A jester, joker, jokester, fool, wit-cracker, prankster or buffoon was a person employed to tell jokes and provide general entertainment, typically by a European monarch. Jesters are stereotypically thought to have worn brightly colored clothes and eccentric hats in a motley pattern. Their hats were especially distinctive; made of cloth, they were floppy with three points, each of which had a jingle bell at the end. The three points of the hat represent the donkey's ears and tail worn by jesters in earlier times. Other things distinctive about the jester were his laughter and his mock sceptre, known as a bauble or marotte.
The Royal Shakespeare Company provides historical context for the role of the fool:
In ancient times courts employed fools and by the Middle Ages the jester was a familiar figure. In Renaissance times, aristocratic households in Britain employed licensed fools or jesters, who sometimes dressed as other servants were dressed, but generally wore a motley (i.e. parti-coloured) coat, hood with ass's (i.e. donkey) ears or a red-flannel coxcomb and bells. Regarded as pets or mascots, they served not simply to amuse but to criticise their master or mistress and their guests. Queen Elizabeth (reigned 1558-1603) is said to have rebuked one of her fools for being insufficiently severe with her. Excessive behaviour, however, could lead to a fool being whipped, as Lear threatens to whip his fool. 
One may conceptualize fools in two camps: those of the natural fool type and those of the licensed fool type. Whereas the natural fool was seen as innately nit-witted, moronic, or mad, the licensed fool was given leeway by permission of the court. In other words, both were excused, to some extent, for their behavior, the first because he "couldn't help it," and the second by decree.
Distinction was made between fools and clowns, or country bumpkins. The fool's status was one of privilege within a royal or noble household. His folly could be regarded as the raving of a madman but was often deemed to be divinely inspired. The 'natural' fool was touched by God. Much to Gonerill's annoyance, Lear's 'all-licensed' Fool enjoys a privileged status. His characteristic idiom suggests he is a 'natural' fool, not an artificial one, though his perceptiveness and wit show that he is far from being an idiot, however 'touched' he might be.
Scholar David Carlyon has cast doubt on the "daring political jester", calling historical tales "apocryphal", and concluding that "popular culture embraces a sentimental image of the clown; writers reproduce that sentimentality in the jester, and academics in the Trickster," but it "falters as analysis." 
Jesters could also give bad news to the King that no-one else would dare deliver. The best example of this is in 1340, when the French fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Sluys by the English. Phillippe VI's jester told him the English sailors "don't even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French."
The position of the Joker playing card, as a wild card which has no fixed place in the hierarchy of King, Queen, Knave, etc. might be a remnant of the position of the court jester. This lack of any place in the hierarchy meant Kings could trust the counsel of the jesters, as they had no vested interest in any region, estate or church.
All royal courts in those days employed entertainers and most had professional fools, sometimes called licensed fools. Entertainment included music, juggling, clowning, and the telling of riddles. Henry VIII of England employed a jester named Will Sommers.
During the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England, William Shakespeare wrote his plays and performed with his theatre company the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later called the King's Men). Clowns and jesters were featured in Shakespeare's plays, and the company's expert on jesting was Robert Armin, author of the book Fooled upon Foole. In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Feste the jester is described as "wise enough to play the fool."
James VI of Scotland was originally very lazy about reading things before signing them. His jester, George Buchanan (1506–82) tricked him into abdicating in favour of George for 15 days. James got the point.
King James also employed a jester called Archibald Armstrong. During his lifetime Armstrong was given great honours at court. He was eventually thrown out of the King's employment when he over-reached himself and insulted too many influential people. Even after his disgrace, books telling of his jests were sold in London streets. He held some influence at court still in the reign of Charles I and estates of land in Ireland. Charles later employed a jester called Jeffrey Hudson who was very popular and loyal. Jeffrey Hudson had the title of Royal Dwarf because he was short of stature. One of his jests was to be presented hidden in a giant pie from which he would leap out. Hudson fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War. A third jester associated with Charles I was called Muckle John.
The tradition of court jesters came to an end in Britain when Charles I was overthrown in the Civil War. As a Puritan Christian republic, England under the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell had no place for such fripperies as jesters. English theatre also suffered and a good many actors and entertainers relocated to Ireland where things were little better (see Irish theatre).
After the Restoration, Charles II did not reinstate the tradition of the court jester, but he did greatly patronize the theatre and proto-music hall entertainments, especially favouring the work of Thomas Killigrew. Though Killigrew was not officially a jester, Samuel Pepys in his famous diary does call Killigrew "The King's fool and jester, with the power to mock and revile even the most prominent without penalty" (12 February 1668). The last British nobles to keep jesters were the Queen Mother's family, the Bowes-Lyons.
In France and Italy, travelling groups of jesters performed plays featuring stylized characters in a form of theatre called the commedia dell'arte. A version of this passed into British folk tradition in the form of a puppet show Punch and Judy. In France the tradition of the court jester ended with the French Revolution.
