Romeo, away, be gone!
The citizens are up, and Tybalt slain.
Stand not amaz'd, the Prince will doom thee death
If thou art taken. Hence be gone, away!
O, I am fortune's fool!
Foolishness fascinated the Bard and his audience; the number of
contemporary proverbs about fools is stunning. "A fool's bolt
[arrow] is soon shot"; "No fool to [like] the old fool"; "Either a
fool or a physician"; "A fool and his money be soon at debate";
"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to
be a fool" (that one's inherited from Socrates); "The first chapter
of fools is to hold themselves wise"; "As the fool thinks, so the
bell clinks"; "A fool's paradise"; "Fat as a fool"; "Two fools in
one house are too many"—just to mention a few.
Shakespeare's phrase "fortune's fool" seems to be his invention,
although it has proverbial kin: "Fortune favors fools"; "God sends
fortune to fools"; and "Fools have fortune," all of which date from
the mid-sixteenth century. In Shakespeare's hands, however, the
sentiment of all these proverbs is inverted. Fortune is not
bestowed on fools; men are the slaves Fortune makes fools of.
Romeo, for example, simply by defending himself against Tybalt, a
Capulet and therefore a blood enemy, becomes an outlaw. Caught up
in a design he is powerless to affect, Romeo feels like fortune's