|dc.description.abstract||This study considers the importance of clowning in Shakespeare’s drama. In order to establish the foundations of my study I analyse the clown roles in three anonymous plays: Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, Strumbo in The Lamentable Tragedy of Locrine and Mouse in Mucedorus. These plays represent the popular clowning tradition which Shakespeare drew on and modified in his work. In particular, I compare Mucedorus with The Two Gentlemen of Verona to show the extent to which the popular tradition informed Shakespeare’s work in this early play.
The key characteristics of clowning are improvisation, comic parody, contact with the audience, the importance of the clown’s body and physical performance, cross-talk, and a strategic refusal to understand. Clowning often parodies, disrupts or complicates the attempt to stage a fictional drama. At times the clown functions as a theatrical lord of misrule delaying the action with gratuitous verbal and physical clowning routines. The clown may restage and elasticise a successful comic moment. But the clown’s disruptive comic parody can also complete the drama by providing a contrary point of view which gives the play a wider vision, allowing the audience both to enjoy and to laugh at the main action. The clowning is often irrelevant to the plot but articulates the play’s themes. Similarly, the clown’s presentational physical performance can be in productive tension with the representational portrayal of a fictional character.
Shakespeare wrote to the talents of, and was influenced by, his specialist comic actors and the clown roles show a transition from the improvisational, independent and physical clowning of Will Kemp to the more integrated, self-consciously witty and musical fooling of Robert Armin. Kemp and Armin were authors and celebrities in their own right, with their own distinctive clowning styles. I trace the transition from Kemp roles such as Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Launcelot in The Merchant of Venice to Armin roles such as Feste in Twelfth Night and Lear’s Fool in King Lear. But there are important continuities as well as important changes in the clown roles, and I compare Bottom’s dream speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Porter’s role in Macbeth as evidence for some of the contradictions in this narrative of transition. I consider the famously speculative question of why Kemp abruptly left Shakespeare’s acting company, with particular reference to the clown’s jig.
Finally, I consider Shakespeare’s distribution of clowning characteristics to roles played by actors other than the specialist clowns. I argue that Richard Tarlton’s clowning performance as Dericke was a valuable source of theatrical capital which Shakespeare drew on when he used The Famous Victories as a source for the Henriad. Shakespeare distributes Tarlton’s clowning energy to Falstaff, Pistol and Katherine. I consider the evidence for and against Falstaff as a clown, and as a Kemp role. I also argue that nostalgia for Tarlton had an impact on Hamlet and, in conclusion, consider the extent to which the antic Hamlet is a clown.||