Fool Sense
clowning workshops | red nose at work | about fool sense | contact | home


about fool sense

 

'The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.'
William Blake

'This fellow's wise enough
to play the fool.'
Viola in Twelfth Night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alex Stewart

 


about richard | history of clowning

Richard and Didier Danthois

About Richard

Formerly an accountant with Reuters, I performed for the first time during visits to Skyros, the holistic holiday centre in Greece, and found that I loved it. I discovered clowning with Lex van Someren and took a 2 year part-time drama course at the City Lit in London. I went on to a 3-year training in sacred clowning with the Fool at Heart school of Didier Danthois. I have subsequently clowned for community groups, in hospitals and churches, and on the street. I have been leading clowning and creative play workshops for 7 years.

I am a teacher of the Alexander Technique having trained at the Constructive Teaching Centre in London with Walter Carrington. I am a director of Alternatives at St James's Church, Piccadilly and I am passionate about dancing the 5 Rhythms.

BACK TO TOP

History of Clowning

Ancient Clowns
Throughout history most cultures have had clowns. A pygmy clown performed as a jester in the court of Pharaoh Dadkeri-Assi during Egypt's Fifth Dynasty about 2500 BC Court jesters have performed in China since 1800 B.C and they were given great freedom of speech. Most Native American tribes had some type of clown character. These clowns played an important role in the social and religious life of the tribe, and in some cases were believed to be able to cure certain diseases.

The Commedia del Arte  
In the late Middle Ages, the clown emerged as a professional comic actor when travelling entertainers began to imitate the antics of the court jesters. In Italy, the Commedia del Arte developed one of the most famous and durable clowns of all time, the Arlecchino, or Harlequin in the latter half of the 16th century. The Harlequin began as a comic servant, or zany, but soon developed into an acrobatic trickster, wearing a black domino mask and carrying a bat or noisy slapstick with which he frequently spanked his victims.

Shakespeare's Clowns
The English clown was descended from the Vice character of the medieval mystery plays, a buffoon and prankster who could sometimes deceive even the Devil. Among the first professional stage clowns were the famous William Kempe and Robert Armin, both whom were connected with Shakespeare's company. William Kemp was such an important star that he was a part owner in both the company and the Globe Theatre. He specialised in playing stupid country bumpkin type characters, a style that would later become known as the Auguste.
Robert Armin specialised in playing court jester style fools. He wrote a book on famous court jesters, one of the first histories of clowning to be published. The style of Shakespeare's plays changed when Armin replaced Kemp so it is known that he tailored them to the style and abilities of his clowns. Scholars believe that part of the existing scripts were actually ad libs by the clowns that were written down after they proved popular. According to tradition, Hamlet's order that clowns speak only what had been written down for them was in reality Shakespeare's criticism of Kemp's ad libbing.

The White Face
The traditional whiteface makeup of the clown is thought to have been introduced by the character of Pierrot, the French clown with a bald head and flour-whitened face. He first appeared during the latter part of the 17th century. He was created as a fool for Harlequin, Pierrot was gradually softened and sentimentalized. The pantomimist Jean- Baptiste-Gaspard Deburau took on the character in the early 19th century and created a famous love-sick, pathetic clown, whose melancholy has since remained part of the clown tradition.

BACK TO TOP

The Hoopoe Stella Marsden

The First Circus Clown
The earliest of the true circus clowns was Joseph Grimaldi, who first appeared in England in 1805. Grimaldi's clown, called Joey, specialised in the classic physical tricks, tumbling, pratfalls, and slapstick beatings. In the 1860s a low-comedy comic appeared under the name of Auguste, who had a big nose, baggy clothes, large shoes, and untidy manners. He worked with a whiteface clown and always spoiled the latter's trick by appearing at the wrong time to mess things up.
Grock (Adrien Wettach), a famous whiteface pantomimist, evoked laughter in his continual struggle with inanimate objects. Chairs collapsed beneath him. When a stool was too far from a piano, he shoved the piano to the stool. His elaborate melancholy resembled that of Emmett Kelly, the American vagabond clown.

