Drawing on Tradition.


Ron Shuttleworth

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This may or may not be the root of a number of factors which we recognise as the traditional role of the Fool. The jesters attached to mediæval royalty and nobility had considerable licence to break the conventions of respect - to send up great men and to apply ridicule in a way which would have earned any ordinary person the instant chop. This defiance of accepted conventions continues in some modern comedy. Examples include-

Dave Allen's religious sketches.

Billy Conolly's treatment of bodily functions, etc.

Spitting Image's send-up of royalty and the establishment.

Many aspects of the humour associated with Pantomime Dames.

There are also elements of this in many 'black humour' jokes which are deliberately deep in bad taste and treat crudely with subjects generally avoided in polite conversation, such as:

Physical and mental disability.

Death and disease.

Racial matters. (cf. Charlie Williams)


I have deliberately not mentioned the sexual joke so far, because I suspect that this is not a universal thing. The Danes have no social tabus about sex, and have no 'blue' jokes either. Nor do they have any sexual euphemisms - there are few if any strong oaths or swear words in Danish. When I asked Danes about it there was a puzzled silence, and I was told that the strongest word, which might startle an elderly maiden aunt, was to call on the devil. 'Forsatan'.

That seems to suggest that this particular form of humour - or fooling - can apply only in those areas where tabus exist and, I think, tends to support my original postulation as to its roots.

Some ploys already well-used by Morris Fools may come into this category.

The most obvious is the over-familiar, abrupt and frequently indecorous treatment of women, often - but not always - young women.

There is also the mockery of authority - particularly the Police. Their usually good-humoured acceptance of the normally unacceptable is another facet to ponder on and one which becomes more interesting the more it is examined.

Another example is the 'Betsey' fool or 'Shemale' who, like the pantomime dame, can entertain by behaving in ways which are outside the norms of accepted conduct for a real woman.

I can cite the present 'Beëlzebub' character in the Antrobus Soulers' Play, who erupts into a pub room, beating his frying-pan with a clog held in the other hand and proclaiming that he can 'Take a drink with any man'. He then seizes the nearest full tankard, drains it in one, and slams it back down on the table. This is all done with such realistic aggression that it would be a brave man who raised an objection. I should stress that this is not traditional to the play, but the interpretation of the present player.

Later in the same play, the Horse squats, emits a thunderous fart and deposits a baked potato on the floor. Beëlzebub scoops this up in his frying-pan with a delighted cry of 'Frying tonight!'

You will see that I offer no conclusions or recommendations. My object has been to offer some theory and some facts in a logical order in the hope that you, the Fools and Beasts, may learn from them. If we can gain insight into the underlying reasons why some 'business' works so well, and into the universal subliminal reactions we are working on, we may be able to refine our routines and derive new variations.


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