" All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl." Those were Charlie Chaplin`s words, one of the greatest comedians the recent world has witnessed.Amazingly he could make you laugh by sometimes doing nothing at all except looking at the camera with those doleful eyes. His movies re timeless and even today if you watch a Charlie Chapiln film, you cannot stop your self from doubling up with laughter. And yet, after the mirth is over, you are left with a fine thread of thought which slowly burrows deeper and you realize that Chaplin was actually passing on a profound message.
Such was the role of the court jester of yore. Jesters and clowns have existed in different parts of the world for centuries now and their role has always been not merely to bring mindless laughter , but to provoke one to think beyond the seemingly simple things.
The art of clowning existed as far ago as 2500.BC. where a pygmy clown performed as a jester in the court of Pharaoh Dadkeri- Assi, during Egypt`s fifth dynasty . In China . there are records of court jesters since 1818 B.C. In India, Court jesters were known as Vidushakas and they played an important role in the king`s everyday affairs.
Clowns who performed as court jesters were given great freedom of speech . Often , they were the only ones who spoke out against the king`s ideas and through their humour they were able to influence the king in many matters. The clown or court jester has been known by many names- bufoon,joculator, fool, bobo, chou(in China)
The jester used raillery, whether in the form of wit, puns, riddles, doggerel verse, songs, capering antics, or nonsensical babble. They were usually also musical or poetic or acrobatic, and sometimes all three.
The jester always had humor at his disposal, which he used as a tool to soften the blow of a critical comment in a way that prevented a dignified personage from losing face. Humor is the great defuser of tense situations. Among the Murngin tribe of Australia it is the duty of the clown to act outrageously, ludicrously imitating a fight if men begin to quarrel. In making them laugh at him, he distracts their attention from their own fight and dispels their aggression.
The Fool in Shakespeare`s plays is probably the most famous jester in English literature. He essays many roles and is often the inner conscious of the protagonist, as in King Lear, and often it his presence that provides the basic wisdom besides words of amusement in a play.
In India , Sanskrit dramas were mostly about gods, kings, ministers and sages. But the clown known as the Visushaka played an important part in the role of a sidekick to the main character or hero of the play. The Vidushaka was also there to translate Sanskrit into Prakrit for the common people. The king in Indian folklore was hardly considered a king unless he had a court jester by his side.
Tenali Rama in the court of King Krishnadevaraya , Gopal Bhar in Bengal, and Nasruddin Hodji in Central Asia (?) were court jesters around whom many a story has been spun. These jesters who were given great freedom of speech , were often the only ones who had the audacity to speak out against the king. It is said that Akbar, the great Moghul Emperor relied so heavily on Birbal( who was not really a jester , but a wise is able minister, that he refused to run his empire if Birbal were not at his side.
Of Clowning and the ability to make people laugh , Grucho Marx , the famous comedian said, " A clown is like asprin. Only he works twice as fast". The role of the court jester has more or less been erased in today`s world, but we do see reincarnations of them in comedians like Bob Hope and Charlie Chaplin. Hope could afford to make pointed comments about politicians and get away with it , only because he dusted it with his inimitable sprinklings of humour. Charlie Chaplin`s movies are all laugh riots and yet unfathomably profound.
The role of the court jester has somewhat bee taken over my the media today and especially cartoonists , ho have the liberty to pronounce judgements and make observations that can make the politician sit up.
Nasir Ed Din was one famous court jester in Europe. The story goes that one day the king was very unhappy when he happened to glance at himself in the mirror and saw how bad he looked. He started crying and the his subjects started , not knowing what to do , started crying too ; After a while when the king stopped crying , everyone else did too -all except Nasruddin . When the king asked Nasiruddin why he was still crying, he replied, " Sire, you looked at yourself in the mirror but for a moment and you cried. I have to look at you all the tme."