Alas, poor fool, how have they baffled thee! (Twelfth Night, Act 5, Olivia to Malvolio)

While Shakespeare featured ‘the fool’ as a stock character in his plays and frequently made fun of his characters, no written evidence has yet been found of April Fools’ Day (or All Fools’ Day) in Elizabethan or early Stuart England – perhaps a dedicated day was not needed!

The precise origins of April Fools’ Day are shrouded in mystery, but playing pranks has a long tradition in America, Northern Europe and Australia. Notes made by the antiquarian John Aubrey in 1686 are believed to be the first English record of April Fools’ Day as a custom.