The Fool archetype is an important part of our psyche that when embodied in a positive sense is both playful and wise. When we access the Fool it can cut through the denseness of our critical minds.
In Shakespearean plays The Fool in the kingdom is often portrayed as the only one that can tell The King the truth without getting his head cut off. That is, his light-hearted foolishness helps him access deep wisdom and disarm The King’s tyranny.
The positive Fool urges us to enjoy the process of life with freedom, humor, and joy. The Fool invites us all out to play—showing us how to turn our work, our relationships, and our boring tasks into fun. The goal of The Fool, perhaps the wisest goal of all—is just to enjoy life as it is, with all its paradoxes and dilemmas.
I was once at a men’s retreat and we were all given an envelope with an archetype to embody for the weekend. It was exciting. Would I be The King? Maybe The Warrior? Probably I’d be The Sage. Then again I could be The Lover—but probably I'd be The Sage. I am a therapist after all. When I unfolded my paper and found the word FOOL written on it my heart sank. Then I laughed. This is just what The Fool is about, taking us off of our pedestals and finding the ground. Breaking our seriousness or loftiness and knowing we are not better or worse than anyone. I had a wonderful weekend embodying the trickster at different workshops—giving myself permission to be a Fool.
In a negative or Shadow sense The Fool can be prone to laziness, gluttony, lack of self-control, lack of dignity, or inability to focus. This is where play becomes toxic. Instead of finishing your dissertation you’re at another party getting high. You need to submit that resume but you’re eating ice cream in front of the television comedy. This is where “fun” becomes life sucking. In the worst sense it could look like addictions—overindulging in alcohol, sex, food, or drugs, while life slips away. This is not being the wise Fool, it is being foolish. This kind of Shadow Fool needs more of the Warrior energy to be harnessed so as to refocus yourself. It may be time to stay home and finish the writing. It could be time to enter a recovery program. The Shadow Fool can look harmless on the surface but be destroying our dreams quietly in the background.
During the turmoil of the Bush administration Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, became one of our great Fools. His wisdom and humor helped guide people through an oppressive economy and the tragedy of a new war. Stewart later went on to interview Barak Obama multiple times in a modern day enactment of The Fool talking to The King.
Charlie Chaplin was a famous Fool who satired the difficulties people faced in poverty with his character, The Little Tramp. He also skewered Adolf Hitler in his classic movie, The Great Dictator. While for some this may seem extreme, the point of The Fool is to be able to help us look at the most dire aspects of life—and deal with them without being disabled by their enormity. As comics like to say, "Comedy is tragedy plus time."
Other famous Fools include Richard Pryor, Ellen, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Robin Williams, Wanda Sykes, Stephen Colbert, Monty Python, and Whoopi Goldberg. Fools are not just humorous. They bring wisdom to their humor that cuts through our pain and enlightens society.
Where could you stand a little more Fool in your life? Is there a project you are “staking your life on” that you can laugh about? Is there a child you are resisting being really playful with? Do you have a guilty past mistake you can now joke about? If you have ever attended a twelve step recovery meeting you might think you walked into a stand up comedy show. Addicts love to laugh at their tragic pasts. Is Disney Land still on your to do list? Can your cubicle use a few cartoons or playful toys? I know a well-published writer whose office is full of miniature toys and figurines. Its fun just to walk into his work place.
Below Charlie Chaplin takes on one of the great tyrants the world has ever seen with the wisdom of The Fool.
Take a look: