‘he could undumpish her at his pleasure’: Richard Tarlton and the Resonance of Wit

On 3 September, 1588, Richard Tarlton died. James Haliwell-Philipps believed he succumbed to the plague because he made his will, died, and was buried at St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch on the same day (Tarlton’s Jests, Introduction xii). In his will he was described as “one of the Gromes of the Quenes Men” (xii), an elite troupe of actors that performed in London and on tour throughout the country as well as at Court. Tarlton was the leading comic actor in the Queen’s Men, and perhaps the most famous theatrical figure of his time (Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean, The Queen’s Men and their Plays 197). His fame extended beyond the walls of the theatre. Andrew Gurr identifies him as a nationalistic phenomenon: “as much as the Virgin Queen herself, he became the chief emblem of the emerging national consciousness toward the end of the sixteenth century” (Playgoing 151). Tarlton represented the mutability and potential of London in the late 1500s. Born of low station, he worked his way up through trade; at the same time, his unique comic talent provided him access to the widest possible audience, from apprentices and tavern habitués to the Queen and her court.

Tarlton was not only an adept comic actor, he was also a virtuoso performer of the extratheatrical jig or jest, returning to the stage after the play had ended wearing rustic garb[1] and playing upon a pipe and drum. The audience would then call out “theams” to him – topics or references to people – about which he would create raucous extemporized bits of doggerel (Playgoing 154-5). No one was safe from Tarlton’s barbs, but few seemed to mind being the butt of his jokes.[2] He was so funny that even the most imperious figures in England, including Queen Elizabeth, could not help but laugh at him. “Indeed the self same words, spoken by another, would hardly move a merry man to smile, which uttered by him, would force a sad soul to laugh” (Thomas Fuller, Worthies 47).

By many accounts, both contemporary and posthumous,[3] Tarlton was a fascinating and memorable character. It is remarkable, considering the ephemeral nature of Elizabethan theatre, that Tarlton remained so long in the memories of Londoners. This was due in great part to the fact that while the theatre provided the foundation of Tarlton’s celebrity, popular print cemented his textual and visual legacy. Tarlton was recognized in his lifetime and well into the seventeenth century as a published wit with a series of ballads and chapbooks ascribed to him, most notably Tarlton’s Jests, which was printed at least three times, the latter editions with woodcut illustrations of Tarlton on the title page. He mastered popular contemporary media to such a degree that long after his death Tarlton was memorialized on stage, in print and image – his name and iconic jesting stance appearing throughout the city. Unlike previous chapters, which were examined using the play-text title page as the starting point of examination, this study will begin with an examination of Tarlton and representations of him in an effort to determine to what degree the jigging clown’s sustained reputation affected the intersection between theatre and print during this period. I will begin by reviewing a series of posthumous hypermedial representations that invoked Tarlton in a variety of ways, and appear to have created a cultural echo that resonated well into the seventeenth century. This includes the woodcut illustration on the 1630 edition of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, which presents us with a complex and puzzling composition featuring a clown character that scholars including Richard Levin believe was meant as a portrait of Tarlton performing the character Miles. While there is no proof that Richard Tarlton ever played Miles in a production of Friar Bacon, the ties linking him to the play are strong. Even though the woodcut illustration of Friar Bacon was not included in a print edition of the play until Tarlton had been dead for more than forty years, the jigging figure included at its center is powerfully reminiscent of Tarlton. This clown embodies the disruptive nature of Tarlton’s comic critic in Elizabethan society. As a self-appointed Lord of Misrule, Tarlton carried a “traditional metaphor of social inversion into rampant reality” (Peter Thomson, “Clowns” 409). The character Miles upsets the play’s social order through his actions, just the sort of social inversion in which Tarlton specialized. The clown character in the illustration likewise destabilizes the narrative structure of the scene as engraved. The complex relationship between theatre and celebrity comes together in this play in a most unusual way, and the scene presented on the play-text’s title page, significant of a critical moment in the play, deserves further examination than has heretofore been undertaken. I intend to demonstrate that while this figure is not a biographical portrait of Tarlton in the most technical sense, it invokes his persona in two ways: iconic images of Tarlton continued to be circulated throughout London and might have inspired the artist in identifying a clown character, and his protégés continued to draw upon Tarlton’s style in their own performances. It is particularly interesting for the purposes of this study to examine how Tarlton’s type of personality affected late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century visual culture. Tarlton offers us a rare opportunity to examine the intersection of early modern performance and celebrity through the nexus of staged theatre and the printed page, through the conjunction of words and images. As we will see in this chapter, a seventeenth-century reader would have had a variety of illustrations of the clown figure upon which to draw that would reinforce a particular mental image of Tarlton in performance, even though that reader might never have seen Tarlton on stage. Such associations between text and image raise the question of how closely Tarlton would have been linked to the idea of clowning – as a sort of metonymic for all comic actors. By focusing on these multimodal representations of his performed persona, we can begin to make connections between the theatre-going audience and the early buyers of printed play-texts.

‘Of all the jesters in the lande he bare the praise awaie’: The Making of Tarlton’s Legacy

Tarlton’s death was a loss to his fellow players as well as to the wide array of audiences that had loved him. After his untimely death a series of memorial verses began to appear, including this one by Charles Fitzgeoffrey in Cenotaphia (1601, translated from the Latin by Alexander Grosart):

Oft in the theatre as Tarlton’s face

Was seen, instinct with keenness as with grace,

A thunderous roar of laughter straight arose

From all who saw, and shook the sky’s repose;

The heavens were all astonished and the host

Of native deities who crown heaven’s coast.

To enjoy the pleasantries they all prepare,

Tarlton, to quit the earth for the elysian air.

Jove, fearing lest his halls being vacant made,

His lonesome days should pass in lowering shade,

A cruel crime he wreaks upon they head:

The treacherous Fury bids thee join the Dead.

But if thou hadst not sought the gods on high,

The gods to seek they would have left the sky,

Circling thy gracious jocularity!

        (Qtd. in Nunzeger 360)

This high-flown rhetoric is indicative of one type of testimonial written in memory of Tarlton after his death. As we will see below, the references ranged from the elegaic to the scatological.

Tarlton penned plays for the Queen’s Men, including the now lost The Seven Deadly Sins. He also published several ballads. The Stationers Company lists several pieces registered after his death that are identified with him, but which appear to be spurious. From 1588/9 onward, an effort was undertaken by a number of authors and publishers to capitalize on Tarlton’s wit and character, whether out of affection or greed. Two of the earliest of these undertakings are important to this study due to their multimodal invocation of Tarlton as well as their emphasis on the nature of performativity in the print world. In what may be a reference to the earliest metatheatrical reference to Tarlton after his death, Robert Wilson’s The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London provides an intriguing incorporation of Tarlton as a signifier for wit. The play was first published in 1590, and since it makes clear reference to Tarlton’s death it must have been composed and performed after September 1588.[4] As examined in chapter one, this play offers a fascinating interaction between theatrical performance and ballad distribution. The play features a clown figure named Simplicity,[5] a ballad-seller who trades witticisms with the three young pages who serve the allegorical lords of the title. The pages question the marketability of Simplicity’s ballads after he has sung for them, asking, “How will you sel the ballad you sang, for Ile not buy the voice.”[6] Simplicity presents one of the ballads for the page’s perusal, “Read and thou shalt see.” When it becomes clear that the page cannot read, Simplicity identifies the image on the broadside, “if thou cannot read Ile tel thee, this is Tarltons picture: didst thou neuer know Tarlton?” Wit and Will confess that they lived with Tarlton as boys – a double reference to Tarlton’s fabled attributes (his wit and willfulness) and to his position as a freeman, by which apprentices could have lodged with him. The page Wealth attempts to put Simplicity in his place while he challenges Tarlton’s reputation, “He might haue some, but thou showest small wit, there is no such finenes in the picture that I see”, to which Simplicity retorts, “The finenes was within, for without he was plaine,/But it was the merriest fellow and had such iestes in store,/that if thou hadst seene him, thou wouldst haue laughed thy hart sore.” This description gives value to Tarlton’s printed image, and Wealth asks the price of the picture. After a lengthy interview in which the pages identify their lords to Simplicity (Will serves Pleasure, Wit serves Pollicie, and Wealth serves Pompe), Simplicity presents the picture of Tarlton, asking, “Welth, will you buy this for your Lord?” The 1590 edition includes the stage direction “Shews Tarltons picture”, which suggests that not only do the actors on stage see a broadside ballad meant to refer to an image of Tarlton, but that those in the audience would have seen an identifiable illustration of Tarlton’s likeness, such as the one printed on the title page of Tarlton’s Jests.

