Book Series International Medieval Research, vol. 17

Behaving like Fools

Voice, Gesture, and Laughter in Texts, Manuscripts, and Early Books

Lucy Perry, Alexander Schwarz (eds)

  • Pages: 301 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:28 b/w
  • Language(s):English, German, French
  • Publication Year:2011

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53157-1
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53791-7
  • E-book
  • Available

This collection of essays brings together the most up-to-date work on the subject of fools and foolishness in English, Dutch, French, and German literature, art, and society from 1200 to 1600, providing a refreshing approach to the well-known subject of foolery.


"Tente de définir le fou derrière ses multiples masques littéraires et iconographiques entre 1200 et 1600, tel est l'objet de cet ouvrage collectif, particulièrement réussi, riche en analyses critiques et en documents. (...) D'une façon globale, l'ouvrage renouvelle actuelle des études sur les fous, en en livrant une belle synthèse, problématisée et exhaustive, aux époques médiévales et modernes." (Martine Clouzot, dans: Sehepunkte, 12 (2012), Nr. 7/8, 15.07.2012,



The period from 1200 to 1600 was the golden age of fools. From representations of irreverent acts to full-blown insanity, fools appeared on the misericords of gothic churches and in the plots of Arthurian narratives, before achieving a wider prominence in literature and iconography in the decades around 1500. But how are we to read these figures appropriately? Is it possible to reconstruct the fascination that fools exerted on the medieval and early modern mind? While modern theories give us the analytical tools to explore this subject, we are faced with the paradox that by striving to understand fools and foolishness we no longer accept their ways but impose rational categories on them. Together these essays propose one way out of this dilemma. Instead of attempting to define the fool or trying to find the common denominator behind his many masks, this volume focuses on the qualities, acts, and gestures that signify foolishness. By investigating different manifestations of foolery rather than the figure of the fool himself, we can begin to understand the proliferation of fools and foolish behaviour in the texts and illustrations of manuscripts and early books.



List of Abbreviations


Traditions of Simulated Folly in The Canterbury Interlude and Tale of Beryn - GUILLEMETTE BOLENS

A Fool and a Troubadour: Folly in the Legend of Peire Vidal - SUSANNA NIIRANEN

An Anglo-Norman Fool in Constantinople: Der Pfaffe Amis - CORDULA BÖCKING-POLITIS

Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools and its Woodcuts - SIEGRID SCHMIDT

Eulenspiegel Meets Nasreddin: A Fools’ Contest - ALEXANDER SCHWARZ

After the Laughter: Discipline Through Narration. The Fool’s Didactics in Wolfgang Büttner’s Jocular Prose Tales (Schwänke) Featuring Claus Narr (1572) - PETER GLASNER

Playing the Fool: Eccentric Behaviour and Political Acumen in Wace’s Roman de Rou - FRANÇOISE LE SAUX

‘Marcel far to helle; & tel heom þer spelles’ (Brut, line 13245): ‘Off’ Jokes and Crude Behaviour in Lawman’s Brut - ROSAMUND ALLEN

A Small History of Laughter, or When Laughter Has to Be Reasonable - STEFAN BIEßENECKER

‘Cel neim […] est fols’: ‘Fool-like’ Dwarfs and the Irony of Fictionality in French Texts around 1200 - TANJA-ISABEL HABICHT

The Issue of Madness in Tristan Romances - PATRIZIA MAZZADI

‘What kind of fool am I?’: The Tragi-comedy of the Love Potion in the Thomas/Gottfried Branch of the Tristan Legend - NEIL THOMAS

Don’t Make Me Laugh! Fooling Around in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - LUCY PERRY