Pocket is a randy fool.
That’s not a comment on his intelligence. It’s his job. Well, the fool part is. He’s a court jester.
But not just any court jester. He’s the fool for King Lear, and Christopher Moore’s Fool (2009) is a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
But with laughs.
There are certainly a lot of laughs in Fool which is not to say that the blood, gore, betrayal, eye-gouging, storm-raging and all those delightful aspects of the Bard’s play that you know and love are missing.
Not at all. They’re there all right, as well as a violent backstory that Moore has developed that involves rape and rape — those royals have something of a one-track mind — and the walling-up of an inconvenient relative.
Oh, and a goodly number of bastards.
And the witches from Macbeth, and lines from The Merchant of Venice and other sacred Shakespeare works.
And even reference to that great work Green Eggs and Hamlet.
You’ll want it for its full-blooded, slapstick depiction of life in a 13th century Britain, filled with a doddering old ruler, a beautiful misunderstood youngest child and two sisters who compete for the championship of ambition, double-dealing and backroom, bedroom and dungeon-room randiness.
Pocket — so named because of his small stature — is nothing if not randy himself.
And a smart aleck.
“The frosty eye of God”
He’s the friend you like to hang around with because he tells great stories and has a way with words — usually a vulgar way, but endearingly, hilariously vulgar.
Moore, too, is a smart aleck, as are nearly all of his other characters although it must be admitted that Lear doesn’t say very much in the funny vein.
• Lear, feeling sorry for himself, says he is planning to “crawl into the grave light of heart.” To which, Pocket says, “What better than a light-hearted grave crawl?”
• The Anchoress — a woman held pretty much incommunicado in the basement of a convent — asks the child Pocket about the weather. And he says, “Well, the sky looked like someone was catapulting giant sheep into the frosty eye of God.”
• When, during a visit from a ghost, Pocket and one of his many female friends get caught up in a tangential debate, the ghost says, “Bloody hell, will you two shut up? I’m haunting over here.”
• Lear, raging against one of his daughters, rants on and on with colorful curses, such as, “May Thor hammer at her bowels and produce flaming flatulence that wilts the forest and launches her off the battlements into a reeking dung heap!” (I guess you could argue that such a statement could be seen as being “in the funny vein.” However, it must be noted that Lear is deadly serious.)
• At one point, Pocket says, “Expecting kindness from [Lear’s daughter] Regan was hope sung in the key of madness.”
• At another, he insults a traveling singer: “Your hat is an ocean in which your wit wanders like a lost plague ship.”
• When one friend calls Pocket a “scroungy flea-bitten plague rat,” he responds by calling her a “dragon-breathed wart farm.”
• When Lear dies, the ghost, no fan of the sovereign, says, “Tosser.” Then, “she spat, a tiny gob of ghost spit that came out as a moth and fluttered away.”
In Fool, Moore may even provide some insights into Shakespeare’s King Lear, but that’s not why I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for the mind pictures that he and Pocket are able to elicit with such terms as “wart farm” and “ghost spit” and “catapulting giant sheep.”
If those phrases make you giggle, Fool is for you. No fooling.
Patrick T. Reardon