Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Scholarship on Fools

Inspiration from Orrin Klapp and poet Kannadasan

by Sachi Sri Kantha

Orrin Edgar Klapp (born 1915) is a noted American sociologist. In the September 1949 issue of the American Journal of Sociology, he published an analysis entitled, ‘The Fool as a Social Type’.  Klapp’s speciality was in delving and explaining the social roles of heroes, villains and fools and their significance to society at large.  In this particular paper, Klapp defined a fool as "a person, real or imaginary, who is generally ridiculed and who occupies a distinctive status because of this."  He then categorized fools into ten types, each with a specific demeanor.  The ten types are: antic fool, comic rogue, rash fool, clumsy fool, deformed fool, simple fool, weak fool, comic butt, pompous fool and mock hero.

I tried to fix the prominent Tamil individuals living amongst us now (in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka and elsewhere) into the original ten slots of fools created by Klapp, and arrived as the following pastiche.  One has to read Klapp’s original paper to check how well my examples fit into the ten slots of fools created by Klapp.  A complete version of his original paper is given below.  But before that, I declare my ten selections.

Antic fool – Subramanian Swamy (economist turned politician)

Comic rogue – Cho Ramawamy (playwright cum actor turned all-knowing oracle)

Rash fool – V. Muralitharan (aka, Karuna; military rebel turned politician)

Clumsy fool – V. Anandasangaree (teacher turned politician)

Deformed fool – Rajan Hoole (mathematician turned human-rights activist)

Simple fool – S. C. Chandrahasan (lawyer turned politician)

Weak fool – Radhika Coomaraswamy (legal academic turned women’s rights activist)

Comic butt – Douglas Devananda (militant impostor turned influence-peddler)

Pompous fool – Lakshman Kadirgamar (lawyer turned Colombo’s Rasputin)

Mock hero – Jayalalitha Jayaram (actor-dancer turned politician)

Please note that my above list is restricted to Tamil folks, (1) who have been in public life for at least a decade, and (2) those who pretend to be ‘leaders’ of Tamils, in some capacity via their own publicity blurbs in books, magazines and multi-media interviews.  Thus their tomfoolery in words and deeds have been in the public record and I’m exempt from the accusation of having a ‘personal gripe’.  Cho Ramaswamy and Jayalalitha, as stage and movie artistes, have been in public life since the 1960s.  Anandasangaree first contested a parliamentary election as a Trotskyist in 1960.  Subramanian Swamy came into the public limelight in mid-1970s as a crusader against the Emergency imposed by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi.  Chandrahasan [as one who opposed TULF leader Amirthalingam and formed the ginger group TELF, to claim the leadership mantle of his father S.J.V.Chelvanayakam which had passed to Amirthalingam], Radhika Coomaraswamy [as a prominent Harvard-returned radical chic proponent of women’s rights activism in Colombo], Rajan Hoole [as a co-author of the Broken Palmyra book] and Muralitharan [as the LTTE area leader in Eastern Eelam] became public figures in the 1980s.  Douglas Devananda and Lakshman Kadirgamar made their entry into Sri Lankan parliament in 1994.  Thus the foolishness evaluation, as I have chosen, has a minimum observatory period of ten years.

Even in wealthy America, as opposed to scholarship on politicians or criminals or sex workers or sportsmen, scholarship on fools per se has languished for understandable reasons.  First, the taunt [such as, ‘When did you reach the pinnacle of wisdom to look down on the fools?’] by one's peers on the temerity of those who wish to undertake such a gamble on life is obvious.  Among Tamil scholars, the poet Kannadasan (1927-1981) overcame this drawback through an ingenious route (see below).  Secondly, the timidity of funding agencies to not grant research funds on such an explosive issue is important.  Thirdly, the paucity of volunteers who would come forward to enroll in such a study on fools, even under the blanket of anonymity is a factor.

In my observation, the only prominent locations where profound exchanges on fools are openly shared are in bars and in the TV monologues of stand-up comedians.  In this sense, the successors of Orrin Klapp [in America, at least] to the scholarship on fools are none other than the late Johnny Carson and his professional descendants David Letterman and Jay Leno.  During the 1984 presidential election primaries, I also remember watching a hilarious spoof interview by impressionist Rich Little on CNN, speaking on behalf of the loopy constituency who could make or break the elections, and who resent being completely ignored by the two major parties in America.

