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The English Clown Tradition from the Middle Ages to Shakespeare

The English Clown Tradition from the Middle Ages to Shakespeare

Robert Hornback
Volume: 26
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81t3b
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  • Book Info
    The English Clown Tradition from the Middle Ages to Shakespeare
    Book Description:

    From the late-medieval period through to the seventeenth century, English theatrical clowns carried a weighty cultural significance, only to have it stripped from them, sometimes violently, by the close of the Renaissance when thefamed `license' of foolin

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-720-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction. UNEARTHING YORICKS: LITERARY ARCHEOLOGY AND THE IDEOLOGIES OF EARLY ENGLISH CLOWNING
    (pp. 1-23)

    As this introduction’s invocation of Hamlet’s discovery of the jester Yorick’s skull obliquely hints, this book attempts a kind of literary archeology. Unearthing major, however largely obscured, clown traditions of the late medieval period through the Renaissance, it aims to recover some understanding of their former import. Its focus is how theatrical clowns came to carry ideological significance and then, finally, to have it stripped from them, sometimes violently. By the close of the Renaissance, the famed “license” associated with fooling, whether in the context of the court fool or the clown in the drama, would no longer be countenanced,...

  6. Chapter 1 FOLLY AS PROTO-RACISM: BLACKFACE IN THE “NATURAL” FOOL TRADITION
    (pp. 24-62)

    One of the more obscure(d) early clown traditions emerges, to begin with one extraordinary instance, in an account from the court of Elizabeth I. It can be dated to April of 1566, when signs of strain appeared in the relationship between Elizabeth I and her longtime visitor, Princess Cecilia of Sweden. Once a favorite at the English court, Cecilia had overstayed her welcome during an extended visit (through her extravagant free-loading), and had abruptly left the country to rejoin her husband. She was unwilling to accept any blame for the rift, however, and presented a retaliatory list of complaints to...

  7. Chapter 2 “SPORTS AND FOLLIES AGAINST THE POPE”: TUDOR EVANGELICAL LORDS OF MISRULE
    (pp. 63-101)

    Before we can re-examine the early Lord of Misrule in the context of comic history, a little perspective is necessary. Consider the following illustration, undoubtedly the most arresting Tudor likeness in the National Portrait Gallery, London, William Scrots’s anamorphosis (NPG1299). As if modeled after a funhouse mirror reflection, this colorful oil on panel painting depicts within a stretched oblong, framed within a thin horizontal rectangle, the profile of a grotesque figure with red hair and a head far wider than it is tall; measuring 63 x 16¾ inches, the portrait itself is, the Gallery website reports, its “squattest” (“nearly 4...

  8. Chapter 3 “VERIE DEVOUT ASSES”: IGNORANT PURITAN CLOWNS
    (pp. 102-142)

    Another notable clown type in the era, one that emerges on the professional stage by the 1590s, was the stupid or ignorant puritan, a religious zealot typed by his rusticity, misspeaking, and inane logic. Such clownish figures as Stupido of the Cambridge University play The Pilgrimage to Parnassus (c. 1597–98) and the zealous Constable in Blurt, Master Constable (1601–2) have much in common with the type as it appears in various religious polemics of the era, such as the controversial Marprelate Tracts (1588–89), and in the similarly scandalous Hackett controversy. But a full appreciation of the ways...

  9. Chapter 4 THE FOOL “BY ART”: THE ALL-LICENSED “ARTIFICIAL” FOOL IN THE KING LEAR QUARTO
    (pp. 143-182)

    I turn, in this chapter, to another clown type in the professional theatre, the fool proper. Here, I begin with an examination of the logical underpinnings of criticism addressing the two texts of King Lear as they affect the character of the Fool(s) there, with the ultimate goal being a better understanding of historical fool types and lingering confusion about this iconic character as we have come to know him, typically, from conflated editions of the play. That conflated figure is a strange product for, as a number of Renaissance textual scholars argued persuasively in the 1980s, most notably in...

  10. Epilogue. LICENSE REVOKED: ENDING AN ERA
    (pp. 183-204)

    If censorship of the Fool is debatable in King Lear’s Folio revision, its effects on clowns are all too apparent by the close of the Renaissance. Even before the oppressive censorship of the Interregnum, aesthetic censoriousness had already singled out the clown in the Stuart era. In fact, Armin’s retirement from the King’s Men in 1613 marked a dramatic turning-point in stage clowning; he is the last specialist in witty fools that I have been able to uncover. Making a related claim, Peter Thomson likewise observes that “In an often-forgotten sense, indeed, the clown outlasted the fool as the Jack...

  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 205-222)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 223-240)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-243)