‘Invest me in my motley. Give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through and through
Cleanse the foul body of th’infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine.’
[As You Like It, 2.7.58-61]
The fool’s motley was a badge of honour in Shakespeare’s eyes, for the court jester was the truth-teller. An outsider with no standing, his task was to rail at pomp in all its manifold forms and disguises. He spoke his mind without fear of retribution, and his trenchant wit—rooted in the healing genius of the unconscious—was the perfect physic for the ills and folly of the court. He was the very antithesis of the status quo.
Our world is ‘infected’ as much by our thoughts as our deeds, and we seem to have little patience for understanding. We have abused our beautiful earth, denuding her forests, polluting her oceans, drilling her for oil, blasting and mining her for precious minerals, and now fracking her for gas. The mind that can justify such activities without heed to their disastrous repercussions for both nature and humanity is sick indeed.
Shakespeare’s medicine was art, which helps re-forge our broken bonds with nature. Again and again he comes before us in the guise of the fool, the joker, the wild card, the man from left field, the innocent—the true hope of humanity.
Where is the jester today?
Take Physic, Pomp!
[Image source, the Folger Archive http://luna.folger.edu image 9268]