Comic Relief

The art of comedy and the jester in period and how its modern applications can be used to keep our (and our administrators') sanity.

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Latest Activity: Jan 6, 2014

Fools Everywhere

An excerpt from
Fools Are Everywhere
The Court Jester Around the World
Beatrice K. Otto

Read an interview with the author.

Fooling Around the World:
The History of the Jester
(from Chapter 1: Facets of the Fool and Chapter 7: Stultorum Plena Sunt Omnia, or Fools Are Everywhere)

"Who Is Not a Fool?" ["Qui non stultus?"]
—Horace (65-8 B.C.), Satires, 2.3.158

Then come jesters, musicians and trained dwarfs,
And singing girls from the land of Ti-ti,
To delight the ear and eye
And bring mirth to the mind.
—Sima Xiangru (ca. 179-117 B.C.), Rhapsody on the Shanglin Park

The jester is an elusive character. The European words used to denote him can now seem as nebulous as they are numerous, reflecting the mercurial man behind them: fool, buffoon, clown, jongleur, jogleor, joculator, sot, stultor, scurra, fou, fol, truhan, mimus, histrio, morio. He can be any of these, while the German word Narr is not so much a stem as the sturdy trunk of a tree efflorescent with fool vocabulary. The jester's quicksilver qualities are equally difficult to pin down, but nevertheless not beyond definition.

The Chinese terms used for "jester" now seem vaguer than the European, most of them having a wider meaning of "actor" or "entertainer." In Chinese there is no direct translation of the English "jester," no single word that to the present-day Chinese conjures an image as vividly as "court jester," fou du roi, or Hofnarr would to a Westerner. In Chinese the jester element often has to be singled out according to context, although the key character you does seem to have referred specifically to jesters, originally meaning somebody who would use humor to mock and joke, who could speak without causing offense, and who also had the ability to sing or dance: "The you was also allowed a certain privilege, that is, his 'words were without offence' . . . but the you could not offer his remonstrances in earnest, he had to make use of jokes, songs and dance." The term is often combined with other characters giving differing shades to his jesterdom, an acting or a musical slant, for example: paiyou, youren, youling, changyou, lingren, linglun. All could include musical and other talents, chang suggesting music, ling, playing or fooling, and pai a humorous element to bring delight. Several of these terms are too frequently translated as "actor" regardless of where they appear on the etymological chain of evolution and even though they were used long before the advent of Chinese drama.

Perhaps the earliest antecedents of the European court jester were the comic actors of ancient Rome. Several Latin terms used in medieval references to jesters (including numerous church condemnations of them), such as scurrae, mimi, or histriones, originally referred either to amusing hangers-on or to the comic actors and entertainers of Rome. Just as there is now no clear distinction between the terms for "actor" and "jester" in Chinese, so the Latin terms could merge the two. If there was no formal professional jester in Rome, the comic actors fulfilled his functions, sometimes even bearing a striking physical resemblance to what is usually considered a medieval and Renaissance archetype. With periodic imperial purges against actors for their outspokenness, many of them took to the road and fanned out across the empire in search of new audiences and greater freedom. Successive waves of such wandering comics may well have laid the foundations for medieval and Renaissance jesterdom, possibly contributing to the rising tide of folly worship that swept across the Continent from the late Middle Ages.

An individual court jester in Europe could emerge from a wide range of backgrounds: an erudite but nonconformist university dropout, a monk thrown out of a priory for nun frolics, a jongleur with exceptional verbal or physical dexterity, or the apprentice of a village blacksmith whose fooling amused a passing nobleman. Just as a modern-day television stand-up comedian might begin his career on the pub and club circuit, so a would-be jester could make it big time in court if he was lucky enough to be spotted. In addition, a poet, musician, or scholar could also become a court jester.

The recruiting of jesters was tremendously informal and meritocratic, perhaps indicating greater mobility and fluidity in past society than is often supposed. A man with the right qualifications might be found anywhere: in Russia "they were generally selected from among the older and uglier of the serf-servants, and the older the fool or she-fool was, the droller they were supposed and expected to be. The fool had the right to sit at table with his master, and say whatever came into his head." Noblemen might keep an eye out for potential jesters, and a letter dated 26 January 1535/36 from Thomas Bedyll to Thomas Cromwell (ca. 1485-1540) recommends a possible replacement for the king's old jester:

Ye know the Kinges grace hath one old fole: Sexten as good as myght be whiche because of aige is not like to cotinew. I haue spied one yong fole at Croland whiche in myne opinion shalbe muche mor pleasaunt than euer Sexten was . . . and he is not past xv yere old.

Discussion Forum

Time To Laugh-Those Crazy Jesters by Porcelain Doll

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Oct 24, 2012.

Jesters and fools 1 Reply

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things. Last reply by 1ywu2x0r7wtu4 Apr 21, 2011.

