As you can see, this is a very short clip from King Lear. I was looking for one that features my favorite Lear speech, after he transforms into Wise Fool, but that was surely a long shot. I settle for this as a good example of the Fool archetype explored throughout King Lear. Actors are Laurence Olivier and John Hurt, playing King Lear and his court fool.
By now you know something of the more cosmic purpose of the court fool and other clowns, and direct counsel such as this is one form it took. The court fool (as well as our inner Fool) presents his/her counsel in the language of riddle and parable, an ancient teaching manner I'll expand on a little later in this post. The climactic bit for my Foolish wisdom purposes is towards the end of this short scene above. Lear has been betrayed by his daughter (he has three and Goneril is the first to betray him, I think) and is beginning the downward spiral of loss and madness, experiences which humble his immature ego over the course of the play, break him free of his Big Man personality shell, and bring him to wisdom. The important bit for my purpose, then, is:
Fool. If thou wert my Fool, nuncle, I’d have thee beaten for being old before thy time.
Lear. How’s that?
Fool. Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.
Check out also the King Lear quote I included in the last post, which is pretty important to read (the post, I mean) if you don't already know about the Wise Fool archetype and want to understand this post. The Foolish wisdom in the play is my cause for loving it so.
So that is my King Lear promotion for all wisdom seekers! Also, there's a great book by Christopher Moore, Fool, that's a take off on King Lear from the perspective of the Fool character.
The ultimate meaning of the Fool's nothing is the cosmic Void, the non-place from which all manifestation arises. Again, the reason that the Fool dogs our heels throughout our lives, as described in the last post; everything comes from the nothing the Fool reepresents. Something (the physical world) must arise from nothing. There are plays on this subject of nothing in King Lear, thanks to The Fool.
There is actually a connection between the Fool's no-thing and perfection. Though the subjects of both nothing and perfection are found in the mystical branches of all the great spiritual and religious traditions, and Plato's thoughts on the matter are a basis for Christianity's search for perfection, Sufism excels at this fool's game. Sufism is generally known as the mystical branch of Islam, though it has spread beyond. Recently Sufism has sprung forward into Euro-Western culture through the haunting art of one of its saints, Jalal-a din' Rumi, the mystical poet.
Some children saw Nasreddin coming from the vineyard with two basketfuls of grapes loaded on his donkey. They gathered around him and asked him to give them a taste. Nasreddin picked up a bunch of grapes and gave each child a grape."You have so much, but you gave us so little," the children whined."There is no difference whether you have a basketful or a small piece. They all taste the same," Nasreddin answered, and continued on his way.
Notice the Mulla above is riding backwards on a donkey, heyoka style (last post). The donkey, or ass, has a universal symbolism related to the humility aspect of the Fool archetype. The Fool is no-thing- and therefore no-body. He or she is devoid of social status, for the Fool does not see the world from the perspective of social status and worldly power.
Anyway, Apulieus's journey in The Golden Ass is similar to King Lear's Fool's journey. The novel is written in the first person, and includes the famous transformational tale Cupid and Psyche. Note the juxtaposition of the humble donkey and the alchemical gold. This is similar to the image of The Golden Goose (last post). There are so many stories that include the Fool archetype, including the fairy tales I like to interpret; as I said, it's all pervasive.
There is certainly lots of the Fool's no-thing in the sometimes Buddhist mystical branches of Taoism and Zen. One of the ways to achieve "enlightenment", or the "perfect" state of experiencing from the seat of the soul and spirit rather than the conditioned personality, is to move into the Fool's liminal space, in these traditions. The Nasruddin story certainly does that; it shakes up our conditioned perceptions of what is valuable. To the children, "more" is of primary importance; Nasruddin points out that, from a cosmic perspective, "more" makes no sense. Valuation, comparison, is not needed there, where all is perfectly itself, and "Sufficient unto the day are the evils thereof", to quote the Christian gospel.
Repetition of an enjoyable act can only diminish the fresh experience, if anything. It will not enhance it. Our conditioned personality is partly created through the desire to repeat originally pleasurable experiences, even after they become stale and dead. We keep searching for that original experience of grape, and occasionally find it again. Also, Nasruddin points out that all is one; it makes no difference whether you have many or one, for, just as in holography, all are contained in the one. All are in that regard the same, and all is one is all is one is all is one.... That the ones who want more are children points out the immaturity of the "more" attitude, from the mystical perspective, as well as the age that we develop the behavior of focusing on "more". Nasruddin's visit is always an invitation to realization.
In fact, we may learn that the mind is busy creating problems where they do not even exist, for the mind loves to present life as problem so that it can have the fun of trying to solve the problems. Seeing through that problem-solving game, however temporarily, can be an important revelation, helping us to move closer to the Fool's center, the no-thing, the balance, the liminal where a more cosmic perspective is embodied and the place where one grape given is sufficient blessing.
A clown may do magic tricks, too, and teach us of the impermanence of things. For example, a clown may do shapeshifting tricks- scarves to flowers, feather dusters to chickens, rabbits in empty hats- to widen our perspective to include the shapeshifting nature of the universe. In my e book Poetry in Motion (here) I review several films that include magic, including Rough Magic and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Here on my site I share a short sample review of The Illusionist (click here). No surprise that transformational film would include shapeshifting, right?
Cohen's Zen story-in-a-sentence above also describes nicely the Fool's lesson of all is one is all is one is all.. rather nicely. When we are hung up, fixated, on one thing we are living life from a very narrow perspective, and the Fool asks us to spread our wings, open our eyes, break out of self-imposed prisons and open to the Eternal. The concept of "one" that the intellectual mind grasps so easily then shifts to include "one" in the sense of "All is One", the seeming multitude perceived as undivided.
The last symbolic pointer of the Fool I'm going to talk about is the motley.
At the bottom of it we can certainly configure the Fool's values as heart centered. That's why Dollie Parton's song ties together a multicolored coat, humble ways of being, the Innocent (she is unaware of why people would laugh at her), and heartcentered values shown in her appreciation for the coat lovingly fashioned by her Momma.
Enough Foolishness! Next- The Griffin!