Among the Tamils, if there is one who has contributed to a scholarship on fools, it is none other than poet laureate [Kavi Arasu] Kannadasan.  He became a self-experimenter on foolishness, intentionally and ignorantly.  What is great about Kannadasan is that he had recorded his foolish thoughts and deeds in his multi-faceted life, via his two volumes of autobiography [Vanavaasam and Manavaasam] and other autobiographical potpourri with self-deprecating humor, humility, pathos and introspection.  Within a span of 54 years before his death in Chicago in October 1981, Kannadasan had drenched his life in multi-marriages, the political squabbles of Tamil Nadu, drug addiction, faulty business ventures and a passion for alcohol.  Unlike Orrin Klapp whose scholarship on fools appeared in sociological journals, Kannadasan’s scholarship on fools appeared in exemplary movie lyrics of the 1950s and 1960s.  Four memorable Kannadasan lyrics on foolishness are as follows:

(1) Naan oru muttalunga enru Nalla padichavanga Naalu Peru Sonnanga [I’m but a fool – and was told so by four literate souls], written for comedian singer J.P.Chandrababu, in the movie Sahothari.

(2) Oho Ho Ho Manitharkale Oduvathenge Sollungal [Oho Ho Ho Humankind – Let me know where are you galloping], written for the character played by Sivaji Ganesan and sung by T.M.Soundararajan, in the movie Padithaal Maddum Pothuma.

(3) Kaalam seitha komalithanathil Ulagam piranthathu [ Due to the clowning of Time, the universe was born], again in the movie Padithaal Maddum Pothuma.  Komali is the Tamil word for clown.

(4) Yaarai enge vaipathu enru yaarukkum puriyale [No one doesn’t know where to place anyone?], written for the character played by Sivaji Ganesan and sung by T.M.Soundararajan, in the movie Bale Pandiya.

The first of the four Kannadasan lyrics mentioned above, Naan Oru Muttalunga, is a timeless classic on foolish experiences, based on Kannadasan’s autobiographical experiences.  The lyric was voiced by eccentric comedian singer-actor J.P.Chandrababu (1932?-1974), who combined Chaplinisque slap-stick comedy routines and a haunting bass voice to create a unique niche in the Tamil movie world from the late 1940s to early 1970s.  Chandrababu, who spent his early years in Ceylon - since his father was a press staffer - was also no stranger to foolish acts in one's personal life.  Thus this soul-stirring song lives in the lips of Tamils forever, for its in depth beauty, trawled from the experiences of two talented artistes who burnt both ends of their candles and had unusually short life spans.

The second of the four Kannadasan lyrics noted above, Oho Ho Ho Manitharkale Oduvathenge Sollungal also is filled with unique charm.  Venkaayam (onion) is an allegorical word used commonly in Tamil for a fool.  Why?  It could be that foolish acts brings tears to many.  Also that, peeling an onion layer by layer brings out nothing.  Kannadasan uses this Venkaayam word effectively to sketch the traits of fools.  The second quatrain of the lyric read as follows:

"Azhuhi pona kaai kari kooda samayaluku ahaathu

Arivillathavan uyirum manamum oorukku uthavaathu

Urithu paarthaal venkaayathil onrum irukkaathu

Ulari thiripavan vaarthaiyile oru uruppadi theraathu."

In my crude English translation, the lines read as,

Spoiled leaves and meat aren’t worth cooking

Mindless man’s life and mind isn’t worth for many

An onion peeled would turn out to be empty

The words of a fool aren’t worth even a penny

In the third lyric noted above, Kaalam seitha komali-thanathil Ulagam piranthathu, Kannadasan characterized different types of clownish acts among humans ingeniously. But in the first two quatrains he fantasized on the origin of universe, mind, love and human pairing as inter-linked clownish acts. In translation, Kannadasan’s lines read as follows: due to the clowning of Time, the universe was born; due to the clowning of universe, the mind was born; due to the clowning of the mind, love was born; and due to the clowning of love, pairing appeared. Of course, as one would expect, quite a bit of beauty and bite of Kannadasan’s lyrics is lost in translation.

