneer in the study of exactly how natural fools behaved. He believed that he himself was a natural because of his deformed stature. His stage fools were based on observations of naturals rather than on the re-creation of an emblematic stage type. Armin’s fools cause the audience to reflect on what it is to be a part of the human condition; but, in a way that also establishes his characters as perpetual outsiders who reflect on but do not become a part of the dance of reconciliation at the end of the play.
~ History of The Fool
Do-be do-be do it’s the Doobies, man. Dig it…
No wise man has the power to reason away… What a Fool Believes… Word.
Fools have always captured my imagination. They hold an authentic and innate position in human history. From Jesters to Shakespeare to Saturnalia to Stand-up the Fool may always be found presenting our folly and pretensions to us lest we forget who we are; lest we forget to laugh at ourselves. S/he permeates all aspects of life.
Artists have long depicted the Fool in literature, fine art and music… Do you know how many songs there are with ‘fool’ in the title? Oodles, cats and kittens. Oodles. And I’m going to play a bunch of ’em for you, too. I sure hope you dig it.
The Fool is a complex character and makes more appearances in our society, holds more sway, than we might initially suspect…
Keying Up—the Court Jester (1875) William Merritt Chase
The world of traditional man had more mysteries, contingencies, and surprises than the world of rational man. In traditional pagan systems celebrations and holidays were a colorful and illustrative
demonstration of a pre-civilized state-of-mind.
Traditional forms often dealt with transitional periods in the life of the countryside: old year/new year, Lent, Mid-Summer, marriage feasts, funerals, initiation rites and holidays. Traditional fools played erratic games with these primary foundations of human experience and expressed how the society either managed or mismanaged meaning in both everyday and heightened experience.
“Fools” emerged in medieval England in the13thC. The rigid social hierarchies of medieval society relied on these reality maintenance constructs which were closely related to traditional inversionary re-enactments of mis-rule to create a sense of release for and in the population. Although, ultimately the role was meant to re-affirm the hierarchy and strictness of the medeival system. “Fools” became a construct whose unique position in the community’s power structure demonstrated the reality of secularized opportunism, relativism, and immoralism. The “fool” wore a subtextual connotation of evil, pretending stupidity, often opposing the figure of the wise or holy man in a culture’s structure. In the moral/philosophical dimension, s/he is the negative inversionary counter-point to virtue and wisdom.
As “Vice,” a character in medieval morality and mumming plays, the fool was a fundamental part of the rustic tradition of the English countryside. In that tradition, he is a central character in both English culture and theatre, one who never allows the audience to forget the interactive nature of either their reality or the theatre reality, an activity which always requires their full attention and involvement. “Vice” has the task of assuring the audience that no boundaries exist between the world of the play and the world of reality. S/He is the link between the exotic imagination of the play and the immediate world of the audience. Whose duties included improvising with the audience and sweeping aside the confines of the script in order to establish verisimilitude and an easy transformation between English oral and written traditions. When Shakespeare began his career, the “Vice” figure had been transformed by theatrical and societal norms into a recognized anarchist who made aberration obvious by carrying release to absurd extremes.
“Fools” enact the raw material of a culture, ceremoniously demonstrating and articulating what becomes of a society if it forsakes the “burden” of tradition. Folly, the philosophy of the fool, is a ritualized outlet for repressed sentiments. The fool displays a folly which is just as important as rationalized wisdom, a construct of magical quality and ambiguity which accurately counter-balances the rationalism of both medieval and renaissance systems. The fool commonly conducts an interaction between themselves and a person who society defines as wise by acting stupid and cunning at the same time, an interaction which would always end in the fool winning in this uneven matching of wits. The fool constantly questions our perceptions of wisdom and truth and their relationship to everyday experience. S/he readily applies metaphysical abstractions to attack the routine taken-for-granted aspects of the daily rituals of the audience, becoming an important conduit for determining meaning and clarifying abstractions which rule our lives. The fool lifts the veil of authority, devoid of decorum constantly making silly remarks, acting irreverently, unmasking the unpleasant aspects of power. S/he gives us the opportunity to humorously look at our own values and judgements as the powerful socio-cultural structures of power pull, push, and shape our identity. The social significance of the fool cannot be underestimated, it is perhaps the surest sign that a society has attained cultural maturity because the construct allows the society to reflect on and laugh at its own complex power relations.
The traditional fool: in their reversal role, by their revitalization of traditional values and meanings, in their individualism and lack of stern principles, is being typically modern despite their lack of respect for rationality. But, rather than being a rebellious political figure the fool is grounded in traditional societies to remind people of their acceptance and need for their everyday life structures — s/he is a reality maintenance construct. Fools do not possess values, norms, and meanings of their own worldview; they attach themselves to existing worldviews and turn them upside-down, inside-out or backwards. Presently, their folly can only exist derivative of and parasitical to the predominant worldview of reason. A fool performs his act, creating an awe-inspiring relevance for the audience; joking, dancing, or juggling; establishing meanings and values in daily social life; and, perverting pieces of common-sense knowledge. Yet, the role must maintain its marginality, losing its own rebellious power by coming too near to the center of power, his/her role being a symbolic reminder of the hollowness of human pretentions in relation to religious and moral infallibility.
~ History of the Fool