Anyone who knows anything about Shakespeare’s plays will know one of the starring roles often belongs to the fool.
He is the person who tells it like it is. He’s the one who advises the monarch not to do what he’s about to and who foresees what might happen if he does. (His other role is to keep both the monarch and the audience amused in the more tedious parts of the play but that is for another time.)
Usually, the monarch ignores him and the result is a tragedy that we the audience can predict because it’s so clearly obvious to anyone and everyone. Except, of course, the king.
I give you King Lear and poor Tom (other fools are available). Lear, against advice, gives his kingdom away to his daughters and, after a very long and miserable tale, ends up being homeless, going mad and dying of grief. It would be an unwise fool to say: “I told you so” after that.
The fashion for jesters within the seats of power began in the Middle Ages but gradually died out. I’m wondering if it’s time we brought them back; not just for royals but for all those in positions of power and who have some control over our lives.
In the world of the ordinary person – us – we usually have at least one person who’s quick to tell us when we’re in danger of making a wrong decision. If we choose not to listen to them, we also have our inner voice which sometimes irritatingly questions whether we should really do what we’ve set our heart on.
But what about if you have no-one who feels about to say that to you. What if your future is in their all-powerful hands? In that case, I’m not sure I’d dare to make an observation.
I’ve been thinking more about this after reading of some of the seemingly unfortunate errors of judgment made by our own monarch-in-waiting in his quest to raise money for his charities.
It seems there are some ethical concerns about who has been giving to charity and what they may have been looking for in return. The idea, surely, is that you give money to charity so you feel like you’re doing something good for society. That in turn leaves you feeling happy inside – and that’s your reward.
Except it doesn’t seem to be. Such an idea seems a little naïve. These people who give substantial amounts of money to charity – particularly royal charities – seem to be expecting quite a bit more. A royal meeting perhaps, a public honour in reward or, in the case of contributions to political parties, access to the top people. Obvious really.
If it’s so obvious, I’m curious to understand why those in charge don’t understand what’s going on.
The politicians do, of course. They fully comprehend it’s a trade-off and their task is to balance what they can actually offer with what the donor demands. Some politicians do it better than others. Ironically, our current politician-in-chief made quite a career out of being a public jester until he decided to go for the top job. Now some people say they expect him to get serious and find him less of a laugh than they once did.
Putting political machinations to one side, let’s return to our future head of state. Poor Prince Charles. It does seem to me as though he’s trying his best but unfortunately he doesn’t seem to employ anyone who will point out the pitfalls of some of his choices.
If he had a court jester asking him to question why someone might want to contribute hundreds of thousands of pounds into a charity of which he is patron, he might maybe ask the question himself. It’s great to be given money with no strings attached but not so good when the ultimate cost may be your reputation.
Similarly, a jester might ask why another member of your family felt it was okay to be given free lifts on private jets just because he happened to be a prince? He might ask how that fitted with your well-publicised views on saving the environment. Or it might be that he (jesters do not seem to have been female) might question whether the introduction to a particular young lady might not be appropriate and could land you with a heap more trouble than you’d bargained for?
If there is no-one within your court to challenge your behaviour, however are you going to know what’s good or bad, right or wrong? And, therefore, how are you going to manage to make the right ethical or moral decision when you need to? Such a process requires both practice and wisdom; how are you going to get that if no-one ever questions you?
A royal biographer recently told of how surprised she was by ordinary people’s reaction to meeting royalty. They laughed loudly at their jokes, become speechless – even when captains of industry or in similarly successful positions – and seemed generally overawed. And that’s the problem, if we are in awe of a person, how can we possibly challenge their behaviour?
I read that the Queen Mother’s family, the Bowes-Lyons were among the last grand family to have a jester within their aristocratic circle. Prince Charles often sought advice from his grandma. Maybe it’s time to revisit that idea. He might find it a worthwhile investment in the long run.
Photo 1 by Deleece Cook on Unsplash
Photo 2 by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
Photo 3 by Colin Watts on Unsplash