Fools and jesters have existed as important figures in nearly all the cultures. Sometimes referred to as clowns, they are typological characters who have conventional roles in the arts, especially to engage in nonsense. But fools are also a part of social and religious history; they may be individuals, often deformed, who live particular sorts of prescribed and marginalized lives in most societies; or they may play key roles in the serious or mock rituals that support social and religious beliefs.
Because of their pervasive influence on society, religion, and the arts, jesters and fools have inspired a growing body of scholarship. Over the past seventy years, important studies of literary and dramatic fools have been completed by scholars including Olive Busby, Enid Welsford, Leslie Hotson, William Willeford, David Wiles, and Sandra Billington. These works often focus on the fools of an historical period or a particular society. The purpose of this reference book is to present a group of bio-bibliographical, critical essays on a multicultural group of individual fools and fool archetypes of the past 2,500 years from society, from ritual, and from the arts, particularly literature.
The importance of the continued study of fools and jesters is undeniable, first, because of their prevalence. Conventional fools appear and have appeared everywhere. We are thus forced to seek reasons for their presence, reasons why humanity apparently requires these bizarre figures, so discernibly different from the norm. We must conclude that these complex, seemingly paradoxical characters fulfill essential roles in society.
Second and even more striking than the universal presence of fools is their similarity throughout the world. Fools are a strangely homogeneous fraternity,