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Fools Are Everywhere

The Court Jester Around the World

In this lively work, Beatrice K. Otto takes us on a journey around the world in search of one of the most colorful characters in history—the court jester. Though not always clad in cap and bells, these witty, quirky characters crop up everywhere, from the courts of ancient China and the Mogul emperors of India to those of medieval Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. With a wealth of anecdotes, jokes, quotations, epigraphs, and illustrations (including flip art), Otto brings to light little-known jesters, highlighting their humanizing influence on people with power and position and placing otherwise remote historical figures in a more idiosyncratic, intimate light.

Most of the work on the court jester has concentrated on Europe; Otto draws on previously untranslated classical Chinese writings and other sources to correct this bias and also looks at jesters in literature, mythology, and drama. Written with wit and humor, Fools Are Everywhere is the most comprehensive look at these roguish characters who risked their necks not only to mock and entertain but also to fulfill a deep and widespread human and social need.

Read an excerpt and an interview.

444 pages | 49 halftones, 66 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2001

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies

History: General History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Asian Languages, British and Irish Literature

Middle Eastern Studies

Reference and Bibliography


“Highly readable . . . Otto has painstakingly assembled an array of stories that illustrate, and complicate, [the] delicate psychological prerequisites for humor. . . It is the jests themselves that make Otto’s book so enjoyable.”

Andrew Stark | Times Literary Supplement

“Otto’s lively survey is crammed with amusing, colorful (and occasionally off-color) anecdotes about jesters and their jests. . . . A pleasure to read, this book was clearly a labor of love: engagingly written, assiduously documented, finely illustrated, and handsomely designed.”

Merle Rubin | Christian Science Monitor

“A most learned study of the role of the court jester in world history. . . . [Otto] manages to cover an astonishing range of cultural references without the narrative losing momentum.”

David Profumo | Literary Review

“No other book has the breadth of this one, especially in its coverage of China. . . . Despite the book’s impressive scholarship, it is never pedantic. Otto writes with a contagious enthusiasm, and tells dozens of ancient stories with the wit of a comedian. The book could easily be made into a documentary on the History Channel, or even a Broadway play.”

John Morreall | Humor

"Our understanding of the jester wwill never be the same after Beatrice Otto’s valuable book, which so fruitfully sounds the resonances between the European, the Chinese, the Egyptian and the Indian traditions."

Simon Callow | Saturday Guardian

"Through anecdotes, historical details, analyses, and commentary, Otto brilliantly delineates the court jester, and quotations and illustrations do much to enhance this eminently readable text . . . well worth a look by avid readers with an eye for an informative yet uncommon title.”

Library Journal

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Number of Fools Is Infinite
1. Facets of the Fool
2. The Scepter and the Bauble
3. In Risu Veritas, or Many a True Word Spoken in Jest
4. Overstepping the Mark: The Limits of His License
5. Religion, Erudition, and Irreverence
6. All the World’s a Stage
7. Stultorum Plena Sunt Omnia, or Fools Are Everywhere
Epilogue: Future Fooling?
Appendix: Table of Named Jesters
Glossary of Chinese Characters
List of Abbreviations
Illustration Credits

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