In the fourth lyric noted above, Yaarai enge vaipathu enru yaarukkum puriyale, Kannadsasan gripes about the mixing of the real thing and the phony among humans. The first quatrain notes,

Yaarai enge vaipathu enru

yaarukkum puriyale – Ada

Andam kaakaikum kuyilkalukkum

Petham puriyale.

In my crude English translation, the lines read as,

No one doesn’t know

where to place anyone? – Yeh!

One can’t see the grade

between a crow and a cuckoo

Taken together, like the four lyrics mentioned here, there are more Kannadasan’s movie lyrics on fools and foolish acts which deserve in-depth study.

After reading Orrin Klapp’s analysis, I inferred one binding commonality in the careers of the ten Tamil fools I have identified.  This commonality is not explicitly stated by Klapp.  All had dabbled in second careers for better prospects of fame, fun and funds.  This applies well to poet Kannadasan and comedian actor-singer Chandrababu, too.  All the ten fools I have listed above exposed their foolishness only when they embarked on their second career.  This more or less jibes with the dictum of Peter Principle [formulated by Laurence Peter, 1919-1990] which states that, in a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence.  If nine of the ten listed fools (excluding Devananda!) had stuck to their original calling, perhaps they would have retained their name and public respect as sensible persons.  Another point which I feel deserves importance is that, when Klapp’s study was published in 1949, the ‘leadership roles’ were almost completely limited to men.  And also, due to the trend of those times, Klapp used the masculine pronoun ‘he’ in his sentences.  But, now we are aware that foolishness is not gender specific.  Thus, fools are represented among women who play the role of societal leaders as well.  So I have included two ranking women [one a professional politician and the other a quasi-politician in the international lecture circuit] among living Tamils, in my select list of ten fools.  What is also notable is that an advanced degree from either Harvard University [Subramanian Swamy and Radhika Coomaraswamy] or Oxford University [Lakshman Kadirgamar] does not provide immunity from foolishness.

Now, read Orrin Klapp’s original version below and check for yourself whether my ten examples tally with Klapp’s ten types of fools.  Nine foot notes [appearing in the original] are provided at the end of the feature.

The Fool as a Social Type

Orrin E.Klapp

[courtesy: American Journal of Sociology, Sept.1949; vol.55, no.2, pp.157-162]

Among the collective labels which have an unusual power of assigning status is the epithet of ‘the fool’. The fool represents a collective concept of a kind of person or conduct peculiarly ridiculous and inferior. Despite his low status, however, the fool is a symbol of fundamental importance, representing a role especially valued by the group. The fool is a social type found widely in folklore, literature and drama. The role of the fool is institutionalized in comedy in the professions of the clown and jester (1). Everyone plays the fool at some time; fool-making is a continual social process; it is safe to say that every group must have a fool. Moreover, there is a tendency to dramatize social forces as a conflict of heroes and villains. In this human drama the fool also plays a part. Whereas the hero represents the victory of good over evil, the fool represents values which are rejected by the group; causes that are lost, incompetence, failure, and fiasco. So that, in a sense, fool-making might be called a process of history. Public figures who become classified as fools lose their chance of leadership. The label of ‘the fool’ is, therefore, a propaganda device of special significance.

Our problem here is to define the fool as a social type. What is the role of the fool, what situations make fools, and what are the status and function of the fool in social organization? As a social type (2) the fool has certain definable characteristics, as to both personal traits and roles. The creation of a fool is accomplished by ascribing characteristics of the fool to a person through situations which ‘make a fool’ of somebody or popular definitions which impute the character of a fool, that is, jokes and epithets. For purposes of investigation a fool is defined here as a person, real or imaginary, who is generally ridiculed and who occupies a distinctive status because of this.

