Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.
-Feste, Twelfth Night, I.5.328
My second eldest who is about to turn sixteen years old (gasp!) is reading Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
Yesterday she told that she loves the story, highlighted her favourite phrases, expressed her frustration with Orsino, and quoted her favourite character, Feste, The Fool. He inserts himself into situations often causing a little mischief while reflecting the truth. He is a jester with words, juggling them with subtle and not-so-subtle tones of sarcasm.
In Elizabethan times, the twelfth night was a holiday known as the Feast of Fools. Feste represents the festive spirit of the play, and he makes an important contribution to the action.
Feste says, “Foolery sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” He is pointing to the fact that he is surrounded by fools. The difference is that they are unaware. In the play, Feste seems to be the wisest of them all. His main job is to speak the truth.
The fool, the trickster, and the mischief-maker.
At around eight years old, the kids begin their pranks. They hide behind corners waiting to jump out and scare me. They plan their April Fool’s Day pranks months in advance. They love those gag store items like whoopee cushions and buzzer rings.
It is a familiar archetype in mythology: Loki, Anansi, Coyote, and others. The trickster tale is among the favourite types of stories. We tell the stories so the children can recognize themselves in them but also show the other side of tricking and being foolish.
According to the site Kid World Citizen:
WHAT IS A TRICKSTER TALE?
- a story with a leading character who is often an animal with human traits and magical powers
- at the same time being wise and a fool, “the trickster-hero serves as a sort of folkloric scapegoat onto which are projected the fears, failures, and unattained ideals of the source culture.” (from britannica.com)
- convey folk wisdom, especially helping us understand human behavior within a culture
- historically used to teach lessons to young children about the values held in a community
- the trickster plays tricks but also is the victim of tricks
While our society celebrates the archetype of “the hero,” “the teacher,” “the princess,” “the king,” “the artist,” “the mother,” “the maiden,” “the crone,” and even “the victim” and “the villain,” rarely do I see “the fool” being awarded its rightful place among them.
This is the one who cracks jokes to break the tension and the seriousness of the situation, who plays pranks to dust out the dull. We laugh at the Fool and his antics because they cut through the facade of “the real.”
At home, I sometimes play the fool. I dust off the court jester bells. I prank and joke and badly perform karaoke when the atmosphere has been heavy too long – like a snow globe that hasn’t been shaken since last winter. A long face starts to twitch into a smirk. The lopsided grin turns into a full smile which ends in a belly laugh all at my expense sometimes. The glitter that settled is stirred up and the air sparkles again.
There is a time and place for playing out this archetype but we need more of it. More fools to whisper asides with eyerolls. More fools with twinkles in their eyes that make mischief. More fools to reflect our silly seriousness.
Pick one or some…
- Copy quote above or any other “fool” quote by Shakespeare.
- Read Sif’s Golden Hair, How Coyote Brought Fire to the People, or Why Anansi has Eight Thin Legs
- Draw from the story or draw the Fool Tarot card
- Journal your experience with “The Fool.” How hard is it to play it? Or is it your major role and easy to play? What if we all played it more?