In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of fantasy novels, the Fools' Guild (full title: The Guild of Fools and Joculators and College of Clowns) is a trading and training organisation for clowns, jesters and other practitioners of slapstick humour. It is located in Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on the Discworld, next door to the Guild of Assassins, for which it is often mistaken. This is in large part because, in contrast to the pleasant, airy environs of the Assassins' Guild, the grim premises of the Fools' Guild were originally the city's Plague House, and after that the monastery of the Brotherhood of the Infernal Zoth the Undying Renderer ("a contemplative order", according to their literature). Although much of the Order's of Zoth's original architecture, such as the Room of Spikes, survives, the Fools' Guild have modified the frontage slightly with the addition of a giant Red Nose over the door and a canvas tent roof in winter. A number of "gags" designed by Bloody Stupid Johnson, including a custard pie-throwing machine and a giant daisy-shaped water cannon, were originally placed by the door also; however, due to a series of fatalities, they are no longer in use and are now in the Guild Museum alongside the original Dog With No Nose (it's shaggy), the cranium of one of the Three Men Who Went Into A Pub, and an Alligator Sandwich.
The Guild was founded in 1567 as the Guild of Fools, Joculators, Minstrels, Buffoons and Mime Artists, but due to the peculiar predelictions of Lord Vetinari, the current ruler of the city, who hangs mimes upside down in his dungeons in full sight of a placard reading "LEARN THE WORDS", the mime element has been dropped.
Coat of ArmsEdit
A shield, bisected dancette; the upper half sable with a roundel, joules. Each lower point decorated with a clochette d'or. Lower half bisected virtically; on the right azure, on the left argent.
Motto: DICO, DICO, DICO ("I say, I say, I say")
As Terry Pratchett notes in The Art of Discworld,, humour, as a profession, is hard, and nowhere is it harder than in the Fools' Guild. Its founder, Jean-Paul Pune (on the Disc, the inventor of the play on words that bears his name, and originator of the practice of speaking in brackets -ie, "Why is six afraid of seven? Coz seven ate nine! (You know, seven, eight, nine)") understood that the heart of all comedy is pain, specifically others' pain. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to stand in front of a group of people and humiliate yourself for their amusement, to say nothing of taking a slapstick on the rear or a custard pie in the face every day of your life. In recognition of this, Pune demanded a regimen of cold baths, wooden beds, bad food, self-flagellation and poisoned book pages to strengthen his pupils for the harshness of Foolery. Recent health and safety guidelines have ensured that more students survive to graduation, but school life remains as grim as the Guild's facade. Creativity and wit were the death of funniness, as far as Pune was concerned; progress through the Guild ranks was (and is) achieved through hours of rote memorization of the seventy-three approved subclasses of pun, the listed pratfalls and the accepted jokes, which must go through a twenty-year approval process before they are passed by the Council of Fun.
The Fools' Guild is not composed of people; it is composed of clowns. Upon the death of a clown, his face, dress, name and approved routines are passed on to another student, who will then assume that identity for the rest of his life ("His" being operative pronoun here, there are no women at the Fools' Guild, the Council having concluded that women have no sense of humour). People may come and go, but the clown lives forever. A clown's face is recorded in the Hall of Faces, a room of rack upon rack of blown eggshells, each painted with the features of a specific clown. For any clown to use another's face or name is punishable by (eventual) death.
The ranks of Foolery are:
- Fool (Upon achieving this rank, a student gets his trousers filled with official whitewash)
- Stupid Fool
- Arch Fool
- Complete Fool
The Fools' Guild is governed by Dr. Whiteface, a grim, hatchet-faced, gimlet-eyed clown in white facepaint. Dr. Whiteface has been the head of the Guild for three centuries; of course, many men have stood behind his facepaint, but he has always been Dr. Whiteface. The head office of the Guild is known as The House of Mirth, a reference to the tragic Edith Wharton novel of the same name, and also to the line from Ecclesiastes from which the name was taken: "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." That line pretty much sums up the Guild's philosophy.
The Guild is immensely rich, and this, despite very stern denials by the Guild, who insist their wealth comes entirely from their grateful clientele, is mainly because every king, duke and petty ruler from the Ramtops to Genua has a Fool in his court (excepting the King of Lancre, who was a Fool himself until he was crowned, and so far has not been shown with any Fool in his court), meaning that the Guild has access to vast amounts of sensitive information, which it scrupulously employs to its benefit. That said, because it contributes little of any practical value to the city, the Fools' Guild is not treated very seriously by its establishment.
Those who might question the Guild's authority, say, by telling unapproved jokes, unlicensed nose-honking and other forms of creativity, are paid a visit by the Jolly Good Pals, or Bloody Fools, the Guild's enforcers, who are fully ready to introduce one to the darker side of physical humour, with such japes as the concrete-filled trousers and the "custard" pie.
Pratchett, Terry, and Briggs, Stephen, The Discworld Companion, Gollancz, 2003, pp. 171-179
- Guilds of Ankh-Morpork
- Ankh-Morpork Assassins' Guild
- Ankh-Morpork Beggars' Guild
- Ankh-Morpork Thieves' Guild