The play was performed by the Queen’s Men; the tenor of the references to Tarlton is reminiscent of a wake where friends share fond stories about the departed. The integrated references in dialogue as well as stage property would have been a powerful memorial in the theatre, where the audience would have been equally moved by the references to the clown. In the printed play, however, the early modern reader would have had to rely on some other cue to summon the image of Tarlton exhibited by Simplicity. Some early readers would have seen Tarlton perform and might conjure a memory of him jigging as they read Simplicity’s tribute. But the scene clearly calls for a printed image. How would a reader envision this icon?

The answer begins to become clear when we examine sixteenth- and seventeenth-century publications ascribed to and associated with Tarlton. The earliest extant example of these is John Scottowe’s Alphabet, published after 1588. Each letter is presented with an intricate engraved illustration that incorporates an item or person meant to remind the reader of that letter. For the letter “T”, Scottowe engraved a dancing clown figure wearing a rustic costume and playing on the pipe and tabor [Figure ?]. Richard Levin believes this is a biographical portrait of Tarlton, citing the figure’s wide-set eyes and flat, broad nose (“Tarlton in the Famous History” 85). John Astington, on the other hand, feels strongly that this likeness is at best coincidental, and that the image is a poor copy of a character in an allegorical printed dated 1566 by the Flemish artist Maarten van Heemskerck (“Tarlton and the Sanguine Temperament” 2-7). In this article Astington makes a strong case for English engravers using pattern books based on European works of art. But his argument that the clowning figure in Scottowe’s book bears no relation to theatrical tradition (and by extension all visual representations in printed works associated with Tarlton) does not bear up under closer examination of the “T” page. By reading the verse placed at the right side of the engraving, we realize that the author intended for Tarlton to act as a mnemonic device for “T”, both in text and image:

The picture here set down

Within this letter T:

A-right doth shewe the forme and shape

Of Tharlton unto the

When hee in pleasant wise

The counterfet expreste

Of clowne, with cote of russet hew

And sturtups, with the reste.

Whoe merry many made.

When he appeared in sight;

The grave and wise, as well as rude,

At him did take delight.

The partie now is gone

And closlie clad in claye;

Of all the jesters in the lande

He bare the praise awaie.

Now hath he plaid his parte,

And sure he is of this,

If he in Christe did die to live

With him in lasting bliss.

        (Qtd. in Nunzeger 354-5)

Page featuring the letter “T” in John Scottowe’s Alphabet, after 1588

Not only does the author assure the reader that the engraving “doth shewe the forme and shape/Of Tharlton”, we are provided with a description of the clown’s costume that he wore when performing his jests (a “cote of russet hew”). Tarlton’s ability to entertain a wide variety of citizens is demonstrated, “The grave and wise, as well as rude,/At him did take delight”. It is also implied that Tarlton was superior to his fellow comedians, “Of all the jesters in the lande/He bare the praise awaie”. The references to Tarlton in the poem are in the past tense and the final stanza confirms that this verse was meant to eulogize the dead man. There is, however, no way to confirm when after Tarlton’s death the piece was written. It may have been composed very soon after Tarlton’s death, or later, as in the case of Fitzgeoffrey’s Cenotaphia. What is most important to our study, with the references in both The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London and Scottowe’s Alphabet, is that Richard Tarlton was an icon for superior wit that transcended the stage and could not be constrained by text. This status as a hypermedial icon will be crucial to our analysis of the Friar Bacon illustration and will figure into our determination of what role this Tarlton image might have had in the artist’s incorporation of the clown figure in the scene. Before that, however, it is important that we look more closely at how Tarlton became such a metonymic figure for early modern comic performance, the extent of his influence, and how such an ephemeral performance style as jesting could become codified in print.

‘There will neuer come his like while the earth can corne’: Richard Tarlton in Life

Richard Tarlton was a distinctly charismatic actor, both in his assigned roles, such as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, and in his guise as the extemporizing solo performer on stage or at Court. While theatre historians have long been fascinated with how such a character influenced early modern society,[7] until recently his significance in terms of the study of early modern theatre and performance has not been so fully recognized. This may be due to two factors: the period during which Tarlton thrived as an actor and our lack of documentary evidence about him.  Tarlton flourished in the late 1570s and 1580s, when London professional theatre was still evolving. The Theatre was built in 1576, and the only other public amphitheatre structure in use during Tarlton’s lifetime was the Curtain theatre. The Queen’s Men did not have an anchor theatre in London at which they performed. Tarlton and his fellow players were as likely to perform in adapted spaces such as inn yards and guildhalls as they were to act in a purpose-built theatre. This transience reinforced the liminality of performers during the years before the 1590s when theatres became an established presence in London, and when popular plays were beginning to be printed. Compiling a biography of Tarlton is also challenging due to the paucity of biographical information available to us. Relatively few pieces of documentary evidence have survived (or resurfaced) about the man. Andrew Gurr notes that Tarlton “became famous in the 1570s, [was] a byword in the 1580s, and [had become] a popular legend a century after his death” (Shakespearean Stage 86). It is difficult to determine which anecdotes can help us fill in the gaps about Tarlton’s life, and which are part of the making of that legend.

Tarlton’s origins are uncertain. He may have been born in Shropshire, and was perhaps the son of a pig farmer. According to a reference in The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London, he was in his youth a water-carrier.[8] There is documentary evidence from a church register of a marriage between Tarlton and a “Thamsyn” or “Thomasyn” who died in 1585. At the time of his death he left a six-year-old son named Phillip, as well as a mother and sister (Thomson, ODNB). David Kathman has recently uncovered documents that indicate Tarlton was apprenticed to the Haberdashers Company and was made a freeman of that guild in 1582. He then appeared before the wardens and requested to be transferred to the Vintners Company (“Tarlton and the Haberdashers” 440-1). Tarlton oversaw at least one apprentice as a freeman of the Vintners, a boy named Richard Haywarde; Kathman suspects that the Queen’s Men may also have trained this young man as a boy actor (441). Tarlton may have kept or been associated with inns or taverns in Gracechurch Street and Paternoster Row, as well as in Colchester. Several of the jests related in Tarlton’s Jests take place in or are a result of altercations in taverns.

Tarlton’s experience with the guilds introduces some very interesting perspectives to an examination of his popularity. That he continued to be associated with trade – the Haberdashers until 1582 and the Vintners until his death – while he apparently sustained himself as a professional actor and published author suggests that Tarlton moved with ease between the realms of business and entertainment. Robert Weimann notes that in these early days of English professional theatre the tastes of the working and middle classes were better aligned than they would be in just a few decades. “The middle strata of craftsmen and the more wealthy dealers and retailers enjoyed these entertainments just as did the lower strata, the laborers, carriers, servants” (Popular Tradition 185). Tarlton, from low origins, had moved up in the world by becoming a guildsman, but his identity as a player continued to make him a liminal figure in society. Tarlton emphasized this duality in his performances. Both the apprentices and high-born in an audience responded to Tarlton’s brand of humor. In 1620 Henry Peachum wrote of the effect Tarlton could have on an audience just by peering around the stage curtain:

Tarlton when his head was onley seene,

The Tirehouse dore and Tapestrie betweene,

Set all the multitude in such a laughter,

They could not hold for scarse an houre after.

