Some April Fools Fools

None of my Facebook friends have inexplicably broken up or gotten engaged or announced they’re expecting today, so unless they’re planning to change their statuses later tonight to, “Hahahaha!! We’re totally [getting married|breaking up|in the family way] today, but we kept quiet as a big reverse April Fools!” it looks like people have finally started to remember that April Fools jokes are lame. Color me relieved. I mean, it’d be really cruel of me to write a post today promising a new schedule of near-constant updates, wouldn’t it?* Nevertheless, as a little “Hey, I’m still alive” post, here’s a handful or medieval fools for you to celebrate this first day of April by gazing upon.

One thing you might not realize about fools is that the pointy-hatted, bell-jingling fool like the one in the image at the top of the post is more a Renaissance thing, or perhaps more properly a Renaissance depiction of what Renaissance artists thought a proper medieval fool ought to look like. (Really, to tell you the truth, most of the pieces of medievalia you** associate most with the period are actually parodies from the Renaissance or Victorian re-imaginings, but that’s a tale for another time.) But here’s a late medieval fool who’s clearly trending that way:

Actually, the late-medieval/early-Renaissance fool hat is kind of a combination of two previous types of hats. The first, usually without bells, had a single curly-pointed peak. More like Tingle from the Legend of Zelda. Here’s a trio of marginal versions, including one wearing a diaper while eating a dragonfly, one pointing and laughing at the suffering Christ***, and one who, come to think of it, is basically wearing the Minish Cap:

Don't forget, all the images here now use fancy zoom technology. Click away!

The other hat had two peaks and bells, but was flat across the top, more like a mortar-board than like the stuffed bananas of later, like so:

Or so:

The be-hatted fool grows increasingly rare the further back you go in medieval history. Prior to the fourteenth century, you’re far more likely to see this guy instead:

That’s him on the right there, the bald one holding a stick and a ball. Hilarious, I know! Just think of all the funny shenanigans a guy with a stick and a ball can get up to. Like, for instance, he could just sort of stand there holding his stick and ball:

Or, better yet, he could stand there holding his stick and ball but facing the OTHER direction!

I think it’s clear why the later look caught on. The fool needs fewer props to be recognizably foolish, allowing him to actually do something funny instead of just standing there holding his props all “Hey, get a load of me, I got a ball AND a stick here.”****

If I were commissioning a manuscript, though, I’d probably opt for monkeys instead. They work cheaper and they’re at least 28% funnier just on face value. I’m not the first to have had this thought, naturally:

As I often have occasion to wonder–monkeys, is there anything they can’t do?

  1. * I’m optimistic about a resumption of previous levels of blogawesomeness, but only time will tell. []
  2. ** OK, OK, not you, dear intelligent reader, but all the other people who read this blog. []
  3. *** Suffering Christ demanded too much on the back end, so I cropped him from this shot. []
  4. **** I think I should mention that in my head all the early bald fools talk with Rodney Dangerfield’s voice. And all they talk about is how hard it is to get respect while holding their sticks and balls. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • aegtx

    Aren’t those cheeses, not balls?

  • Kevin Hamel

    I had no idea baseball traced its roots back so far…

  • Ford Prefect

    I’m guessing they are parodies of the classic scepter and orb carried by royalty, and perhaps cheese.

  • JRC

    There’s a joke in here somewhere about balls and cheese. But I wouldn’t know what that would be, now would I?

    Thanks for the April’s Fool post.

  • tracey sawyer

    The last couple of pics… didn’t fools have a bladder on a stick that they used to amuse people… and before you say WTF… if you blow up a pigs bladder you have a balloon like forerunner of a football … so could he be holding the ‘tools of his trade’ that he does tricks with?

  • Henchminion

    I think the fools are supposed to be eating bread. They’re from capitals at the beginning of Psalm 14.

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that those earlier medieval fools looked the way they did because they represented the mentally ill. The heads of medieval ‘fools’ were shaved for hygienic reasons and they carried clubs to fend off unkind tormentors.

    • Got Medieval

      When the Fool is standing next to David, it’s supposed to be bread in his hand (like the second fool from the top)–except when the artist forgets and just draws a ball (like the fourth fool from the bottom). Well, “forgets” is not quite right. I should say “gets caught in the gravity of a well-established visual shorthand” instead.

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  • Charles Ryan

    Since no-one else has said it, can I just be the first to say welcome back, and that I think I speak for all of us when I say I look forward to the resumption of previous levels of blogawesomeness.

  • Gilles

    I back Charles Ryan !!

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