Book cover - Beatrice Otto - Fools Are Everywhere - University of Chicago Press

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From the back cover: Lee Siegel, author of Laughing Matters: The Comic Tradition in India

‘Sparkling with enthusiasm and wit, the text is sustained with Otto’s love of her subject and informed by both her erudition and her very good sense of humor.  Undaunted by the vastness of her subject and its resources, she presents a dazzling and entertaining collection of quotes, anecdotes, epigraphs, jokes, and comic texts.  This is a fun book, bristling with pleasurable details.’

Colour: ‘Shared laughter’ by Liebling

From the back cover: W.J.F. Jenner, author of The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China’s Crisis

‘Beatrice Otto has brought jesters back onto center stage, and their routines turn out to be surprisingly good.  This exhilarating journey through courts from one end of Eurasia to the other shows court jesters as far more significant and more fun than one might expect.  It should be as fascinating to the student of European cultures as to the sinologist; as valuable to the theater scholar as to the anthropologist; as intriguing for what it tells about the nature of monarchy as about the nature of humor and satire across cultures.’

Colour: ‘Sunny jester’ by Trixxie

You don’t do this show without Beatrice Otto.

Colin McEnroe, WNPR radio show host, on a programme about fools.  

(I took it as a compliment.)

Colour: Jester Orange by bmagic333

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Radio interview - Jesters and Fools: A history of wit and whimsy - NPR Connecticut

An hour long radio programme on WNPR dedicated to fools and jesters, hosted by Colin McEnroe, with Beatrice and some excellent other contributors.

Listen here (takes you to the WNPR website).

Article - The court jester is universal ... but is he still relevant?

A look at the role of the court jester and its potential in modern organisations, including a job description if you need a fool to improve productivity and well-being in your outfit.

Cambridge University Management and Organization Review, September 2015, 11:3 pp. 559-73

Chris Riddell jester cartoon with Fools Are Everywhere
Photo credit: Michael Kerswill, Flickr

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‘Our understanding of the jester will never be the same after Beatrice Otto’s valuable book, which so fruitfully sounds the resonances between the European, the Chinese, the Egyptian and the Indian traditions. Her final plea for jesters in the world of Bush, Sarkozy and Putin is timely.’

© Simon Callow, The Guardian, September 2007

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by Divine comedy

‘Through anecdotes, historical details, analyses, and commentary, Otto brilliantly delineates the court jester, and quotations and illustrations do much to enhance this eminently readable text.’

© Carol Binkowski, Library Journal, February 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by Court

‘Otto’s first book, Fools are Everywhere, is a brilliantly crafted one and will delight readers. Her writing is extraordinarly gentle on the mind – eloquent and powerful.’

© Amanda Chesworth,

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by ross

‘Every page quarries new veins of wit, ribaldry and pathos.’

© Murrough O’Brien, The Daily Telegraph, 7 April 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by lunalein

‘This turns out to be a most learned study of the role of the court jester in world history. It looks as if it began life as a thesis, but it is to Beatrice Otto’s credit that only seldom does it read like one, and she manages to cover an astonishing range of cultural references without the narrative losing momentum.’

© David Profumo, Literary Review, March 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by Kaycee

‘Despite this book’s impressive scholarship, it is never pedantic. Otto writes with a contagious enthusiasm, and tells dozens of ancient stories with the wit of a comedian. The book could easily be made into a documentary on the History Channel, or even a Broadway play.’

© John Morreall, Int’l Journal of Humor Studies, 2002

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by 1335sj

‘Entertaining, enlightening, and splendidly researched … A pleasure to read, this book was clearly a labor of love: engagingly written, assiduously documented, finely illustrated, and handsomely designed.’

© Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor, 2001

Colour: ‘fool’s gold’ by ChristineFelicity

Appledore Book Festival - Beatrice Otto

Only connect!

If you are interested in lively talks, interviews or writing on fools, jesters and the humanizing power of humour, please get in touch.

