THE HOLY FOOL by abstraks

VIEWS: 318 PAGES: 14

									                            The Holy Fool
     in Russian Orthodoxy, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Steinbeck

                               Elena Volkova

     The main visual symbol of Russia known in the West is that of the
Cathedral of Saint Basil on Red Square in Moscow; however, not many
Europeans know that Saint Basil was a holy fool who lived in Moscow in
the 16th century. Thus, in a sense, the main visual symbol of Russia may be
called the Cathedral of the Holy Fool.

     One of the most popular characters in Russian folklore is Ivan the Fool,
who may be called a secular variant of the Holy Fool. Ivan the Fool seems
lazy and stupid but he is "a chosen one". Miraculous forces help him. He
wins at the end of the fairy tale, and gets the princess and half of the
kingdom besides. If the mystical subtext of Russian fairy-tales were not to
be taken into consideration, one would see Ivan the Fool simply as a symbol
of national laziness and stupidity. Ivan does seem a fool in common,
practical situations (in matters of housing and working the land, etc.), but he
is a hero in the struggle between Good and Evil, and the supernatural world
is native to him.
     Russian classical literature inherited hagiography's goal of creating the
ideal character although there were more failures than achievements.
Dostoevsky wrote to his niece Sophia Ivanova (Jan, 1, 1868): "To depict a
positively good man is the main underlying thought in the novel. There can
be nothing harder than that on earth especially nowadays. All writers - not
only ours but even all of them in Europe - who have attempted to depict
what is positively good have always failed to do it. It is because the task is
an immeasurable one." Dostoevsky’s attempt resulted in Prince Myshkin
the Idiot.
      A question arises: Is there something deep inside the Russian mentality
that correlates with the state of insanity? Many people in the West and even
in Russia would readily say: "Yes, there is. Russians cannot organize their
life in a proper way. They carry on terrible bloody experiments with their
own country. They destroy their own traditions. There is little logic in their
politics and economy." We Russians ourselves often exclaim: "What is
going on? But, after all, what else can we expect in this country of fools?!"
      Thus, in Russia the concept of the fool is presented on different levels:
religious, folkloric, literary, and political. Different levels may be
understood through the two different meanings of foolishness presented in

the Bible. "Fool" in The Book of Proverbs, as well as in the Book of
Psalms, is one who "despises wisdom and instruction" (1,7) or we can find
there phrases like "the thought of foolishness is sin" (24,9), "It is as sport to
a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding has wisdom" (10,23). In
this context "fool" is one who doesn't know or forgot God, who follows his
sins, or earthly wisdom. "Foolish" as "godless" can explain the "foolishness"
on the social, political and everyday levels of life.
     The second meaning of "foolishness" we can find in The First Epistle of
St.Paul to the Corinthians where he opposes wisdom of this world to the
true one which may be found only in Christ: "Let no man deceive himself. If
any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool,
than he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God"
( 1Cor,3,18:19) and then: "we are fools for Christ's sake; we are weak but ye
are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised" ( 1 Cor, 4,10). Paul uses
irony and sarcasm comparing the relative comfort of the Corinthians with
the persecuted, poverty-stricken life of the apostles, but, in a wider sense, he
compares those who follow Christ with those who prefer earthly values. This
meaning of the fool, as of one who is foolish in this world but wise in God,
provided the biblical basis for the Holy Fool tradition in Eastern
     The Holy Fool is a person who pretends that he is mad in order to save
his own soul and the souls of others. He chooses to become homeless, poor,
disdained and persecuted as Christ Himself was. The Holy Fool teaches
people by means of images of sin and he tells them truth disguised under a
fool's appearance and behaviour.
     The Russian word for "holy fool" is "yurodivy". The stem "yurod"
corresponds to the ancient Greek word «moros», meaning "mad, stupid" and
"salos" meaning "simple, stupid". Two Russian Holy Fools were named
Salos. The first Holy Fools appeared in Egypt. In the Middle Ages, however,
this Holy Fool type of saint flourished mainly in Russia until the 18th
century, when Peter the Great issued several edicts against "the fools".
      The Russian word "urod" means "ugly". Holy fools used to appear in
public almost naked or they would wear dirty, torn clothing. (Their
nakedness was considered not only indecent but also reminded people of
Satan who was traditionally presented naked on frescoes.) St. Paul said that
God "had chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise" (1
Cor, 27). The fool's naked, dirty, ugly, strange and indecent appearance was
a metaphor for humankind's soiled, "naked", sinful souls that have lost their
"wedding garments", their innocence. Having become a fool, humanity lost
their divine likeness. The Holy Fools look the way human beings really look

