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Shakespeare and Comedy

Although Shakespeare lived and wrote some 400 years ago, his sharp observations of human nature are still true and valid today.  From the merely foolish to the crafty, practical jokers and hypocrites, Shakespeare's comic characters display an understanding of the world and humanity of the deepest kind all delivered brilliantly with the medium of laughter.   
The role of the comedies in the theatrical world is similar to the role of carnivals in real life. They are an alternative to the official order where one can express a different opinion, where traditional hierarchy doesn’t apply and clowns and fools can mock the authority.  In tune with Elizabethan theatre traditions they offer wit and laughter by the bucket full in the shape of Shakespeare’s fools/clowns/jesters/jokers.  Many of the fools are the paid entertainers hired by aristocraric households to provide amusement. While in real life the court jester would have been a poor or disabled boy, Shakespeare's fool is foolish only on first appearance.

Merry Wives of Windsor Programme 1961

Lovable clowns, wits and rogues: Falstaff in the Merry Wives of Windsor

Shakespeare’s fools are amongst the best-loved comic characters in the theatre.
Two Gentlemen of Verona 1938

Contrasting characters: Speed and Lance in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Each and every one of Shakespeare’s fools is an individual.
Image shows two men in uniforms walking away from each other.

Fools mock their masters: the twins in The Comedy of Errors.

Shakespeare’s fools are there to express the ridiculous in life and rarely miss a chance to mock their masters.
The Yiddish Queen Lear

A fool in name only: the boy fool in King Lear.

In many of Shakespeare’s plays the fool is the driving force of the plot.
Photograph of H. O. Nicholson as Touchstone, the Jester, 1910

Who is the real fool here? Touchstone in As You Like It.

In the later comedies Shakespeare's fools expose the ridiculous.
ark blue backgkround with  an etching of a menacing Jester holding three heads on holes

The sad fool: Feste in Twelfth Night

Shakespeare departs from comic convention with Feste in Twelfth Night who is neither funny or festive.