THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
PETER DUNN'S A-Z OF PRISONER ALLEGORY
F - I'm a Fool - not a Rat.
Fantasy, Freedom, Fear - so many Fs, so much that could be said, and so much has been said already about the role of these themes in "The Prisoner". I would rather take the opportunity at this point in my alphabetical allegorical odyssey through "The Prisoner" to explore a short piece of dialogue from the episode "Once Upon a Time".
Two: You're a fool
Number Six: Yes sir not a rat
Number Two: Rat?
Number Six: Rat
Number Two: I'm a rat?
Number Six: No Sir, I'm a fool ... not a rat
This is not the first time Number Six has been called a fool in the Village. The old General in "Chimes" for instances states "You're a fool Number Six" and many other conversations hint that Village officials and fellow prisoners view his stance as foolish. This is particularly evident in the Peter Pan beach scene in "Dance of the Dead" and of course in the manic laughter of Number Two at the start of most episodes.
in "Once Upon A Time" marks a turning point in that Number Six his
happy to describe himself as a fool. This could be crucial and could mark the
moment where Number Six finally breaks. Perhaps all those who view the subsequent
episode "Fall Out" as Number Six's madness could be right. I do think
it marks a turning point - after all the concept of a turning point is continually
refereed to in the episode i.e. we have a see saw which itself contains a physical
turning point and to drive the point home we have a nursery rhyme indicating
that "Jackie will have a new master". We also have the fencing match
where Number Two goads Number Six that he is too scared to "step over the
line" and of course we have the very process of "Degree Absolute"
which is seen by Number Two and the Supervisor as a final all or nothing attempt
to deal with Number Six - an attempt which will either win him over or kill
This analysis is all very well but just what sort of fool is Number Six and why is that role important to the Village? History records many different types of fools.
The Court Fool:
Number Two, of course, dies and Number Six lives - perhaps he is now mad and the Village has lost two valuable assets or, perhaps, there is another explanation. If the declaration that he is a "fool not a rat" is the turning point then the Village may perhaps have succeeded. But in what way succeeded? There is only one conclusion that can made if our assumptions so far are correct. Let us recap - firstly the concept of Number Six being a fool is an important one to the Village; secondly the Village authorities are keen to have Number Six accept that he is a fool; finally that accept-ance seems to actually happen in this short piece of dialogue in "Once Upon a Time". This is the form of fool we are most familiar with - in late medieval and renaissance times such court fools provided entertainment to their lords but they also served in dual capacities in very important roles. A number of financial records from the 12th century suggest that one "Roger Folio" acted in 1175 both as fool and as Kings Henry II's Otter Hunter or royal huntsman. In the following century a character refereed to as John le Fol appears or fill a similar duel role. This, I fear, is not the type of fool Number Six is meant to be - but it does describe another Village char-acter quite well. Many of you will have already guessed to whom I am referring. It will come as no surprise to you to learn that the earliest known court fools were the dwarf fools of the Egyptian pharaohs - one of the first of these being a character named Danga who was a sort of fool at the court of Dadkeri-assi - a Pharaoh of the fifth dynasty. Dwarf fools also feature in Chinese history and to a lesser extent in Roman times. The last dwarf fool to be found at the English court was Copperin, dwarf fool to the mother of George III - the Princess Augusta of Wales. Angelo Muscat's character certainly fits this role - particularly under the reign of Leo McKern's Number Two. McKem's Number Two is genuinely saddened by the "new allegiances" formed by his "little friend" when the Butler turns to serve Number Six in "Fall Out".
The Fool as Scapegoat:
The worst sort of role a fool could find himself in is the one of the fool as scape-goat or "King for a Day". Sadly Fools found themselves being not only laughed at but attacked and perhaps "killed" as sacrifices made to bring luck or simply to act as conduits of violence of hate steering away hate from authority figures. Film and Telefantasy fans will probably be familiar with this form of fool through the film "The Wicker Man" when Edward Woodward is tricked into playing the role of a pagan fool and becomes a quite literal sacrifice. This role is best represented in history by the idea of fools being made "Mock Kings", "Lords of Misrule" or "King for a Day". Often this figure suffered nothing more than rough humiliation such as the Lord of Mis-rule appointed annually to the court of Henry VII. Such a role could fit Number Six after all he was often handed power and then had it cruelly taken away from him,. The most clear ex-ample of this being his "election" as Number Two in "Free For All". There is no real evidence that any form of fool was actually killed at the end of their time as a Lord of Misrule but they were often symbolically killed. This may have arisen as the idea of Mock King was probably first used to replace the ceremony refereed to the Golden Bough when a king was killed by his people at the end of his reign. The real king may have been re-placed with the Mock King-Fool and the real death then substituted with a mock death. The Village does make Number Six undergo exactly this process. In "Dance of the Dead" he is singled out (by not having a costume like the rest of the revellers) and in fact is actually told he is going to be the main entertainment.
