Origins of Fools — The Cock and the Fox

Tarot Fool

The Day of Fools is upon us!  Also known as…every day?

The origins of 1 April’s unofficial holiday, April Fool’s Day, are more ambiguous than the motives behind your creepy uncle’s lecherous advances on you (“I’m just kidding with you! Don’t be so sensitive…”).  Many historians, internet-based and otherwise, attribute the first known recorded mentioning of the trickster’s holiday to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.  In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale from the late 14th century, Chaucer weaves a yarn concerning the narcissistic cock Chauntecler, who is nearly consumed (literally!) as the result of being duped by a clever fox.  The passage reads:

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two

The passage appears to be self-contradictory, and Chaucer scholars continue to debate whether the writing refers to thirty-two days after March was complete (May 3), or thirty-two days since March began (April 1).  The latter interpretation is more convenient for those who wish to attribute some significance to the work concerning our foolish revelry, and appears to fit with the humorous tone and themes of trickery within the tale.  However, the more popular interpretation among scholars leans toward the former, with many editors often changing the text of the passage to more clearly suggest a May 3rd time frame.

Still others argue that Chaucer was intentionally ambiguous, and did not intend to provide a specific date at all.  Rather, they purport, Chaucer purposefully employed confusing language to not only further the humorous tone of his work, but also to parody the language of Medieval philosophy — a satire of the times.



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