I Don’t Pity the Fool
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Text art by Arhcamtilnaad
This week’s Tudors (pronounced in the Right-Click household as Tjoodors, fyi) featured Henry VIII all tricked out in full emo mode. Apparently, after the death of Jane Seymour, Henry started wearing all-black outfits and eyeliner, drinking too much coffee, and throwing flowers onstage at Smiths concerts, etc., crazy with grief over the death of the only wife that he didn’t have to divorce, behead, or call “horsey” to get rid of. So you know, it was a big deal to him. At least according to Showtime.
My background in English history is a little hazy before 1590 or so, so I cannot tell you if this show is historically accurate. I don’t know if the subplot where Henry’s planning to build a giant castle–one more fantastic than any other in existence, even that of the King of France–is true or not, for example. I can tell you that Henry really didn’t consider France’s king to be a real king, though. Yeah, Henry decided to start referring to himself as “the King of England and France” at some point during his reign, which I always thought was cherce. As if that’s all you have to do–just claim a country, even if they already have a monarch, and it’s yours.
Kings do crazy shit like that all the time, though. And maybe that’s why Henry was so fond of his Fool, Will Sommers. Which reminds me: the Fool–whatever happened to that job? Back in the day, Kings always had a Fool. They kept them on staff like Oprah keeps a private chef and a pilates instructor on staff. Because, you know, you never know when something will come up that calls for a Fool. Like, say, your third wife dies from an infection–who else is going to comfort you, if not your Fool?
The Fool’s is a job description that just doesn’t exist anymore. We have comedians, but the Fool is something different. Sure, the Fool cracks jokes, but he also is able to say things to the King that nobody else is allowed to say. And in Shakespeare, the Fool is always talking nonsense layered upon more nonsense, until some point late in Act IV, when he says something brilliantly insightful. And then he lapses back into foolishness again, just so we don’t start expecting things from him.
So what ends up happening is the Fool has a little social and political influence, you know, but without the responsibility. Sure, he also has to walk around in a motley-colored outfit, tights, and a spiky hat with bells on it. Look–I’m not going to lie to you: this job isn’t for everyone.
But, let’s say that Obama–or maybe Rupert Murdoch, or Martha Stewart, or even Donald Trump–say some contemporary King or Queen decided they wanted to live like the monarchs of the English Renaissance . . . I’m just saying that I could think of worse ways to spend my working years. Cracking wise about anal-retentiveness and prison with Martha in Bridgehampton, vacationing in Hawaii with the Obamas, slipping in a comment here or there about health care, mixing in some slapstick for variety–I think I might have missed my calling. By like 500 years.
When (and why) did the Fool fall out of favor? I guess at some point somebody must have said, “This is a really weird job, you know. Maybe we should rethink rewarding this kind of loony behavior.” Or maybe there was a recession, and they had to make cuts. So the Fool became not really a formal job that somebody held, but just sort of a general tendency of behavior to be found in one of your friends. Like Charles Barkley. He’s Dwayne Wade’s Fool. And he’s kind of our communal fool, too, paid to be a working man’s fool by ESPN. Or, you can find a Fool in a celebrity’s entourage, where you’re not necessarily paid to be there but you get all the perks of living around famous people. LeBron James has an entourage, and the little tiny guy who likes Kid ‘n’ Play is his Fool. Maybe that’s why they call him King James?