Pity the Fool


Our Daily Correspondent

From Paris à travers les siècles, 1879.

Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool. —William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

I feel sorry for people who don’t suffer fools. They’re missing out on so much! The quotidian, absurd human comedy; several of Shakespeare’s finest characters; TV. 

I can speak with total authority on this point, because I am a fool. I am also descended from a long line of fools. I don’t mean we’re given to gnomic utterances on the futility of existence: we’re just idiots who don’t know how to do practical stuff. We’re also very prone to prancing around and singing. True, some of us are also asses, a couple are gullible, and a few are jerks—and there are occasional exceptions that prove the rule, like my brother, for instance. But I think fool is our genus. 

Only the other day, I decided to wash my fifth-story windows with a Swiffer mop. This obviously led to my climbing onto the outside of the window frame and attempting to scrub at a point high over my head, and also to some construction workers on a neighboring building’s scaffolding screaming at me to get back inside, and that I was a fucking idiot. Which is the sort of thing I’m talking about. (There was also that time I donned a belled hat and danced in a mummer’s procession … )

My life is very much enriched by the antics of other fools, too. In the course of a normal day, the fool fan is faced with an embarrassment of riches: preening narcissists, angry cranks, happy simpletons. Imagine if you didn’t suffer fools! What would you do for fun? I suffer them gladly, jubilantly, joyously.

Which is not to say I enjoy the portrayal of fools, save in the case of Shakespeare. There’s nothing more tiresome than goofy neighbors or pure-hearted Being There–style fool-on-the-hill characters. Like many things that make life worth living, they become terrible when translated to other media: cynical and crass and besmirched. Foolishness is after all a state of innocence, and innocence portrayed by the knowing is the essence of corruption. 

The other thing you need to understand about fools is that it’s very hard work, being one. Not just because we have to dance around for kings and fall off buildings. It takes stubborn will to remain ignorant—not to mention all that seeing into men’s souls business. As my mother once announced to with dignity to the family—I believe we were mocking her—“It’s not easy being a fool.” 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.