Friday, 4 March 2011

The Joker as the Shakespearean Fool

            Now that I have started I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.  After writing my reflection on the Joker and Aristotelian tragedy I started thinking about him as a modern deployment of the Shakespearean fool… her me out.
            The Shakespearean fool is a recurring character type in Shakespeare’s plays, often depicted as a peasant or “groundling,” existing outside the social sphere and called upon to comment on the state of the monarchy.  Fools actually existed in the court at the time, so this wasn’t some random Shakespearean invention.  These fools, as Shakespeare deploys them, were brought in the court to comment on the monarchy in a funny, honest, critical, but inoffensive way – a stressful, high-risk task.
            Shakespeare understood the potential this character type offered to his work.  The voice of the fool could be used as an outlet for the expression of Shakespeare’s opinions on social and political issues dealt with in his writing.  Having these socio-political critiques coming from a figure whose job it was to make these claims, Shakespeare distances himself from the implications and intent of the text, ultimately avoiding convictions of heresy.
So how does this apply to the Joker?
First, let’s go back to Joker’s monologue in my last reflection.  Dressed as a nurse and definitely considered an outsider, Joker openly comments on the irrationality of the authorities’ narrow-minded and linear way of thinking.  He tells Harvey that they are all “schemers,” that they have plans and think they can control everything, when the reality is in fact the opposite.  An outsider, honestly critiquing the state of the authoritative system… sound familiar?
My second example comes from Alan Moore’s graphic novel, The Killing Joke.  The Joker dominates the plot of this story, as he contemplates the root of his insanity and attempts to convince Batman and Commissioner Gordon that all it takes is “one bad day” in the madness of the world for someone to go off the deep end. 

Joker comments on memory, reasoning, and madness.

Joker: "One bad day"

At one point in the text, the Joker sings a song for Gordon that resembles the fool’s rhymes in King Lear quite closely.  Critiquing the world and the justice system that Gordon has so much faith in, Joker sings:
 “When the world is full of care and every headline screams despair, when all is rape, starvation, war and life is vile… I go loo-oo-oony… when the human race wears an anxious face, when the bomb hangs overhead, when your kid turns blue, it won’t worry you…when you’re loo-oo-oony” (24-25).
            The Joker reveals to Gordon that the world’s current state of affairs is mad and that in order to function in this kind of society, its citizens have to go mad as well.  Once again, it becomes the Joker’s responsibility to honestly and critically, with a hint of humour, analyze the workings of society.

Shakespearean influence in pop culture at its finest!   

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