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the evolution of the Fool character as established in Renaissance literature
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My thesis examines the evolution of the Fool character as established in Renaissance literature and traces its development and expression through time. The fool, while not an invention of the Renaissance age, emerged at that moment in new and vital ways that are still relevant today.
The fool that existed in ancient Greece and Rome is the antecedent of the more complex, wise and witty fool of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. According to Rosalie L. Colie in her book Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox the fool became a critical truth teller, a necessary plot device, and even a political tool, then and forever more (11). This paper discusses how the fool and the varieties of fool types are defined with an emphasis on unwitting vs. wise fools. The fact that royalty, as well as noble families, employed professional clowns and jesters during the Renaissance era has contributed to the elevation in stature of both the fictional dramatic fool as well as the comedians of the day. A chapter will be devoted to the Elizabethan imagination and Elizabethan psychology. Why were playwrights, actors, and comedians suddenly prized, as they had never been before, their professions acquiring a new validity and societal esteem that had not previously existed? Consideration Freudian and Jungian perspectives are also helpful here in conceptualizing the archetypes that Renaissance authors were working with, perhaps unknowingly.
Religious and political upheaval, wars and the great schism within the Christian Church all contributed to seismic shifts taking place in European society in the years leading up to Elizabeth I’s rule of England and the pertinent part of the Renaissance era that we will herein examine with regard to the emergence of the Fool. Could the combination of these factors have culminated in the ideal conditions that were necessary for the Renaissance Fool to materialize?
The Fool trope, in his multiple manifestations and contrary to commonly held presumptions and colloquial insults that prevail across cultures and languages, was not necessarily a negative or villainous character, but oftentimes a witty and astute critique of society and human frailties, which offers a valuable outsider’s perspective.
Another interesting manifestation of the Fool as a lover; while this character may not fit neatly into the natural/artificial Fool type dichotomy, it is worth considering and exploring as an important if, sometimes temporary version of the Fool that Renaissance writers and thinkers used extensively in their literature. Various Lover characters in Elizabethan English drama were, as in ancient Greece, often linked with fools: lovers as fools and fools as lovers (Kallendorf 341). What characterizes the various foolish lovers and how do they compare to other Fool and Lover character types? Under what conditions are they redeemable, if at all? What are long-term consequences of the emergence of these stock characters observable in modern drama? How closely do the professions of actor and playwright, canonized and legitimized in the sixteenth century, resemble their progenitors? Modern comedians draw upon many of the same techniques and serve similar purposes as professional jesters such as Will Kemp and Robert Armin.