        (Peachum, Thalia’s Banquet – Qtd. in Gurr, Shakespearean Stage 154)

We do not know when or where Richard Tarlton began performing. Thomas Fuller claims that one of the Earl of Leicester’s servants came across him in Shropshire tending his father’s pigs and “was so highly pleased with his happy unhappy answers, that he brought him to Court, where he became the most famous Jester to Queen Elizabeth” (Qtd. in Nunzeger 347). However Tarlton got his start as a performer, by the late 1570s he was a member of the Earl of Sussex’s troupe and playing at Court. By several accounts he was unattractive.[9] Peter Cockett suggests he emphasized his facial features as a “mask of simplicity” that enhanced his clowning, and perhaps even squinted as part of his act (Early English Comic Figures 228). His physical agility and athletic skill, as well as his ability to extemporize, were highlighted in the roles he performed and the post-play jigs that became his trademark (Roger Clegg, “He’s for a jig” 70-1). He was also a skilled swordsman. In 1587 he was made Master of Fence[10] – a skill that may have served him well in the inn yards where the players often performed on tour.[11] In 1583 Tarlton, along with eleven of the other best players and playwrights in England, formed an all-star troupe under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth.[12] Wearing the Queen’s livery[13] this troupe performed at Court, in London, and on a series of tours around the country. The Queen’s Men had a very strong following outside of London – another benefit to Tarlton, whose rustic clown persona likely resonated powerfully with country people.[14] The Queen’s Men were a significant part of Elizabeth’s propaganda mechanism to spread the idea of English nationalism through such plays as The Famous Victories. They were “something of an arm of propaganda in their performances in London and the provinces, announcing the alliance between royal munificence and theatrical skill, and prominently advertising official approval of players and playing, which the widespread popular affection for Tarlton no doubt helped advance” (John Astington, English Court Theatre 23). Sir Francis Walsingham – among other duties reputed to be Elizabeth’s master spy – organized the tours, and this has led to speculation about what the Queen’s Men were actually doing in the provinces.[15] McMillin and MacLean argue that the actors were part of a much more complex, and in some ways devious initiative than spying. “The formation of the Queen’s Men in 1583 should be regarded particularly in connection with the intelligence system – not because the Queen’s Men were spies, but because Walsingham used licensed travelers of various kinds to give the impression of an extensive court influence within which the actual size and constitution of the spy system could not be detected” (Queen’s Men 27). The Queen’s Men on tour contributed to Walsingham’s courier service, picking up and delivering messages.[16] The actors maintained personal relationships with Walsingham as well. On his deathbed Tarlton wrote to Walsingham asking that he protect Tarlton’s young son Phillip (25).

Tarlton was crass, aggressive, and often got himself into trouble. He was “not infrequently violent, and almost always combative” (Peter Thomson, ODNB). His comic style, invariably acerbic, and often scatological[17] and offensive, grew out of the knockabout atmosphere of London’s taverns. Tarlton was working-class, an immigrant from the provinces. He played this role to the hilt, and specialized in characters that set him apart – the servant or assistant who disrespects his betters and avoids comeuppance by means of his wits (Gurr, Playgoing 154-5). Cockett suggests that he was able to maximize “the comic interplay between the man and the characters he played” (50). His mastery of the jest or jig (an extratheatrical improvised piece at the end of the performance further distinguished Tarlton from his fellow actors and reinforced his fame (Clegg 70). Most jests were comprised of a few comic actors singing and dancing. Tarlton’s version was a bravura one-man show incorporating extemporized doggerel based on audience suggestions or “theams” and withering mockery of the people who had paid to see him perform. Apparently Tarlton was not content to leave his abrasive humor on the stage. Tarlton’s Jests documents a series of encounters where Tarlton baits his betters but invariably gets himself out of trouble by means of his stinging wit. This printed compilation, which provides many anecdotal references to his encounters at court as well as in London and throughout the country, is a valuable resource to learn about how Tarlton often provoked these conflicts, such as this one with a dandified gentleman:

As Tarlton & others passed along Fleet Street, hee espied a spruce yong gallant, blacke of complexion, with long haire hanging downe ouer his eares, and his beard of the Italian cut, in white Satten, very quaintly cut, and his body so stiffe starcht, that he could not bend himselfe any way for no gold: Tarlton, seeing such a wonder comming, trips before him, and meeting this gallant tooke the wall of him, knowing that one so proud, at least looked for the prerogative. The gallant scorning that a Player should take the wall, or so much indignittie him, turnes himselfe, and presently drew his Rapier, Tarlton drew likewise: The Gentleman fell to it roundly, but Tarlton in his own defence, compassing and traversing his ground, gaped with a wide mouth, whereat the people laughed: the Gentleman pausing, enquired why he gaped so: O Sir saies he, in hope to swallow you, for by my troth, you seeme to me like a prune in a Messe of White Broth: at this the people parted them, the Gentleman noting his mad humour, went his way well contented, for he knew not how to amend it (Tarlton’s Jests B2r).

In this instance Tarlton takes aim at the dandy, purposely insulting him (by not stepping aside to let one of superior rank pass). The gallant draws his sword, but Tarlton takes advantage of the situation by making funny faces and poking fun at the gentleman’s appearance (his black hair and beard, in contrast with his starched white satin suit, reminds Tarlton of a prune in a cream soup). Observers step in to separate them and the gentleman goes away, outwitted by Tarlton. The presence of spectators is important, as is the location. Tarlton requires an audience for his jests to be truly successful; he is also unafraid of getting into an armed encounter (although he deftly avoids doing so) in a busy public place like Fleet Street.

Tarlton’s personal experience as a working-class immigrant newly arrived in London may have provided the basis for his rustic clown persona. Tarlton perfected the trope of the Clown being first humiliated by, then overcoming, his urban prosecutors. “Tarlton … had a persona, the innocent abroad whose guileless front makes him the butt who always wins in the end … He made the stereotype of the guileless rustic so popular that several commentators [including Samuel Rowlands] after his death claimed that real countrymen were imitating Tarlton” (Gurr, Playgoing 157). That Tarlton’s impersonation of country ways should cause some to suspect that country folk acted the way they did in imitation of him demonstrates the extent of the influence of his style, if not the narrow-mindedness of certain commentators in observing regional behavior. His “reputation rests on his speech performance, specifically his quick wit, and [his] potency as a figure emerges from his dual class positioning – at once of the people and part of the elite” (Alexandra Halasz, “Celebrity” 19). It was this ability to speak to – while he performed for – the widest range of audience members that made him a hero to the common Londoners who filled the pit and the townspeople who packed the inn yards when the Queen’s Men were on tour. In addition, Tarlton’s particular adeptness at shifting between scripted roles, such as Dericke in The Famous Victories, and his virtuoso jigs at the end of the plays, “fed into his stage personality to the point where Tarlton and his Clown became inseparable in the public mind” (Clegg 70). This switch between roles (from scripted clown to extemporizing clown) may have affected the perception audience members had of Tarlton.

Tarlton also enjoyed a unique relationship with Queen Elizabeth, who called upon him frequently to entertain her at Court. Many of these command performances appear to have been solo in nature (references to Tarlton making his way to and from appearances before Elizabeth in Tarlton’s Jests invariably indicate that he was performing on his own, without the rest of the ensemble). Apparently, Tarlton could singularly raise her Majesty’s spirits when she had descended into a brooding state. According to Thomas Fuller in his 1662 History of the Worthies of England:

Our Tarlton was Master of his Faculty. When Queen Elizabeth was serious (I dare not say sullen) and out of good humour, he could un-dumpish her at his pleasure. Her highest Favourites, would in some Cases, go to Tarlton, before they would go to the Queen, and he was their Vsher to prepare their advantagious access unto Her. He told the Queen more of her faults, than most of her Chaplains, and cured her Melancholy better than all of her Physicians (47, emphasis in original).[18]

This description, published over seventy years after Tarlton’s death, offers a unique insight not only into the relationship between the brooding Queen and her court and retainers, but also gives us an intriguing demonstration of Tarlton’s talent, influence, and charisma. It is noteworthy that Elizabeth’s powerful courtiers could be so cowed by her that they would call upon a player to intercede with her on their behalf. Tarlton seems better equipped to minister to the Queen’s emotional and spiritual needs than her physicians and religious advisors. Tarlton’s frankness in identifying Elizabeth’s faults to her face suggests not only boldness on his part but a sort of trust between the clown and the queen that was unusual. How did this comic actor attain such personal distinction that his service to the Queen identified him as one of England’s most admirable citizens in Fuller’s dictionary? What amusements did this “Master of his Faculty” perform for her majesty that so distinguished him from the other entertainers at her command (including his own troupe)? Andrew Gurr suggests that Tarlton’s comedy “was rumbustious by degrees, which varied according to his venue. At court and in his extemporizing in the playhouses his act seems to have been more witty than knockabout (Playgoing 153).

