I played a fool once. Professionally. That’s not to say I don’t also have plenty of amateur experience as well, probably not a great thing to brag about. But fooldom has many forms, and it would be an injustice to consider all of them simple-minded. We have an entire day dedicated to annual foolery. Turns out no one can pin down where April Fools’ Day began. It could be inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or maybe the ancient festival of Hilaria; a feast the Romans took from the Greeks, perhaps foolishly, because beyond the general rejoicings there were the not so humorous public sacrifices.
Personally, I don’t understand why April Fools’ Day is effective in the first place. Doesn’t it remove the element of surprise, the best part of fooling someone, when we announce on the calendar, this is the day I will fool you? Thus, on the first, one can be sure when their spoon dips into the sugar bowl, their coffee will taste briny and no need to wonder if there’s a sign on your back if you feel an occasional boot to the posterior. All in good fun, I’m sure. But I prefer the time-honored role of the fool. The one that requires thoughtfulness and the unlikely combination of humility and chutzpah.
Shakespeare understood the fool best. He used the character with wit and humor to speak truth and insight. Longtime Mensa member, prolific author, and professor, Issac Asimov said in his Guide to Shakespeare, “That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.” My sole professional fool playing began when I was cast as one of the bard’s best, the Fool in King Lear. Although, at the time, I was quite distressed because I desperately wanted to be one of Lear’s infamous daughters. But alas, I was the Fool, costumed in rags adorned with faux animal parts and bells. If I remember correctly, while spouting couplets, I had to roam the set dragging my left leg. Glamorous it was not. But I quickly learned the task of the actor who plays the fool is a mighty one. A complex character who uses irony and sarcasm to be his king’s conscience and protector, the role is not to be taken lightly. It was the first time I was introduced to the idea of the fool being the wisest one in the room.
That’s the thing about the fool, he or she is the one who will dare to make fun of themself to the delight of others. Why be the entertainment for the crowd? While providing levity is its own reward, it also is the way to give respite from difficult conversations, unity through shared laughter, and sometimes, the art of how to mention the unmentionable. Often the fool is no fool at all.
Although I’m willing to play the fool intentionally, a higher calling that seems to be in my genetic code, there are times I am just foolish. Like when I lit my hair on fire at a fancy restaurant where I was meeting my boyfriend’s family for the first time, or the time I shut my own head in the car door, or the time I called the dealership when I was locked out of my car at a gas station because my electronic key fob didn’t work, a situation embarrassingly solved when they reminded me there was an actual key on that thing. I could go on, including the four other times my hair was on fire. Suffice it to say, the cringeworthy list continues. And will. After all, we are human and in that description alone comes folly.
I quite enjoy the Tarot meaning of the Fool. The card shows a blissful happy traveler seemingly about to walk off a cliff. But will he? In my experience, the card represents joy while letting go of fear. Symbolizing new beginnings and spontaneity, it is a seize-the-day kind of message with reminders of free will and consequence. Hardly foolish at all. It’s an openheartedness, childlike spirit we could all use even on our better days.
So, go ahead, April Fools’ Day someone you love or work with, which if you’re lucky, is the same person. Prank them by adding food coloring to their milk or wrapping their desk items in foil. Or, you might want to go another way this year and ponder the applications of the fool that could make a difference in your world. Be willing to laugh at yourself in public because most things are not that important. Perhaps, like me, you’ll just bumble yourself into being foolish. No matter. As Shakespeare wrote, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”