- Paperback: 444 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press (August 1, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226640922
- ISBN-13: 978-0226640921
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester around the World
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From Library Journal
Mention a court jester, and one pictures a whimsical creature in a belled hat or, perhaps, the ill-fated character in King Lear. Otto's lively, well-researched text proves that there are centuries of other examples and that the jester has a rich tradition worldwide. Recounting stories about jesters from You Zhan of the Qin dynasty (third century B.C.E.) to Gabriel La Mena of 16th-century Spain, Otto defines the many facets of the roleDone who provides amusement, wit, diversion, advice, entertainment, companionship, undying loyalty, and more. Through anecdotes, historical details, analyses, and commentary, Otto brilliantly delineates the court jester, and quotations and illustrations do much to enhance this eminently readable text. She also discusses stage and literature portrayals and draws parallels to modern versions of the character, such as Will Rogers and Groucho Marx. The appendix contains a table of jesters and the courts, dates, and countries with which they were associated. Although intended for a scholarly audience, this is well worth a look by avid readers with an eye for an informative yet uncommon title.DCarol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Our understanding of the jester will never be the same after Beatrice Otto''s valuable book, which so fruitfully sounds the resonances between the European, the Chinese, the Egyptian and the Indian traditions. Her final plea for jesters in the world of Bush, Sarkozy and Putin is timely." -- Simon Callow "Guardian"
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A tradition this nearly universal must have strong reason to exist, and Otto demonstrates over and over, from one anecdote to another, that fools served both kings and subjects. Jesters were not only tolerated by the rulers, they were cherished. They may have made uncomfortable, biting attacks; Sultan Mahmud was lying in the lap of his jester and asked him, "What is your relation to cuckolds?" The jester replied: "I am their pillow." But even beneath the bite is understanding and even kindliness and acceptance. When King Tamerlane was roaring out 800, 1,200, and 1,500 lashes for a series of offenders, his fool Nasrudin interrupted him with what seemed to be an irrelevant question: "O King, do you know everything?" "Of course I do," retorted the King. "Then how could you inflict such punishment? Either you don't know the meaning of the number 1,500, or you don't know the sting of a whip." The jester is here shown to be the kindly servant of the king, as the one who might save the king from himself; but also, he is the servant of the subjects who would otherwise feel the king's lash. Thus the jester became in cultures everywhere a folk hero.
There are countless anecdotes here, and not all of them pay off. There are many that rely on the time, or the language, or "I guess you just had to be there." But plenty of this otherwise academic work is good, foolish fun. Otto has presented case after case, and her book has little theorizing. She does speculate upon where the fools of the court went, since they are now historic figures. They didn't really go anywhere, she says, they just specialized. Actors, cartoonists, and comedians took over the role, especially after the fools became presences on the stage. Otto hopes that the twenty-first century may have a rebirth of the fool (can you imagine someone paid to do pratfalls at the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks?), and does give some fine twentieth century examples. Will Rogers famously used his fooling to puncture politics-as-usual in otherwise impossible ways, and addressed President Wilson with great informality as Pres. And Otto quotes the best jester of the twentieth century (in my view), Groucho Marx, who was told by the management of a beach club that Jews were not allowed to swim from the beach. "What about my son?" came the reply that could have issued from a sprite clothed in swatches of colors, a horned cap, and bells. "He's only half-Jewish. Would it be all right if he went into the water up to his knees?"
Otto's on fools or jesters is different, it is truly global. As far as I know, there are not many books (i) dealing with jesters (ii) including not only Europe but also other parts of the world and (iii) readable enough for the non-scholarly public. In that sense, Otto's work seems to me a fascinating examination of the jester tradition throughout the world and history, so I recommend it, my rating being between 5 (content) and 4 (pleasure, sometimes falling to 3, sometimes raising to 5).
Other books that I would recommend would be "Kings or people: Power and the Mandate to Rule" by Reinhard Bendix and "Vienna and Versailles: The Courts of Europe's Dynastic Rivals, 1550-1780" by Jeroen Duindam.
Additionally, as a complement to " Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World", I would also suggest reading (hoping that will be of use for those looking for a broad framework to understand the past) the following works, whose scope is as amazingly global as Otto's: 1. Agrarian cultures: "Pre-industrial societies" by Patricia Crone; 2. Economy: "The world economy. A millennial perspective" (2001) plus "The world economy: Historical Statistics" (2003) by Angus Maddison (a combined edition of these two volumes is to appear on December 2007); 3. Government: "The History of Government" by S.E. Finer; 4. Ideas: "Ideas, a History from Fire to Freud", by Peter Watson; 5. Religion: "The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen; and 6. War: "War in Human Civilization" by Azar Gat
Otto states in her introduction that she hopes to show that the court jester is a universal character and if not omnipresent, certainly omnifamiliar. Her research is vast and extensive - with fascinating similarities found between European and Chinese cultures - the latter's contributions to this subject being relatively unknown in our time. She provides information on characters found in other cultures as well - India, Native America, Africa and more. She emphasizes the important role of jesters within society and the obvious need for satire - discovered independently by peoples across the globe.
There is a selection of illustrations throughout the book and some fabulous excerpts from literature and historical documentation.
Though Otto remarks that there have been many books on the topic of jesters in the past century, I have found nothing comparable to this one. The most useful research on the topic has long since become shrouded by various forms of inaccessibility for the majority of readers. For these reasons, and many more, this book is an extraordinary contribution to our times. I, for one, look forward to the future books written by this author.