The ‘Shakespearean Fool’

Fools have told Kings and later Managers the truth. The typical Fool nowadays is a Management Consultant. The Wise Fool provide truth, balance, play, recreation, destruction, creation, change. Shakespeare used the wise fool’s freedom to offer critical observations that coming from any other character, would have been rebellious to the system. Historically, the ‘Shakespearian fool’ is an ironic and paradoxical figure who enjoyed unusual toleration and relative freedom in speaking his mind. He was often able to offer strange insights through his foolery. Shakespeare was fascinated by this freedom of speech.

He used his fools not only to entertain, but also to deliver humorous critiques and to enlighten his audience with crude observations about other characters and events in the play. The ‘Shakespearian fool’ is understood to be effectively different from the clown, who was described as a ‘natural idiot’. Behind his foolery, the fool could cover up sharp comments on contemporary discourse. Shakespeare’s fools are subtle teachers, reality instructors one might say, who often come close to playing the part that Socrates, himself an inspired clown, played on the streets of Athens.

Basically, the ‘Shakespearian fool’ serves to offer an overlooked or otherwise unspoken insight in a thought-provoking manner. The character type is important mainly because it can express a dissentient point of view. The paradox is that the fool must not only be authentically intelligent, observant, practical and insightful, but he must be aware of being truly foolish in either going too far beyond the fragile limits of toleration or being confusing and unclear to the audience.
Photo: Heide Pinkall /