Auguste (Medieval France and Germany, 1800s)
There is a widely told legend about the origins of the Auguste clown. According to the legend, an American acrobat named Tom Belling was performing with a circus in Germany in 1869. Confined to his dressing room as discipline for missing his tricks, he entertained his friends by putting on misfitting clothes to perform his impression of the show's manager. The manager suddenly entered the room. Belling took off running, ending up in the circus arena where he fell over the ringcurb. In his embarrassment and haste to escape, he fell over the ringcurb again on his way out. The audience yelled, "auguste!" which is German for fool. The manager commanded that Belling continue appearing as the Auguste. Most serious historians doubt that the legend is true. For one thing, the word Auguste did not exist in the German language until after the character became popular. One of the theories of the actual origin is that Belling copied the character from the R'izhii clowns he saw when he toured Russia with a circus.
Badin (Medieval France and Germany, 1800s)
Bobo (Spain, 1500s)
Bobo is also used in South American Spanish and Portuguese, eg. Brazil; 'Bobo da Corte' or 'Bobo de la Corte' means 'Court Jester'.
Cabotin (Italy, 1500s)
Charlie (European Tramp Clown)
Chinese Opera character. Chou, or clowns, are painted with a distinctive white patch over their nose ridge. Depending on the role, this area of white paint may be circular, square, diamond-shape or triangular. There are many types of clowns -- wicked clowns, buffoons, warrior clowns and old clowns. Chou is also sometimes subdivided into wen chou (civilian clown)and wu chou (clown with martial skills).
Claune (France, 1800s)
Contrary (Native America Plains Tribes)
Excentrique (Solo French Clown)
Gaukler (German); see Juggler
Gleeman/Gleekman/Gligman (England, mediaeval)
Gleek: A joke, a jeer, a scoff. In some of the notes on this word it has been supposed to be connected with the card-game of gleek, but it was not recollected that the Saxon language supplied the term glig, ludibrium, and a corresponding verb. Thus, glee signifies mirth and jocularity, and gleeman or gligman a minstrel or joculator. Gleek was therefore used to express a stronger sort of joke, a scoffing. It does not appear that the phrase, to give the gleek, was ever introduced in the above game, which was borrowed by us from the French, and derived from an original of very different import from the word in question.... To give the minstrel is no more than a punning phrase for giving the gleek. Minstrels and jester were anciently called gleekmen or gligmen.
--from Rev. Alexander Dyce's Glossary to the Works of Shakespeare, 1902 (thanks to Phil Newell for this one!)
Gracioso (Spain, late 1500s)
Grotesque (France, acrobatic clown, 1820-1850)
Gycklare (Sweden); see Juggler
Hano (Native American)
Hanswurst (Germany & Austria, 1700)
Harlequin/Arlecchino (Commedia dell'Arte & English Pantomime)
Heyoka (Native America Plains Tribes)
Hofnarr, Hovnarr (Germany, Sweden)
Court Jester; see also Narr.
Intetlahuehuetzquiticahoan (Ancient Mesoamerica)
This word is apparently a Nahuatl (language of Mexica-Aztec cultures) word for 'jester', pronounced IN-TETLA WAY-WAITS KWEET-TICAY WOAN. This name was kindly sent to me by Camden Andersen, who included a fascinating breakdown of the word's precise translation, which he suggested was 'Mocked and deceived by the intelligence of those whose business it is to make one laugh'. Click here for Camden's explanation of this name.
Jack Pudding (England, 1600s)
Jocucator (Ancient Rome)
Jongleur/Joglar (Europe, 800s-900s)
Jongleurs were public entertainers, divided (largely by Church opinion) into two classes. The jongleur was actor, conjuror and acrobat combined, and the profession suffered Church condemnation. However, the jongleur de gestes was received with respect by the high society of the day. [A Geste or Chanson de Geste was a long narrative poem recounting the deeds of national heroes] Jongleurs de gestes were later known as Menestrier.
Juggler (English, 800s-900s)
In the Middle Ages the terms Juggler (English), Gaukler (German), Gycklare (Sweden) were used to refer to general public entertainers, including actors, bear-leaders, conjurers, acrobats, and musicians. See also Jongleur.
Karagiozis (Greek trad.)
Karagiozis (alt. spelling Karaghiozis) is the main character of traditional Greek shadow puppet theatre. 'Ugly and hunchbacked, Karagiozis represented the common folk, in a collision with everyone and everything unjust, whether it be a social or political injustice. He often pretended to be a man of all trades in order to find work and sought silly but cunning solutions to the various difficult and strange situations he'd get into. Karagiozis, the puppet character, is famous for his pranks, which he set up to tease those around him.' Click for more.
Kokopelli (Native American)
'The humpbacked Flute Player, mythical Hopi symbol of fertility, replenishment, music, dance, and mischief. The mysterious Kokopelli character is found in a number of Native American cultures, being especially prominent in the Anazasi culture of the 'Four Corners' area. The figure represents a mischievous trickster or the Minstrel, spirit of music. Kokopelli is distinguished by his dancing pose, a hunchback and flute. His whimsical nature, charitable deeds, and vital spirit give him a prominent position in Native American mysticism.' Click for more.
The konangi is the jester of Hindu culture, and is regarded as an aspect of Lord Vishnu. Konangi open performances of the Bhagavat Mela (the troupes who perform the stories of the Bhagavat, ie. the myths about the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, drawn from the Bhagavat Purana. Find out more.