in a spiritual sense. They become symbols - strange and almost disgusting in
appearance, but tragic and attractive from a religious point of view. The
Holy Fools' disgraceful behaviour carried the message of judgment: those
who understood the message started to cry; those who did not, laughed at the
fools and threw stones at them.
    There was no tradition of Holy Fools as saints in the West (although
St.Francis and several other saints had some features of the type).
Encyclopedia Britannica says that "professional fools flourished from the
days of the Egyptian pharaohs until well into the 18th century. Finding a
place in societies as diverse as that of the Aztecs of Mexico and the courts
of medieval Europe. Often deformed, dwarfed, or crippled, fools may have
been kept for luck as well as for amusement, in the belief that deformity can
avert the evil eye and that abusive raillery can transfer ill luck from the
abused to the abuser" . However, the Encyclopedia says nothing about Holy
Fools in the Eastern Christian Church. The "Fool's Literature" article says of
"the allegorical satires popular throughout Europe from the 15th to the 17th
century, featuring the fool, or jester, who represented the weakness, vices,
and grotesqueries of contemporary society", the list includes Sebastian
Brant's "The Ship of Fool" (1494), Thomas Murner's "Exorcism of Fools"
(1512), Erasmus' "Praise of Folly" (1509) and modern Katherine Anne
Porter's "Ship of Fools" (1962) . This kind of Fool’s Literature illustrates the
concept of the fool as a sinner, presented in the Proverbs, Psalms and other
biblical books.
      Robert Hillis Goldsmith's book "Wise Fools in Shakespeare" (1955)
contains "The Fool of Tradition" chapter, which even includes Old-Greek
philosophers Diogenes and Socrates (who are more likely to be called wise
men), Roman jester, minstrel, household fool but says nothing of the Holy
Fool. Goldsmith also mentions some royal fools (Triboulet, the original of
Rigoletto, in the service of the French kings Louis the XII Francis I; Will
Somers, the jester of King Henry VII and many others) who were very
popular. "The custom of keeping natural fools or dwarfs may be traced back
to Roman times, when people sometimes kept monstrous imbeciles as pets
much as ladies of a later day kept monkeys. These mental defectives were
bought at public auction in the monster-market, and the more foolish they
were the better was the price that they brought."2 On the one hand, that fool
of the tradition was first of all a humorous entertainer, but on the other, as
Goldsmith states, "he was also a licensed critic of his master and his fellows.
Since he was not held accountable for what his tongue wagged, the fool
might clatter or speak unwelcome truths with comparative impunity." 3 This
pagan fool tradition was later transformed by Christianity and gave life to

the Holy Fool type of saint.
      In England "around 1600 and continuing for the next two decades there
is (...) a surprising revival of ephemeral moralistic pamphlets on the pattern
of Sebastian Brant's Narrenschiff - catalogue of vices loosely presented by
various sorts of fools"4, - writes H.F.Lippincott, Jr in the Introduction to the
critical edition of Robert Armin's jestbook "Foole upon Foole, or Six Soites
of Sottes: a flat foole and a fatt foole, A lean foole and a clean foole, A
merry foole and a verry foole: Shewing their lives, humours and behaviours,
with their want of wit in their shew of wisdom. Not so strange as true"
(1605). Armin was a clown-actor in Shakespeare's theatre. He collected
anecdotes about various fools - country and city, court and household.
"Except possibly for Will Somer, all the fools Armin describes are
"naturals", i.e. deficient in mother wit, and his jests are the most complete
account we have of actual Elizabethan idiots."5 There is only one fool in
Armin's book - John of the Hospital - who might have been called holy for
he loves singing Psalms and listening to sermons.
    Some Russian scholars state that Western Christians who wanted to
become Holy Fools had to move to Russia. In several Russian lives of saints
Holy Fools come from the West , from "the Latin lands". However,
Russian church historian G.Fedotov doubts the fact and treats this motif
figuratively: being from another land means being from the other world.6
         Until recently Russian Holy Fools were seen in the West as lunatics or
insane people (at least it is how E.Welsford presented them in his book «The
Fool: His Social and Literary History.» (1935).7 It was only in 1980, when
John Saward wrote his wonderful book Perfect Fools about French and Irish
saints, for the Catholic Christian, as he put it, to discover "that something
apparently Eastern, so Byzantine, as folly for Christ’s sake, is also one of the
features of a Christian tradition in the very Far West, at "the end of the
world" - in Ireland. Such a discovery can open the eyes of his mind to the
fact that what is "different" in another tradition is already found in his
own"8 .
        If holy folly presents the tradition which is to be discovered several
centuries later then we come across some marginal phenomenon in Western
Culture the significance of which cannot be compared to the symbol of
St.Basil’s cathedral in Russia. John Saward presents a fascinating gallery of
saints: St.Suibne, St.O'Riain, St.Romuald, St.Francis of Assisi, Ramon Lull,
St. Philip Neri and many others. Saward carefully collects all the available
signs of holy folly in the West but he understands the Holy Fool
phenomenon so widely that almost every true Christian may participate in it:
"We might, then, state this general rule: all saints are fools for Christ’s sake,

