I must have liberty
Withal, as large a charter as the wind,
To blow on whom I please; for so fools have;
And they that are most galled with my folly,
They most must laugh.
— William Shakespeare, As You Like It (II. vii)

Those who know me, know I have many passions. Knitting, Shakespeare, cooking, writing, aerial acrobatics, music, and (of all things) clowning. So when I look at Argyle patterns, I think motley. Now for those who have been reading these, you know it gets nerdy, but we're about to get to whole new levels of nerdy as I do a quick breakdown of what motley is, and where it comes from. Ready?

Motley is the classic motif of jesters and clowns, consisting of diamonds. If you've seen any movie with a court jester (might I recommend watching The Court Jester?) then you've seen motley. One of its roots is in another passion of mine, commedia dell'arte. It's a renaissance form of theater involving improvisation, and masks, and it's pretty much like 15th century Looney Toons. Now Arlecchino, or Harlequin as you may know him, has a famous costume composed of motley diamonds. The origin of this costume was that he was poor, and the diamonds were originally patches. 

Why am I telling you all this? Besides the fact that it's freaking cool, it gives us important context for the above quote. The line comes from the character this month's sweater is named for Jaques (pronounce Jay-Kweez). In this scene Jaques is talking to Duke Senior about his ambition to become a fool. His motivation is that it's his chance to make fun of people who deserve to be made fun of. It's an argument that culminates with that pretty famous speech of his, the one that starts with "All the world's a stage...". You might have heard of it. What you might not have known is that this big speech he makes also has a lot of references to characters in commedia dell'arte (the Captain, the Doctor, Pantalone, the Lovers...). I think he's saying that people are all kinds of clowns, in different ways and at different times of life.  Specifically he alludes to commedia, where everyone is kind of a jerk in different hilarious ways.

Now let's get back to our original quote, and Jaques main argument of the scene. He wants to be a clown to make fun of anyone he likes, specifically becausem "they that are most galled with my folly, They most must laugh." In other words the people who are most offended by his insults are those who need to lighten up. He's not entirely wrong. Satire is absolutely an important part of life, and everyone needs to laugh at themselves now and again.


But there's another side of this conversation, Duke Senior. His argument is that this is all well and good, but at the end of the day Jaques is sometimes a jerk, and he needs to learn about kindness. Their argument escalates and Jaques makes his big comment with "All the world's a stage.." that everyone is a fool, and already a jerk, so who cares if he's rude. They earned it. In the middle of this intense philosophical debate Orlando comes in and tries mugging everyone. It's kind of crazy. It's here though that the duke gives his answer to Jaques. Not in words, but in actions. He takes this guy who tried to rob them at knife point, and he treats him with kindness, offering him what little he has. Not as a victim, but as a friend. 

Oh wait. This blog is about knitting, and design right? Look, I really love this stuff, and this week I wanted to talk about this scene because it's fascinating. That's just the tip, and you should read the play yourself (or listen to an awesome radio version of it here). 

However, these lessons are big enough to apply to anything, even knitting. We have to balance Jaques and the Duke Senior in all things. When it comes to designing sometimes we get lost in whimsy. It's fun, it's freeing, and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is when you're only whimsical, your work loses weight. On the flip side you can take the work super seriously, and there's nothing wrong with that either. The problem is when you're only serious, the work isn't fun. If you want other people to spend hours working on a project you should try making it a little fun, but if you're asking for that commitment you need the weight of seriousness for it to mean something.

On that note I leave you with Jaques, an argyle cardigan fit for anything from summer nights to autumn days. It's relatively simple with some intarsia thrown in there to keep you on your toes. It's also a garment that's tonally versatile: you can wear it with friends, or at the office with equal ease. I hope you love it as much as I do!