I Don’t Pity the Fool

by anna on May 7, 2009

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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?

{ 15 comments }

eliz May 7, 2009 at 6:56 am

Late-night talk show hosts all seem to have fools, like Andy Richter was to Conan O’Brien, Paul Shafer to David Letterman, etc. I sometimes feel like Tink’s my fool. She alternately provides both comic relief and wisdom when I need it. I imagine she’ll grow into that role, too, as time goes on.

This is actually my favorite fool: http://tinyurl.com/c88sfo

anna May 7, 2009 at 8:16 am

Yeah, the sidekick on late-night shows kind of play the role. But they don’t live with the host in their large palace, just waiting around to be summoned. Maybe Gail is Oprah’s fool, now that I think of it.

SoMo May 7, 2009 at 9:16 am

Obama has his picks of fools.

SoMo´s last blog post..Earning Her Keep

anna May 7, 2009 at 9:29 am

OK, now is that fair? I made no mention of the last administration, even if the picking was ripe. Also, this is a different kind of fool. Also, the fool on the hill sees the sun going down and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round, &c.

blissfully caffeinated May 7, 2009 at 9:54 am

That show is so not historically accurate. First of all, they dress Jonathan Rhys Meyers in black leather. Um, no. Also? King Henry weighed like 400 lbs by the time Jane Seymour died. I’m no expert, but the producers of the show just seem to rearrange dates, events, and the lives of historical figures to suit themselves without regard to the way things actually happened. Which, OK, it’s a TV show and not a BBC documentary, so whatever. But I just laugh every time I see JRM acting all angry king-ish. It just doesn’t work for me.

blissfully caffeinated´s last blog post..Eye Can’t Take It Any Longer

anna May 7, 2009 at 11:12 am

Yeah, JRM is not convincing as Henry VIII. And I was noticing the leather pants on all of the nobility last week. But I think they’d have a hard time selling a guy who actually resembled Henry VIII for a prime time series in America. We’re shallow.

SoMo May 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I don’t mind if you would have mentioned the last admin. There are many fools to pick from in that town. I think it is the new and revised King’s Fool job.

SoMo´s last blog post..Earning Her Keep

Kerry May 7, 2009 at 1:52 pm

That role is alive and well at the higher levels of corporate life, believe me. I have made a career of being nonthreateningly blonde and lipglossed, making wisecracks most of the time…but telling them what they needed to know (in my view, anyway) after the meeting was over.

anna May 7, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Kerry, are you saying you’re a fool?

eliz May 7, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Shit, after Kerry’s comment now I’m wondering if I played the fool during my WOH years, too. I just thought I was playing the game (and winning).

Becca May 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Yeah, something I can speak intelligently about! The Diva and I watch the Tudors weekly, and actually we are a week ahead right now thanks to On Demand. No, it is not accurate. The thing the Diva finds most frustrating this season is that they seem to be rushing through wives. It took the King almost two years I believe to find Anne of Cleves and convince her brother to let him marry her. They do throw in accurate pieces, ie. when her brother refused to show Master Holbein his sisters’ faces.

However, the poster who said he weighed 400 pounds by Jane Seymour is correct, and also the leg wound was bad all the time by then. I also think they should pay more attention to Lord Cromwell. He dies shortly after Anne of Cleves is granted the divorce from Henry, and I feel like the Showtime fans are going to be confused. The man I enjoy looking at in this show (shocking for a girl who likes girls), is Duke of Suffolk. He just takes my breath away, and I actually felt sorry for him when Henry sent him north.

Oh also, the reason Henry crowned himself King of England and France was because Calleis ( I don’t know if I spelled it right) was under English control then. So, by reason if you control part of France you must be King of all of it. Please note, appropriate sarcasm here.

Oh and do you suppose Cheney was Bush’s fool, or was it the other way around? Oh yes, I went there. hehehehe! :)

Becca´s last blog post..The post where I introduce my kids…

Kerry May 7, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Yes, but the fool is a good position to be in. People don’t take you that seriously, but you actually have a great deal of influence, because you’re the only one who gets to tell the king what you really think. Everybody else has to just play along, but the fool gets to tell the truth once in a while.

I don’t know why that word has the connotation it does today, because when I studied history, I always thought that was the best position by far. Way better than being the king’s umpteenth wife or Brutus or whatever.

Kerry May 7, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Oh, and also, I wore a lot of pantyhose, and only a fool wears pantyhose. So there you go.

jen @ negative lane May 8, 2009 at 6:47 am

Like others have said, oh my GOD is this show inaccurate. It makes someone who spent years in grad school studying the Tudors (me) just about have an aneurysm. (If I start citing examples, I will never stop until I collapse, days from now, from exhaustion and malnourishment.)

However, I have a begrudging love-hate relationship with the show because, although it should be subtitled “Sixteenth Century English History as Told by an Amnesiac Crazy Person,” everyone in it is so, so pretty. Especially Suffolk, like Becca said. I can hardly stand the yumminess of that actor, but again, Suffolk soooo did not look like that. Have you seen his portraits in the National Portrait Gallery? Yikes! So I watch it for the visual aesthetics, but have decided that in order to be able to stand it, I pretend it’s science fiction; alternate history, maybe, or perhaps a parallel universe.

As for Henry’s claim to France, there’s actually a little logic to his claim that traces back to William the Conqueror and the other Plantagenets who at one point controlled about 2/3 of France. Henry (and other English monarchs) also claimed to be King of Ireland, too.

As for the position of Fool, I have to admit that’s one part of English history I know very little about. But aren’t we all kind of happy about that, since I’ve babbled way too much about English history already today? (I’ll shut up now…)

jen @ negative lane´s last blog post..Swine Flu, in historical context

jane May 8, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Yes. They are not 100% accurate and the whole point of the show is to give a contemporary spin. But JRM is unbelievably gorgeous and charismatic. And he’s acting the hell out of this part — his increasingly insane Henry is always entertaining.

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