Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Shakespeare and the Fool

Shakespeare wrote many fools and foolish characters in his plays -- from Touchstone to Feste to Nick Bottom to Launcelot.

But there was one fool who was unlike the rest, the greatest of all fools.

The Fool in King Lear.

Ian McKellen as Lear and Sylvester McCoy as The Fool,

in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production 2007-8

What makes him the supreme fool in all of Shakespeare?

Is it because he is funny, because he is also wise, or because he is faithful to Lear? What is it about him that is so important?

There are many scholars who have written about the Fool and the significance of the character in the play.

What they don’t write about is a real fool, a real person who was a fool, whom Shakespeare knew.

Archibald Armstrong was a court jester, a fool for King James.

Armstrong was born in Scotland, and was known as "Archy."

The real fool behind Shakespeare's Fool

Archy traveled to London in 1603 in the service of King James when he succeeded Queen Elizabeth after she died.

Archy was the first official court jester in England since King Henry VIII, and his court fool William Sommers.

His duty was to entertain the king.

Soon after James became king, he promoted Shakespeare and his company of actors. Their patron was no longer the Lord Chamberlain, but the king himself. They were now known as the King’s Men.

Shakespeare was the most popular and successful playwright in the most popular and successful playing company.

His duty was to entertain the king.

King James

Shakespeare must have known Archy. They had very similar jobs.

Shakespeare must have seen Archy with some frequency. Shakespeare played Othello, Measure for Measure in 1604 at court, and there is every reason to believe that Archy would have been by the king’s side.

I doubt that Archy was ever far from the king’s side. His job was to make the king laugh.

From what little evidence there is, Archy could do just about anything, insult anyone at court, and mock the most senior courtiers and counsellors. 

He could get away with this, as long as he amused King James. 

He had the protection of the king. He probably knew that if the king lost interest in him, and got bored of him, then he was done for.

Shakespeare must have seen all of this. When he wrote King Lear, he didn’t have far to look to find inspiration for the character of the Fool.

There was a real Fool right in front of him.

What does this mean for King Lear? To what degree was Shakespeare’s Fool a representation of Archy? We may never know.

What was Shakespeare doing when he staged a play about King Lear with his Fool, for the entertainment of King James with his court jester?

I don’t know. But I'm working on it.

But Archy, the court jester, might give us a better understanding of what Shakespeare was trying to accomplish with his King Lear play.

We know very little about him. We don’t even know when he was born. 

But we do know that he was buried on 1 April 1672.

April Fools’ Day. 

How appropriate.


David B. Schajer

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