Six: I thought there was a cabaret?
Number Two: There is ... you are it.
villagers are asked to kill him. Although they are prevented from doing so he
is still told he is symbolically dead. On being told the body on the beach will
be used to fake his death to the outside world he says "I'll be Dead"
to which Number Two replies that this will be a small confirmation of a known
fact. Despite all this evidence I do not think this is the sort of fool that
the Village has in mind for Number Six. Number Six lives just like the Mock
King fools of history but the Village is much bloodier than history in dealing
with its fools and scapegoats. One scapegoat is nearly blown up by his successor
in "It's Your Funeral" and that same murderous number two plans "reprisals"
against the whole village - but the most damning evidence the Village's murderous
intent towards its Lords of Mis-rule comes in the form of Roland Walter Dutton.
Here is man actually in a fools costume who has come to the end of his usefulness,
has been brain washed and has a formal death warrant hanging over his head -
that's how the Village treats its Lords of Misrule.
The Fool as Oracle:
Shakespeare provides us with one of fic-tion's most memorable fools that of the Fool in the play "King Lear". This portrays the fool as an oracle, as the person who can see through the folly of kings and who is brave enough and to be able to tell kings their folly without fear of reprisal. We may be on to something here - Number Six was very good at pointing out what he saw as folly and error. The Village certainly regarded him as special. There are frequent references to him being special because of the knowledge that he held. Clearly this information went far beyond the boring details as to why he resigned - such information could have been wrenched from him at any time by force or drug and there is a queue of mad Village doctors waiting to do just that. To me it is clear that it is his insight into society and government that the Village wants. This becomes very clear from the dialogue in "Fall Out"
Six: I see
President: You do ... you see all
One could argue that the Village wants him to lead them - but not as number one! They want him as a perfect Number Two able to complement Number One. They do not want him to replace Number One they simply want his insights and abilities used as a quality control mechanism on Number One, much in the same way that the fool tried to keep Lear in check. This is a plausible argument - after all they have had a permanent Number Two before he just did not quite make the grade (as "It's Your Funeral" showed). "Fall Out" could be simply Number Six's enthronement as the new permanent Number Two. "Once Upon A Time" could then be seen by the Village authorities as his breaking point. He has accepted his position as a fool and is now a save pair of hands. The anarchic foolish Number Six is dead, the useful new Number Two fool lives on. Mary Morris's Number Two prophesied that this would happen in "Dance of the Dead".
We can treat folly with kindness, knowing that soon his wild spirit will quieten. This foolishness will fall away to reveal a model citizen.
So the Village won? Clearly not - but the parallel with the tragedy of "King Lear" continues. In "Lear" no one wins Lear, his fool, Edmund the scheming bastard and all three warring daughters lie dead. At the end of "Fall Out" there is also a large pile of dead bodies. Number Six however lives on but he might as well be dead. Degree absolute did convince him that he was a fool - but not any sort of fool that the Village could envisage. He decides he is a Fool for keeping his principles. He no longer cares about the lives of the other Villagers which he worried about in "It's Your Funeral", he no longer worries about using a gun as he did in Harmony. He resorts both to mass murder by machine-gun and the mass destruction that could be caused by the launch of what is probably a nuclear weapon. The man's body is free but he is also now free of any principles. He is really going to need the advice of his new dwarf fool companion - what a pity he is mute.
Bibliography: You may find the following books of use on this subject:
and His Sceptre, by William Willeford
Published by Edward Arnold Publishers, London, 1969
The Fool His Social and Literary History, by Enid Welsford
Published by Faber and Faber, London, 1935
Fools and Folly, by Barbara Swain
Columbia University Press, New York, 1932
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