Here again we find insight into the relationship between Elizabeth and Tarlton in Edmund Bohun’s description of how the Queen expected to be entertained:

At supper the Queen would call upon Tarlton to divert her with stories of the town, and the common jests, or accidents; but so that they kept within the bounds of modesty and chastity. In the winter-time, after supper, she would some time hear a song, or a lesson or two plaid upon the lute; but she would be much offended if there was any rudeness to any person, any reproach or licentious reflections used. Tarlton, who was then the best comedian in England, had made a pleasant play, and when it was acting before the Queen, he pointed at Sir Walter Rawleigh, and said: See, the Knave commands the Queen; for which he was corrected by a frown from the Queen; yet he had the confidence to add that he was of too much and too intolerable a power; and going on with the same liberty, he reflected on the over-great power and riches of the Earl of Leicester, which was so universally applauded by all that were present, that she thought fit for the present to bear these reflections with a seeming unconcernedness. But yet she was offended, that she forbad Tarleton, and all her jesters from coming near her table, being inwardly displeased with this impudent and unseasonable liberty.

        (Qtd. in Philipps-Haliwell, Tarlton’s Jests Introduction xxix)

This anecdote reveals a number of interesting clues about the clown and the queen: Tarlton did perform his jests before Elizabeth, but in a sanitized fashion. He also recounted stories to her about the goings-on in London, evidently providing her with a perspective she could not achieve from her aristocratic circle. But we also learn that while Tarlton could mock the likes of Raleigh and Leicester to the appreciation of their peers, he could go too far and anger the Queen. And when he did this, she punished him with a cold shoulder.

Tarlton was part of a long line of comic actors that stretched back to the Roman actors who portrayed unruly servants and included the Vice character of medieval morality plays and the Lord of Misrule figure in court interludes (Robert Weissmann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition 20-39). He also served as a powerful model for the comic actors who were his peers and protégés. John Astington explores the apocryphal tale in Tarlton’s Jests that Tarlton met the teenage Robert Armin, tested him, and determined to ‘adopt’ him as his comic son (Astington, “Succession” 225). Robert Weimann identifies Will Kempe as Tarlton’s stylistic heir, known as “Jestmonger and Vice regent generall to the Ghost of Dick Tarlton” (Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition 191) Astington identifies a quasi-genealogical link starting with Tarlton and progressing to Will Kempe, Robert Armin, Andrew Cane, William Rowley, John Shank, and Thomas Pollard – a clowning tradition that continued until the public theatres closed in 1642. William Rowley also was identified by his physicality and costume – as when he played the rustic Simplicity in the masque he co-wrote with Thomas Middleton,  The World Tossed at Tennis.[19]

The World Tossed at Tennis. Thomas Middleton, 1620.

Astington suggests that the Elizabethan clown’s form of jesting encouraged imitation and elaboration, in which the individual clown adapts the style of the predecessor and adds unique or distinctive elements (Astington, “Succession” 232). Astington’s recognition of the clowning heritage allows us to consider that Tarlton’s clowning style might have been passed down through the generations of professional comic actors who performed with various troupes during the forty years from his death to the publication of the 1630 edition of Friar Bacon and beyond. In the process it would have been transformed but might still bear some of the markers of Tarlton’s style – a sort of family resemblance that resonates in the Friar Bacon illustration.

Tarlton and his protégés were larger-than-life and, as such, they posed challenges to their collaborators. Their disruptions were so remarkable and memorable – and distracting – that playwrights began taming them by writing structured comic pieces into plays to prevent such distractions. According to Joseph Bryant, Shakespeare determined to capture clowning in a series of comic roles, finally stoppering the extemporizing jesters by creating “a character who not only took over the best tricks in the clown’s repertory but also formed an essential part of the fundamental design of the play in which he appeared” (“Shakespeare’s Falstaff” 151). Weimann points out that Shakespeare carefully integrated clown characters such as Launce and Feste into the text of his plays. “The actors of these parts - Kempe and Armin - no longer re-enacted their clowning selves, but represented, at least in part, fully developed dramatic roles. In this sense Shakespeare broke away from Tarlton’s ‘selfe-resembled show’” (Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition 192). This also suggests that an older play like Friar Bacon, with its significant opportunities for improvisation may have become something of a rarity by 1630. Diana Henderson suggests that Will Kempe and Robert Armin probably were the first to perform the Shakespearean roles of Falstaff, Bottom, Dogberry, and Feste, applying their training as clowns to roles that remained within the hermetic construct of the plays as written (“From Popular Entertainment” 11). Ambivalence towards clownish antics may be seen in the treatment of clowns in Hamlet. In his directions to the Players before they are to perform “The Mousetrap”, Hamlet cautions them, “let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them – for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, be then to be considered” (Hamlet 3.2.37-43).[20] Two acts later, one of the most disruptive clown characters in Shakespeare’s canon appears: the Grave-digger, who has dominion over the earthly remains of Denmark’s most vaunted citizens. He holds them, literally and figuratively, in low regard as he cracks joke after joke at their expense. Still, when the Grave-digger tosses up Yorrick’s skull, Hamlet eulogizes the jester in a speech thought by scholars such as Edwin Nunzeger and Martin Banham to be a fond remembrance of Tarlton,[21] “Where be your gives now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?” (5.1.183-5). The clown, though acknowledged as a valuable dramatic device by later Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, was restructured to fit more neatly into the framework of the play. By thus defining and restricting the role played by the comic actor, the work of the playwright contained that of the show-stopping performer. To put it another way, the public now went to see Kempe playing Falstaff, not Tarlton playing Tarlton.

Time and again and in all manner of situations, we read of Tarlton as an exceptional individual with the ability to overshadow his fellow players and outwit a variety of opponents. It is important now to deconstruct Tarlton’s brand of celebrity in order to better understand how those performers who came after him would have tried to incorporate his skills into their comic performances, as well as to recognize the role print played in sustaining Tarlton’s legend through the seventeenth century and how this might have resulted in the curious figure in the Friar Bacon illustration.

‘I knew him to be either the body or the resemblaunce’: Richard Tarlton and
Early Modern Celebrity

Our conception of the early modern repertory companies such as the Queen’s Men relies on the cohesiveness of the troupe, where each play that was performed required a diversity of talents and the combined energies of the company. An actor might take a standout role in one play and a supporting role in the next. “In the early modern universe, a performer’s success depended on his status as a sharer, a player who shared the proceeds equally with his fellows” (Barbara Hodgdon, “Shakespearean Stars” 48). Richard Tarlton was one of the first individual popular actors with a following in his own right (another was Edward Alleyn, who specialized in tragic roles for the Admiral’s Men). These early stars negotiated the cohesiveness of the troupe and the idol status they achieved. Many more star-actors would emerge in the ensuing decades, such as Richard Burbage and Nathan Field. But the clown characters as developed by Tarlton, with his specialization in extemporaneous extratheatrical business, became more problematic as the roles of actor and playwright became more established. Richard Tarlton was a master of the “personality performance”, where “the actor’s persona and idiosyncratic performing style overwhelm the role” (48). As we shall see below, this type of personality-driven performance contributed to seventeenth-century playwrights’ attempts to contain their clown characters in carefully scripted comic bits to sustain the momentum and coherence of the play.

