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Themes

In Tristram Shandy, everyone—including Tristram—is one step away from joining the Mad Hatter's tea party. Serious subjects are always one step away from being the subject of ridicule, and Tristram ridicules just about everything. But he's not unkind. Foolishness is a prerogative of being human. It's one of the things that everyone, from servant to master, has in common. Everyone has a subject they're foolish about, and foolishness let people laugh. Mirth, according to Yorick and one of the novel's epigraphs, is one of the main reasons to get out of bed in the morning. If you can't make or take a joke, you're not much good as a person.

Questions About Foolishness

  1. Is anyone exempt from the rampant foolishness of Tristram Shandy? If so, who, and why that person? If not, why is it important that everyone be foolish?
  2. What seems to be the source of foolishness in Tristram Shandy?
  3. Are there different types of foolishness? Are some types of foolishness worse than others?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Tristram Shandy, knowledge leads to foolishness rather than wisdom.

Yorick's attitude toward foolishness is evidence that there's something holy about fools.

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