but some are called to be more foolish than others" 9. According to Saward,
a common denominator of holy folly is "the fools’ enthusiasm for God",
which makes it difficult to differentiate the Holy Fool from the rest of
sainthood at all.
     There are several saints, however (St Philip Neri [1515-1595],
Jean-Joseph Surin [1600-1665], Louise de Neant [1639-?] among them)
whom Saward calls fools for Christ’s sake "in the classical Eastern sense."
Hence, we need a clear definition of the classical Orthodox type of the Holy
Fool. A common denominator must be the voluntarily renunciation of mind,
of sanity, in its worldly meaning, without any chance to reclaim it again in
the eyes of men. This criterion is much stricter than a more general
enthusiasm for God, suggested by Saward. But it makes the situation with
holy folly more clear and definite.
       The Holy Fool's appearance and behaviour is provocative. He
provokes people to laugh at him, to be outraged, to throw stones at him, etc.
In this way he becomes the object of persecution and is ostracized like Christ
Himself was. The Fool puts on a mask of insanity, leaving the world of
reasonable human beings. As a result he finds himself on the outside, on the
edge of human society and, hence, he becomes free of all norms, obligations
and worldly wisdom. Having put on the mask of insanity, the Holy Fool
attains independence from the world that is caught up in evil and, robed in
insanity, he tells the truth to the face of the insane world. The mask of
insanity thus brings independence from the evils of the world and is a
vehicle for truth. Isn't it exactly for this that Hamlet «puts on» madness?
    Holy Fools sacrificed their private lives, their names, and their identities
to God. Wearing a mask of insanity, they followed Jesus Christ, who also
left his family, his profession, and was accused of being mad and possessed
by devil. Christ used images to preach the Kingdom of Heaven. Fools also
spoke in parables and, besides, enacted scenes in public. In this respect, they
were the only playwrights and actors among Christian saints, presenting a
one-actor theatre. The Russian Holy Fool Feodor, for example, came to the
Kremlin monastery, took off his clothes, crawled inside a big stove, and sat
on the smoldering coals. The monks started laughing at him, whereas, they
should have cried because Feodor showed them the hell they would go to.
The Holy Fool's performance was put on to accuse people, to make them
repent, to warn them of danger and to preach the Cross, which is
"foolishness to them who perish". Their goal is similar to that of the
prophets although the form their performance takes is strange and grotesque.
These spectacles performed by the Holy Fools pursue the same goal as that
pursued by Hamlet when he asks actors to perform the scene of the murder.

