Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

The first of April, some do say
Is set apart for All Fool’s Day;
But why the people call it so
Nor I, nor they themselves, do know,
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment. – Anonymous

What better day to discuss Shakespeare’s Fools than April 1. So here are some of the fools that appear in the plays:

Bottom and Puck  in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing
Touchstone in As You Like It
The Fool in King Lear
Trinculo in The Tempest
Costard in Love’s Labours Lost
Feste in Twelfth Night
Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice
Lavache in All’s Well That Ends Well
The Gravediggers (and Yorick) in Hamlet
A Fool in Timon of Athens
Thersites in Troilus and Cressida
Clown in Othello
Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors
Launce and Speed in Two Gentlemen of Verona
Citizen in Julius Caesar
Pompey in Measure for Measure
Clown in The Winter’s Tale
Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew
The Porter in Macbeth

It also seems that the word fool appears in every play. Here are a sampling:

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Lord, what fools these mortals be!
  • All’s Well That Ends Well: Go to, thou art a witty fool.
  • Antony and Cleopatra: Out, fool! I forgive thee for a witch.
  • As You Like It: ‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.’
  • Hamlet: Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
  • Julius Caesar: What should the wars do with these jigging fools?
  • King Lear: Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter fool and a sweet fool?
  • Macbeth: Why should I play the Roman fool, and die on mine own sword?
  • Othello: Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.
  • Romeo and Juliet: O, I am fortune’s fool!
  • The Taming of the Shrew: Away, you three-inch fool! I am no beast.
  • The Tempest: Was I, to take this drunkard for a god and worship this dull fool!

And finally, in Twelfth Night, where the word “Fool” appears 53 times, Viola says:

This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, cheque at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practise
As full of labour as a wise man’s art
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit.