Project 001 -

The first of a series of web-based projects, launched 23 April 2016 for three very good reasons. Sharing a lifelong love of reading and writing and bringing to light hidden gems of fresh and original phrasing. ‘I look upon fine phrases as a lover’, said John Keats. If you do too, and would like to enliven your presentations to boot, please visit.

World Map Fools' Cap

The court jester is universal, but is he still relevant?

The answer is “YES”!  To find out why, see: Management & Organization Review – Sep. 2015. A look at the role of the court jester and its potential in modern organisations. You will also find a job description for the role of organizational fool if you would like to recruit one for your company or institution. You’ll be stronger and saner for it!

Image: hand-coloured The Fool’s Cap World Map – copyright Beatrice Otto – original (ca. 1590) in the Bodleian Library (Bodleian Douce Portfolio 142 [92]).

World Map Fools' Cap

Jesters and Fools: A history of wit and whimsy

An hour long radio programme on WNPR dedicated to fools and jesters, hosted by Colin McEnroe, with Beatrice and some excellent other contributors.   Listen here (takes you to the WNPR website).

Photo credit: Michael Kerswill, Flickr

Fools Are Everywhere book cover


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


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

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.

“Authors always love people who enjoy their books, you know.”  Elizabeth Goudge, Henrietta’s House


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


Published reviews
  • ‘Even despots need a good laugh’, Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor, 2001
  • ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, Carol Binkowski, Library Journal, February 2001
  • ‘Turds and violets’, David Profumo, Literary Review, March 2001, pp. 18-19 and front cover
  • ‘Everybody plays the fool’, Jennifer Schuessler, Lingua Franca, 11:2 (March 2001), pp. 24-25
  • ‘In praise of folly’, Murrough O’Brien, The Daily Telegraph, 7 April 2001, p. A5
  • ‘A mad world, my masters’, Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian, 28 April 2001
  • ‘The first dead parrot sketch’, Andrew Stark, Times Literary Supplement, 31 August 2001, p. 7
  • ‘Laughter and forgetting’, Richard Jenkyns, The New Republic, 10 September 2001
  • ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, John Morreall, International Journal of Humor Studies, 15:4 (2002), pp. 444-448
  • ‘Fools are everywhere’, Barbara Bennett Peterson, Journal of World History, 14:4 (December 2003), pp. 555-59
  • ‘Mocking their majesties’, Simon Callow, The Guardian, 8 September 2007
Reader reviews
Chris Riddell jester cartoon with Fools Are Everywhere


Colour: ‘I want one’ by Tawny


‘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

Only connect!

If you are interested in lively talks, interviews or writing on fools, jesters and the humanizing power of humour, please get in touch.

Colour: ‘Write me’ by Any Palacios

Talks & interviews
  • Chicago University Press, author interview.
  • WNPR Connecticut, Colin McEnroe Show, Jesters and Fools, 13 April 2016 – interviews with Beatrice Otto and others.
  • Hanken School of Economics, talk on ‘The Freshness of Fools, or fixing things through humour’, Helsinki, February 2015.
  • BBC Radio 3, interviewed, May 2014.
  • Appledore Book Festival, talk on ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, Appledore, Devon, September 2008.
  • Enquiry, interview by Mark Lynch, November 2007.
  • Beijing Book Club, talk on ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, Beijing, June 2005.
  • BBC Radio 3, interviewed by Michael Rosen for the Rigoletto interval, March 2002.
  • Australian National Radio, interviewed, December 2001.
  • BBC World Service, Outlook, interviewed, May 2001.
Articles & book reviews
  • ‘Jesters are universal, but are they still relevant?’, Management and Organization Review, September 2015, 11:3, pp. 559-573
  • ‘In Risu Veritas: muitas verdades são ditas brincancdo’, Boca Larga: Caderno dos Doutores da Alegria, no. 2, 2006, pp. 13-25
  • ‘Los bufones están en todos lados: la naturaleza universal del juglar cortesano’, Revuelta: Revista Latinoamericana de Pensamiento, March-May 2006, no. 2, pp. 36-44
  • ‘Who’s the Fool?’, Lincoln Center Theatre Review, King Lear program, Winter/Spring 2004, no. 37.
  • ‘It’s a Living: Renaissance Fool’, BBC History Magazine, November 2004, p.24
  • ‘Of monks and madmen: court jesters in Italy’, Royal Opera, reprinted for every performance of Rigoletto.
  • Fools are everywhere’, History Today 50th Anniversary Issue, June 2001, pp. 33-39
  • ‘The oriental despot revisited’, Britain-China, Spring 1992, no. 49, p. 1
  • Book reviews of: Fools and Jesters of the English Court; Laughing Matters: The Comic Tradition in India; Shakespeare the Player; Playing Commedia; Two Jews on a Train; I Laugh Therefore I Am; Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters, and others.

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