What's a Jester Doing in This Story?
Tinney S. Heath, author of Lady of the Seven Suns, has re-released her first novel, A Thing Done. Today she is my guest, giving insight into the unique point of view character in this highly-recommended historical tale of nobility and vendettas in Florence, Italy.
The famous vendetta at the heart of A Thing Done was between two opposing factions of noble families in Florence. So how does the jester fit in?
Several of the early chroniclers who recorded these events refer to a betrothal brokered to make peace, followed by a betrayal. Some go back a step further and speak of a brawl at a banquet, an injury done, and a cry for retribution, followed by the betrothal and its aftermath.
But the earliest record of all says it began when a jester snatched a plate of food away from two knights and the fight ensued.
Nobody ever says another word about the jester. Who was he? Who paid him? How did he feel about the brouhaha that followed his prank? What did it do to his career? Was he in any danger?
So one reason I chose to write from the jester’s point of view was curiosity. What could I figure out about this man, who did work as a jester in that year of 1216, even though we know nothing else about him because nobody thought he was worth mentioning? What were the personal consequences? What – or who – made him do it? Did he think it was a good idea? Did he have any choice?
Surely it was the jester’s story to tell. Seen through his eyes, it would be more than just another tale of two squabbling nobles and their factions.
But I had another, more personal reason for wanting to write this story from the jester’s angle. He was a performer. He juggled, tumbled, jested, made music, and engaged in rough slapstick. He had to think on his feet, to improvise, to please his employers, whatever that took. He had to be ingenious, and his only power lay in his quick wit and his skills as a performer.
Performers appeal to me, because I’m a musician. I play various medieval and Renaissance instruments, and I’ve led a consort of musicians who played at feasts, Renaissance faires, and tourneys. And I know a little something of what it feels like to have to make it up as you go along.
My group, after playing a wedding processional, has had to scramble (quietly, during the ceremony) to find another piece of music when we realized the bagpiper hadn’t shown up, and we’d have to play the recessional.
I’ve had somebody unexpectedly tell me “play NOW!” when I was holding a bone-dry shawm reed that needed five minutes of soaking before it would produce a sound.
We’ve played in rain, wind, extreme heat, close conditions, and – time and time again – in situations where the ground rules keep changing. In a shopping-mall Renaissance exhibition, we were crammed in next to an armorer who was noisily applying hammer to anvil, so we asked him to keep a steady beat and used him for percussion.
At a banquet, we’ve been told, “First the fettucine, then the entertainment, then you.” I had no illusions about the fettucine, though I did flatter myself that we were part of the entertainment. But there you go. It’s not a high-status occupation.
I like performers. I like improvisers. I like creative people, and I usually find them more interesting than their employers. So it was natural that the jester captured my attention, even though the historians have ignored him. I know how much you can observe when you’re only the hired help and no one remembers you’re there. If there is a story to be told, a clever man like the jester is in the best position to tell it.