Acting the Fool

Posted April 15, 2015, under Gee Whillickers!

Talking about sleazy businesses and scams can be kind of a downer, so we decided it was time for comic relief. And we all know who provides comic relief!

Not the sort we mean.

A History of Foolishness

For all that modern uses of the word “fool” often connote being tricked or deceived, the actual role of the Court Jester (a fool) was one of a truth-teller — the one person in the court who could call BS on anyone, including the crown. Though not always without consequence, jesters held the vital function of managing courtly egos — which we really wish was still a governmental and corporate position. We think the world would benefit from some ego deflation in the halls of power.

Anyway, your mental picture of fools has probably been influenced by playing cards (as above) or Shakespeare plays. The belled hat, pointy shoes, and garish patterns weren’t just there to make the jester look ridiculous.

Everyone looked ridiculous in old-timey Royal Courts.

In the Elizabethan era, there were strict rules about what people could wear in various courts across Western Europe. These included restrictions on materials, dyes, trim, cut, and jewelry. The rules were called Sumptuary Laws, deemed necessary to prevent people from dressing “above their station” — and from which fools were exempt, symbolizing their freedom from the social hierarchy and class distinctions. Instead they wore their motley.

Early Brand Recognition

From a designer’s perspective, motley represents a wonderful example of early branding. A person with an average level of disinterest in history might have only the most basic understanding of coats of arms and other heraldic devices, but everyone knows what a jester looks like.

More importantly, everyone at the time knew what a jester looked like. That’s a pretty big deal in a time when individuals could have the power of life and death over others based purely on circumstances of birth!

Today, the stakes are a bit different, but we still recognize allegiances and products by their branding. Logos, colors, a distinctive product design — branding can still be a life or death matter — for companies.


Rigney Graphics is a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.