Comic entertainer whose madness or imbecility, real or pretended, made him a source of amusement and gave him license to abuse and poke fun at even his most exalted patrons. Professional fools flourished in diverse societies from ancient Egyptian times until the 18th century. Often deformed, dwarfed, or crippled, fools were kept for luck as well as amusement, in the belief that deformity can avert the evil eye and that abusive raillery can transfer ill luck from the abused to the abuser. In some societies, they were regarded as inspired with poetic and prophetic powers. The greatest literary characterization of the fool is found in William Shakespeare's King Lear.