Fools Are Everywhere book cover

Click the book cover above for rave reviews, or just to revel in the world’s most sparkling, sweeping, scholarly springboard for the study and appreciation of fools and jesters worldwide.  

Or just buy the book ...

Colour: ‘I want one’ by Tawny

Why fools?


The fool as a universal archetype blazed into my consciousness the day I discovered the vivid biographies of Chinese court jesters by China’s Herodotus, Sima Qian (145-c. 86 BC).  

Flourishing over 1,500 years before Shakespeare encoded Lear’s fool in our cultural DNA, they were strikingly similar to everything a Western education told me a court jester was and did.  I was intrigued. This prompted five years’ research pursuing every lead, including languages I could barely read (amazing how helpful people are if you ask), and one I supposedly could read, classical Chinese.  With the guidance of a great sinologist, William Dolby, I ploughed through over 400 stories of Chinese jesters, ranging across two millennia worth of primary sources.

Fools Are Everywhere: The court jester around the world was published by Chicago University Press complete with a flipbook cartoon and original Chinese language inserts. It won critical kudos, with lively reviews and the American Association of Publishers’ award for outstanding book of the year in its class. But one of the greatest rewards has been the reactions of readers, some of whom have become friends, and I hope this introduction will attract new ones, with the sharp insights they often bring. 


Prologue: The number of fools is infinite

Facets of the Fool

The Scepter and the Bauble

In Risu Veritas, or Many a True Word Spoken in Jest

Overstepping the Mark: The Limits of his License

Religion, Erudition, and Irreverence

All the World’s a Stage

Stultorum Plena Sunt Omnia, or Fools Are Everywhere

Epilogue: Future Fooling?


  • Table of Named Jesters
  • Glossary of Chinese Characters
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index



From the back cover: Lee Siegel, author of Laughing Matters: The Comic Tradition in India

‘Sparkling with enthusiasm and wit, the text is sustained with Otto’s love of her subject and informed by both her erudition and her very good sense of humor.  Undaunted by the vastness of her subject and its resources, she presents a dazzling and entertaining collection of quotes, anecdotes, epigraphs, jokes, and comic texts.  This is a fun book, bristling with pleasurable details.’

Colour: ‘sea jesters’ by Seahorse Girl


From the back cover: W.J.F. Jenner, author of The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China’s Crisis

‘Beatrice Otto has brought jesters back onto center stage, and their routines turn out to be surprisingly good.  This exhilarating journey through courts from one end of Eurasia to the other shows court jesters as far more significant and more fun than one might expect.  It should be as fascinating to the student of European cultures as to the sinologist; as valuable to the theater scholar as to the anthropologist; as intriguing for what it tells about the nature of monarchy as about the nature of humor and satire across cultures.’

Colour: ‘wise fools’ by xinmi

For talks or other commissions on fools & jesters, please get in touch

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Chris Riddell jester cartoon with Fools Are Everywhere


‘Through anecdotes, historical details, analyses, and commentary, Otto brilliantly delineates the court jester, and quotations and illustrations do much to enhance this eminently readable text.’

© Carol Binkowski, Library Journal, February 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by Court


‘Despite this book’s impressive scholarship, it is never pedantic. Otto writes with a contagious enthusiasm, and tells dozens of ancient stories with the wit of a comedian. The book could easily be made into a documentary on the History Channel, or even a Broadway play.’

© John Morreall, Int’l Journal of Humor Studies, 2002

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by 1335sj


‘This turns out to be a most learned study of the role of the court jester in world history. It looks as if it began life as a thesis, but it is to Beatrice Otto’s credit that only seldom does it read like one, and she manages to cover an astonishing range of cultural references without the narrative losing momentum.’

© David Profumo, Literary Review, March 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by Kaycee


‘Every page quarries new veins of wit, ribaldry and pathos.’

© Murrough O’Brien, The Daily Telegraph, 7 April 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by lunalein


‘Entertaining, enlightening, and splendidly researched … A pleasure to read, this book was clearly a labor of love: engagingly written, assiduously documented, finely illustrated, and handsomely designed.’

© Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor, 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by ChristineFelicity


‘Otto’s first book, Fools are Everywhere, is a brilliantly crafted one and will delight readers. Her writing is extraordinarly gentle on the mind – eloquent and powerful.’

© Amanda Chesworth,

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by ross

(You are here) … An online professional profile designed to compensate for the colourless aesthetic lacuna of LinkedIn – launched in 2015.

Project 001 -

The first of a series of web-based projects, launched 23 April 2016 for three very good reasons. Celebrating bright writing and bringing to light hidden gems of fresh and original language and books.

‘I look upon fine phrases as a lover’, said John Keats. If you do too, or would simply like to enliven your mind and your presentations to boot, please visit.

Project 002 -

‘They have a quality of nuannaarpoq, of taking extravagant pleasure in being alive, and they delight in finding it in other people’ – Barry Lopez – Arctic Dreams aims to strengthen humanizing forces such as generosity, humour and delight, augmenting the authentic and unlimited enjoyment of life on what the poet Gumilyov called ‘our brave, our cheerful, our wicked planet’.

Project 003 -

Building the most sparkling, scholarly and sweeping online treasury to promote the appreciation of fools and jesters throughout history and across the world.

We will draw on thousands of stories, images and quotations in a dozen or so languages, amassed when researching the book of the same name – launched 1 April, obviously.

Project 004 - still under the bonnet

Dedicated to makers and making and the beauty of things, with a focus on one thing in particular and a celestial shade of blue. Clue: it has wheels and recently turned 60.

And yes, it has everything to do with sustainability and the circular economy, but without a whiff of jargon.

© Beatrice Otto 2019 - design & content


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