Sebastian Brant. The ship of fooles. London: John Cawood, 1570. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

Sebastian Brant. The ship of fooles. London: John Cawood, 1570. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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Sebastian Brant. The ship of fooles. London: John Cawood, 1570. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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The ship of fooles

Author: Sebastian Brant
Ref No: 1570 BRAN
Date Added: 1854
Date Created: 1570

The Fool was a device or character well known to Elizabethan theatre audiences as someone who could comment on the action or criticize those in authority and is often used by Shakespeare in his plays. Indeed the Latin title of this book is Stultifera Navis which is a pun on the Latin word ‘navis’, meaning both a boat and also the nave of a church. In literary and artistic compositions of the 15th and 16th centuries, the cultural motif of the ship of fools also served to parody the 'ark of salvation' (as the Catholic Church was styled). The ship of fools, or as it was originally titled in German, Narrenschiff, was originally published in Basel, Switzerland, in 1494 and went through many editions over the next century. It is a satire critical of the current state of the church and though the author did not support the Reformation movement, many of the criticisms of the church expressed in his work mirrored themes which the reformers would pick up on.

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