Types of Fools

The fool is distinguished from the normal group member by a deviation in person or conduct which is regarded as ludicrous and improper. He is usually defined as a person lacking in judgment, who behaves absurdly or stupidly. The antics of the fool, his ugliness, gracelessness, senselessness, or possible deformity of body represent departures from corresponding group norms of propriety. The fool is the antithesis of decorum, beauty, grace, intelligence, strength, and other virtues embodied in heroes; and, therefore, as a type is antiheroic. The deviation of the fool from the normal has three characteristics: It is an extreme exaggeration or deficiency; it is an evidence of weakness or irresponsibility; and it is an offense against propriety rather than against mores. With regard to the first of these, as the following examples will show, the role of the fool involves a striking exhibition of some incongruity or shortcoming. With respect to the second, the role of the fool inherently involves failure, weakness, or comic frustration. Because of his ineffectuality, the fool is regarded as incompetent and irresponsible. Despite his shortcomings, therefore, he is distinguished from the villain by the fact that his pranks involve no evil intent or are too stupid to be taken seriously. The fool is thus tolerated and is regarded with amusement rather than being punished. The types of fools described below are distinguished by the particular way in which they depart from group norms, whether by an excess or by a deficiency in respect to some virtue: (1) the antic fool, (2) the comic rogue, (3) the rash fool, (4) the clumsy fool, (5) the deformed fool, (6) the simple fool, (7) the weak fool, (8) the comic butt, (9) the pompous fool, and (10) the mock hero.

The first three types deviate through excesses of conduct. The antic fool departs from decorum through impulsive or playful behavior, e.g: pranks, leaps, undignified postures, grimaces, mimicry, and other capers. He is the ‘cutup’ or ‘life of the party’. In the theatrical profession some of the epithets given to this role are ‘clowning’ or ‘mugging’. The comic rogue, or ‘scamp’, is different from the antic fool in that his conduct departs from propriety specifically in the direction of forbidden behavior: ‘mischief’ or criminality, e.g: impudent gestures, liberties, obscenities, or preposterous, burlesque villainies. Hi ineffectualness, lack of serious intent, or other weakness, however, prevents the group from taking him seriously. The rash fool, on the other hand, is characterized by immoderate extremes or lack of judgment in directions ordinarily approved by the group. His enthusiasm, however, is ‘recklessness’; his daring is ‘foolhardiness’; his bravery is ‘bravado’. The rash fool is found in our society in the roles of the daredevil, the flagpole-sitter, the stunt flyer, and the youth with the ‘hot-rod’ racer. He is found also in the prodigal or wastrel (3), the person given to ruinous extremes in life or business. Finally, the rash fool is seen in the leader who gets ‘too far ahead of his time’.

Other fool types depart from group norms through a deficiency in person or conduct. The clumsy fool shows a lack of grace or proficiency in situations requiring expertness and decorum, e.g: one who slips or falls into an awkward posture on a public occasion. The person who hobbles, limps, or is physically awkward more easily acquires this role. The deformed fool deviates in appearance from group norms of beauty, stature, posture, health, etc. He may be ugly, dwarfed, crippled, gigantic, animal-like, or subhuman in appearance. Deformity has the symbolic capacity to suggest various inappropriate roles of the fool. Artificial distortions through make-up are used to suggest the deformities of the fool, as, for instance, the large feet and bulbous nose of the clown. Any person who departs markedly from group norms of appearance is easily cast in the role of the fool. On the other hand, a demonstration of deficiency of intelligence or wit places a person in the category of the simple fool. He is classed as naïve, senseless, backward, or rustic. Among the roles which create the simple fool are ludicrous failure, comic frustration (4), unintelligible behavior or utterances, and the quality of being easily taken advantage of. Another type of deficiency is found in the weak fool, the person lacking in aggressiveness, strength, or courage, e.g: the ‘sissy’. Oversubmissive and overprotected personality types are caught in this appellation. So also is the person whose moral code, dress, background etc. render him ‘too nice’ for the world of practical affairs. The weak or oversubmissive fool, when his conduct becomes of serious consequence to the group, is called a coward, a type marginal to the villain or traitor.

The role of the comic butt is played particularly by deformed, weak, and simple fools. This may be defined as the regular recipience of group derision and abuse. The butt is persecuted because his appearance constantly draws derision or because he is too stupid, submissive, or cowardly to fight back. In appearance he may be bedraggled, drooping, forlorn, in patches, or he may present a picture of battered dignity, e.g: the comedy type of the hobo. As in the case of the comic-strip character, ‘Sad Sack’, ‘everything happens to him’. Despite his misfortunes, the comic butt is apparently indestructible. He survives blows, falls, and insults; and the onlookers laugh rather than pity.