Koshare (Native American Southwest)
Koyala (Native American Hopi Tribe)
The Koyala is a Hopi sacred clown. He guards the katsinam during katsina dances. During these dances, they emphasize the traditional values of the Hopi by exposing "un-Hopi-like" behaviour. (A Katsina is a Hopi spiritual being/helper - 'katsinam' is plural)
Koyemsi (Native American Hopi Tribe)
The Koyemsi is a Hopi sacred clown. He is also commonly known as the Mudhead, who portrays several personalities. He can be a leader, spokesman, clown, singer, dancer, and can dress like other katsinam and accurately portray them.
Literally 'player', but can refer to a jester.
Meistersinger (Germany, 1200s-1600s)
Meistersingers were the successors of the German Minnesingers. They were often traders or craftsmen, and formed into guilds in almost every major city. Their subjects were largely religious, and their style extremely formal, governed by a series of pedantic rules known as 'Tablature'. The guilds were divided into a series of ranks, culminating in the top role of 'Master'.
Merry Andrew (England, 1600s-1700s)
Minnesinger (Germany, 1100-1400)
The German counterpart of the troubadour/trouvere; largely of knightly rank. Minnesingers sang of heroism, love and nature, and their tone was more idealistic than that of their Provencal/French equivalents. There were two chief schools; of the Danube and the Rhine valleys (both great highways to the Crusades, thus frequented by travelling troubadours who spread their art) Minnesingers declined in the 13th century and were replaced by Meistersingers.
Minstrel/Menestrel/Menestrier (Europe, mediaeval, & America, 1800s-1900s)
The word Menestrier was first coined in the 14th century to refer to the superior musician class of jongleur. 'Menestrier' is related to 'minister' and may refer to the duty of providing musical accompaniment to the Troubadours. The profession was known as menestrandie, from which came Menestrel. This group were further divided into Menestrel de Bouche (singer), Menestrel de Guerre (military instrument player) etc. When the word Menestrel emigrated from the Continent to England, it was changed to Minstrel (related to the Saxon gleemen).
Narr (Germany) also Hofnarr, Hovnarr (Germany, Sweden)
Literally 'fool', as in das Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools), a famous satire published by Sebastian Brant in 1494. Hofnarr is more official and translates as Court Jester.
Newekwe (Native America Zuni Tribe)
Ñoole were the caste of court jesters and buffoons in Wolof society; the Wolof group is the largest ethnic group in Senegal. Unfortunately, this caste no longer exists, mainly due to the impact of Islamic leaders who considered the behavior of the ñoole unacceptable.
Pantalone/Pantaloon (Commedia dell'Arte & English Pantomime)
Pedrolino (Commedia dell'Arte)
Pickle Herring (Holland & Germany, 1600s-1700s)
Pierrot Grenade (Trinidad & Tobago)
'Poor Man's Pierrot'. Carnival character. The supreme scholar / jester proud of his ability to spell any word in his own fashion, the Pierrot Grenade or poor man's Pierrot, is descended from the Pierrot known for his elegant costume and fierce fighting prowess.
This colourful cousin is dressed in a satin gown covered with bells, with a velvet heart shaped breast piece bordered in swansdown and decorated with sequins and mirrors. Under his velvet beret he wore an iron pot to protect him from blows of opposing Pierrots' short steel or lead lined whips. A long train of strips embroidered with gold braids, stockinged feet in light shoes decorated with swans down and bells completed his costume. The Pierrot was eventually driven from the streets after numerous arrests and gaol sentences for fighting.
Rizhii (Russia, 1800s)
'Rizhii' means 'Red-haired'.
A fool or idiot in Hebrew - pronounce the 'e'.
Info kindly provided by Krolik: 'You have this word in different transcriptions, in some slavian languages. Shut means anyone who plays jokes, buffoon or jester. For example, in the Russian translation of Shakespeare's 'King Lear' the Fool is called Shut.'
Skomorokh (Russia, 1000)
Info kindly provided by Krolik: 'The word Skomorokh (singular) usually means Russian Mediterranean clown, not jester. Skomorokhi were jongleurs, puppeteers etc, who played in the market-square. Russian Czars did not have jesters - they had urodiviy (singular) or blazenniy. Urodiviy means insane, fool, sick man. These men were a kind of saint, approved by the Orthodox Church, they were free to say anything, behave madly, noisily. The classic Russian translation of jester is 'Shut'.'
Origins of the Tramp Character James McIntyre ( -Aug. 18, 1937) and Tom Heath ( -Aug. 19, 1938) created the tramp clown characterization in 1874. They portrayed African Americans made homeless by the Civil War. They based their characters on blackface minstrel clowns which is the origin of the white mouth used by tramp clowns. They studied African American culture attempting to accurately portray it. McIntyre is credited with introducing an African American dance called the Buck and Wing to the American stage. The dance later became known as tap dancing.
Trickster (mythology of many cultures)
Troubadour/Trouvere (France, 1100s-1200s)
Lyric poets or poet-musicians of medieval France; Troubadours worked in the south of France, writing in Provencal (langue d'oc); Trouveres worked in the north, writing in French (langue d'oil). Troubadours composed poetry to celebrate courtly love, and while frequently members of the nobility, came from all social backgrounds. Guillaume IX of Aquitaine is generally described as the first of the troubadours, and Richard the Lionheart of England was also one. Most troubadour songs are strophic, based on stanzaic patterns repeated throughout the song to the melody of the first verse in widely ranging schemes, always devised with a great awareness of technical accomplishment. Troubadours would often be attended by a jongleur, to provide musical accompaniment to their poetry.
Wayang Orang/Wayang Wong (Java &Indonesia)
Wayang Orang literally means 'puppetry (Wayang) with people (Orang/Wong)'