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How dangerous was it to be a jester? - Beatrice K. Otto


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Contrary to common belief, jesters weren’t just a medieval European phenomenon but flourished in other times and cultures. The first reliably recorded jester is thought to be You Shi, of 7th century BCE China. Jesters had unique relationships to power: they could be viewed as objects of mockery or as entertainers and trusted companions. Beatrice K. Otto digs into history's most infamous jokers.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

To learn more about fools and jesters around the world, visit and sign up to the website FoolsAreEverywhere to receive regular updates on new anecdotes, quotes, and other accounts of jesters posted every week, along with highlights of the best 'foolology' research, and a growing gallery—or 'fooleum'—of jesters in art. There is also a book of the same title, Fools Are Everywhere, the only global history of fools and jesters, which has a comprehensive bibliography.  
Other excellent books on the subject zoom in on the European fool, including Enid Welsford's The Fool, and John Southworth's beautifully illustrated Fools and Jesters at the English Court.
Also worth reading are some of the great primary source materials, including the slim and playful classic by Erasmus, In Praise of Folly. This was a bestseller when it came out, no doubt due to its light-hearted subversiveness, with Folly as a self-proclaimed and self-praising goddess. She humorously argues why it is she who rules the world, and makes a mockery of so-called wise and pious people. 

 An excellent source of stories concerning some of the most famous Chinese jesters is the lively translation of Sima Qian's Biographies of Jesters in War-Lords.
Another way to learn about the nature of jesters, is to get to know one of the greatest depictions of the role in literature—Shakespeare's Fool in King Lear. A particularly interesting adaptation of the story, taking place in medieval Japan, is Akira Kurosawa's film, Ran.   

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Beatrice K. Otto
  • Director Yael Reisfeld
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Music Jan Willem De With
  • Sound Designer Jan Willem De With
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Produced by Anna Bechtol, Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Script Producer Cella Wright
  • Script Editor Molly Bryson
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace

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