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Wordsworth's Fun$
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Matthew Bevis

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226652054

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226652221.001.0001

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(p.171) Idiots
Wordsworth's Fun

Matthew Bevis

University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses in detail on Wordsworth's most enduring, sustained engagement with foolery: “The Idiot Boy.” The poem was one of his most treasured possessions--the only poem he accorded the honor of a half-title page in Lyrical Ballads, and one he demanded be published in every subsequent edition of his work. The “natural idiot” was closely linked to the “natural fool,” for an idiot is not simply someone “profoundly mentally and intellectually disabled; exceedingly stupid”; the term has an older sense: “a man of low intelligence maintained as a source of amusement to others; a household or court fool; a professional fool or jester” (OED). Why such a figure was maintained--and what his patrons’ amusement implies about both him and themselves--are questions the poem takes to be of more than historical importance. This chapter argues that “The Idiot Boy” harks back to the thrilling trauma of Wordsworth’s own boyhood, and that to get closer to that trauma, we need to travel--like Johnny--via circuitous routes (through Erasmus, Shakespeare, and other untrodden ways).

Keywords:   idiots, The Idiot Boy, Shakespeare, mothers and sons, fathers, Erasmus, folly, trauma

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