Jester: The fourteenth century was a time of “noble” extravagance. The high courts, surrounded by poverty, encouraged comedy. It was out of this thirst for amusement the Court Jester was born. Some Jesters were dwarves, others were idiots, and most were treated as pets. From these early court “fools” developed the official position of Court Jester. As the position gained recognition, many bright and talented actors stepped into entertain the court with their comedy and satire. Often the satire was political, and many walked a fine line between speaking the thoughts of the people and offending their masters.
The Jester’s costume was called a “Motley,” receiving its name from the dyed multicolored wool from which it was made. The costumes differed with the imagination of each Jester, but essential ingredients were often part of the clothing. Triangular hemlines were seen with arrays of bells hung all around. Headgear became popular in the shape of a conical cap featuring donkey’s ears, a cock’s comb, or woven triangles with bells. These hats were the early prototypes of many hats worn by clowns today. Jesters grew in popularity and soon became a necessary part of every nobleman’s court. Henry VIII’s best friend was said to be his Jester.
Richard Tarleton, a famous Jester of British history, was known to keep Queen Elizabeth in stitches. The relationship between Jester and royalty allowed freedom of opinion (guised in whit) shared by few. The Jester’s place in the history of the clown is one of courage and sacrifice. As a forerunner of public opinion and a friend to kings he is immortalized forever a major contributor to court and clown.
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