Another anecdote in Tarlton’s Jests demonstrates Tarlton’s remarkable flexibility as an actor as well as his comfort manipulating the theatrical structure in which he and his fellow actors work:

At the Bull at Bishops-gate was a play of Henry the fift, wherein the Judge was to take a boxe on the eare, and because he was absent that should take the blow: Tarlton himselfe (euer forward to please) tooke upon him to play the same Judge, besides his owne part of the Clowne: and Knell then playing Henry the fift, hit Tarlton a sound boxe indeed, which made the people laugh the more, because it was he: but anone the Judge goes in, & immediatly Tarlton (in his Clown’s clothes) comes out, and askes the Actors what newes: O saith-one, hadst thou beene here, thou shouldst haue seene Prince Henry hit the Judge a terribly boxe on the eare: What man, said Tarlton, strike a Judge? It is true yfaith, said the other: no other like, said Tarlton and it could not be but terrible to the Judge, when the report so terrifies me, that me thinkes the blow remaines still on my cheeke, that it burns againe. The people laught at this mightily, and to this day I have heard it commended for rare: but no maruaile, for he had many of these. But I would see our Clownes in these dayes doe the like, no I warrant ye, and yet they thinke well of themselves soo. (C2v-C3r)

This reveals several elements that are of use to the current examination. Tarlton demonstrates his virtuosity – in a repertory-based system where multiple plays were performed in rotation it would be expected that all ensemble players would be able to pick up a part when needed, but Tarlton is noted for his ability to do so at a moment’s notice. We learn that actors performing in the play would be dressed in characteristic costume (it is not stated explicitly, but Tarlton changes from whatever identified him as the Judge into his Clown’s clothes as soon as he left the stage). A comparison between the description and the printed play (1617 edition) suggests that Tarlton performing the roles of both Dericke and the Judge would require remarkable dexterity[22] as well as forbearance on the part of the audience. Both characters appear in the same scene, and several times the lines of one character follow immediately after those of the other. The Judge is clearly a man of distinction – he is identified upon his entrance as the “Lord chiefe Justice” [B2][23] Dericke, on the other hand, is a workingman identified as “Dericke Goodman, Hobling’s man of Kent”, who has been robbed by one of Prince Henry’s entourage. Dericke comes before the Judge pleading for justice. Prince Henry is summoned and gets into an argument with the Judge, who has sentenced his man to death by hanging. Henry is insulted by what he sees as the Judge’s impertinence and boxes his ears. The Judge then remands Henry to the Fleet jail until his father can be consulted. At this point the play-text is unclear, because a stage direction calls for Dericke and John the Cobbler to enter (when there is no indication that they have exited) and perform a mock version of the trial where Dericke takes on the role of the Prince and John plays the Judge.

The mirrored trial scene is clever as written, with Dericke the country mechanical imitating the Prince. But in the production in question, the idea of Tarlton shifting between characters is intriguing. Did he wear his clown garb as Dericke? How did he differentiate himself as the Judge (was there a robe ready for him to don when he changed roles, or did he take the time to exit and re-enter)? Where did the extemporized piece fit into the subsequent scene? In the play as written, Dericke delivers the blow (to the Cobbler) rather than receiving it. Might this double-slap have been incorporated into the sequence, so that Tarlton both receives and gives a blow? The Jests anecdote specifies that he return in his Clown’s clothes, which suggests that there was some identifying costume piece for the Judge. It also suggests that Tarlton interacts with a group of actors (not just the one playing the Cobbler). Of course this is a tale retold years after his death, so perhaps we should put aside some parts of the description as faulty memory or embellishment. But the distinctiveness of the reference to Tarlton’s actions, words and dress speaks to something clearly recalled. Tarlton brings his clown persona into the body of the play – effectively collapsing the distinction between scripted drama and extra dramatic performance. The audience would have been fully aware of the duality and “was quite capable of distinguishing between the famous clown and his double part” (Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition 191). Apparently they were equally at ease with Tarlton’s disregard for the distinction between scripted play and extemporaneous jest, his unique mode of “personality performance”. This issue has great relevance for our examination of the Friar Bacon illustration.

The Bull theatre example highlights how complex the relationship between audience, actor, and character could be, and how the interrelationship might have enhanced Tarlton’s reputation and celebrity not only on stage but in print media as well. Bruce McConachie[24] suggests that audiences project empathy onto the actors portraying characters, with little differentiation between the two. This empathy is at the root of the adoration expressed by fans for modern celebrities, but may also support our examination of the iconic clowning figure superimposed on the scene from Friar Bacon. McConachie identifies the moments in realist drama when the spectator most strongly identifies with the figure on stage. At these moments the actor becomes the fictitious character in the mind of the spectator – these moments provide opportunities for the spectator to project his or her subjectivity onto the character. However, in “modes of theatre that encourage the audience to separate the actor from the character ... spectators may mix their projections between actors and characters” (581). This doubled projection is applicable to the performance described above: when, in the spectator’s mind, is Tarlton a character (Dericke or the Judge in The Famous Victories) and when is he the clown persona the audience identifies as Tarlton? When Tarlton, dressed in his Clown’s clothes, appears in a scene from The Famous Victories, who do they think is speaking to them? Tarlton as Dericke, or Tarlton as Clown? Cockett suggests that, “even if [Tarlton] was not always clowning, he was always expected to be funny” (267). As we saw above, anecdotal evidence suggests that audiences identified with the figure they recognized as Tarlton, and that identification may have outweighed any particular role he played as a member of the Queen’s Men. This identification may well have influenced memorial pictorial representations of Tarlton in his clown garb.

        Anthony Dawson argues that reception of drama by early modern audiences involved a complex layering of association with performers and the roles being performed.[25] Dawson uses the term “personation”, drawn from early modern use of the word, to describe the process in which a state of “double consciousness” was achieved by the actor and the audience. Dawson cites the experience of Henry Jackson, who witnessed a performance of Othello by the King’s Men at Oxford in 1610. Jackson was so affected by the performance of the young actor portraying Desdemona in the death scene that he identified completely with “her”.[26] Dawson analyzes the process in this way: “First, the creation of “character” leaves the actor behind but retains his (her) body as the sign of an internal life; and second, the audience is encouraged into double consciousness by being led to respond to the represented person ... and simultaneously being made aware of the very process ... by which the player constructs the fictional character” (22-3, emphasis in original). We can thus contrast Tarlton and his peer Edward Alleyn, who was identified with the dramatic roles he performed on stage (such as Tamburlaine and Faustus) and was also recognized as a celebrity actor in public. Alleyn’s talent aligns itself with McConachie’s description of the projection of subjectivity and Dawson’s definition of personation. An audience would have been readily able to distinguish Alleyn from the character with whom they identified. In the case of Tarlton, however, it seems doubtful that an audience member would have experienced this personation watching Tarlton perform Dericke, especially in a performance such as the one at the Bull.

        As we saw in the example of the performance at the Bull, Tarlton was adept at stepping into a role when the actor who was scheduled to perform it did not appear. This should suggest that Tarlton respected the integrity of the work he was performing, not to mention his fellow actors and the concept of the ensemble. And yet as soon as his performance as the Judge was complete, he shifted into metatheatrical commentary designed to draw attention away from the play’s structure and the ensemble, and focus the audience’s attention instead on Tarlton’s skill. This raises the issue of the early modern clown’s ability or willingness to truly integrate into an ensemble of performers. Michael Quinn maps the acting relationship between actor, stage figure, and audience into an equilateral triangle that is important to our understanding of the identification of the audience with the celebrity as opposed to a part he plays. The Stage Figure, Actor and Audience are ineluctably tied together in a way that works for the star, but not for the company (“Celebrity and the Semiotics of Acting” 156). The powerful presence of the celebrity causes him to stand out from his fellow actors, effectively thwarting the concept of an ensemble and the authority of the author. The “celebrity has the power, as both sign object and producer, to subvert or pre-empt the efforts of other artists to authenticate themselves through fictions of absolute authority” (157). In the case of Tarlton, his personal magnetism, lightning-fast wit and often-vicious social commentary combined to make him a hero to audiences while destabilizing the authority of his acting peers and contributing playwrights.

