Jesters have a reputation for being juggling, tumbling fools. Indeed, their tricks involve these acts and pretenses, but jesters were anything but foolish. Jesters and jestresses were intelligent, well-educated people who took pride in their craft. Medieval jesters performed a variety of tricks and duties from the marketplace to the royal court.
Those who managed to get noticed by a monarch and earn the privilege to serve as court jesters received other privileges that were not afforded to other court persons. Elite court jesters had the freedom to speak their minds and use humor without causing offense. They were respected for their outlook on life, which helped them to climb socially. Many court jesters played the lute at palace parties as they danced. They juggled, told jokes, sang and performed vocal tricks. They pantomimed and rope-walked. They yodeled and performed acrobatic acts.
Juggling jesters are what most individuals think of when they consider medieval jester performances. Juggling jesters performed juggling tricks while telling jokes or singing or dancing. Jesters juggled balls, cigar boxes, clubs and fire. They also swallowed fire while juggling it, as well. Juggling jesters often performed fire-breathing tricks alongside their juggling trick performances.
Stilt-walking jesters were some of the trickiest personalities of the medieval jesters. They would often trick people into lying on the ground so they could tumble on them, balance on their head on people or do acrobatic tricks by bouncing from one person to another while they are lying on the ground. They were fast and nimble and would often perform their tricks before observers realized what they were up to. These jesters would often perform tricks while swinging on ropes to catch people's attention and lure them into the marketplace to watch them perform. Stilt-walkers also juggled, danced and performed fire breathing tricks.
Jesters often performed illusion tricks while they tumbled and pantomimed. They would make coins, cards or flowers disappear and reappear. They performed fire eating tricks and fire juggling tricks. They pulled items, such as bells, coins or clovers from behind the ear of someone in the audience. They performed a variety of sleight-of-hand card tricks.
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images