Colour: ‘Write me’ by Any Palacios

Published reviews
  • ‘Even despots need a good laugh’, Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor, 2001
  • ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, Carol Binkowski, Library Journal, February 2001
  • ‘Turds and violets’, David Profumo, Literary Review, March 2001, pp. 18-19 and front cover
  • ‘Everybody plays the fool’, Jennifer Schuessler, Lingua Franca, 11:2 (March 2001), pp. 24-25
  • ‘In praise of folly’, Murrough O’Brien, The Daily Telegraph, 7 April 2001, p. A5
  • ‘A mad world, my masters’, Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian, 28 April 2001
  • ‘The first dead parrot sketch’, Andrew Stark, Times Literary Supplement, 31 August 2001, p. 7
  • ‘Laughter and forgetting’, Richard Jenkyns, The New Republic, 10 September 2001
  • ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, John Morreall, International Journal of Humor Studies, 15:4 (2002), pp. 444-448
  • ‘Fools are everywhere’, Barbara Bennett Peterson, Journal of World History, 14:4 (December 2003), pp. 555-59
  • ‘Mocking their majesties’, Simon Callow, The Guardian, 8 September 2007
Reader reviews

Prologue: The number of fools is infinite

Facets of the Fool

The Scepter and the Bauble

In Risu Veritas, or Many a True Word Spoken in Jest

Overstepping the Mark: The Limits of his License

Religion, Erudition, and Irreverence

All the World’s a Stage

Stultorum Plena Sunt Omnia, or Fools Are Everywhere

Epilogue: Future Fooling?


  • Table of Named Jesters
  • Glossary of Chinese Characters
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index


Talks & interviews
  • Chicago University Press, author interview.
  • Expo17, University of Leeds, talks on becoming a writer, October 2017.
  • Bouquins-à-Gogo, Leukerbad, talk on Fools Are Everywhere, October 2017.
  • DePaul University Humanities Centre, Chicago, ‘Transformations: Clowns, Jesters, and Tricksters: Laughing from Inside the Outside’, May 2017.
  • National Public Radio, WNPR Connecticut, The Colin McEnroe Show, ‘Jesters and Fools, A history of wit and whimsy’, April 2016.
  • Hanken School of Economics, talk on ‘The Freshness of Fools, or fixing things through humour’, Helsinki, February 2015.
  • BBC World Service, The Why Factor, interviewed, May 2014.
  • Appledore Book Festival, talk on ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, Appledore, Devon, September 2008.
  • National Public Radio, WICN, Inquiry, interview by Mark Lynch, November 2007.
  • Beijing Book Club, talk on ‘Fools Are Everywhere’, Beijing, June 2005.
  • BBC Radio 3, interviewed by Michael Rosen for the Rigoletto interval, March 2002.
  • Australian National Radio, interviewed, December 2001.
  • BBC World Service, Outlook, interviewed, May 2001.
Articles & book reviews
  • ‘Jesters are universal, but are they still relevant?’, Management and Organization Review, September 2015, 11:3, pp. 559-573
  • ‘In Risu Veritas: muitas verdades são ditas brincancdo’, Boca Larga: Caderno dos Doutores da Alegria, no. 2, 2006, pp. 13-25
  • ‘Los bufones están en todos lados: la naturaleza universal del juglar cortesano’, Revuelta: Revista Latinoamericana de Pensamiento, March-May 2006, no. 2, pp. 36-44
  • ‘Who’s the Fool?’, Lincoln Center Theatre Review, King Lear program, Winter/Spring 2004, no. 37.
  • ‘It’s a Living: Renaissance Fool’, BBC History Magazine, November 2004, p.24
  • ‘Of monks and madmen: court jesters in Italy’, Royal Opera, reprinted for every performance of Rigoletto.
  • Fools are everywhere’, History Today 50th Anniversary Issue, June 2001, pp. 33-39
  • ‘The oriental despot revisited’, Britain-China, Spring 1992, no. 49, p. 1
  • Book reviews of: Fools and Jesters of the English Court; Laughing Matters: The Comic Tradition in India; Shakespeare the Player; Playing Commedia; Two Jews on a Train; I Laugh Therefore I Am; Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters, and others.

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