Two fool roles are distinguished which involve pose or pretense to status. The great or pompous fool deviates from group standards through an excess of pride or presumption and a lack of competence. Persons of rank, age, or great size are particularly vulnerable to this role. They are deflated or ‘shown up’ by revelation of pretense, defeat by a lesser rival, or a mistake, and thus made fools. Another pretender fool is found in the mock hero, a device commonly used in satirical literature. A mock hero is made by casting an ineffective person in the role or pose of the hero, e.g: by epithets applied to an ordinary person, such as ‘Crusader’, ‘Sir Galahad’, ‘Superman’. Various devices reveal that the supposed hero is really a fool; he performs the gestures of the hero, but his weaknesses are apparent through his armor.

Fool-making situations and processes

As has been stated, certain collective processes and situations make fools. Fool-making situations are so constantly presented to the average person that he may be unable to avoid occasionally falling into the role (5). Life is a continual process of fool-making. Popular humor, derision, and belittlement are constantly assigning this role. Consequently, because fool-ascription is a status descent, social relations are continually rendered unstable by fool-making. These processes and situations are of interest to those desirous of stabilizing or controlling political structure, e.g: through leadership or propaganda.

Fool-making situations are presented in the various institutions of comedy. These may be defined as those conditions which render it most likely that a person will act or appear as a fool. The profession of the clown embodies the perfected art of making a fool of one’s self or others for public entertainment. To become a fool, one’s appearance or conduct must be distorted from expectation in the direction of types such as those described above. Among the important fool-making situations may be itemized the following:

(1) Involuntary or deliberate distortion of appearance or dress from group norms, e.g: by a mustache or monocle

(2) Antic or indecorous behavior in situations requiring proficiency or decorum, e.g: horseplay or a badly timed joke by a political candidate Socrates was made a fool in Aristophanes’ play, ‘The Clouds’ by being lowered in a basket.

(3) Absurd failures revealing weakness or frustration

(4) Defeats by lesser rivals, e.g: being ‘shown up’ in public debate

(5) Unflattering comparisons with inferior persons, particularly with fools

(6) Situations in which one is forced to make a bluff or to play an unfamiliar role, as, for instance, the youth who is trying to smoke like a man, the nouveau riche and his faux pas in ‘high society’

(7) Lack of timing or insight, which causes one to play an inappropriate role, e.g: the ‘hero’ who rushes on the stage too soon or too late

(8) Being made the butt of a joke which imputes any of the various roles of the fool

Because fool-making is a collective imputation, it is not necessary, however, that a person actually have the traits or perform the role of the fool. A person is a fool when he is socially defined as a fool. All persons in public positions are exposed to popular humor. Among the social defining processes which assign the role of the fool are, (1) jokes and popular humor, (2) name-calling, (3) literary and artistic satire, and (4) propaganda. No one, for instance, is so respected that no jokes or rumors will circulate about him. A ludicrous conception may be built up; the anecdote may become one of the imperishable stories which are part of his reputation (6). Nicknames are also applied to public personages which help to characterize them and give the public a greater sense of familiarity with them. These epithets are often based upon some outstanding feature of the personality in question; the slightest idiosyncrasy may make him liable to jokes and epithets which assign the role of the fool. Satire may also distort his character through caricature, parody, burlesque, irony, etc. Finally, propaganda may exploit these spontaneous defining processes.

Despite the universality of fool-making processes, it is obvious that all persons who become thus characterized do not remain fools, that fools are selected. What makes a fool role stick? Among the factors responsible for permanent characterization as a fool we may particularly note (1) repeated performances or obvious personal traits which continually suggest the role of the fool; (2) a striking, conclusive, or colorful single exhibition which convinces the public that the peron is irremediably a fool; (3) a story or epithet so ‘good’ that it is continuallyr repeated and remembered, making up an imperishable legend, and (4) failure to contradict a fool role by roles or stories of a different category.

