Fools’ Gold

In a palace in Denmark, a prince gathered together some actors to perform a play. Before they faced the audience, he gave them a pep-talk, coaching them:

To hold as t’were the mirror up to nature [1]

He wanted all who watched the play to be able to see themselves reflected in it.

Especially the king whom he suspected of murdering his father. In placing a thinly veiled truth upon the stage, he hoped to provoke the king into admitting his actions.

On the plane back to Oman a few months ago I watched a film called ‘Cantinflas’ named after the alter ego of Mexican comedian Mario Moreno.

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Moreno trained, in the 1940s, as a dancer and in the circus. A star of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, he became known for his way of turning a normal conversation into a lengthy sidetrack. ‘Cantinflear’ even became a verb approved by the Real Academia of Spanish – to dance around a subject, make much of a simple statement.

Cantinflas’ comic words twisted and turned around a truth that everyone already knew. The audience laughed because they were charmed by his clown-like fooling. Beneath it they sensed a nub of seriousness.

Fools often get the straightest lines of all. Sometimes we forget to wonder at the sense of it. Our funny bone has been tickled and so we sit in the palm of these players’ hands.

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I recently discovered that here in the Middle East there is Juha (aka Nasreddin). From Serbia to Iran, each culture claims him as their own. In Juha’s stories he is witty hero and butt of all jokes, philosopher and fool, apparent madness cloaking an ocean of wisdom.

Juha’s stories are meant to raise consciousness. They hold a mirror up to our nature. Their jesting makes it safe to look.

Whether we are beguiled by the colourful cloak of the comedian or the child’s wide open eyes in The Emperor’s New Clothes, the truth-telling ‘fool’ seems as necessary as the steam dial on a pressure cooker. A plug we pull to let out the strain of being human.

The fool makes us laugh. Keeps us sane in an unfathomable world, holds the mirror gently, then tickles us until our tears remind us why we’re still laughing.

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[1] From Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Thanks to Henry Fuseli for the photo ‘Horatio, Hamlet and the Ghost’, to ‘Iberia’ airline for the photo of Cantinflas and M.Benoist for the photo of Nasreddin.

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