ONE must suppose that there have always been Clowns. We appear to need them, and therefore they are born. There is a moment, when we have all had our say about the world, and sufficiently tired each other with our wisdom, when it is felt that the fool should be heard. Folly is free; it can say what it likes; and brings messages sometimes from strange territory: that half-explored tract or no man's land, where sense and nonsense fraternize. In the Holbein picture of Sir Thomas More's family (as Dr. Johnson, rather unusually, notes) the only servant represented is Pattenson, his fool. This is a proof, the Doctor remarks, of the familiarity to which fools were admitted, not by the great only, but the wise. He might have added, as one of many proofs of the sagacity and humour of Sir Thomas More, that fools, professional fools, are expressly provided for in his Utopia.
There are roughly two types of them: one, half wit, half natural; the other, part fool, part knave. Each type has its varieties, and an astonishing number of these varieties are to be found in Shakespeare.
He seems, this sort of stated fool, to have begun in villages --like almost everything else good and lasting in English life. The rustic fool, the bumpkin, is the father of all the rest. He first appears on the stage of life somewhat vacuously chewing a straw. Later on, the more promising specimens of the class are taken, as we say, into gentlemen's service; given a uniform and board-wages, and made subordinate officers of households. Our ancestors, in the days of little reading and few visitors, looked round for relaxation, and set up the domestic fool. By the fifteenth century he had become an established insti
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Publication information: Book title: Shakespearian Comedy and Other Studies. Contributors: George Gordon - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1944. Page number: 60.
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