How To Tell The Sex Of A Fly......

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Mar 21, 2011.

Fools Are Everywhere by Beatrice K. Otto 1 Reply

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things. Last reply by Kim Jurey Mar 9, 2011.

The History of the Court Jester by Glenn Church

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Feb 24, 2011.


Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Feb 23, 2011.

Medieval Jesters

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Feb 23, 2011.

Elizabethan Jesters

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Feb 22, 2011.

Shakespeare's Henry V

Started by WarMouse -Manager- Jan 3, 2011.

A History of April Fools

Started by WarMouse -Manager- Nov 7, 2010.

You Might Be A Rennie If....

Started by Rev. Allen M. Drago ~ Traveler Sep 15, 2010.

45 Jokes from The Laughter Lover

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Sep 15, 2010.

The Top 17 Signs You're at a Bad Renaissance Festival

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Sep 15, 2010.


Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things. Last reply by Dept of PMM Artists & things Sep 15, 2010.

Tragedy and Comedy - Medieval Contributions

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Sep 15, 2010.

The Fool's Scepter

Started by WarMouse -Manager- Sep 14, 2010.

Tri-Corner Hat

Started by WarMouse -Manager- Sep 14, 2010.

Shakespearean comedy

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Sep 14, 2010.

Restoration comedy 1 Reply

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things. Last reply by Dept of PMM Artists & things Sep 14, 2010.

Commedia dell'arte

Started by Dept of PMM Artists & things Sep 14, 2010.

Comment Wall


You need to be a member of Comic Relief to add comments!

Comment by Dept of PMM Artists & things on March 12, 2013 at 9:25am

Wizard of Id

Comment by Dept of PMM Artists & things on February 19, 2013 at 12:35pm

Origins of Popular Sayings

“Motley Crew.”

Meaning: A group of misbehaving ne’er-do-wells.

Background: Motley was once a type of fabric, and, eventually, the type of clothing made from the cloth. The most famous motley wearers in the 16th century were court jesters, and the multi-colored, patchwork fabric eventually became a go-to style for stage performers. Groups of these performers eventually became known as “motley crews.”

Comment by daniel chester on January 26, 2013 at 12:17pm
Comment by daniel chester on December 11, 2012 at 9:52am

drago on a good day

Comment by daniel chester on December 11, 2012 at 9:51am

court jester funny film about the hidden side of the medevil europe

Comment by Dept of PMM Artists & things on September 27, 2012 at 11:01pm

Bound and Gagged

Comment by Dept of PMM Artists & things on August 30, 2012 at 10:17am

Wizard of Id Cartoon for Aug/30/2012

Comment by Dept of PMM Artists & things on August 24, 2012 at 8:19am

Wizard of Id Cartoon for Aug/24/2012

Comment by Dept of PMM Artists & things on August 23, 2012 at 11:05am

Wizard of Id Cartoon for Aug/23/2012

Comment by Dept of PMM Artists & things on August 11, 2012 at 7:39am

Wizard of Id Cartoon for Aug/11/2012


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Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries had its humble beginnings as an idea of a few artisans and craftsmen who enjoy performing with live steel fighting. As well as a patchwork quilt tent canvas. Most had prior military experience hence the name.


Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries.


Vendertainers that brought many things to a show and are know for helping out where ever they can.

As well as being a place where the older hand made items could be found made by them and enjoyed by all.

We expanded over the years to become well known at what we do. Now we represent over 100 artisans and craftsman that are well known in their venues and some just starting out. Some of their works have been premiered in TV, stage and movies on a regular basis.

Specializing in Medieval, Goth , Stage Film, BDFSM and Practitioner.

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries a Dept of, Ask For IT was started by artists and former military veterans, and sword fighters, representing over 100 artisans, one who made his living traveling from fair to festival vending medieval wares. The majority of his customers are re-enactors, SCAdians and the like, looking to build their kit with period clothing, feast gear, adornments, etc.

Likewise, it is typical for these history-lovers to peruse the tent (aka mobile store front) and, upon finding something that pleases the eye, ask "Is this period?"

A deceitful query!! This is not a yes or no question. One must have a damn good understanding of European history (at least) from the fall of Rome to the mid-1600's to properly answer. Taking into account, also, the culture in which the querent is dressed is vitally important. You see, though it may be well within medieval period, it would be strange to see a Viking wearing a Caftan...or is it?

After a festival's time of answering weighty questions such as these, I'd sleep like a log! Only a mad man could possibly remember the place and time for each piece of kitchen ware, weaponry, cloth, and chain within a span of 1,000 years!! Surely there must be an easier way, a place where he could post all this knowledge...

Traveling Within The World is meant to be such a place. A place for all of these artists to keep in touch and directly interact with their fellow geeks and re-enactment hobbyists, their clientele.

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