Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Of Jesters and Fools – Stańczyk

1 August 2007

Truth and comedy are closely related. A joke is funny if it is truthful, for it must make sense. Nonsense may be absurd, but unfunny. Lies are not funny, for they lack a correspondence to reality. Some people enjoy and wish to believe these lies and approve of them, but their humor is hate and propaganda and does not register as funny to those outside their circle.

At one time rulers often had fools and jesters as entertainers, and at times, only they could speak the truth, for their sting could be dismissed as the murmurings of a fool. Sharp wit was a troublesome gift. The rich and powerful do not like to be mocked, neither does the Devil. Voltaire's tongue had a wrathful nobleman arrange a bastinado as revenge/punishment for the affront.

In "Hamlet", Hamlet, in feigned madness, has a troupe of actors perform a recreation of the murder that gave the kingship to Claudius. He had this performed for Claudius. This sort of bravado does not happen here often, but it did on the night of Saturday, April 29, 2006 at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Stephen Colbert played Hamlet for george junior.

"When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday -- no matter what happened Tuesday."

"Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president mak
es decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type."

The scene did not play well for the crowd, for they were complicit in admiring the emperor's clothes and having the nakedness exposed was not comfortable.

Late night television has other comics who enlighten us. David Letterman does the republic a service by presenting, Great Moments in Presidential Speeches. When the camera lingers on bush junior, it displays his naked vapidity. And on occasion Letterman says dangerous truths in impolite and impolitic terms:

"But everything's fine. The procedure went well. After the operation on Bush's colon, the doctors put his head back up his a**." ― 23 July

The fool or jester has an important office to perform. Every age and time needs him.

There is a grand painting, that in my understanding, has recently visited Milwaukee and Houston, Jan Matejko's 1862 portrait of Stańczyk, Stanisław Gąska, philosopher fool to three kings. Matejko gave his face to the painting in identification with the spirit of the fool; fellow patriots grieving their great, neglected and defeated land. Matejko painted him recurringly.
One title is: Stańczyk during a Ball at the Court of Queen Bona after the Loss of Smolensk*. Smolensk fell many times, to amongst others, Napoleon and the nazis, whom virtually obliterated it. Zygmunt I Stary [Sigismund I the Old] had been warring with Vasily III of Muscovy and, in July 1514, Smolensk fell to the Russians. There in an anteroom sits, dejected and despairing, wearing a deep, brilliant, red costume with matching fool's cap and bells: Stańczyk the fool having read the news. In the next room the aristocracy, gentry and the magnates dance and party enjoying their self interest, while the nation staggers and begins its long fall.

The fool knowingly comprehends the moment and foresees Poland's decline and Russia's rise. Poland was the greatest state, in land mass, in Europe. There was a union [1569] with Lithuania and continual war and intrigue with Turks, Teutons, Swedes and the Eastern Slavs. Poland was no backwater, it was integrated with the rest of Europe, Matejko and Stańczyk saw Poland twittered away by a self absorbed and mindless class that led to the absence of Poland as a state from 1795 to 1919. Many contemporaries and historians noted and quoted Stańczyk as the voice of cynical, loyal reason versus hypocrisy and stupidity. In Polish literature and culture he has an iconic stature as patriot and a voice of truth.

*The title refers to Bona Sforza of Milan, the second wife of Sigismund as of 1518. Perhaps the title is wrong or is there a disregard or animus towards her?
postscriptum: Upon seeing a different print of the painting, the falling star star seen through the window, is far more identifiable. The picture, supra, has it mostly cropped out. Here it is in isolation:

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