The Jester: A Historical Political Commentator and Cupid

The Jester was the entertainer of the monarchy: the one who could say what others feared saying. A foil for the aristocracy, he would carry a false scepter in his hands called a bauble that was covered in bells or a face of the jester.  His hat usually featured two long points that ended in bells- a symbol of the ass that he was supposed to personify.

He is the wildcard in many games- the symbol of unknown in the Tarot deck.

The role of the jester finds its origin on the hills of Greek amphitheatre- in comedy and satire. He is still found in the courts of monarchy in the medieval ages, and is only silenced in the British Civil War and at the French Guillotine. His role is to both entertain, and to challenge the social order. James V I of Scotland was tricked by his jester George Buchanan into abdicating for two weeks.

The Italian version of the jester is called Arlecchino,  a smart servant with a slapstick that attempts to get the lovers together.  He is from the Commedia dell’arteR or professional improvisers, who travel around the Italian countryside.   His costume is a patchwork of multicolored diamonds, a symbol of his humble hand-me-down beginning.  He is the father of the ‘Harlequin Romance;’ love stories that sustain the hope that passionate love still exists.  He can certainly be seen in the form of the well meaning Friar and nurse, who attempt to get the tragic Romeo and Juliet together.  It hopefully will shock few to know that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet were taken from the Italian Commedia.

Richard Tarlton, a contemporary of Shakespeare and a favourite of Elizabeth I, died 1588. He was known as a jester, pamphlet writer, playwright  and a clown. He was the first to study people through observation with the intention of recreating them on stage.  He basked in the ability to parley with the hecklers of the audience. It is possible that Hamlet’s “Alas poor Yorick” speech  might have been Shakespeare’s nod to the famous Tarlton who died possibly ten years earlier.

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