Escape from the fool role

Instances may be found in which persons popularly defined as fools have escaped from this role by actions or stories which allowed them to be redefined in terms of more favored social types. In general, however, it may be said that the longer a person has been characterized as a fool, the harder it is forhim to redeem himself. The strategy of escape isto do something which causes people to take some one seriously: aggressive actions (7) which cause one to be defined as a hero or exhibition of ‘human’ traits which arouse sympathy.

Among the major routes of escape from the fool role are the following: (1) Avoidance of the imputation by ‘taking’ a joke and ‘laughing it off’ implies that there has been no injury, that the jibe is ineffectual or inapplicable. (2) A counter-joke or effective repartee ‘turns the tables’ and makes the other a fool; ‘having the last word’ or getting the best of a contest of wits has, in fact, the effect of defining the winner as a clever hero. (3) A similar strategy involves acceptance of the fool role and its use as a ‘ruse’ or ‘trap’ for a clever victory. This is embodied in the sage fool, the rustic wit, or pseudo-fool, who under a pose of simplicity hides unexpected sharpness. By defeating more pretentious opponents, he passes the fool role along (4). Activity, aggressiveness, or ‘fight’ may transform a fool into a hero, particularly when he picks a larger opponent or identifies himself with a social cause. By choice of a larger opponent there is a double chance of heroic status, since victory will make the person a ‘giant-killer’, whereas defeat is no disgrace but may, on the contrary, cast him as a victim or martyr (5). We must note also that the social pattern of the ‘Cinderella’ operates as a powerful expectancy in American life, causing people to look hopefully at the ‘dark horse’ or ‘underdog’ for signs of a sudden rise to success. The person who is derided, clumsy, stupid, or made a fool, is a typical starting point of the Cinderella theme. Any revelation of potentiality or unexpected merit may start this pattern of expectancy into operation (6). Finally, by suffering or showing ‘human’ traits which arouse sympathy, a person can escape from the fool role. Excessive persecution, e.g: ‘carrying a joke too far’, tends to make a martyr out of the fool. Undue cruelty on the part of opponents, particularly if it is at the same time revealed that he has been injured, that he is human, has feelings, etc. will serve to evoke identification and shatter the definition of him as subhuman. Depiction of human traits by anecdotes of acts of kindness, showing his family life, etc. will perform the same function. If persecution occurs under conditions in which the fool can be identified with a popular cause, so that his sufferings are seen as sacrifices, conversion to the very powerful role of the martyr is possible.

Status and Function of the Fool

Whether professionalized as clown and jester or found in the butt of popular humor and village idiot, the position of the fool is distinctive. The various statuses of the fool include the household fool or court jester, the folk fool played by peasants, the folklore fool, the comic or dramatic fool, the professional clown or buffoon, and the village idiot. When established as part of social structure, the status of the fool has four characteristics. It is low, ridiculed, tolerated, and licensed. When not established as a formal status, it still persists as a social type or folklore conception in popular humor, particularly as comic butt and antic player of tricks. The status of the fool presents a paradox in that it is both depreciated and valued: It is at the same time despised and tolerated, ridiculed and enjoyed, degraded and privileged. Regarding the low status of the fool, we may note that he is at the nadir of the value system of the group. He is most lacking in honor and the recipient of all indignities (8). The fool might be defined functionally as a ridiculed status. Being made a fool is a type of disgrace. Ascription of the fool role to any status is descent. The fool is lacking in rights and responsibilities; nothing serious is demanded of him; the bauble of the fool symbolizes his incompetence, and nobody wants to follow him. His sole privilege is his ‘license’. Despite his low status, however, the role of the fool is valued and appreciated. He enjoys a certain importance and popularity; he may have fame. His pranks and jokes are to his reputation what exploits are to the hero. He is, therefore, not a ‘nobody’. He is appreciated through collective representations of his role, e.g: drama, fame, and folklore. The fact that the role is thus institutionalized in comedy and perpetuated in folklore suggests that the fool has important social functions.