People, spectators, are supposed to recognize their sins and repent. In this
sense the spectators in Hamlet were in the position of Christian literary (or
theatre) critics – they had to interpret the images from a religious perspective
and be able to perceive the performance as mirror reflection of their own
      The Holy Fool remains in prayer at night, even in bitter cold. He
usually prays somewhere outside of a town, alone in a field, half-dressed or
naked. He achieves miraculous control over his body. He is able to remain
alive in winter without any clothing, without sleep, food or shelter. He stays
in spiritual contact with God and is blessed and ruled by the Lord. It is by
day that the Holy Fool appears in public and begins "playing roles" and
putting on shows. St. Basil, for example, used to kiss walls of some houses
and throw stones at others. He did so because he saw angels weeping at the
houses of sinners and demons attempting to enter the houses of the
   The Holy Fool has double vision. He can see the spiritual essence of
things hidden from human eyes. Once St. Basil broke the icon of the Mother
of God on the Kremlin gates because he saw the figure of Satan painted
under the first layer of the icon. People bit him as a madman who destroyed
a sacred thing. This double vision is also combined with the madness motif
in Hamlet, when Hamlet is talking to his mother and the ghost enters.
Hamlet addresses the ghost: "Save me and hover o'er me with your wings, -
you heavenly guards". And Gertrude exclaims: "Alas, he is mad!".
       Being able to see demons, Holy Fools fought them, they started wars
against the forces of darkness, which described in detail in some of their
lives. The most interesting recent example may be found in the Chronicle of
Seraphimo-Deveevo Convent, where two women, who were Holy Fools,
fight with demons at night, break windows, dishes, etc. This motif of
fighting with the forces of darkness may be also found in King Lear: Edgar
says that "the foul fiend hath led through fire and through flame (3.14), and
then to King Lear's question "What is your study?" Edgar replies, "How to
prevent the fiend, and to kill vermin" (3,4). Here we come across the typical
ambiguity in the character of the fool: he seems to be the one possessed by
demon and, at the same time, to be fighting demons. Poor Tom warns people
against demons (some of his warnings sound like biblical commandments),
and, to be more convincing, he confesses his own sins of a "serving man,
proud in heart and mind".
    There are several characters of the fool type in King Lear: the Fool,
Edgar /Poor Tom, Kent and Lear himself. Many features typical of Holy
Fools are distributed between them: false madness, ragged, torn clothing,

judging, teaching, laughing, and humility. The fool theme reaches its climax
in the scene of the judgement in a farmhouse (3,6). The "mad" wisdom is
judging the "wise" madness of the world. Having reached its culmination,
this motif almost disappears as disappears the Fool, who presents, in a sense,
a model for King Lear. Lear himself presents an ideal type of the fool's
listener. He treats his fool, and later Tom, very well. His attitude towards
fools is that of a disciple. Lear asks questions and listens to the answers as if
he were studying the wise foolishness that he was going to obtain. When
Lear loses his mind and obtains wisdom, becoming a wise fool, he
"replaces" his court fool in the story. The Fool, having fulfilled his mission,
leaves the stage saying, "I'll go to bed at noon".
  In 1894 Brandl suggested that the parts of Cordelia and the Fool were
written for the same boy actor (some suggest that it was Armin). The
suggestion explained the absence of the Fool in the first scene and the
disappearance of the character in act III. Some scholars go as far as state that
the Fool and Cordelia are one character. Thomas B Stroup proves that there
is a significant relationship between Cordelia and the Fool. He writes that,
being two characters, "Cordelia and the Fool function as one character.
Never in struggle at the same time, they serve really as one component force.
And just as Kent, banished the Court, disguised himself in order to remain
and serve his master, so Cordelia leaves her devote Fool, in a sense herself
disguised, to take her place with her father. It is the Fool who utters her
defence."10 Stroup calls the Fool - Cordelia's alter ego: "here Shakespeare
achieved an unusual, if not a unique, set of identities: the Fool that
represents Lear's conscience to himself, his inner voice, thereby represents
      The set of identities or some meta-character split into two dramatis
personae may be found in the structure of the Holy Fool type of saint as
well, because he is split into one visible personality, that of a fool, and
another personality, which is hidden, wise and holy, and about which
nobody is supposed to know.
     As far as the "King and the Fool" pair is concerned the most famous
analogy from Russian history is that of Ivan the Terrible and St.Basil. Tsar
Ivan respected Holy Fools, believed in their holiness, sometimes became
infuriated with their behaviour, sometimes behaved in the Holy Fool way
(being neither holy, nor a fool) and finally became almost mad himself.
Comparing Ivan the Fool to St.Basil we may call the former a pseudo-holy
variant of the latter.
       Analyzing Christian Holy Fools and the wise fools of Shakespeare,
one finds many common features. Literary fools, however, are not holy

