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Keep Laughing

April Fools’ Day is on 1 April

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore our understanding of fools in history and literature.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. Ask the students, ‘Have you had any tricks played on you today? After all, it is April Fools’ Day.’

    Listen to some stories of April Fools’ jokes that students have played or been the victim of, either this year or in the past.

  2. The term ‘fool’ is not a term that we commonly use today, although ‘foolish’ is in fairly common use. The tradition of the fool goes back a long way in history. During medieval times, a nobleman or monarch would often employ a jester or a fool to entertain guests at a festive meal. Their role was rather like a combination of stand-up comedian and slapstick clown, ensuring that a good time was had by all.

  3. However, by Tudor times, the fool’s role had become more defined. Henry VIII had two fools: first, a man called Sexton, and then his replacement, William Somers. Two of the king’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr, along with his daughter, Princess Mary, shared the services of a fool called Jane.

    The fools’ naivety and comedy helped to entertain the court and lift its spirits, but they also became valuable assets for the monarch’s advisers to convey uncomfortable truths to them. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, often employed Will Somers to speak to Henry with a directness that was smoothed by his wit and humour.

  4. While studying Shakespeare, we may have encountered several fools. Sometimes, Shakespeare used them to provide comic relief, often after a harrowing scene, but others were developed in a more sophisticated way. Feste in Twelfth Night, Touchstone in As You Like It and the fool in King Lear all provide insightful and intelligent comment on the other characters and the action of the play. They act like commentators, helping the audience to discern the more subtle consequences and meanings of the characters’ words and actions.

  5. The modern equivalents of fools are probably satirists who comment on the foibles and mistakes of today’s politicians and celebrities. They do this through cartoons, stand-up comedy and panel shows such as Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week. We find ourselves laughing at what they say while also considering its more serious aspects. They can say what they believe to be the truth while avoiding slander and deep offence.

Time for reflection

Point out that all of us have different talents. Some of us have a talent for making others laugh without causing offence. Some of you might think of yourselves as the class clown. Clowning for its own sake can be high on entertainment, but low on purpose; it can be a distraction for both staff and students. However, when humour is used properly, it can smooth over a potential conflict or ease a tricky situation, helping people to get past any awkwardness and making them laugh without causing hurt or offence. We all have so much to offer to others, and laughter is one of the greatest gifts!


‘Don’t worry, be happy’ by Bobby McFerrin, available at: (3.59 minutes long)

Publication date: April 2022   (Vol.24 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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