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Currently they are in the process of raising support as full-time missionaries here in the U. They will continue, as they have been from the beginning, to do both proclamation evangelism and training in multiple areas of ministry ; simply teaching others the power their personal stories have in pointing people to Jesus! Thus Apprentice Ministries continues to grow and move forward, equipping, and being sent by, the local church, to reach rural America, and rural churches beyond the borders of the U.

YOU are a vital part of this ministry! So as you continue to keep tabs on Apprentice Ministries and Dan and Gretchen and their family, please remember that your prayers for them matter! If you are praying for them, let them know! Nevertheless the universal jester skills displayed by the Chinese jesters suggest that their appointment was as meritocratic as in Europe. A description of Rabelais's Panurge encompasses many of the jester's characteristics: If we follow his family tree along its many branches we encounter musicians and actors, acrobats and poets, dwarfs, hunchbacks, tricksters, madmen, and mountebanks.

The court jester is a universal phenomenon. A cavalcade of jesters tumble across centuries and continents, and one could circle the globe tracing their footsteps. But to China the laurels. China has undoubtedly the longest, richest, and most thoroughly documented history of court jesters. From Twisty Pole and Baldy Chunyu to Moving Bucket and Newly Polished Mirror, it boasts perhaps more of the brightest stars in the jester firmament than any other country, spanning a far wider segment of time.

The jester's decline began with the rise of the stage actor as the Chinese theater became fully established during the Yuan dynasty. In many respects actors seem to have taken up the jester's baton not only in entertaining their patrons, but also in offering criticism and advice no less clear for being couched in wit. Perhaps only in ancient Rome did jesters and actors overlap so much. In comparison with those of China, the numerous jesters of Europe, although flourishing for some four hundred years, are something of a dazzling display of shooting stars. Perhaps because the European court jesters were so inextricably linked with the tradition of folly that straddled the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, their time was relatively short-lived, and they died out more or less as the fashion for folly faded.

But for as long as they lasted, which was no mere blip, their influence permeated court life. It is a common belief that Europe was the center of the court jester's cosmos, providing the control against which other jesters, such as they are, may be measured. Yet in a sense Europe is the exception rather than the rule, precisely because the fortunes of the European court jesters rose and fell with the tsunami-scale wave of medieval and Renaissance fool mania that engulfed the Continent. The concept of folly with all its variegated hues permeated Europe at all levels for several centuries, and it is against this backdrop of colorful and often contradictory manifestations of "folly" that the European jester must be seen.


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There were certainly jesters before the tidal wave began to swell, but it is on its crest that we see them come surfing in. Although the jester died out as a court institution if not as a function , about the sixteenth or seventeenth century in China and the early eighteenth in Europe, there have been pockets of resistance to his demise.

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European homes less grand than those of kings and prelates harbored jesters for a century or two longer than the courts, a domestic jester being recorded at Hilton Castle in county Durham in the eighteenth century and a Scottish jester, Shemus Anderson d. The Queen Mother's family, the Bowes-Lyons, was "the last Scottish family to maintain a full-time jester.

In addition to his being employed as jester or mirth-maker by the manorial Lord of Gawsworth, he was a welcome addition at parties given by the neighbouring country families, when he had free license to bandy his witticisms, and to utter and enact anything likely to enliven the company, and to provoke mirth and laughter.

In Persia the autocratic Shah Naseredin r. Karim Shir'ei would ridicule the whole court, including the shah.


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  • Once the shah asked whether there was a shortage of food, and the jester said "Yes, I see Your Majesty is eating only five times a day. When they were out traveling Karim Shir'ei's donkey stopped at a gate, and the jokester found a pretext to mock the courtier by addressing the ass: Perhaps the most recent examples of the court jester are among the ritual clowns of African and American tribes whose mocking, corrective, and unbridled topsy-turvy antics have been documented by twentieth-century anthropologists. These are not all strictly speaking court jesters, in that they do not usually serve one master, belonging more to the whole tribe or village.

    Also, their license is often limited to specific periods, although during such festivals or rituals their freedoms and duties accord with those of the permanently privileged jester. However, there are some tribes that have had permanently appointed jesters, such as the African Wolof jesters and the Sioux "contrary," or heyhoka, and "jesters.

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    They were frequently dwarfs, and other oddities; and their duties included besides the playing of jokes, the singing of the praises of their rulers. The court jester is universal not merely in having been at home in such diverse cultures and eras, but also in taking his pick from the same ragbag of traits and talents no matter when or where he occurs. Above all he used humor, whether in the form of wit, puns, riddles, doggerel verse, songs, capering antics, or nonsensical babble, and jesters were usually also musical or poetic or acrobatic, and sometimes all three.

    There is a Ming dynasty description of a jester that captures this, for besides always hitting the mark with his gilded tongue, he would "unleash his body and fling his limbs around, drumming his feet and flapping his tongue; he was steeped in wisdom.

    Of at least equal importance with his entertainer's cap was the jester's function as adviser and critic. This is what distinguishes him from a pure entertainer who would juggle batons, swallow swords, or strum on a lute or a clown who would play the fool simply to amuse people.

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    The jester everywhere employed the same techniques to carry out this delicate role, and it would take an obtuse king or emperor not to realize what he was driving at, since "other court functionaries cooked up the king's facts for him before delivery; the jester delivered them raw. I have encountered only one person who considers this to have been more myth than reality:.

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    Even if the jester's famous veracity were only a myth, it would have been established long before Erasmus. And we have seen the impressive extent to which jesters everywhere were allowed and encouraged to offer counsel and to influence the whims and policies of kings, by no means being limited to "small historical windows of possibility.

    The Chinese records give us an idea of just how effective a jester could be in tempering the ruler's excesses, for the occasions when his words of warning were either ignored or punished are heavily outnumbered by those when he was heeded and even rewarded. It is in the nature of jesters to speak their minds when the mood takes them, regardless of the consequences.

    By Amy Saunders

    They are neither calculating nor circumspect, and this may account for the "foolishness" often ascribed to them. Jesters are also generally of inferior social and political status and are rarely in a position and rarely inclined to pose a power threat.

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