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Article in Anthology

In the history of its iconography, death has known many faces, including the laughing, grotesque grimace of the clown. The famous gravedigger scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the earliest texts to insist on a relationship between death and the merry fool who remains hidden behind the make-up. There has not been a shortage of 20th century texts and films to elaborate on this relationship, developing the image of the clown into that of a gruesome, terrifying reminder of transience and an emblem of death in the process. Within popular culture, the demonic clowns appear to outnumber the traditional ones these days, and it is the purpose of this essay to trace some of these jesters in different generic contexts and to examine their relationship to underlying psychological phenomena.