These social functions are to be found principally in certain contributions which the fool makes to group organization and discipline. Some of these may be noted: The fool upsets decorum by antics and eases routine by comic relief (9). He also acts as a cathartic symbol for aggressions in the form of wit. He takes liberties with rank; and as butt or scapegoat receives indignities which in real life would be mortal insult or conflict-creating. But chiefly the social type of the fool functions as a device of status reduction and social control. Reduction of persons through the fool role is a continuous collective process of status adjustment. Fool ascription acts as a purging device, eliminating upstarts, pretenders, and incompetents from positions of influence. The fool also enforces propriety in conduct and thus acts as a mechanism of social control. Everybody avoids the role of the fool. Fear of ridicule may be as strong as fear of punishment or death. Social satire may be an effective control on political figures otherwise difficult to criticize. Group discipline is thus enhanced by the operation of ridicule as a sanction – as Bergson pointed out in his essay on laughter (1911) – the fool symbol functioning for propriety in a manner similar to that of the villain in the area of mores. Finally, the type of the fool functions in education, providing a negative example in literature and folklore, e.g: as an object-lesson for children in stories of Simple Simon, Humpty-Dumpty, etc. Thus the fool defines certain varieties of untrustworthy conduct. It operates as an avoidance symbol, discrediting leaders, movements, or individuals which show weaknesses in terms of group norms.

Foot Notes

(1) see Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk Literature (Helsinki: Suomaleinen Tiedeakatemia, Academica Scientiarum Fennica, 1932-36), IV, 149-249; and O.M.Busby, Development of the Fool in the Elizabethan Drama (London: Oxford University Press, 1923). For a survey of the historical and institutional roles of the fool see Enid Welsford, The Fool, His Social and Literary History (London: Faber & Faber Ltd. 1935); and Barbara Swain, Fools and Folly during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932).

(2) For a discussion of the concept and method of the social type, see Samuel M.Strong, ‘Social types in a Minority Group’: Formulation of a Method’, American Journal of Sociology, XLVIII (1923), 563-573; and ‘Negro-White Relations as Reflected in Social Types’, ibid, LII (1946), 23-30.

(3) see David Malcomson, Ten Heroes (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1941), pp.115-140.

(4) e.g: American Indian folk fools dive for reflected food, shoot at enemy’s reflection in water, eat medicines which physic them, etc.; see Stith Thompson, Tales of North American Indians (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1929), pp.364-65.

(5) ‘All people are exposed to situations in which they must act as fools’ (Kenneth Burke, Attitudes toward History [New York: New Republic, 1937], I, 52)

(6) B.A.Botkin has defined folklore as the ‘stuff that travels and the stuff that sticks’ (A Treasury of American Folklore [New York: Crown Publishers, 1944]), p.xxiv

(7) see O.E.Klapp, ‘Creation of popular heroes,’ American Journal of Sociology, LIV (1948), 135-141; and ‘The Folk Hero’, Journal of American Folklore, LXII (1949), 17-25.

(8) The importance of status is usually symbolized by honor; see Hans Speier, ‘Honor and Social Structure’, Social Research, II (1935), 74-97; and O.E.Klapp, ‘Hero worship in America’, American Sociological Review, XIV (1949), 53-62.

(9) Festivals are noted as ‘seasons of lawlessness and buffoonery when all revelers behaved foolishly.’ The ‘Feast of Fools’ flourished in the cathedral towns of France during the fifteenth century: ‘It took the form of a complete reversal of ordinary custom…The baculus or staff of office was delivered into the hands of one of the despised subdeacons who as ‘bishop or Pope or King of Fools’ led his fellows into the stalls of the higher clergy, to remain there and usurp their functions for the duration of the feast. This transference of authority was the signal for the most astonishing revels. As soon as the higher clergy shed their authority the ecclesiastical ritual lost its sanctity. Even the Mass was burlesqued. Censing was done with pudding and sausages. Sometimes an ass was introduced into church…On these occasions solemn Mass was punctuated with brays and howls, and the rubrics of the ‘office’ direct that the celebrant instead of saying Ite missa est shall bray three times…and that the people shall respond in similar fashion. But…if local churches tolerated the Feast, it was ceaselessly combatted by the Church Universal.’ (Welsford, op.cit, pp.70, 200-201)

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Posted May 9, 2005