What Did Court Jesters Actually Do?

  • Musician and court jester
Musician and court jester
Credit: duncan1890/ iStock

Court jesters are frequently portrayed as cartoonish figures dressed in colorful pointed hats and jangling bells. Though their qualities have often been caricatured over time, court jesters were indeed real, and they played a significant role at courts across Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance era.

The roots of the court jester can be traced back to the comedic actors, or balatrones, of ancient Rome. Due to Rome’s periodic censorship crackdowns on these outspoken actors, many became roving performers, traveling throughout the empire in search of new audiences and opportunities. These roving comics may have helped lay the groundwork for medieval jesters, and contributed to the growing popularity of comedic folly across Europe.

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