“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.)
In Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World (2001), Beatrice K. Otto writes:
“They are peripheral to the game of politics, and this can reassure a king that their words are unlikely to be geared to their own advancement. Jesters are not noted for flattery or fawning. The ruler can be isolated from his courtiers and ministers, who might conspire against him. The jester too can be an isolated and peripheral figure somehow detached from the intrigues of the court, and this enables him to act as a kind of confidant.”
Perhaps that’s why the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has taken the extraordinary – and inexplicable step – of appointing Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. News editors around the world have seized the opportunity to trounce Boris, gleefully collecting assorted gaffes and insults.
The Washington Post was not alone in publishing a round-up of “undiplomatic” things Johnson has said during his time in public life:
“To be sure, Johnson is an unusual candidate for the job. The former journalist is known for his deliberately provocative manner, ruffled appearance and penchant for sometimes-insulting commentary,” it said, reminding its readers that just two months ago, “a poem he concocted about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan having sexual congress with a goat won the first-place prize in a contest sponsored by Spectator magazine.”
As Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, this man is to occupy one of the four Great Offices of State and to represent the United Kingdom around the world as a member of the British Cabinet, the Privy Council, the National Security Council, and (irony of ironies) the Council of the European Union.
Teresa May’s appointment will come back to haunt her. Having burnt a flotilla of diplomatic and political boats, Boris Johnson will eventually be left paddling a coracle to nowhere. All of which brings to mind one of Aesop’s Fables.
“Once there lived an ant and a grasshopper in a grassy meadow. All day long the ant would work hard, collecting grains of wheat from the farmer’s field far away. She would hurry to the field every morning, as soon as it was light enough to see by, and toil back with a heavy grain of wheat balanced on her head. She would put the grain of wheat carefully away in her cupboard, and then hurry back to the field for another one. All day long she would work, without stop or rest, scurrying back and forth from the field, collecting the grains of wheat and storing them carefully in her cupboard.
The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. ‘Why do you work so hard, dear ant?’ he would say. ‘Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labour and toil?’
The ant would ignore him, and head bent, would just hurry to the field a little faster. This would make the grasshopper laugh even louder. ‘What a silly little ant you are!’ he would call after her. ‘Come, come and dance with me! Forget about work! Enjoy the summer! Live a little!’ And the grasshopper would hop away across the meadow, singing and dancing merrily.
Summer faded into autumn, and autumn turned into winter. The sun was hardly seen, and the days were short and grey, the nights long and dark. It became freezing cold, and snow began to fall.
The grasshopper didn’t feel like singing any more. He was cold and hungry. He had nowhere to shelter from the snow, and nothing to eat. The meadow and the farmer’s field were covered in snow, and there was no food to be had. ‘Oh what shall I do? Where shall I go?’ wailed the grasshopper.
Suddenly he remembered the ant. ‘Ah – I shall go to the ant and ask her for food and shelter!’ declared the grasshopper, perking up. So off he went to the ant’s house and knocked at her door. ‘Hello ant!’ he cried cheerfully. ‘Here I am, to sing for you, as I warm myself by your fire, while you get me some food from that cupboard of yours!’
The ant looked at the grasshopper and said, ‘All summer long I worked hard while you made fun of me, and sang and danced. You should have thought of winter then! Find somewhere else to sing, grasshopper! There is no warmth or food for you here!’ And the ant shut the door in the grasshopper’s face.”