Jesters Figurine 

by Royal Doulton

This wonderful figurine of a Jester was made by the Royal Doulton factory in England.  It is beautifully hand-painted in subdued colors.  It stands 14 inches tall and marked on the bottom number H.N.2016.  It takes a second look, but this poor fellow has fallen over and broken a few pieces off of his cap.  The smirk on his face though makes him a keeper!

About the Court Jesters

If you are really serious about this subject, the definitive book was written by William Willeford titled, The Fool and His Scepter, A Study in Clowns and Jesters and Their Audience, Northwestern University Press, 1969.  Another book if interest has been published by John Southworth, Fools and Jesters at the English Court.  Here are some thoughts courtesy of Daniel Achterman at Princeton.

A Brief History of the Modern Jester
The court jester made his first appearance in medieval courts around 1202. Whether it was March or April, I'm not sure, but it was 1202. Jesters were a lot different back then. They didn't have the sort of nobility that they do now, they were just fools. They did pratfalls, physical comedy, and other things as well as the classic juggling. Many were musicians and acrobats as well. Unfortunately, theirs was not a particularly loved trade, and many jesters were treated badly. Their currently oh-so-cool clothes came about as a result of patching together loose bits of cloth just to make something warm to wear. The jester's lot was not a happy one, and the jester was often the one beheaded when the king had a bad day.

Still, though many jesters were chosen for their trade because they were a little slow, and thus perfect scapegoats and victims for whatever, many jesters were extremely bright, and used their position of never being taken seriously to make comments about their superiors that wouldn't have gone over well if they weren't jesters. Shakespeare's jesters were extremely bright, and if you haven't already, I encourage you to check out "King Lear" and "Twelfth Night", as well as Terry Pratchet's "Weird Sisters" if you want to see what a jester can be, even without a juggling act. These jesters spout wordplays and puns like crazy, sing, dance, do imitations, and talk back to their masters; having a great time while doing so. However, the jester in "The Tempest" fits the buffoon description to a tee, so I guess Shakespeare wasn't too enamored with jesters. Finally, if you have a moment, I wholeheartedly endorse a fun movie called "The Court Jester," starring Danny Kaye, in which the beautiful princess is played by Angela Lansbury, so I guess it's a bit old. This 1956 film totally represents everything being a jester is about.

The jester has evolved quite a bit since 1202. He's become a far more abstract figure. His court has come to stand for a place of mirth and frivolity, a place to temporarily set aside the trials of life. There are now just as many jester she's as he's . There are jesters all over the place too. If you don't believe me, just try to register for some sort of online service with the nickname "jester." I'll bet someone's gotten there first. Teenagers all over the country wear the jester's motley hat, whether they can juggle and sing or not. Simply being a funny person is reason enough to assume the jester's mantle. Why so many more jesters than clowns? Could be just etymology, but most people would agree that the jester has a certain nobility in his buffoonery that a clown lacks.

The word jester conjures a lot of things to mind. These days, the image that tends to jump to mind first is an oddly noble, frivolous, jocular fellow. Due to the sweeping range of his history, the jester has become extremely abstract, and several different, unique "types" of jesters have arisen. Here's just a sampler of a few that I've noticed:

  • The "look,-I-own-a-jester's-hat" Jester: This not necessarily jocular fellow is best noted for his often out-of-place jester's hat. Often a teenager, he doesn't necessarily know how to juggle or sing, and may just wear the hat for the non-standard fashion statement it makes, or because he thinks he's funny. Though not "fake" jesters, there are certainly more sincere jesters out there.
  • The poor-but-wise "Shakespearean" Jester: Notable for their nonstandard clothes (for a jester), these guys are usually historically authentic, or at least they try to be. They don't go in for really gaudy hats or clothes, and aren't necessarily frivolous either. They often sing and make subtle humor, so they're not really raucous, but they do have an admirable authenticity about them.
  • The stereotypical "I'm probably a copyright by now" Jester: This is the guy with the big goofy grin and hat with bells. He juggles and wears checkered tights, just like every good jester should. The "Stussy" shirt corporation is probably trying to get the exclusive rights to him as we speak.
  • The "mystical-warlock-from-beyond" Jester: A purely modern creation, this jester came into being partly as a result of the jester's mysterious, noble aura, and partly as a result of the jesters image being used everywhere, often in fantasy and D&D-style pictures. Likely from another dimension, this jester wields fantastic and mysterious magical powers and doesn't do a lot of clowning. It's hard to provide a solid example, because I probably just made him up. Oh well. This jester lives in my mind, at least.
  • The "Straight-out-of-Spawn-comics" Jester: A variation of the mystical jester, this guy is a total glamorization. He has James Bond refinement, a ridiculous number of points in his hat, and the ability to juggle obscene numbers of objects. Usually draw with dramatic perspective, he can do things most jesters only dream of.

"Be merciful to me, a fool"




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