        McConachie and Dawson provide a basis for our understanding of the early modern suspension of disbelief that is invoked in experiences such as that of Henry Jackson. Quinn assists in interpreting the converse, when an actor evoked such a powerful sense of identity that the suspension of disbelief was interrupted or prevented. Tarlton specialized in comic roles such as Dericke, which provided opportunities for him to emphasize his wit rather than to elicit feelings of pity or compassion from the audience. Even in the scene in Famous Victories where he relates being robbed by Henry’s man, the resolution comes in the form of mimicry of his betters rather than sympathy for what has been stolen for him. Moreover, his tendency toward belligerence when interacting with the audience may well have affected the connection between audience and actor. For us to analyze how Tarlton and the spectator could have isolated his performance guises (Tarlton the actor playing Dericke, Tarlton performing dual roles in the same scene, or Tarlton the performer standing alone before the curtain, making up rude poems, insulting members of the audience, dancing and singing) may have been irrelevant. Perhaps the audience expected Tarlton to fulfill a singular blended representation in whatever role(s) he performed. This type of conflation would certainly serve an iconic image of Tarlton.

Alexandra Halasz demonstrates that Tarlton remained a signifier for wit to people well after he had ceased to perform (“Celebrity” 19). Not surprising, considering his relationship with the Vintners Company and popular association with taverns, pubs named the Tarlton’s Arms sprang up around the city (Thomson ODNB), and, according to a reference in Joseph Hall’s 1599 Satires, the identifiable figure of a Tarltonesque clown began appearing on “ale-post signs” (Qtd. in Nunzeger 356). As late as 1798 Henry Ellis noted an alehouse in Shoreditch where “His portrait, with tabor and pipe, still serves as a sign” (Qtd. in Nunzeger 356). Perhaps in keeping with Tarlton’s penchant for scatological humor, John Oldham, in his Remains (1703) suggests that his image was placed in less public places as well, “One would take him for the Picture of Scoggin or Tarleton on a Privy-house Door” (Qtd. in Nunzeger 356). From these references we begin to recognize that Richard Tarlton’s image had cultural relevance for London citizens long after his death. Likewise, the hypermedial references such as the “T” in Scottowe’s Alphabet and the scene with the ballad-seller in Wilson’s Three Lords and Three Ladies, examined at the beginning of this chapter, suggest that his textual/verbal character description was tied closely to the iconic clown figure. These examples are important to our understanding of the emphemerality of early modern theatre and the means by which a particular performer or production could be remembered. In the case of Tarlton, print played a profound role in sustaining his celebrity and in creating his legend.

After his theatrical successes – and perhaps the reason why he is still such a famous figure – Richard Tarlton was best known as an author and subject of plays, ballads, and chapbooks that were reprinted long after his death. He wrote The Seven Deadly Sins in 1585 for the Queen’s Men, a play in two parts that was apparently a popular piece in their repertoire. Unfortunately, only a partial plot outline remains. A series of ballads and jests ascribed to him were registered with the Stationers Company throughout the 1570s, including Tarlton’s Toys and Tarlton’s Tragical Treatises (both now lost). Tarlton’s early printed works concentrated on natural disaster: he wrote about a series of catastrophic floods in 1570, a great snowstorm in 1579, and an earthquake that struck London in 1580. After his death, Tarlton began to appear as a character in the works of others: not only Fuller’s Worthies and Stowe’s Annales (1592, 1600, 1601 and 1605), but also a series of ballads including Tarltons Newes out of Purgatory (1590), The Cobler of Canterbury (1590), and Kind Harts Dreame (1592). As on the stage, Tarlton’s celebrity in print can be considered a commodity, “by the work of others who make the representation of [his] speech performance simultaneously an icon of the pleasures available in the marketplace ... Consumers acquire that repertoire of entertaining speech and its imitability as well as the more situated celebrity image of the speaker who jokes as easily with courtiers as country folk” (Alexandra Halasz, “Celebrity” 29). In this way Tarlton’s iconic image stabilized in public memory as a performative character. These references serve as a reminder that people were reading about Tarlton long after anyone who might have seen him perform would have had a clear memory of any specific performance. It is important to our understanding of early modern celebrity that, unlike the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which offer increasingly well documented evidence of performance, the transitory nature of early modern theatre makes the clarity of cultural memory somewhat suspect. What would the image of Tarlton-as-clown truly have conveyed to an observer some forty years on? How long would a specific performance reference to Tarlton have resonated with the London public? Had this figure become synonymous with clown-play? Did the comic actors who followed Tarlton adhere to his style of performance to such a degree that this figure became less important as a symbol of the man than it was a signifier for comic performance?

In Henry Chettle’s 1592 pamphlet Kind Hartes Dream, Tarlton appears as a dream-figure or ghost.[27] Kind Harte sees Tarlton in a dream, dressed as the stage clown, and immediately recognizes the “resemblaunce” to Tarlton. “Embodied in a printed text, the ‘resemblaunce of Tarlton’ signifies not only a specific dramatic practice but also a general social one … Detached from a spatiotemporal locus of his practice, the name and the persona it implies become an icon, the representational market of time (and space) not bound by work or necessity” (Halasz, “Celebrity” 26).[28]

        The most profound textual representation of Tarlton, as we have had the opportunity to examine throughout this chapter, may be Tarlton’s Jests. The first elements of this compilation began appearing in the 1590s, but two full surviving editions (1613, 1638) demonstrate the public’s fascination with Tarlton even fifty years after his death. The 1613 and 1638 editions include title page woodcuts of Tarlton in his rustic clown garb [the 1613 woodcut is provided in Figure ??]. Bordering on the hagiographic, Tarlton’s Jests catalogues his invariably successful interactions with all classes. The work is broken into three sections: “Tarltons Court Wittie Iests”, “Tarltons sound Cittie Iests”, and “Tarltons prettie Countrie Iests”. The narrative structure is loose and anecdotal in nature. As has been demonstrated several times in this chapter, the Jests demonstrate him confronting and besting foolish representatives of all classes and across England. We read a series of tales about Tarlton between performances. He always seems to be making his way along Fleet Street as he returns from a royal performance, or negotiating with the Watch after a scuffle in a tavern. Time and again we see Tarlton doing what no one could – cheering up Elizabeth:

The Queene being discontented: which Tarlton perceiving, tooke upon him to delight her with some quaint Jest, whereupon he counterfeited a Drunkard, and calling for Beere, which was brought immediately: Her Maiestie noting his humor, commanded that he should have no more, for quoth she, he will play the beast, and so shame himselfe. Feare not you quoth Tarlton, for your Beere is small enough. Whereat her Maiestie laughed heartily, and commanded he should have enough. [sig. A2]

This vignette presents Tarlton working on a number of comedic levels: he spots the opportunity to engage in some physical comedy by pretending to be a staggering drunk. Then he resolves the bit by baiting the Queen about the poor quality of her beer – a reference to her reputed stinginess. And he does this with such self-assurance that not only does he bring her out of her mood, she rewards him with the very beer that she had just cautioned him against consuming.

        The Jests go on like this for thirty pages. Many of the butts of Tarlton’s jokes are wealthy aristocrats, landowners, and businessmen, but no one is safe from his barbs, and in fact a few times Tarlton does get his requital (particularly from his wife and a dog). The fact that in 1638 Tarlton’s visual and textual representations still resonated so powerfully with the public lends additional credence to some sort of association between Tarlton the clown and the clown figure in general. He was still a hero and icon, and the cultural capital he possessed so long after his departure from the stage resonated powerfully across the country.

