April 1 is recognized as April Fool’s Day throughout the world and is marked by practical jokes and pranks played on family and friends. At the heart of this revelry is the character of the Fool.
Many of us do not know that a Fool is an intriguing character. There are various examples throughout literature and culture. We have grown up listening to stories of Akbar and Birbal, Tenali Raman, and our regional folk stories. While these characters appear to be the Fool, the stories mostly end with their wisdom saving the day for the heroes.
Shakespeare has used the character of Fool prolifically in his plays. They are used to mock the vanity and pomposity of other characters. Some of the stark criticisms are delivered by the fools in his plays.
Fool’s literature was popular throughout Europe from the 15th to 17th century. The ancient Greek and Roman literature also have instances of fools and court jesters who could make fun of the king. The stock character of a Fool is present in folk stories around the world. India has its own tradition of Mudha-Katha (Fool’s Stories).
Who is a Fool?
April Fool’s Day might have you believe that a Fool is all about jokes, elaborate costumes, and making someone look stupid. While this day is identified by playing practical jokes on others, the character of Fool has deep implications.
The Fool is an outsider who is not valued for his intellect. He is free from the standards of society which gives him license to say anything, as the poet Alexander Pope puts it, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
The Fool also acts as the voice of conscience for a hero. Since he has the liberty to say anything, he can speak the truth even if it is unpleasant. He plays a significant role in holding up a mirror to society.
Play the Fool
The Fool is often erroneously equated with being foolish. We do not realize the amount of wit that is required to play the Fool. When we let go of our inhibitions and are eager to traverse across boundaries, we are ready to be the Fool.
To play a Fool means having the ability to make fun of yourself and laugh at your own situation. It doesn’t mean there is a total lack of self-consciousness. It is just our willingness to be more accepting and open to whatever comes our way.
A popular English proverb says “It takes great wisdom to play the fool.” The world would be a better place if we played the Fool once in a while!