In a Word . . . Fool

In Shakespeare, the fool speaks truth to monarchs with reasonable confidence he will not be parted from his head

 

I was recently described by artist Bobby Ballagh on The Late Late Show as “a fool”. He went on to say he was a friend of mine, to lend the description authority. It was unnecessary. We all know Bobby as an excellent judge of character.

He was responding to my denunciation of the 1916 Rising in these pages as immoral, undemocratic, anti-democratic, a travesty, the progenitor of two sectarian states on this island, the only begetter of and justification for Irish republican violence since then, etc etc etc.

The fools, the fools have added to our Fenian dead and provided a licence for others to continue the industry down to our own day.

Some might conjecture that Bobby’s pronouncement arose from a certain dread at old heroes biting the dust, and as seen through green-tinted glasses, darkly. (Lighting can be a problem sometimes in The Late Late Show studio).

That may be but, as an artist, he would know the valuable role played by the fool in drama, particularly in Shakespeare’s plays, where the fool speaks truth to monarchs with reasonable confidence that he will not be involuntarily parted from his head.

Being a person of no consequence in the scheme of things, such as a journalist, the fool can tell such truth knowing it will be treated as a joke by the king’s fearful underlings who cower at his feet should he even sniffle.

Shakespeare, as Bobby would know, cast the fool as a witty peasant or commoner who outdoes his betters through insightful intelligence and verbal dexterity. In my own case that would be Ros-commoner, of course.

There is Feste, the fool, in Twelfth Night who speaks of “man’s inexorable progress from childhood’s holiday realm . . . into age, vice, disillusionment, and death”.

Such immaculate, if pessimistic, wisdom.

In King Lear, the fool sparkles. Among his sayings are: “He that has and a little tiny wit,/With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,/Must make content with his fortunes fit,/Though the rain it raineth every day.”

So “Let me play the fool./With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

Of course, not everyone got the nuance in Bobby’s observations about me.

That can happen with artists.

Fool, a silly or stupid person, one who lacks judgment. From Old French fol, meaning “madman”, itself from the Latin follies, meaning “bellows”, “windbag”, “empty-headed person”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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