The Auguste Clown
There is a widely told story about the origins of the Auguste clown – where an American acrobat named Tom Belling was performing with a circus in Germany in 1869. Confined to his dressing room as discipline for missing his tricks, he entertained his friends by putting on misfitting clothes to perform his impression of the show's manager. The manager suddenly entered the room and Belling took off running, ending up in the circus arena where he fell over the ringcurb. The audience laughed and yelled ‘auguste!’ which is German for fool. The manager commanded that Belling continue appearing as the Auguste.

Many historians doubt that the legend is true, as the word Auguste did not exist in the German language until after the character became popular. Another theory of the origin is that Belling copied the character from the Rizhii (Red Haired) clowns he saw when he toured Russia with a circus. Early auguste clowns had a naturalistic appearance as if they had just wandered off the street into the circus ring. The exaggerated make up associated with the auguste clown today was introduced by Albert Fratellini, of the Fratellini Brothers.

The Tramp Character
One of the most well known figures is the tramp made famous by Charlie Chaplin. The tramp clown was created by James McIntyre and Tom Heath in 1874, portraying African Americans made homeless by the Civil War. They based their characters on blackface minstrel clowns which is the origin of the white mouth used by tramp clowns. Their idea may also have been inspired by the travelling hoe boys (hobos) or itinerant farm workers, who rode the rails from one town to another, wiping the soot away from their eyes & mouth.

BACK TO TOP

Alex Stewart

The Tarot Fool
In the Tarot, the Fool is that part of ourselves that is wise enough to stand awestruck before the mystery of creation, and bold enough to set off exploring. The Fool is the only card in the major arcana that is unnumbered, and he has no set position in the order of the cards. He symbolises the part of us that looks out upon the thoughts, feelings and dreams playing across the shadow theatre of the mind. Carrying the minimum of possessions and the pilgrim’s staff, egged on by a strange animal (sometimes a cat or dog) symbolizing the inner motivation that snaps at our heels once we start to question the nature of reality, the Fool steps toward the unknown – the inner self.

Modern Clowns
Clown figures became popular worldwide with Hollywood films and especially silent movies in the early 20th century, including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and the Keystone Cops amongst others. More recently on television, the clowning tradition is continued by Basil Fawlty, Mr Bean and Blackadder and in the theatre by artistes such as the French mime Marcel Marceau, and the Russian clown Slava Polunin.

Multicultural Clowns
Most cultures have had their own clown character. Clowns have gone by many names around the world throughout history including:

Auguste, Badin – medieval France
Bobo – Spain c 1500s
Buffoon, Cabotin – Italy c 1500s
Cascaduer – France
Charlie – European Tramp Clown
Chou – China
Claune – France 1800s
Contrary – Native America Plains Tribes
Excentrique – Solo French Clown
Fool, Gleeman – medieval England
Gracioso – Spain late 1500s
Grotesque – France, acrobatic clown 1820-1850
Hano – Native American
Hanswurst – Germany & Austria c 1700
Harlequin – Commedia del Arte & English Pantomime
Jack Pudding – England 1600s
Jester, Joey, Jongleur – ninth century Europe
Koyemsi – Native American Hope Tribe
Merry Andrew – England 1600 & 1700s
Minnesinger – Germany 1100-1400
Minstrel – medieval Europe & America 1800s & 1900s
Narr – Germany c 1600
Newekwe – Native America Zuni Tribe
Pagliacci – Italy
Pantalone – Commedia del Arte & English Pantomime
Pedrolino – Commedia Del Arte
Pickle Herring – Holland & Germany 1600 & 1700s
Pierrot – France
Tramp – America
Trickster – mythology of many cultures
Troubadour – medieval France
Vidusaka and Vita – India
Whiteface and Zany – Italy

BACK TO TOP