ones. What are the differences between saints and fictional characters?
Firstly, they belong to different worlds – those of Revelation and
Imagination. None of Shakespeare's fools commends his life into the Lord's
hands. None of them remains whole nights in prayer and none of them trusts
in God as his Saviour. Hence, none of them can do miracles or have any
supernatural power over the world. The world of Hamlet and King Lear is
that of tragedy. (There are some fools in Shakespeare's comedies as well,
but they entertain people much more than teach them anything).
       Secondly, Hamlet, King Lear, Kent and Edgar are all forced to lose
their property, their name, or their mind. They do not choose insanity or
humility as a means for spiritual salvation, rather it is the evil will of their
relatives that makes them leave home, pretend that they are mad (or really
lose their mind), and put on ragged clothing instead of fancy robes. It is life
or some external situation that make them suffer, while they themselves do
not want to suffer at all.
       Shakespeare's characters do not choose suffering; rather they undergo
it. That is the main difference between holy fools and fool characters. If Lear
had been a Holy Fool, he would have chosen his sufferings of his own free
will, knowing that suffering would lead to salvation. By comparing actual
Holy Fools to fictional ones, I came to the conclusion that, if human will
were holy and wise, we would choose to embrace voluntarily our personal
troubles, diseases, disasters, poverty, loneliness or humiliations because God
sends us conditions that best serve our salvation. This is exactly what Holy
Fools did: they chose the Cross of their own free will, the way Jesus Christ
chose His.

    Holy Fools, as well as some monks, were zealous about statutory
poverty. Not to place hope in property was their principle. G.P. Fedorov
writes about "the great discovery of the first Christian generations in Russia:
the kenotic Christ of the Russian saints." 12 The Eastern Church speak of
following (not imitating) Christ. Just as Christ humbled himself, the Holy
Fool humbles himself by playing the role of an insane, disgusting animal-
like creature. Isaak, the first Russian holy fool, took upon himself the sham
folly of a Greek salos, and "not wanting human glory began to do foolish
things and to annoy, now the abbot, now the brothers."13 The Holy Fool
represents ascetic negation of the world and kenosis. He believes that
"whoever holds the faith loves dishonor", because "If the glory of this world
were near the glory of heaven, the sons of this world would not have
crucified the Lord of Glory; what slave will dare dwell in that house where
his Lord was not acknowledged?" (Hundred Chapters of Pseudo-Genadius,

quoted by Fedotov).14
   The similarities between the Holy Fool and the fool character in fiction
show how deeply literature is rooted in Christianity, while the differences
between the two reveal how far human beings are from God and his saints.
               Dostoevsky's "The Idiot"

     Depicting the life of Prince Myshkin, Dostoevsky uses many details,
which he borrows from lives of the Holy Fools. Myshkin arrives in Saint-
Petersburg from a Swiss village, where he has spent four years in a mental
institution. Several Russian Holy Fools arrived from "the Latin lands." The
way Myshkin looks and speaks reveals him as someone not of this world (by
"this" meaning both Russian and worldly). People call him "the Idiot" and
"the Blessed", which in Russian has the connotation of "mad" and "holy" at
the same time. There are two almost similar types of saints in the Orthodox
tradition: the Holy Fools and the Blessed (blazhenny). Sometimes those two
words are used as synonyms (St.Basil the Holy Fool is called the Blessed),
but we can speak of the difference between the Blessed ones and the Holy
Fools: the Blessed (if they are not the Holy Fools as well) do not pretend
that they are mad. Their behaviour is completely natural, however, since
they try to follow Christ, they are sometimes thought to be mad although
they do not intentionally act in this way. The Blessed in the Orthodox
tradition may be understood as those joyful in God. The Beatitudes in this
sense may be considered as being laws for spiritual happiness. Dostoevsky
emphasizes that the prince has his own idea of happiness. Adelaida asks the
prince to tell those assembled about his love affair:
- "...You should have been in love with someone there, tell us please." -
 - "I have never been in love," - the prince said quietly and gravely, - "I...
 was happy in a different way".

