Court Jester

The Jester and the Fool. The Buffoon and the Idiot. Entertainers all?

It was quite common in medieval times for kings to employ a court jester to entertain at royal events. Although occasionally dressing as any servant, it was more usual for a jester to don an outlandish costume, one that suited the various actions of juggling, song and dance. Beyond the world of the court, jesters—sometimes referred to as fools—found their way into theatre, most notably the works of Shakespeare.

In both court and theatre, the jester or fool had a secondary role beyond mere entertainment. They were often artful and witty satirists, deftly ridiculing both king and guest. As noted in the writings of Shakespeare, the jester was a skillful actor whose cleverness was an inherent quality and a pre-requisite to success. In his play
Twelfth Night, he describes the jester Feste as “wise enough to play the fool.” In real life, a story is told of George Buchanan, jester to James the VI of Scotland, who tricked the king (briefly) into abdicating the throne to the jester, himself!

Danny Kaye, arguably one of the most gifted entertainers of all time, gave a convincing performance in the 1956 film
“The Court Jester”. In this movie, he joins with freedom fighters to expose the illegitimate king and cast off the shackles of tyranny. In the process he rescues and restore the rightful heir to the throne. Indeed, there was a social, entertaining, political, and literary role for court jesters and fools.

By contrast, buffoons and idiots are bereft of any social grace or value. In general, they do not possess any inherent qualities or wisdom. Not that they cannot also be entertaining. The difference is an oft-quoted distinction not to be forgotten: The jester or fool is someone we laugh
with, the buffoon or idiot is someone we laugh at. The jester knows he is a fool and does not take his antics seriously. The buffoon, usually unaware that he is an idiot, takes himself very seriously, assuming delusional importance.

A casual observer of modern America would suggest that the jester has returned. In entertainment, one need only look to television and the news media. They continually foist the absurdities of Donald Trump on an unsuspecting public. But is Trump a jester?

A careful observer would recognize not the resurgence of a jester, but the ubiquitous presence of a buffoon. Perhaps Trump intended to perform the role of jester or fool. Personally, I think that is too kind. A more accurate assessment is that Donald Trump is a buffoon who has clearly crossed the line. He has become merely an idiot.

Trump’s “birther” nonsense reached new heights when he made his offer to donate $5 million dollars to charity if President Obama would turn over his academic records and passport applications. Of course, it was not the campaign “game changer” that Trump promised. It was merely another example of his insatiable desire for attention. He proved this in his reaction to last night’s election tweeting that the election was “a total sham and a travesty”, that “the electoral college is a disaster for democracy” (even though Barak Obama won the majority of the popular vote, also!), and finally claiming, “We are not a democracy”.

Jester, fool, buffoon or idiot, there is something quite serious at play here. Trump will never achieve the self-importance that drives him to absurdity, both in thought and action. As the clever quip states, Trump “is a legend in his own mind.” Outside that mind, he gets a lot of attention. Therefore, it seems appropriate to question the media.

Is there any merit or justification to the attention Trump receives from television radio and print? If he contributed anything of value to American society, even if it were only being a jester, the answer would be yes. But he does not. The American media are simply playing into the hands of a self-indulgent buffoon. The fact that he is also a megalomaniac, makes all this attention dangerous. But there may be hope.

Trump’s real estate investments are ubiquitous, his buildings eponymously named. When Hurricane Sandy hit shore in Atlantic City, she seemed to take dead aim at Trump Plaza. It was quite a sight. The lights that usually spell out Trump’s name were like the lights in his head. They were out. Darkened. Nobody home. Perhaps the various media outlets could take a cue from Hurricane Sandy.

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, stripping the fun from life and politics. Maybe America would be well served by some incarnation of the court jester, a person wise enough to play the fool and entertain. One thing is certain, however. We do not need a buffoon. We do not need “Donald Trump, American Idiot”!
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