Shakespeare’s Fools & Clowns


Shakespeare’s fools and clowns are some of the most memorable and complex characters in his plays. They often provide comic relief but also serve as insightful commentators on the actions and themes of the play. Here’s a closer look at some of these characters:

Shakespearean fools
Shakespeare's Fools & Clowns 2

Fool in King Lear

Role: The Fool in King Lear serves as a voice of reason and truth in a world descending into madness. He is loyal to King Lear and provides comfort and wisdom, often through his seemingly nonsensical remarks.

Characteristics: The Fool is witty, sharp-tongued, and deeply insightful. His jests and songs often contain hidden truths about Lear’s folly and the treachery of those around him.


  • “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”
  • “Fathers that wear rags / Do make their children blind, / But fathers that bear bags / Shall see their children kind.”

Falstaff in Henry IV (Part 1 and Part 2)

Role: Falstaff is a larger-than-life character who serves as a mentor and companion to Prince Hal. He embodies the themes of honor, loyalty, and the carefree life, contrasting with the responsibilities of royalty.

Characteristics: Falstaff is humorous, boastful, cowardly, and gluttonous. Despite his flaws, he is lovable and brings levity to the serious political drama.


  • “The better part of Valour, is Discretion; in the which better part, I have saved my life.”
  • “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.”

Touchstone in As You Like It

Role: Touchstone is the court jester who accompanies Rosalind and Celia to the Forest of Arden. He provides humor and satirical commentary on courtly manners and pastoral life.

Characteristics: Touchstone is clever, witty, and adept at playing with words. He often engages in philosophical musings and sharp observations.


  • “The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.”
  • “We that are true lovers run into strange capers.”

Gravedigger in Hamlet

Role: The Gravedigger appears in the play’s final act, providing comic relief and a stark reminder of mortality. His conversation with Hamlet leads to profound reflections on life and death.

Characteristics: The Gravedigger is earthy, practical, and speaks with a dark, ironic humor. His straightforwardness contrasts with Hamlet’s introspective nature.


  • “A grave-maker: the houses that he makes lasts till doomsday.”
  • “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”

Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Role: Bottom is a weaver and one of the mechanicals. He is transformed into a donkey and becomes the object of Titania’s enchanted affection, creating one of the play’s most humorous subplots.

Characteristics: Bottom is self-confident, enthusiastic, and somewhat oblivious to his own absurdity. His transformation and antics provide a rich source of comedy.


  • “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.”
  • “I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove; I will roar you, an ’twere any nightingale.”

Feste in Twelfth Night

Role: Feste is the witty fool of Olivia’s household. He moves between the different social groups in the play, using his songs and sharp wit to comment on the actions of the other characters.

Characteristics: Feste is intelligent, perceptive, and often cynical. His humor is sophisticated, and he serves as a commentator on the folly of those around him.


  • “Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.”
  • “What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter; / Present mirth hath present laughter.”

Lancelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice

Role: Lancelot is the clownish servant of Shylock, later serving Bassanio. His main role is to provide comic relief through his antics and misunderstandings.

Characteristics: Lancelot is playful, mischievous, and often confused. He has a humorous relationship with his blind father, Old Gobbo.


  • “The fiend gives the more friendly counsel: I will run, fiend; my heels are at your commandment; I will run.”
  • “It is a wise father that knows his own child.”

Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost

Role: Costard is a country bumpkin who becomes entangled in the romantic entanglements and wordplay of the courtiers. His misunderstandings and malapropisms add to the play’s humor.

Characteristics: Costard is simple-minded, honest, and comically literal. He often misinterprets the sophisticated language of the courtiers.


  • “O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.”
  • “I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word.”

Shakespeare’s fools and clowns, through their wit, humor, and insight, challenge the audience to reflect on the deeper truths hidden beneath their laughter.

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