Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pride Goeth Before a Fool

Fools, foolishness, and folly are the subjects of Michael Dirda's article "These Foolish Things" in In Character.

Dirda discusses three types of fools: "Real Fools, Professional Fools, and Unsuspecting Fools."

I immediately thought of  King Arthur and his court in the story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

During the New Year's feast at Camelot, the Green Knight bursts into the banquet hall and challenges the knights to a game: the Green Knight will stand still and allow one stroke against him from one of the knights, but in one year's time, Arthur's knight must stand still and allow him to do the same.

Although the courtiers can hardly believe what they see - a huge man and his horse all of green - Arthur agrees to the game.

 At first, one might think they are the Real (innocent) Fools of fairy tale and myth. Otherwise, wouldn't they have some inkling that things were a tad weird? If they are not Real Fools, why agree to such foolishness?

But the knights hesitate for some time before Arthur finally steps up and agrees to the terms. All the famous Knights of the Round Table sit in stunned silence - probably looking everywhere but at the Green Knight. They know this is not such a good deal.

Arthur agrees, as he must for the pride of himself and his court, and Gawain jumps in and begs to take on the task - as a loyal knight must.

 By accepting the challenge, the court shows itself to have the surfeit of pride Morgan Le Fay is testing them for in this grand ruse. A non-prideful person would weigh the odds here and decline what must mean certain death for friend and relative.

The pause and subsequent agreement because of pride show that Arthur and his court are Unsuspecting Fools:

As for Unsuspecting Fools, they are essentially everyone else in the world, starting with you and me. Everybody plays the fool sometimes; there’s no exception to the rule. More particularly, the Unsuspecting Fool is the supposedly wise figure — a sovereign, a pedantic scholar, a pillar of the establishment — who is blind to his own vanity and self-importance, ignorant of what’s really going on, puffed up with hubris. Pride goeth before a fall. In tragic vein, Oedipus and Lear are Unsuspecting Fools.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the classics in Dirda's Classics for Pleasure.

Dirda won the Pullitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism in 1993 and is the author also of and Bound to Please.

I would like to invite Michael Dirda to my soiree.


CatPurry said...

"Pride goeth before a fool" I love the title! I knew right away I was in for a little stimulation of the mind and the funny bone. Your post is very interesting although (or maybe especially because) my knowledge of Shakespeare is almost nil. Very tight and orderly piece with a delightful vein of humor. Thanks for being my friend.

ChrisJ said...

Thank you for the kind words. I'm happy I made you smile - we often don't do enough of that.