The Court Jester

A great name for a movie, and if you like comedy, a great movie; but also a lesson in history, wisdom and self-examination.

Let me bloviate and lecturize for a moment– historically, the court jester was appointed by the king.  If the jester was a good one and he played his part well– he, alone of all the people in attendance of the king, was allowed and able to speak frankly, truthfully, and often wisely to the monarch.

He was immune to the wrath and punishment of the king by tacit agreement in that he kept the king honest.  Sort of like an audio/kindle/print/#iTunes?GFY! version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in a constant loop– “Buddy? remember, your poopie is just like everybody else’s.”

In ancient Rome, there was something like the Jester.  Whenever a conqueror entered Rome (and never at the head of his legions before Julius Caesar), he rode in a chariot.  Behind him, holding a laurel wreath above but not quite touching (Latin: grace) his head stood a slave.  As the chariot paraded gloriously through the streets of the greatest empire in the western world, the slave whispered in the conqueror’s ear: “victory is fleeting.” (Latin: sic transit gloria mundi), literally: thus passes worldly glory.

The Jester was the tradition of this slave left over from the Roman world, a protected creature that dared remind the ruler of his imperfections.  There are few records of court Jesters being executed, at least in any place civilized, like England.  Their job was to entertain, but sort of “kid on the square” with the King, poking at subjects that might have been rather decapitating for others (see: the Tudors).

Their approach for broaching subjects of truth, whether subjective or objective, was to couch them in a joke or jest (thus the name).  If the King felt the Jester went to far or touched on too tender a subject, he could yell a face-saving, “Fool!”

The ploy usually discounted the Jester in word, but confirmed the statement in deed.  This was accepted by the courtiers as code for “conceded, I was a douche, can we move on already?”

Sounds like a shitty deal, but guess what?  The Jester got to sit at the King’s table, chase all the maids in waiting (some of whom he caught), had ZERO power to bring harm or injury to the kingdom– all and all a pretty damned good job description (sign ME up).

And all he had to do was be honest when necessary– refuse the ever-present call of the ass to be kissed.

To quote the eternal Ferris Buehler, “it’s hard to respect someone who kisses your ass.”

Which, as everything does, reminds me of an old joke:

“Balls!” Cried the Queen, “if I had ’em I’d be king!”

“Nuts!” Retorted the Prince, “I have ’em and I’m not!”

“Shit!” Says the King, and all the kingdom cops a squat.

And to all a good night.

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