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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Court Fool
By John Weiss (1818–1879)
From ‘Wit, Humor, and Shakespeare’

THOUGH Shakespeare empties all his own love for pure fun into this clown [in ‘Twelfth Night’], he makes of him the only cool and consistent character in the play, and thus conveys to us his conviction of the superiority of an observer who has wit, humor, repartee, burlesquing, and buffoonery at command; for none but wise men can make such fools of themselves. Such a fine composition is apt to be misunderstood by the single-gifted and prosaic people: but this only piques the bells to their happiest jingle; and a man is never more convinced of the divine origin of his buffooning talent than when the didactic souls reject it as heresy. All Shakespeare’s clowns brandish this fine bauble: their bells swing in a Sabbath air and summon us to a service of wisdom. Feste has no passion to fondle, and no chances to lie in wait for except those which can help his foolery to walk over everybody like the sun. Even when he seems to be wheedling money out of the Duke and Viola, he is only in sport with the weakness which purse-holders have to fee, to conciliate, to enjoy an aspect of grandeur. His perfectly dispassionate temper is sagacity itself. It discerns the solemn fickleness of the principal personages. They are all treated with amusing impartiality; and it is in the spirit of the Kosmos itself, which does not stand in awe of anybody. It seems, indeed, as if the function of fool, and the striking toleration which has always invested it, was developed by Nature for protection of those of her creatures who are exposed to flattery and liable to be damaged by it. Not for shallow amusement have rich and titled persons harbored jesters, who always play the part of the slave of Pyrrhus, at proper intervals to remind them that they are mortal. All men secretly prefer to know the truth; but the pampered people cannot bear to sit in the full draught of it. Its benefit must, however, be in some way conveyed to them. Bluff Kent is banished for saying to Lear, in the plainest Saxon, what the fool kept insinuating with impunity. Therefore, no genuine court has been complete without its fool. The most truculent sceptre has only playfully tapped his liberty. Timur the Terrible had a court fool, named Ahmed Kermani. One day, in the bath with a crowd of wits, the conversation fell upon the individual worth of men; and Timur asked Ahmed, “What price wouldst thou put on me if I were for sale?” “About five-and-twenty aspers,” rejoined Ahmed. “Why,” said Timur, “that is about the price of the sheet I have on.”—“Well, of course, I meant the sheet.” When the business of kingship becomes decayed, the office of fool is obsolete.  1

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