Wise fool

Wise fool

The wise fool, or the wisdom of the fool is a theme that seems to contradict itself in which the fool may have an attribute of wisdom. With probable beginnings early in the civilizing process, the concept developed during the Middle Ages when there was a rise of "civilizing" factors (such as the advent of certain practices of manners in Western Europe) and achieved its most pronounced state in the Renaissance. The wisdom of the fool occupies a place in opposition to that of learned knowledge.


The implications built-in the "wise fool" figure comes out of the societal biases, inclinations, and tendencies held about real fools. Various characteristics attributed to the fool, include:

* lacking seriousness and given to frivolity ("inanis," fool),
* dull-witted or not very bright ("stultus," dolt, clown),
* retarded in intellectual development or mentally deficient ("imbécile," dotard),
* lacks understanding ("insipiens"),
* different from normal men (idiot),
* deprived of the use of speech or words (""),
* babbles incoherently ("fatuus"),
* noisy and lacking in restraint or discipline when merrymaking ("buffone"),
* nonrecognition of correct or appropriate behavior codes ("ineptus"),
* mock the "others" ("");
* acts like a child,
* simplicity of the heart (natural), and
* innocence of the heart (simpleton).

Innocuous fools have often enjoyed special privileges in cultural and economic groups, whereas aggressive madmen had to been restrained or incarcerated. A fool's powerlessness and helplessness may gain them protection of more fortunate people. Since the fool is only guided by their natural instincts, because they do not understand social conventions, they are not culpable for breaches of those rules. The fool is not expected to "know better" or "know" anything.

Because of this, the fool has often been given great relative freedom, particularly in speech. The advantage of speaking with exemption from punishment has made the fool attractive in the literary imagination, for example, the fool in Shakespeare's "King Lear". Lear's fool is one of only three people in the play who consistently speak to him wisely, and the other two, Cordelia and the Earl of Gloucester, are punished severely.

Though the fool is in a position separated from normal society which can cause them to be subjected to deriding acts and contemptous treatment, it has also at times caused them to be regarded with respect and reverence — the holy fool. In the Middle Ages, and in some primitive societies, the fool was thought to be under the protection of God and possessing "Godly imparted tongues".

ee also

* Comic, court jester, and the comic hero
* Irony
* "Primitivism types"
** Chronological primitivism
** Cultural primitivism
** Hard primitivism, and
** Soft primitivism
* Rationality
* Feast of Fools and the "Merry Company"

External articles and references

* Walter Kaiser, " [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv4-70 Wisdom of the fool] ". The Dictionary of the History of Ideas.
* Trevor Stone, " [http://www.trevorstone.org/essays/wisefool.html The Wisdom of the Fool] ". June 1995.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • wise guy — Synonyms and related words: Gothamite, boldface, brazenface, chutzpanik, hussy, malapert, minx, pup, puppy, saucebox, smart aleck, smart ass, smart ass, smarty, smarty pants, swaggerer, upstart, whippersnapper, wise fool, wise ass, wiseacre,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • fool — see a fool and his money are soon parted a fool at forty is a fool indeed there’s no fool like an old fool a fool may give a wise man counsel children and fools tell the truth fortune favours fools …   Proverbs new dictionary

  • fool — fool1 /foohl/, n. 1. a silly or stupid person; a person who lacks judgment or sense. 2. a professional jester, formerly kept by a person of royal or noble rank for amusement: the court fool. 3. a person who has been tricked or deceived into… …   Universalium

  • fool — 01. Stop acting like a [fool], and take that toilet seat off your head. 02. My kids [fooled] me into thinking that they had broken the computer, but of course it wasn t true. 03. He is such a [fool]; I can t believe he really thought you would… …   Grammatical examples in English

  • wise — see it is easy to be wise after the event it is a wise child that knows its own father early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise a fool may give a wise man counsel fools ask questions that wise men cannot answer …   Proverbs new dictionary

  • fool — n 1. ninny, nincompoop, silly, silly billy, Sl. yo yo, tomfool; simpleton, Simple Simon, saphead, noodle, idiot, cuckoo, Inf. jay, Sl. jerk, imbecile, mooncalf, Inf. moron; dimwit, nitwit, half wit, Sl. zombie, goose; scatterbrain, Sl. birdbrain …   A Note on the Style of the synonym finder

  • fool — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) n. See folly. v. dupe, mislead; idle away; tamper. See deception, change, inactivity. fool around II (Roget s IV) n. 1. [A silly or stupid person] Syn. nitwit, simpleton, dunce, ninny, cretin, nincompoop …   English dictionary for students

  • Fool — (Roget s Thesaurus) < N PARAG:Fool >N GRP: N 1 Sgm: N 1 fool fool idiot tomfool wiseacre simpleton witling dizzard donkey ass Sgm: N 1 ninny ninny ninnyhammer Sgm: N 1 chowderhead …   English dictionary for students

  • nobody's fool — wise or intelligent person, been around    Joe is nobody s fool. He s intelligent and experienced …   English idioms

  • a fool at forty is a fool indeed — Cf. 1557 R. EDGEWORTH Sermons 301 When he [Rehoboam] begonne hys raigne he was one and fortye yeares of age... And he that hath not learned some experience or practice and trade of the world by that age will neuer be wise. 1725 E. YOUNG Universal …   Proverbs new dictionary