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"It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak."
Morpheus, The Sandman "A Midsummer Nights Dream"

The constructive troll, a common feature at the Standard Royal Court. Much like his historical counterpart, the Jester's foolish appearance and demeanor means he's generally laughed at or not taken seriously. The upside to this is being able to pretty much speak his mind in the most blunt way possible without fear of reprisal.

The Jester, or his antagonist counterpart, occurs once other characters stop being genuinely offended by him. The Jester gets to give the alternate point of view in the most potentially rude way possible, which sometimes helps his cause, because the audience members who disagree with him can write it off as being a jerk, while those who agree with him can snicker in their sleeves. If they become (or pantomime) The Protagonist, they typically play The Fool.

Many writers have noted that it's a great cover. No one would guess that the harmless jester is really a bodyguard, assassin, or spymaster.

Not to be confused with a Villainous Harlequin, a villain who really is as foolish as she appears, or The Joker.

Examples of The Jester include:


Anime

  • When The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is captured by the Raalgon and made into Empress Azalyn's pet, he takes it upon himself to fulfill this role during Court, calling out the Treacherous Advisor Wang on exactly how he's trying to manipulate the empress as well as loudly and publicly speculating over his motives.

Comic Books

  Ozymandias: "[He] opened my eyes. Only the very best comedians can do that".

  • Though Deadpool doesn't realize it, this is why Cable likes him.
  • It might be argued that The Joker is this for the DC Universe as a whole.
  • In one of the Disney Adventures comics, Kuzco had a Jester act as a Body Double for a visiting nation regarding a Golden Hand. This, predictably, proves to be a very big mistake on Kuzco's part.

Film

  • Hubert Hawkins's (Danny Kaye's) impersonation of Giacomo in The Court Jester is perhaps the definitive "Jester as cover."
    • And Giacomo (John Carradine) himself was a disguised assassin for Ravenshurst.
  • Kyoami in Ran fits this trope to a T, at least as first.
  • Randal Graves from Clerks

Music

Literature

  • Thersites in the Iliad
  • Discworld: In Wyrd Sisters, the Fool is a classic jester who spends most of the book reluctantly advising the usurping Duke. He later becomes king himself, and is shown to be a kind Reasonable Authority Figure, and an optimistic by disc standards.
    • In one of the diaries, it's revealed that all court jesters are actually spies for their guild. They send everything they overhear back to the chief clown, who profits enormously.
  • A more benevolent version of this occurs in Alan Gordon's Fools' Guild mystery novels, in which the titular Guild are essentially a continent-spanning spy ring who try to manipulate their patrons into averting war, or running damage-limitation if that doesn't work. The main character, Theophilos, is stated to be Feste from Twelfth Night, and is heavily implied to be the Fool in King Lear. Oh, and he's Laertes from Hamlet, as well. Sort of. Look, just go read the books, they need the love.. Some of Shakespeare's other jesters, such as Yorick and Lavache, pop up too, if only in flashbacks.
  • Orr from Catch-22 is comically absurd, and nobody takes him seriously. Eventually the protagonist realizes that his erratic behavior was part of a plan to defect from the Air Force, and that Orr was hinting he should come.
  • In one of Isaac Asimov's Foundation books, the court jester of Kalgan joins the protagonists. It turns out that he was the Mule, king of Kalgan.
  • Tigana: The court jester is magically bound to the King, acting out his subconscious urges, but there's a twist.
  • Beldin from David Edding's The Belgariad and The Malloreon series; as a twisted, hideous hunchback, he can say and do just about anything he wants because everyone's staring at the hump on his spine. He's also an impossibly powerful sorcerer, however, and at one point magically disguises himself as a "standard" jester, nailing home the resemblance.
  • Onimi from the New Jedi Order series is the slave jester to Supreme Overlord Shimrra of the Yuuzhan Vong. His position as Shimrra's 'pet' allows him to mock the Elite mercilessly in a way no one else can, and he seems to take great pleasure in being as offensive as possible. He's also the true power behind the Yuuzhan Vong throne, using Mind Control to speak his wishes through the practically brainless Shimrra's mouth.
  • The Fool, of course, in Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy. As noted above, being a court jester means you can speak your mind more freely than others ... but it should also be noted that this only works while your king protects you.
  • Bluebell in Watership Down, which is full of archetypal characters.
  • Hoid, in Way of Kings, is the Alethi King's Wit, a title which entitles him to be the only person in the kingdom allowed to say just about anything about anyone, as long as the King continues to allow him that title.

Live Action TV

 Simon: We'll get off the ship. River and I will get off at Haven. It'll be for the best.

Kaylee: Nobody's sayin' that.

Wash: Nobody but Jayne is sayin' that.

  • Similarly Cordelia, Spike, and Anya depending on the episode of Buffy or Angel.
  • Vila in Blakes Seven plays this role too.
    • In one second season episode , Vila actually has to perform as a jester. He also sees the old guy, who was locked up.
  • Sommers from The Six Wives of Henry VIII, based on a historical person. He was the only one in the court who could speak frankly to Henry without fear of reprisal (and that's something Henry wouldn't even allow his own wives to do.)
    • The same character also appears for an episode in The Tudors, where after Jane Seymour's death he is the only man Henry will speak to at all in his grief. At the end of he episode, Sommers is shown sitting on Henry's throne, wearing his crown, and chuckling to himself...but he doesn't appear again in the series.

Theater

Tabletop Games

  • Harlequin from Shadowrun.
  • In Warhammer 40000, the Laughing God was this to the Eldar pantheon. This is also the reason he is one of the only Eldar gods left. His mocking nature distanced him from the decadence that birthed Slaanesh and doomed most of the other Eldar gods.

Video Games

Web Comics

 Lord Shojo: When I rule in their favor they assume that they controlled me, when I rule against them, they assume that one of their rival nobles controlled me.

Western Animation

  • Eric Cartman from South Park often represents the most abhorrent viewpoint.
  • Heloise in Jimmy Two-Shoes. She doesn't really act like a fool or a clown, but she is the only one who dares to mock and criticize Lucius openly.

Real Life

  • Truth in Television: Stanczyk, the court jester of Poland, became a Polish national hero two centuries after his death, during the period when Poland was no longer an actual nation, for his ability to speak the truth in couched terms.
  • The Motley Fool, a financial advising company best known for its newspaper column, plays to this trope. Unusual for the industry and befitting the moniker, their advice tends to be of the "invest in solid companies and funds and hold onto them for a long time" variety rather than promising easy money if you buy loads and loads of particular "sure thing" stocks.
  • Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. When people complain about their status as sources of actual news, they're ignoring a few key factors. No, satire has never had a meaningful impact on history. Thomas Nast was a figment of your imagination.
  • King Matthias of Hungary had a legendary court jester who appears in several folktales and novels (though it's unclear whether they were all the same person). More notable deeds include proving that doctors are the most common profession by pretending to be sick, prompting the entire staff in the palace to try and cure him, impersonating the king and negotiating a highly disadvantageous treaty with the Turks, but including a clause that makes it inapplicable, and wrestling the jester of an enemy king, in a failed attempt at Combat by Champion.
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