Minus "woo", The Fool as we know it is said to have
..... emerged in medieval England in the13thC. The rigid social hierarchies of medieval society relied on these reality maintenance constructs which were closely related to traditional inversionary re-enactments of mis-rule to create a sense of release for and in the population. Although, ultimately the role was meant to re-affirm the hierarchy and strictness of the medeival system. "Fools" became a construct whose unique position in the community's power structure demonstrated the reality of secularized opportunism, relativism, and immoralism. The “fool” wore a subtextual connotation of evil, pretending stupidity, often opposing the figure of the wise or holy man in a culture's structure. In the moral/philosophical dimension, s/he is the negative inversionary counter-point to virtue and wisdom.Above quote comes from History of Fools
I feel certain, though, that there must have been such figures, perhaps differently named, well beyond 13th century England, in earlier civilisations. What The Fool motif, in general, represents has always been a part of human nature, whether as the innocence of the tarot's version, or as the Trickster, Jester, Joker images which remain familiar to us today.
From a piece All the King's Fools by Suzannah Lipscomb at History Today website, comes a theory that indicates there was present in this medieval custom a dreadful streak of careless cruelty - but we ought to have guessed as much!
The popular myth about court fools and one that some historians have perpetuated is that they were simply clowns aping foolishness for a laugh. Yet my research suggests that many – perhaps all – court fools in the early Tudor period were ‘natural fools’, or what we today would characterise as people with learning disabilities and that explains much about their prominent position.
That court fools were ‘natural fools’ needs a little explaining. In 1616 Nicholas Breton defined a natural fool as one ‘Abortive of wit, where Nature had more power than Reason’. The legal term idiota was interchangeable with ‘natural fools’, who were characterised as incapable or insensible of their actions:........
Image identified by the The British Library: French. Detail of a miniature of King David in prayer, and a Fool, at the beginning of Psalm 52. Attribution: Master of Guillebert de Mets
So, I wonder whether figure of the Court Fool of Tudor times slowly evolved into the Court Jesters, who were not "natural fools" but persons of sharp wit and some wily wisdom?
Shakespeare mentioned Fools often, a list of his Fools is at Wikipedia, here. Best known are : Touchstone in As You Like It(1599), Feste in Twelfth Night,(1600), and the Fool in King Lear(1605); not forgetting Yorick, in Hamlet, the deceased court jester whose skull is exhumed by the gravedigger and evokes a monologue from Prince Hamlet on the effects of death:
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? (Hamlet, V.i)
And from Twelfth Night
"This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practise
As full of labour as a wise man's art
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall'n, quite taint their wit."