The prince then tells the story of how children in the Swiss village at first
did not like him and threw stones at him, but then grew to love him. He
relates how he was disdained by adults and how he tried to help Mary who
was persecuted for having been taken in adultery, and how he persuaded the
children to sympathize with her and help her. Myshkin's story might have
been part of a life of the blessed.
   Dostoevsky's Idiot is traditionally interpreted as a Christ-like figure.
Prince Myshkin, however, cannot be called a holy man. He involuntarily
received the gift of a good-natured and innocent man, which is partly caused
by his disease - epilepsy, partly - by his character. Saints took pains to

transform their personalities and the world around them. Dostoevsky creates
an image of a "natural saint" as an example of the "natural Christianity"
preached by Leo Tolstoy and gives the name of Leo (Lev) Tolstoy to prince
Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin.
        The question raised by Dostoevsky may be addressed to Rousseau and
Henry Thoreau, and to the natural religion of the Enlightenment in general.
Is it natural to be Christian, to be holy, to be innocent? Is there any
difference between God and Nature?
    The pictorial symbol of Dostoevsky's The Idiot is "Dead Christ" (1521)
by Hans Holbein, Jr., which the artist painted from the figure of a drowned
man. As Ippolit describes "Dead Christ" in "Clarification": "The picture
depicted Christ just after He had been taken down from the cross. ... It is ...
the corpse of a man who has suffered boundless agony prior to the
crucifixion - wounds, torture, being beaten by the guards and the people...
The eyes are open and squinting, the big and wide open whites glinting with
a deathly and glassy sheen. But strange to say, a look at the corpse of this
tortured man gives rise to a peculiar and curious question: if exactly the
same kind of corpse... was seen by all His disciples, the chief future apostles,
by the women who had tended Him and now stood at the cross, and by all
who believed in Him and worshipped Him, then how could they believe, as
they gazed on it, that this martyr would rise from the dead? The thought
involuntarily arises at this point: if death is so awesome, and the laws of
nature so inexorable, how can they be overcome? How are they to be
overcome when they were not vanished even by Him Who subdued nature
itself in His lifetime, and Whom nature obeyed when He cried out "Talitha
cumi" (Damsel, I say unto thee, arise" (Mark,5,39) and the maiden arose;
"Lazarus, come forth!" and the dead man came forth? As one looks at the
picture, one seems to conceive nature as a huge, implacable and dumb beast,
or, more correctly, nay, far more correctly, though it may sound strange, as
some giant and most up-to-date machine which has senselessly seized,
mangled and swallowed, unhearingly and callously, a great and precious
Being, a Being Who alone was worth all of nature and all it laws, was worth
the whole world, which had perhaps been created solely for the sake of that
Being's advent! The picture seems to express and make one involuntarily
aware of the very idea of that somber, brazen, and senselessly eternal force,
to which everything is subordinated."15
        The main idea of Dostoevsky's novel is the way the natural devours
the spiritual in human life. Compared to the Holy Fool, Prince Myshkin does
not have any spiritual experiences. However, there are few brief moments
before a fit of epilepsy when he experiences "flashes and fleeting moments

of supreme sense and consciousness of self and, consequently, of "supreme
being.".... “What does it matter that this is a kind of abnormal tension, if the
outcome itself, that moment of sensation, as recollected and examined in a
normal condition, proves to have been of the highest degree of beauty and
harmony, and gives rise to an inexpressible and previously never
experienced sense of completeness, proportion, reconciliation and
rapturously prayerful fusion with a supreme synthesis of life?" 16 He does
not call that completeness God, but uses the philosophical term "the supreme
synthesis of life", later widely used by theosophists.
      Prince Myshkin addresses neither Jesus Christ, nor the Holy Trinity nor
The Mother of God. His instantaneous, spiritual experience is caused by
disease. It occurs involuntarily and allows him feel what Christians
traditionally learn through sound religious practice: prayer, church service,
and sacraments. The rich religious tradition of worshipping God is not
presented in the novel at all. Prince's Christianity consists of his innate
kindness, softness and moral ideas borrowed from the Bible, theology and
philosophy. Rogozhin asks Prince Myshkin directly: " Do you believe in
God or don't you?" Myshkin does not give a definite answer but tells two
stories about those who call themselves Christians but commit crimes and
betray the cross.
       Hence, the next question raised by Dostoevsky is as follows: are
natural kindness and knowledge of God able to transform the human soul?
The answer is negative and tragic. Kindness and knowledge, not rooted in
God, can transform neither the human being nor the world around him.
   Prince Myshkin cannot help Nastasya Phillipovna. He does not know
what is to be done. He is torn between Nastasya Phillipovna and Aglaya,
between Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Figuratively speaking, Myshkin
himself "dies" but is not raised to a new life.
   There is no divine power in Dostoevsky's character. There is only human
mind and heart, which are drawn to extremes. That is why many religious
motifs (apocalyptic, penitential, those of resurrection, etc.) are presented in a
hysterical, chaotic, and distorted way. The idea of distortion and lack of
harmony is present at the very beginning of the narrative in the portraits of
Prince Myshkin and Rogozhin and in the description of St. Petersburg. The
tension between the ideal and the reality is developed on different levels.
Considering the saint (the Holy Fool or the Blessed) as a model for the
character of the Idiot, we can speak of the discrepancy between the model
and the pseudo-holy type of character introduced by Dostoevsky. Prince
Myshkin is the noblest one in the group of pseudo-holy fool characters. The
other characters, among whom are Ivolgin, Lebedev, Ippolit and