‘A wide-sleeved gown on my back, and a crowned cap on my head’: Traces of Richard Tarlton in the woodcut for Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay

So far in this chapter I have examined a variety of posthumous representations of Richard Tarlton, both visual and textual, in order to achieve a better understanding of the power of his legacy in seventeenth-century culture. It is difficult to determine how many of these references can be considered – in any way – biographical, as we have relatively little documentary evidence about Tarlton’s life. Taken as a group, however, the references in works from The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London, to Scottowe’s Alphabet, to Kind Hartes Dream and a large number of elegiac verses, not to mention the plethora of tales in Tarlton’s Jests, demonstrate the staying power of Tarlton’s humorous legacy. His visage, as well as stories about his brash and outstanding comic abilities, remained with the English people long after any of them could claim to have watched him perform. The image of Tarlton in his clown costume, whether it was incorporated into an engraving such as the Alphabet, described in the episode at the Bull theatre, or hanging from a tavern sign, demonstrates that the mention of “Tarlton” may have been more likely to summon the idea of the jigging clown than it would present a more elusive idea of a comic actor performing a role in a play some forty years previously. This, then, brings us to the question of the composition of the woodcut illustration used on the title page for the 1630 edition of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay [Figure ?] and what – if any – connection can be made between the dancing, jigging figure at its center and Richard Tarlton.

The illustration is not original to the play. It appeared at least once before, a year earlier, in the 1629 edition of The Famous Historie of Fryer Bacon.[29] This non-dramatic version of the Friar Bacon story focuses on Bacon’s alchemical experiments and only a few other plot elements from the play appear (including the double duel between the country fathers and their student sons, which leads Bacon to give up magic). Bacon was an historical figure who lived in the twelfth century and who, legendarily, was a benign English Faust figure. In the prose version of the story, as in the play, Bacon has a servant – a ne’er do well student named Miles who aggravates Bacon with his laziness and his desire to use magic for personal gain rather than the good of his fellows. Friar Bungay also features in the story, although here he serves more as an assistant to the great friar than a nemesis, as he is through much of the play. The prose version also features as its climax the building of the Brazen Head, by which Bacon hopes to assist the king in his efforts to defend England from enemies by encasing it in a wall of brass. In both versions Bacon exhausts himself with his exertions and asks Miles to keep watch while he sleeps, commanding that Miles awaken him if the Brazen Head should speak. In both the prose and play versions of this sequence, Miles fails to follow orders and is fired by Bacon. The manner in which Miles struggles to stay awake on duty in both cases is rooted in clowning and jigging. It is curious, however, to find such a performative character as Miles in a text-based forum. A comparative reading of the texts of the prose and play versions [Appendix 4 and 5] suggests that the author of Famous History envisioned a clown-figure much like those at which Tarlton excelled. While there are a number of similarities in the episodes, the section in which Miles stands guard and interacts with the Brazen Head is significantly longer and includes three tunes that Miles sings to keep himself awake. In the Friar Bacon version, Miles has amusing lines, but most of the clowning business appears to be left for the actor to insert his own comic bits. One important distinction is that in the Famous History, Miles enters with a pipe and tabor and accompanies himself while he sings – he is not discomfited by the supernatural nature of the Brazen Head. In Friar Bacon, Miles has weapons, and is clearly afraid of the Head.

Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, 1630.

We do not know if Robert Greene relied on The Famous History as a source for his play. We also do not know if Greene wrote the part of Miles with Tarlton in mind, or if he did, whether Tarlton was alive to perform the role. Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean believe there is a thematic connection between Friar Bacon and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. For them, the failure of the Brazen Head leading to “a necromancer learning what damage he can do and undergoing a change of heart” (Queen’s Men 185) is a direct comic response to Faustus’s damnation; they therefore argue that Friar Bacon would have appeared after Marlowe’s play. E.K. Chambers dates Doctor Faustus at approximately 1588 and Friar Bacon in 1589.[30] While these dates are educated guesses at best, we must move Faustus to at least 1587 in order for Tarlton to be alive to take part in a first production of Friar Bacon. Certainly, the role of Miles seems tailor-made for Tarlton, with its mockery of the elite, doggerel rhymes, and the character’s final fantastic nose-thumbing scene with a devil. If he weren’t alive to play the part, it is at least possible that Greene wrote the part for him or with him in mind, but that Tarlton died before he was able to play the part. But herein lies the conundrum: how can Tarlton be linked in any sort of memorial way to a play in which he never performed? There are no anecdotes available to us, as there are of his masterful performance of Dericke and the Judge. Nor is there a posthumous metatheatrical reference to him in the play, as there is in The Three Lord and Three Ladies. Is there enough visual residue from representations like that in Scottowe’s “T” to stake a claim that the character in the center of the woodcut, blowing on a pipe and beating on a drum, is meant to represent Tarlton?

Richard Levin believes there is. In “Tarlton in The Famous History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay”,[31] Levin attempts to forge a link between the clown character performed by Tarlton and the figure drawn in the woodcut, tracing Tarlton’s presence through the prose work, which he believes served as Robert Greene’s source material for the play. As I have done throughout this chapter, Levin examines a variety of print images associated with Tarlton. However, he concludes that not only was Tarlton’s face and form distinctly recognized by English viewers in the late 1620s, but that this recognition could conjure in the mind of the viewer a link between Tarlton and a specific character in a play.

Levin bases his identification on three points: first, a comparison to the physique and pose in images purported to be of Tarlton; second, on the assumption that Tarlton would have played Miles in the original production of Friar Bacon; and third, that Tarlton’s fame was such that forty years after his death a Londoner would have easily identified a clown figure in any context as being Tarlton, and that fact would have increased the value of a play-text to be purchased. I question the soundness of his first two hypotheses, but by concentrating on a visual analysis of the woodcut as well as Tarlton’s powerful influence over the comic performers who inherited his mantle, I believe it is possible to demonstrate that this illustration would have invoked the essence of Tarlton’s style of comedy and, as with other publications associated with him printed well into the seventeenth century, would have possessed significant cultural value to potential buyers of the 1630 edition of Friar Bacon.

Several contemporary textual descriptions about Tarlton have been included in this study, suggesting that Tarlton possessed certain distinct and unusual features (a flat nose, wide-set “hare eyes”, etc.) However, Levin’s insistence upon the “striking … similarity in their features” (85), that Tarlton’s flat face, broad nose, and wide-set eyes (one with a cast) are evident in the woodcut, must be immediately discounted: the process of transferring a drawing to woodblock necessarily introduces alterations in design that makes the replication of such fine facial details impossible to guarantee. Comparison to other woodcuts of the time – even those of well-known and recognizable figures such as Henry VIII [Figure ??] – shows that facial features were difficult to replicate and often reduced to unspecific indications of eyes, nose, and mouth.[32] Woodcut engravers relied, rather, on recognizable body attributes, such as clothing and in the case of Henry VIII (in the title page for Samuel Rowley’s play When You See Me You Know Me) the iconic stance originally captured in Hans Holbein’s paintings of the king.[33] We also cannot know when or from what source the artist drew the face in the Friar Bacon woodcut. There is no surviving portrait of Tarlton drawn from life (as we have with the painted portraits of Edward Alleyn and Richard Burbage), which creates difficulty for modern scholars attempting to examine aspects of his physiognomy.

An examination of the clown’s pose makes the connection between the image and Tarlton’s physical appearance even more uncertain. While the figure bears pipe and tabor, signifiers for the early modern clown, these are not unique to Tarlton. As Levin points out, other comic actors employed these musical instruments to identify themselves as stock clowns to audiences, as does Thomas Slye in the illustration for Kemps’ Nine Days Wonder (85).[34] [Figure 19] In terms of the play itself, the figure’s apparel also confuses matters: he is not dressed in the robes of an academic’s assistant, nor is he dressed as a rustic clown. As we have seen in the anecdote about the performance at the Bull, Tarlton changed costumes depending on whether he wanted the audience to see him as performing a role or stepping into his clown character. At several points in the text of Friar Bacon, Miles makes specific reference to his shabby robes. Only when he rides off to Hell at the end of the play does he cast them aside. The other jester character in the play, Ralph Simnell, wears motley at times, but he is a fool character and is associated solely with Prince Edward’s entourage. If, as Levin hopes, the artist drew from contemporary images of Tarlton such as that in the Alphabet or Tarlton’s Jests, he ignored the distinctive position of the legs, with left crossed in front of right.

