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Medieval Jesters

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Jesters - Definition and Description
Definition and description of a jester: A Jester is a professional clown employed to entertain a king or nobleman in the middle ages. Also referred to as a fool, buffoon or clown. The Medieval jesters of the Middle Ages can be compared to the circus clowns of today. The class of professional court jesters reached its culminating point of influence and recognized place and function in the social organism during the Middle Ages.

The Role of Medieval Jesters
Medieval Jesters played a minor role in court life but certainly brightened up the entertainments. The history of court jesters dated back before the Medieval era of the Middle Ages, which they are most closely associated with. Medieval jesters were responsible for bringing a smile to the face of a monarch who was feeling angry or who was feeling unwell. The role of the Medieval jester was to amuse his master, to excite him to laughter by sharp contrast, to prevent the over-oppression of state affairs, and, in harmony with a well-known physiological precept, by his liveliness at meals to assist his lord's digestion.

The Clothing of Medieval Jesters
The clothing of Medieval court jesters - what did they wear? The heads of Medieval jesters were shaved, their coats were motley and the breeches tight with generally one leg different in colour from the other. The head was covered with a garment resembling a monk's cowl, which fell over the breast and shoulders. The first Medieval jesters wore a hat depicting the ears of an ass - the asses tail was then added to his costume. The clothes worn by the court jester moved on to gaudy, brightly colored and humorous attire. The Medieval jesters cloth hat, called a Fool's hat, was most distinctive consisting of three points with a jingle bell at the end of each point. A court jester would also carry a mock sceptre called a bauble which was adorned by a carved head or the inflated bladder of an animal.

Medieval Jesters - Freedom of speech
The Medieval Jester held privileges which were not afforded to many other persons at court. The court jester was one of the few characters in the court who could freely speak his mind without causing offence and somebody who could use humor to mock, jibe and joke about the lords, ladies and nobles of the court. Jesters came from a wide variety of backgrounds and many of them were well educated. The predecessors of the Medieval jesters were the Jongleurs and some jesters were recruited from this band of entertainers.

Medieval Jesters - Lord of Misrule or Master of the Revels
The role of the Medieval jester, and the privileges accorded to him, were also given to the Lord of Misrule who was the master of the Christmas revels. These mock-monarchs began their reign on Allhallows Eve, and misruled till Candlemas. Stow writes: "In the feast of Christmas there was in the King's House, wheresoever he lodged, a Lord of Misrule or Master of merry disports, and the like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honour or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal." During this time the ordinary rules of life were turned topsy-turvy as masters served their servants. The Lord of Misrule presided over all of this, and had the power to command anyone to do anything during the holiday period.

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