Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere. —William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
In theatre the fool or jester is central to truth-telling. He / she is the conduit through which the dramatist can deal with essential and often politically subversive issues.
In Europe this tradition goes back to the Romans with the currae, mimi and histriones.
In 16th century England Shakespeare had his clown in Othello, The fool in King Lear, Puck in Midsummer Night's Dream.
In France there was the jongleur, originally applied to a monk, thrown out of his monastery for 'nun frolics'. In Collins Dictionary he is described as one 'who turns things topsy-turvy and makes a hash of all conventions.'
Beyond Europe, In China there are at least six words to describe this character in dramas. My favourite being changyou, who combines story-telling with music.
For the Navajo and Zuni in southwestern USA the coyote takes the place of the fool; deceiver, perceptive, survivor and trickster. Sometimes the Coyote is so involved in his own trickery that he tricks himself which is why there are so many mistakes in the way things are in the world.
In Germany there was Till Eulenspiegel, a folkloric hero dating back to medieval times and ruling each year over Fashing or carnival time, mocking politicians and public figures of power and authority with political satire.
Of course fools, real or invented for theatre, had humble origins. Claus Hinsse, the 16th century jester to Duke Johann Friedrich of Pomerania, began his working life as a cowherd. My favourite German 'fool' is the shepherd Simplex created by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen in his novel Simplicius Simplicissimus.
After reading a translation of this book I based my first play Simple Writings, later changed to War Child, on Grimmelhausen's Simplex. I was drawn to the wisdom of foolery, not only as a clever means to wisdom, but as a wise and strategic method for truth-telling.
So it was a delight to see a dramatic interpretation of Jaroslav Hašek's novel The Good Soldier Schwejk at Sands Films in Rotherhithe. Written and directed by Christine Edzard and performed in Sands bijou theatre. Strikingly inventive sets, a vibrant cast and wonderful live music. The original story updated with Schwejk quoting from Tony Blair, Alasdair Campbell and George Bush
We joined with Schwejk's bumbling attempts to survive the First World War by becoming a nuisance to all those around him. He uses the 'fool's cunning to deal with army officers, police and judges who are urging him into battle. This is the story of the 'little man' caught in a vast bureaucratic machine hurling the world into war. When he arrives at the gates of heaven he is sent back into life because St Peter makes it clear that the world needs more little men to organise against the powerful.
Schwejk leaves us with these words: 'Shouldn't we start at the end and stop wars before they start?'
Yes, the world needs more fools.
The Sand's production runs for two more performances. Details here
(If you want to learn more about the fool in this world check out this link: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/640914.html )
Read more about my plays in Left Field