English comedian John Cleese pointed out the distinction between seriousness and solemnity. He said he couldn’t figure out what the latter was for. To prove the point, he went to the funeral of his comedy partner Graham Chapman and said in the eulogy,
“Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries. And the reason I feel I should say this is he would never forgive me if I didn’t, if I threw away this glorious opportunity to shock you all on his behalf. Anything for him but mindless good taste.”
Solemnity, he maintained served pomposity. Egotism is punctured by humour.
One of the duties of the medieval jester was to speak truth to power. The court fool was given license to caper, lampoon and insult as he pleased. He could also deliver bad news to the king when no one else dared to. In 1340, when the French fleet was sunk in the Battle of Sluys, Phillipe VI’s jester announced to him, the English “sailors don’t even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French”.
The famous painting below by Jan Matejko depicts a scene imagined from Polish history. The famous politically inclined jester Stancyzk is the only man troubled by the news of their loss of Smolensk to the Russians while the noblemen in the background celebrate other inconsequential victories. Who is the greater fool in the picture?