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The role of the comedies | Shakespeare and comedy | Birmingham City Council

The role of the comedies

The role of the comedies in the theatrical world is similar to the role of carnivals in real life. They are an alternative to the official order where one can express a different opinion, where traditional hierarchy doesn’t apply and clowns and fools can mock the authority. Shakespeare draws on his knowledge of folk traditions (the Lord of Misrule etc.) to create characters and situations in his comedies that are funny, individual and well loved by the public, as well as being keen observers and critics of society. In tune with Elizabethan theatre traditions they offer wit and laughter by the bucket full in the shape of Shakespeare’s fools/clowns/jesters/jokers.

The fool

The fool is a stock character in Shakespeare. Feste, Touchstone and King Lear’s fool and many others are the paid entertainers hired by aristocratic households to provide amusement. While in real life the court jester would have been usually a poor or disabled boy, Shakespeare’s fool is foolish only on first appearance.