The Jester Who Would Be King (A Fable)
(Originally published in March 2016)
Once upon a time, a funny court jester mocked his master, dancing around him and shouting, “I want to be king!”
The king and his subjects laughed. “And how would you rule?” asked the king, playing along with his favorite entertainer.
“I would do exactly as you do,” said the jester, for he was just a silly prankster, and had no idea how to govern a kingdom.
This answer bored the king and the people, so they did not laugh, but began to carry on with their business. But then the jester, who did not like to be ignored, thought of a wonderful new answer. He shouted, “I would do as you do, but ten times bigger!”
Now the king and his subjects were curious. “What do you mean?” the king asked. “There is no money in the kingdom to do ten times more than I do.”
“But it will cost nothing,” said the jester, “for your great deeds are only promises, and I can promise ten times more at no greater cost—an amazing deal!”
The king was slightly annoyed, but the subjects were intrigued by the jester’s idea. Noticing the people’s interest, the jester forgot about his master’s displeasure and continued to explain his wonderful thought. “You promised to build a wall to protect your kingdom,” said the jester. “But I promise to build a wall ten feet higher, and to make our neighbors on the other side of the wall pay for it—an amazing deal!”
The king looked at the jester with narrowed eyes now, but the people, remembering the wall the king had long promised, were amused by the jester’s plan. The jester, pleased at the people’s attention, continued.
“You promised to defend us against our enemies. But I promise to kill all of our enemies and all of their families, and to prevent everyone from all nations where the people look like our enemies from ever setting foot in our kingdom.” The people cheered, but the king’s face turned red.
“You promised to help your subjects buy medicine when they were sick,” the jester raved, “but I promise free healthcare for all the poor, so no one will ever die in the streets again!”
And so on and on the jester prattled, promising many great and astounding things, all of them just old promises of the king, but ten times bigger. And the people, who always loved promises, but had become bored of the king’s tired old promises, were excited by the jester’s wonderful new ones. In their excitement, they forgot that he was just a silly joker and dancer, and had no idea how to be a real king. Meanwhile, the king, though he had always enjoyed the jester’s performances and valued him very highly, thought he noticed a change in the people’s cheering, and suspected that a problem might be growing. He spoke to his subjects.
“Yes, my jester is very amusing,” said the king, “but you must remember he is only an entertainer, and does not know how to be a king.”
“But you are a king,” said the jester without thinking, “and you do not know how to be a king either!” The people cheered again, and this time their cheering definitely sounded different, and they were no longer laughing.
“You lied to the people,” the jester declared, swept along by the crowd’s enthusiasm, “and you sent them to war for your lies, and you allowed their enemies to become strong, and you, you”—and here the jester could think of nothing else to say, for he had no knowledge of the world and its difficult problems, so he merely shouted, “but I will make amazing deals!”
At this, the people, who had forgotten that the speaker was merely a court jester, became very serious. Thinking of all the king’s abuses and broken promises, they rushed at him and threw him off his throne, knocking his crown to the floor. Then they carried the jester to the throne and sat him down upon it, and placed the gold crown upon his head. They cheered and reveled at their great accomplishment. “Behold our savior, our new king!” they sang.
A few among the people had not joined the revelry. Seeing the jester now seated upon the throne, they spoke out at last against the mob. “Wait!” they implored. “Perhaps we do not need a king to rule over us at all. Perhaps we can rule ourselves according to the Old Laws, as men once did before the rise of the king.”
But these few were shouted down by the mass of the people, who did not wish to govern themselves, and who accused these objectors of supporting the deposed king. Then the mass of the people raised their right hands together, swearing allegiance to their new hero, “You, O Jester, are the new king! We will follow you! Rule over us with your mighty deals!”
Now the jester king was flattered but a little frightened, for he had always lived at court and entertained the old king, and therefore only knew how to make jokes and perform silly dances. The people stared at him anxiously, waiting for him to do all the wonderful things he had promised. But the jester king only stared at the floor. He did not know what to do.
The old king, seeing this, remembered how fond he had always been of his court jester, and how his friend’s dancing and joking had helped him to subdue the people and suppress the defenders of the Old Laws. Now he felt pity for his jester. He also felt seething hatred toward the people for their disloyalty to the crown.
Finally, when the celebration had ended, and the people had become bored and returned to their homes, the king and the jester caught one another’s eye.
“I can advise you,” said the king.
“Would you please?” pleaded the jester helplessly.
“Yes, for you have always been a good jester,” said the king.
“And you have always been a good king,” replied the jester, “and as you know I have entertained and supported you all my life.”
“Yes,” said the king, “I know you have been loyal. So if you do as I tell you, I will help you to rule. The people, who are angry with me now, will believe they have freely chosen their new king. And you will not be embarrassed, for you will do just as I have always done, but you will do it with dancing! Everything will continue as always, but the people will be entertained.”
“And of course you will be the real king, whatever the people think,” said the jester gratefully.
“Of course,” promised the king.
It was an amazing deal—for the king and the court jester.