Ferdyzshenko, look like parodies of the protagonist. Compared to Prince,
they do not have any moral principles. They easily switch from friendship to
hatred and from faithfulness to betrayal.
   Fictional idiots don't want to be treated as fools: "Look here, Mr.Myshkin,
- Ippolit screeched, - you should realize that we are not fools, not egregious
fools, as all your guests and those ladies probably think...»17 Ekaterina
Starkova writes that "inveterate clowns in the story, Lebedev and Geveral
Ivolgin, provide an ironical touch to the plot with a sweep that is truly
Shakespearean."18 The figures of the mad Rogozhin and the sick, hysterical
Ippolit make that touch tragi-ironical.
       "Paradise is a difficult business, Prince, far more difficult that it seems
to your kindly heart" - one of Myshkin's friends says. Prince's inability to
create "paradise" either inside or outside of himself proves the deficiency of
human nature when it lacks divine energy.
        The combination of the aristocratic princely rank and the name
Myshkin (derived from Russian "mouse") produces a comical effect with a
hidden, serious message. Holy Fools, as G.Fedotov suggests, "along with
Russian Grand Dukes (Duke and Prince are one word in Russian - "knyaz’"),
entered the Church as defenders of Christ's truth in social life. The Grand
Dukes of Moscovy built the Russian State, - the Holy Fools came to correct
it according to Christian conscience". So, in this sense, Prince Myshkin's
(Knyaz’ Myshkin's) name combines both Russian traditions of sanctity but
fulfills neither of them. Prince's very name, Myshkin (mouse), says that he
does not live up to the mission implied by his rank.

       Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck.

     "Mouse" is also a key image in Steinbeck's short novel with an idiot in
the center. The title somehow extends the metaphorical name of Prince
Myshkin. The naturalness of the idiot has been developed by Steinbeck to
its extreme. Lennie Small (Myshkin's last name is also "small") is an
imbecilic giant, a good-hearted, big man with the mind of a child. This short
novel opens with the description of the two men opposed to each other
(Dostoevsky starts with the contrasting description of Rogozhin and
Myshkin ). Behind George Milton "walked his opposite, a huge man,
shapeless of face, with large pale eyes (Dostoevsky's Idiot's eyes are large
and blue) with wide sloping shoulders, and he walked heavily, dragging his
feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his
sides, but hung loosely."19

      Lennie walks and drinks like an animal: "he dropped his blankets and
flung himself down and drank from the surface of the green pool; drank with
long gulps, snorting into the water like a horse."20 This detail is an allusion
to the Biblical army of Gideon which was divided into two parts: "Every one
that lappeth of the water with his tongue as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set
by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink"
(Judges, 7,5).
      Lennie is a kind fellow. Kindness seems to be his main virtue. "He is a
nice fella" - said Slim. "Guy don't need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to
me sometimes it jus' works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and
he ain't hardly ever a nice fella."21 The problem is that Lennie involuntarily
kills those he loves. He loves catching and petting mice, but they soon die
under his bear-like paw. He loves a little puppy so much that he cannot live
without it. The poor thing soon dies of Lennie's petting. Lennie finally kills
Curly's wife who provokes him to pet her soft hair. (Prince Myshkin doesn't
kill Nastasya Pilippovna but his kindness in some way causes the
catastrophe). Lennie is charmed by her beauty but his caress kills the
woman. His kindness turns out to be violence.
      The structure of both stories has a "kind idiot" as a protagonist, a love
triangle with a wanton woman, and an older lady authority (Epanchina and
Aunt Clara). The idiot wants to be part of the society, wants to find his
place, his role (to be accepted in Saint Petersburg society or to buy his own
farm). Steinbeck makes his characters and motifs simple, down to earth.
George kills his protegee in order to save him from lynching.

