Where be your gibes now?

Gibe has a French origin that meant “to handle roughly” – and I suppose that a gibe is a verbal rough handling. An insult. A mock. A joke with a target.

Was Yorick the Don Rickles of the Danish court? His humor is partly physical – he carries small boys on his back and gambols – but also he’s an insult comic, it would seem. This tracks with the majority of fools in Shakespeare. Touchstone, Feste and the Fool in Lear are usually at their cleverest when delivering an insult. Comics now tend to be specialists – physical comedians are not usually insult comics, storytellers are different from joke tellers – but court jesters probably had to have all the tools in their toolbox. Their survival depended on their skill.

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