Wednesday, 28 March 2012

the Fool, His Social and Literary History

The Showman is a person of many guises. His aspects are many and varied today we will take a closer look at one of them: the Fool.
To do so the Illuminated Showman managed to order a great out-of-print book from alibris. After seven weeks of waiting it finally arrived and has been read with much vigour. The book is called The Fool, His Social and Literary History (1966). The woman who wrote it, Enid Welsford has many great insights about the foolish side of our many faceted Showman. By thinking more thoroughly about our vocational character's rich and deep tradition in both real life and in the popular imagination we build for ourselves a firmer ground to stand on. It adds weight and gravity to our noble Craft.
We thought the best way of sharing her keen scholarship was to present the key points of her thesis through a carefully selected and ordered number of quotes, to let you get it in her own words.
Hope Welsford's thoughts help illuminate this aspect of the Showman for you all.

The fool is a man who falls below the average human standard, but whose defects have been transformed into a source of delight, a mainspring of comedy, which has always been one of the great recreations of mankind and paricularly of civilized mankind. The nature of this transformation of folly into happiness is surely worthy of scrutiny. Does comedy act on the spiritual system as a vitamin or as a narcotic? Does the enjoyment of it involve deeper insight, keener criticism or deliberate evasion of reality? I suggest we should go to the fool for an answer to these not unimportant questions, just as we examine the tragic hero not to enlarge our understanding not only of tragedy, but even of the ultimate mysteries of life.

A clown is not quite comparable, for instance, to a violinist or even to a tragic actor. The violinist is Paganini, master of techique, the tragic actor is Kemble, famous interpreter of Hamlet and other roles; but Grock and Charlie Chaplin do not express other men's thoughts, they are the creators of their own alter egos which, even outside the walls of the theatre, cling to them like shadows - at any rate in the popular imagination.

A bird's-eye view of the history of fools suggest s that they fall into three main grades or groups. St Chrysostom formulated the most comprehensive and fundamental definition when he described the Fool as 'He Who Gets Slapped'.
But if the fool is 'He Who Gets Slapped', the most successful fool is 'He Who Is None The Worse For Slapping', and this introduces a new and more interesting factor into the comic situation. THe fool is now no longer a mere safety valve for the supressed instincts of a bully, he provides a subtler balm for the fears and wounds of those afflicted with the inferiority complex, hte greater part of humanity if we may elieve our psychologists. It is all very well to laugh at the buffeted simpleton; we too are subject to the blows of fate, and of perople stronger and wiser than ourselves, in fact we are the silly Clown, the helpless Fool.

The fact is that the Fool can count upon almost every member of his audience holding two beliefs: firstly, that mankind is divided into the sheep and the goats; secondly, that he himself belongs to the party of the Injured Innocents. Even dictators and supermen introduce an occasional note of pathos into their eloquence, and find it expedient to make a subtle appeal to piry as well as to identify himself with the Fool, as he turns the tables on his chastisers, defeat the powerful, outwits the wise and assumes the most effective of all roles, the role of David against Goliath, the role of the pariah triumphant, who can ask his so called superiors with a grin: 'Who then does the slapping after all?'

'What do slaps matter to me, since I can render them not only innocuous but lucrative and funny?' For the genius of the Fool is manifested by his power of deluding us into the belief that he can draw the sting of pain; by hi  power of surroinding us with an atmosphere of make-believe, in which nothing is serious, nothing is solid, nothing has abiding consequences.

Fundamentally the clown depends, not upon the external conflict of hostile groups, but upon a certain inner contradiction in the soul of every man. In the first place we are creatures of the earth, propagating our species like other animals in need of food, clothing and shelter and of the money that procures them. Yet if we need money, are we so wholly creatures of the earth? If we need  to cover our nakedness by material clothes or spiritual ideals, are we so like the other animals? This incongruity is exploited by the Fol. the Fool is an unabashed glutton and coward and knave, he is - as we say a natural; we laugh at him and enjoy a pleasant sense of superiority; he looks at us oddly and we suspect that he is our alter ego; he winks at us and we are delighted at the discovery that we also are gluttons and cowards and knaves. the rogue has freed us from shame. More than that, he has persuaded us that wasted affection, thwarted ambition, latent guilt are mere delusions to be laughed away. For how can we feel spiritual pain, if we are only animals? But even the primitive joke about the human body has its complexity. We laugh to find that we are as natural as the fool, but we laugh also because we are normal enough to know how very unnatural it is to be as natural as all that.

Therefor, whenever the clown baffles the policeman, whenever the fool makes the sage look silly, whenever the acrobat defeats the machine, there is a sudden sense of pressure relieved, of a birth of new joy and freedom.

An here it is that one begins to discern a possibility that belief in the relationship between the poet, the seer and the fool may be more than an antiquated superstition due to out-moded ideas about Djinns, Madmen's Wisps, and Wells of Inspiration. On the contrary, these errors may rather be mistaken attempts to formulate the results of genuine experience as available in the twentieth century as in the so-called Dark Ages - the experience, namely, of two kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of the intellect, and that of the spirit.

the Stage-clown therefor is as naturally detached from the play as the Court-fool is detached from social life, and the fool's most fitting place in literature is as hero of episodic narrative, or as the voice speaking from without and not from within the dramatic plot. AN once more, in his capacity as detached commentator upon the action the fool exploits an inner contradiction; the incongruity due to that strange twofold consciousness which makes each one of us realize only too well that he is a mere bubble of temporary existence threatened every moment with extinction, and yet be quite unable to shake off the sensation of being a sable entity existing eternal and invulnarable at the very center of the flux of history, a kind of living punctum indifferens, or point of rest.

...the Fool does not necessarily inhabit a romantic or beautiful world; on the contrary his world may be very well adapted to his nature, which is often greedy, grasping, dirty and heartless. For the source of comic delight is the pleasing delusion that facts are more flexible than they appear to be, and this delusion may be induced as readily through a slapstick farce or a vulgar joke as through a Midsummer Night's Dream. The Fool is a creator not of beauty but of spiritual freedom.

Many of our contemporaries combine Hamlet's idea that the wold is a dungeon with a curious reluctance to unlock the prison door, a reluctance, however, which undoubtedly springs from courage, for it is due to the notion that the prison is coextensive with the universe and that therefor the only possible escape is the unworthy lapse into a drugged sleep.
A real life modern Fool Rumple Jolly Goodfellow.

1 comment:

  1. Facinating! Love reading your entries Frodo. xo Always gives me something to think about.