Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Vicki K. Janik; Emmanuel S. Nelson | Go to book overview

By bringing to light the scatological and carnal dimension of existence within the domain of the sacred, the Bishop of Fools can be seen as the symbol of the human presence of Christ in Jesus of Nazareth, the paradoxical mystery of the Incarnation.


CRITICAL RECEPTION

With these different views in mind, it is possible to see the Bishop of Fools as a figure that incarnates the essential paradox of Christ's message. By impersonating a superior in an irreverent and scatological fashion, the Bishop of Fools portrayed a higher being in the carnal and animalesque dimension that is common to all, ecclesiastical authorities and lowly clerics alike. In this impersonation, the Bishop of Fools embodies a paradox. As Gilhus correctly points out, the elevation of the lower clergy to the seat of the powerful was a "paradoxical elevation of lowness still being low, not of lowness becoming highness" ( Gilhus 42). The lowly impersonated the powerful, not in their preeminence, but as fools. The role reversal enacted by the Bishop of Fools creates a new sphere of existence for all the participants. The higher domain of divine rites, ecclesiastical authority, and sacred mysteries is derided and brought down to the level of earthly, animalesque, and primal carnal impulses. Another entirely different dimension is brought to human experience. The customary notions of duality, low/ high, human/divine, body/soul, and lowly/powerful are fused together, confused, altered. For a moment in time, the participants of the Feast of Fools-powerful prelates, lowly clerics, and the different ranks of the faithful who partook of this unique Mass -- existed in the essence of the Christian experience, of the divine brought down to the carnal, of the powerful brought down by the lowly. For a brief moment, the unlikely, precarious, and temporary fusion of two eternally opposed realms of existence converged in the scurrilous ridicule of the sacred led by the Bishop of Fools.


NOTE
1
My translation of "jamais, à bien y regarder,' la fête des Fous n'a quitté la constellation du saeré."

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Chambers E. K. The Medieval Stage. Oxford: Clarendon, 1903.

Hone William. Ancient mysteries described, especially . . . the festivals of fools and asses, the English boy-bishop. . . . London, 1823.

-104-

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