Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Ship of Fools

Ship of Fools is a satire published 1494 in Basel, Switzerland, by Sebastian Brant, a conservative German theologian. It gave its name to the novel, motion picture and website below.

A brilliant series of brief satires, illustrated with woodcuts, it is notable from an Art History vantage point for including the first commissioned work by the great Renaissance artist-engraver, Albrecht Dürher, and has remained remarkably fresh over 500 years.

The Ship of Fools was inspired by a frequent motif in Medieval Art and Literature, and particularly in religious satire, due to a pun on the latin "navus", which means a boat and also the Nave of a Church.

The Ship of Fools is also a peculiar custom of solving the local mental health problem in medieval towns by gathering the local "lunatics" and unemployables, putting them in a cart, and obliging them to "hit the road" to beg a living. The modern equivalent is putting vagrants and other undesirables on a bus, thus exporting the local welfare problem to somewhere else.

Ship of Fools is a 1965 film which tells the overlapping stories of several passengers aboard an ocean liner during the 1930s. It stars Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret, José Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Oskar Werner, Michael Dunn, Elizabeth Ashley and George Segal.

The movie was adapted by Abby Mann from the novel by Katherine Anne Porter. It was directed by Stanley Kramer.

It won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Oskar Werner), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Dunn), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Simone Signoret), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Ship of Fools is also the name of a UK-based Christian website, which was first launched in 1977, on April Fool's Day, no less. Subtitling itself "The magazine of Christian unrest", the site contains a mix of humour and discussion. Some notable features are:

Activities sometimes leave the site to take place in the real world. There are frequent "crew meets" throughout the world and a Ned Flanders Night at the Christian festival Greenbelt

The site is completely free (there used to be a charge for registration, but no longer) and generally shies away from advertising, so is funded by donations.