                  Christian Anthropology

      According to Christian Anthropology, the human being consists
of the spirit, the soul (feeling and mind) and the body. The Holy Fool's
spirit fills and rules his soul and body. It makes him a saint. He stays in
communion with God: the Holy Spirit works through the saint, does
miracles, heals people, warns and saves them. The lives of saints and of holy
fools in particular abound in examples.
       Lear's Fool is very close to the Holy Fool saint as far as his didactic
function is concerned. Kent and Edgar present the motif of false madness,
poverty, wandering, homelessness and struggle with dark forces. As a result,
many traditional features of the Holy Fool are distributed among the
characters of King Lear.
      Dostoevsky's character, the Idiot, has a tender, sensitive heart and a
sublime mind, both of which are parts of the human soul, not of the divine

spirit. Prince Myshkin represents a rational, sentimental type of culture and
   mentality. He knows about God and knows Christianity as a philosophical
teaching. He tries to be good, kind, and loving in a natural way. But he is
unaware of any spiritual experience, except the one he finds in his desease.
Prince is neither of this world nor of heaven. He rushes about in the two
worlds the same way he rushes about Moscow and Saint Petersburg, cannot
make his choice with Aglaya and Nastasya Phillipovna.
        Steinbeck's Idiot is a hyperbole for a materialistic culture, which
praises the body and looks down at the intellect. The idiot's personality
includes the body and half of the soul. Feeling, having lost mind, lacks any
moral control.

    The Holy Fool in Russia was the only figure within Christian culture that
was allowed to create images, play roles, make jokes. It was the only figure
allowed to use the power of imagination. Because of that the Holy Fool may
be compared to the actor and even seen as a prototype for the artist. In this
respect Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Steinbeck act like wise fools when
they create their fools and idiots.

  About the Holy Fool tradition in Russia: Kovalevsky I. Yurodstvo o Khriste i Khrista radi yurodivye v
Vostochnoy I Russkoi Tserkvi. M., 1895.; Panchenko A.M. Smekh kak zrelishche. – In: D.S.Likhachev,
A.M.Panchenko, I.V.Ponyrko. Smekh v Drevney Rusi. – M., 1990.
  R. H. Goldsmith. Wise Fools in Shakespeare, Oxford, 1955
  Ibid., p.7.
  Armin J. Foole upon Foole, or Six Soites of Sottes: a flat foole and a fatt foole, A lean foole and a clean
foole, A merry foole and a verry foole: Shewing their lives, humours and behaviours, with their want of wit
in their shew of wisdom. Not so strange as true. (ed. H.F.Lippincott, Jr), p.
  Ibid, p.7.
  Fedotov G.P. Svyatye Drevney Rusi. M., 1990.
  Welsford E. The Fool: His Social and Literary History. - Lnd., 1935, P.77.
  Saward J., Perfect Fools: Folly for Christ’s Sake in Catholic and Orthodox Spirituality, Oxford; N.Y.,
1980, p.31
  Ibid, p. 212.
   Stroup Th.B. Cordelia and the Fool// Shakespeare Quarterly, vol.17, issue 4, Autumn,1966. p.124.
   Ibid., p. 130.
   Fedotov G.P. Op.cit., p.131.
   Ibid., p.148.
   Ibid., pp.208-209.
   Dostoevsky F. The Idiot., M, 1985, v.2, p.104.
   Ibid., v.1, p.274.
   Ibid, p.327.
   E.Starkova. Preface to The Idiot, v.1, p.20.
   J.Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men., Lnd., 1979, p.9.
   Ibid., p.10.
   Ibid., p.73.


To top