I learned just yesterday that each of the twelve days of Christmas have names and yesterday has a particular importance to Shakepeare: December 26 is known by Catholics as the feast St Steven, which we remember from the carol, “Good King Wenceslas.” The feast was commonly known as the Feast of Fools, which is still celebrated today.
This was the only time of the year where the common people got to be in charge; every year the city leaders would appoint a Lord Of Misrule, who would lead parades and other festivals, like in this scene from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Topsy Turvey. It was also a custom to give to the poor on this day- redistributing wealth from high to low.
Shakepeare’s clown characters like Feste, Trinculo and of course The Fool from King Lear come from this tradition: they were the only people who were allowed to make fun of kings and queens. Lear’s Fool in particular is connected to St Stevens because the play was first performed on St Steven’s in 1607. He also frequently mocks Lear when he’s acting foolish with lines like: “Thou shoulst not have been old, till thou hadst been wise,” not unlike King Henry the Eighth’s real life fool, Will Sommers. In addition, the fool inspires Lear to pray for the poor of his realm, in true St. Stevens tradition.