In the 21st century, the jester is still seen at medieval-style fayres and pageants.
Tonga was the first royal court to appoint a court jester in modern times, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, the King of Tonga, appointing JD Bogdanoff to the role in 1999. He was later embroiled in a financial scandal.
In 2004 English Heritage appointed Nigel Roder ("Kester the Jester") as the State Jester for England, the first since Muckle John 355 years previously. However following an objection by the National Guild of Jesters, English Heritage accepted they were not authorised to grant such a title. Roder was succeeded as "Heritage jester" by Pete Cooper ("Peterkin the Fool").
In Germany, Till Eulenspiegel is a folkloric hero dating back to medieval times and ruling each year over Fasching or Carnival time, mocking politicians and public figures of power and authority with political satire like a modern day court jester. He holds a mirror to make us aware of our times (Zeitgeist), and his sceptre or marotte is the symbol of his absolute and supreme rule.
The root of the word "fool" is from the Latin follis, which means "bag of wind" or that which contains air or breath.
In Tarot, "The Fool" is the first card of the Major Arcana. The tarot depiction of the Fool includes a man, (or less often, a woman), Juggling unconcernedly or otherwise distracted, with a dog (sometimes cat) at his heels. The fool is in the act of unknowingly walking off the edge of a cliff, precipice or other high place. Another Tarot character is Death. In the Middle Ages Death is often shown in Jester's garb because "The last laugh is reserved for death." Also, Death humbles everyone just as Jesters make fun of everyone regardless of standing.
In literature, the jester is symbolic of common sense and of honesty, notably in King Lear, the court jester is a character used for insight and advice on the part of the monarch, taking advantage of his license to mock and speak freely to dispense frank observations and highlight the folly of his monarch. This presents a clashing irony as a "greater" man could dispense the same advice and find himself being detained in the dungeons or even executed. Only as the lowliest member of the court can the jester be the monarch's most useful adviser.
Author Alan Gordon also writes about jesters as advisers to the king, who actually make up a super-secret spy ring that try to keep peace and control the leaders of different countries. The Fool's Guild of these novels is portrayed as a mockery to the church, and they refer to Jesus Christ as "Their Savior, The First Fool."
In similar vein, Buffoon is a term for someone who provides amusement through inappropriate appearance and/or behavior.
Strictly, a buffoon describes a "ridiculous, but nevertheless amusing person." In broader terms, a buffoon is a clown-like, publicly amusing person, such as a court jester. In the more modern sense, the term is frequently used in a derogatory sense to describe someone considered a public fool, or someone displaying inappropriately vulgar, bumbling or ridiculous behavior that is a source of general amusement.
The term may originate from the old Italian "buffare", meaning to puff out one's cheeks. Robin Williams's character conjectures in the movie Toys that the word "is a combination of the words 'buffer' and 'fool.' Or perhaps 'buffamotus,' he who carries the pickle."
In the popular comic by DC Comics, as well as three Batman movies (1966,1989 and The Dark Knight) and the TV series, The Joker is the supervillain nemesis of Batman. The Joker's sometimes-girlfriend, Harley Quinn, is also a jester.
The Jester, a book written by James Patterson and Andrew Gross
|From Songs from Books (1912).|
There are three degrees of bliss
At the foot of Allah’s Throne
And the highest place is his
Who saves a brother’s soul
At peril of his own.
There is the Power made known!
There are three degrees of bliss
In the Gardens of Paradise,
And the second place is his
Who saves his brother’s soul
By excellent advice.
For there the Glory lies!
There are three degrees of bliss
And three abodes of the Blest,
And the lowest place is his
Who has saved a soul by a jest
And a brother’s soul in sport…
But there do the Angels resort!
|This work is in the public domain in
the United States because it was published before
January 1, 1923.
The author died in 1936, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
JESTER, a provider of "jests" or amusements, a buffoon, especially a professional fool at a royal court or in a nobleman's household (see Fool,). The word "jest," from which "jester" is formed, is used from the 16th century for the earlier "gest," Lat. gesta, or y es gestae, things done, from gerere, to do, hence deeds, exploits, especially as told in history, and so used of the metrical and prose romances and chronicles of the middle ages. The word became applied to satirical writings and to any longwinded empty tale, and thence to a joke or piece of fun, the current meaning of the word.
A jester, joker, fool, bollocks, or buffoon, is a type of entertainer mostly (but not always) associated with the Middle Ages. Jesters typically wore brightly colored clothing in a way. Their hats, sometimes called the cap ’n bells or cockscomb, were special; made of cloth, they were floppy with three points (liliripes) each of which had a jingle bell at the end. The three points of the hat represent the asses' ears and tail worn by jesters when they first appeared. Other typical things about the jester were his constant laughter and his mock scepter, known as a bauble or maharoof.