The figures of clown, fool, buffoon, and trickster, although certainly not identitical as historical and literary characters, all refuse normalcy—both in language and body. In different ways they each embody a joke; they embody an act of alienation, approximation, or circumvention. And yet normalcy is always pointed to as they both resemble and transgress it at once; we see clearly what it is that they will not or can not be. Innocent silences, incomprehensible gibberish, puns and word play cast "normal" talk and behavior as a kind of meaningless lunacy of its own; awkwardness, dumbness, and irrationality suggest a resolute inability (or unwillingness) to control one's mind and body and proclaim the gross side-effects of enacting proscribed cultural scripts every day.

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For me, the trickster figure most deliberately, most consciously, performs a cultural joke and suggests an array of non-oppositional strategies of resistance. According to Lewis Hyde (Trickster Makes This World), the trickster does "joint work"—s/he is a tanslator, playing in the spaces between things. As a boundary-dweller, trickster connotes both stability and vulnerability, identity and turning-point, and reconstitutes power by moving the boundaries between those who have power and those who don't. Trickster re-articulates, re-defines, from places where there is motion. And the very nature of the new articulation is transiency; it is not intended to withstand time but rather to respond to its vicissitudes. How do we stay in motion when the world puts barriers in our path? How do we sustain levity and humor and openness in the face of opposition? How can we avoid doing what is expected of us without getting caught? How can we contradict with a smile? What does it mean to embody a joke? Now do we perform the "nought," the zero position of the joker, who makes a way out of no-way?

"Trickster knows how to slip the trap of culture," says Hyde [1998: 204]. Thinking about my work as a joker in Theatre of the Oppressed I was inspired to bring trickster's non-dualistic principles of resistance into the practice of Theatre of the Oppressed as a way to redress the dualism dilemma. The methodologies of trickster and Boal clearly overlap. Boal's critical ideology rests in transitiveness; trickster embodies transitiveness. Trickster is an anti-hero, someone who rejects the mythical, fixed, and morally driven versions of heroism that disregard historical circumstance and cultural context; while I haven't heard Boal use the term trickster per se, I believe it would certainly resonate. Trickster relies upon chance and accident to forge a path through and between laws, regulations, hierarchies and numbing rituals; interventions from spect-actors are unpredictable and Boal's techniques manifest their greatest potential when the very structure of power hierarchies are revised under their influence.


External References [links open in new window]

Trickster Bibliography
at Trickster's Way, an online journal dedicated to trickster research

The Trickster Character in Role Playing Games
at The Jester's Bauble by Peter Michaels

group discussion of Court Jester/Trickster figure in online culture
at Meatball Wiki

The Fool As Social Critic In Shakespearean Comedy
essay by Justin Vellucci

Trickster architype
Crystal Links