The Masked Fool
My first direct experience of fool in masking was watching Morris Dancing here at home in Yorkshire, England. The Morris dancers were dressed up in their usual dancing shoes with bells and baggy pants. To be absolutely honest I have always found Morris men a bit funny! Perhaps I should explain about Cecil Sharp, no I'll leave that to a footnote.
The Boars Head Morris Men were dancing in a pub car park. ( Pub short for Public House a place for drinking beer etc. in UK.) They were doing usual dances that are related to fertility, good crops and harvests etc. But of course they really don't quite have pagan beliefs off pat. Mind you when you see them drink ale in quantities that they did then you would realise that they had perhaps fully understood pagan ways of having a good time. ( Not to say all people who follow pagan ways drink lots of ale, just a convenient concept )
What you are probably asking by this juncture is this to do with fools?
Well Boars Head Morris Men had a masked fool. He was complete with boars mask pantaloons and boars headed stick. He also carried a bucket for collecting cash donations for charity, or maybe beer money. He followed dancers mimicked them and cajoled watchers for change to fill his bucket.
Interestingly I knew fool quite well and in real life, with out mask, he would never do what he did with mask. Being English he was just far too polite!
The Boars Head stick became a threatened cudgel, never used, just pointed and waved. The mask was a place to hide behind, for a normal everyday person. As you will find by looking further on this site mask allows people to change personalities. He bullied and pranced and enjoyed his dual mission to collect money and to protect dancers from crowd. Sometimes children get too close. That is not allowed. Sometimes dancers space is threatened by cars entering parking space. Wow! That is not a good idea!
But suddenly fool sets off in pursuit of three attractive women. He rattles his bucket and rounds them up as a sheep dog would. They are pressed into donating generously. He just leaves his dancers unprotected to fend for themselves. The next ten minutes is exchanged in good natured banter. ( The wife of fool is present! )
The above is from memory, probably about 20 years ago. In terms of mask traditions that is very recent. For mask traditions can be traced back at least 25,000 years. I am certain they go back to time of first questioning peoples; 50,000.................or more years?
What then is this reference to fools and masking traditions. Well as you dig through this site you will find that fool crops up in several other traditions.
In Masquerade fool is an essential figure. On surface he, occasionally she, is one who keeps order. He controls children, he stops their prying eyes invading dressing room. His stick maintains performance area. He cracks jokes, entertains, juggles pulls faces and GETS VIOLENT. He chases children with a whip and hits them mercilessly if he gets chance. He tries to seduce women, and does if he can!
Suddenly he becomes bored and goes away to sit and talk philosophically with a group of friends from his unmasked time. As conversation progresses he introduces new ideas. He begins to ridicule accepted norm. He questions accepted reality. He attempts to turns arguments on their heads
The Ubiquitous Fool
The fool is a ubiquitous. The fool occurs in masking traditions of North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, China, ........................ if you know some more please fill in my blank.
Universally fool treads line between normality and incongruities that world. The fool is both sensible and totally none-sensible. Not that he does not use his senses he just uses then in a different way. He questions and cajoles. He jokes and makes fun of others. Yet when someone over steps arbitrary boundary, (who decided ) he changes. Suddenly he becomes quiet hearth cat, sleeping feline, domesticated, sleek and silky. And as you stroke and pleasure cat she begins to become claws and teeth and worse growls. He becomes raging tiger, claws and teeth.
What is role of fool?
The fool traditionally questions. S/He challenges norm. S/He goes beyond routine and everyday. S/He crosses boundary between physical and spiritual. The fool knows both sides but sadly does not understand either. The fool is beyond judgement but is incapable of judging. The fool is a go-between, a hinderer, a creator and destroyer. He sets things up only to break them down.