Levin’s position regarding Tarlton’s association with the role of Miles is confusing. He proposes two theories about the relationship between the illustration and the play. The first is that the source material upon which Greene based his play incorporated an homage to Tarlton by the unknown author. In this theory, Miles’s Skeltonic spouting and devil baiting were based upon Tarlton’s famous jests, which the author had seen in an early performance of some other play by the comic actor. This characterization was then incorporated into the illustration for the title page of the now lost first edition “since the man who cut it would merely be illustrating the already Tarltonized episode that he found in the text” (88). Greene, then, apparently seeing the “Tarltonized” figure on the title page of the source he was using for Friar Bacon, incorporated the character traits into the version of Miles he was creating. This hypothesis also assumes that Greene was writing Friar Bacon before September 1588 and so expected Tarlton to perform the role of Miles. Greene “therefore adopted all the Tarltonian aspects of this role that he found in the History and even expanded them ... [thus] maximizing Tarlton’s effect in the play and encouraging the audience to view him from a dual perspective, both as the character he was impersonating and as ‘himself’” (88-9). The lack of early editions prevents us from supporting (or utterly refuting) this version. The ESTC identifies the first extant edition of The Famous History as being published in 1625.[35]

By rooting this examination in visual analysis of the illustration, however, we may approach the question of theatrical value in a different way. The scene in the image is well-designed and detailed: the panes of the window, clasps on the books, textures and draping of the friar’s gown – not only are fabrics and textures articulated, much use is made of hatching to suggest movement and depth of field. The composition is balanced and provides a distinct visual narrative pattern.[36] Here the Brazen Head, with its three speech ribbons, bridging the two fields of action, determines the vectors. On the right side of the image Friar Bacon and the second robed figure are asleep and stationary. At the left of the illustration stands a figure in motion, playing his instruments; he forms the dominant focus of the scene. This is borne out in the scene in the play as written, where the focus is on the interplay between Miles and the Brazen Head. Bacon’s performative presence brackets this comedy. In the scene Bacon enters and instructs Miles to awaken him if the Brazen Head should speak, and then goes off stage to rest. After the Head has broken Miles does awaken Bacon but it is too late and the friar fires the foolish assistant.  

The illustration may seem to represent a collapsed version of the action sequence in the middle of scene eleven: Friar Bacon remains asleep while the Brazen Head speaks all three of his prophecies. A closer look at the woodcut immediately unravels this connection to the plot – the relationship between illustration and play do not mesh: scene eleven features only two characters, Bacon and Miles, while here there are three. In the play, Miles is armed with weapons, not instruments; there is no reference in the play to a jig. The clown figure is neither of the scene nor superimposed upon it via some sort of alteration of the woodblock.[37] The stage directions included for scene eleven of the 1630 edition are specific, “Enter Fryer Bacon draing the courtaines with a white sticke, a booke in his hand, and a lampe lighted by him, And the brazen head, and Miles, with weapons by him.” [sig. F4r] After the friar has fallen asleep, Miles identifies one of his weapons as a “browne bill” or halberd. In the illustration, Miles carries musical instruments.

The figure’s attire is at odds with the play. At the end of the scene Miles says, “I’ll take but a book in my hand, a wide-sleeved gown on my back, and a crowned cap on my head …” (ll. 125-7),[38] suggesting that Miles will continue to wear the accoutrements of his employment, no matter whether he is employed or not. When Miles enters in scene thirteen for his final encounter with the devil, the stage direction reads, “Enter Miles with a gown and a cornercap” (emphasis added) which could be interpreted as a costume change: having left Bacon’s service, he is now carrying the clothes rather than wearing them. Indeed, throughout the play Miles has, in speech and action, been intricately connected to the world of academia. Would a playing company undermine this relationship by imposing the distinctive stock clown costume and accessories upon the character of Miles? It is difficult for us at this remove, and without documentary evidence of how the clown characters would have been clothed within the performance, to determine whether Miles as performed in a production in the late 1620s would wear academic attire or rustic clown garb. As demonstrated above, Tarlton could pop in and out of character, taking on additional roles and then commenting upon them in his clown persona. But the anecdote about The Famous Victories suggests that Tarlton changed from his Dericke costume into the borrowed Judge’s costume, and then into his clown outfit in order to maximize his ability to comment upon the scene. Would an audience in the late 1620s expect to see Miles in shabby robes or country garb? To what extent can we infer relationship between the Friar Bacon illustration and a record of how the character of Miles would have been portrayed on stage? It appears from the woodcut that the idea of the Rustic Clown persona overwhelmed the relationship between the character and the play.  

Costume aside, this illustration demonstrates that the clown was a visual figure, rooted in performance. While he was invoked repeatedly in non-dramatic texts, he was in essence a player. While it is possible to suggest that an illustrator (as with any spectator) might collapse the action of the scene with an extratheatrical post-play performance of the clown to emphasize that actor’s influence over the audience, we cannot presume, as Levin does, that the figure invoked is therefore Richard Tarlton. There were simply too many intervening generations of clowning actors who, to some degree, incorporated bits of Tarlton’s act into their own. The emphasis on jesting makes more sense if the illustrator blended the action of a performance of the play, including extratheatrical extemporizing before or after the show proper, with that of the prose work to form a compelling visual narrative.

As mentioned above, the illustration is not unique to the 1630 edition of the play. It appeared at least once, a year earlier, in the 1629 edition of The Famous History. Overlaying the illustration on top of the text of The Famous History clears up many of the incongruities regarding character and action. Citing this source, Richard Levin identifies the second sleeping figure as Friar Bungay, who is a (slightly) more active participant in this version of events.[39] In The Famous History Miles is identified as Bacon’s “man”. He constantly foils Bacon’s attempts to gain supernatural power through his own botched attempts to use and control magic.[40] The text of The Famous History explains that in order “to kepe himself from sleeping, [he] got a Tabor and Pipe, and being merry disposed, sung this Song to a Northern tune.” [sig. C2v] Still, this should not dictate Miles’s clothing, and it seems logical that he is dressed as a scholar’s assistant unless something else is going on, and nothing of such note is articulated in this version of the story. While we cannot determine the date of authorship for the prose Famous History, the appearance of the woodcut in 1629[41] may suggest that this illustration, at least, was inspired in part by a performance of the play, and that the performing clown derives from that.

One indication that the artist may have seen a performance and used that experience to inform his work comes from the properties and set pieces described in the illustration. While the lamp and the Brazen Head are identified specifically in the text of the play, the other elements – the table, the bookshelf, and the armillary sphere[42] hanging from the wall – are not. Of course, the artist might have had access to other prints with similar themes (the woodcut on the title page of Doctor Faustus [Figure 1] shows his study likewise accoutered) and the tools of celestial and global calculation were frequently incorporated into title pages of works of the period on science and alchemy. But the presence of these elements does not explain Bacon sitting asleep in a chair. The play does not specify where or on what piece of furniture Bacon falls asleep, or even if he remains onstage. It is curious that the artist chose the one moment in either the source material or the play when the title character is least interesting to the spectator – in fact, his agency has been completely usurped by his servant, and yet in the illustration he remains in plain view. McMillin and MacLean, along with Daniel Seltzer in his 1963 edition of the play, struggle with how Bacon’s sleeping would have been staged.[43] Bacon directs Miles to “Draw close the curtains, Miles”. Would he have exited behind a curtain or would there have been a space-consuming bed?

In 2005 Friar Bacon was performed in Toronto as part of the Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men (SQM) research experiment, designed to examine early modern rehearsal and performance methods, particularly as undertaken by the Queen’s Men in touring conditions. The play was performed on a small booth stage, allowing very little room for set pieces and cumbersome props. While the production could not replicate all details of early modern performance, it does offer an interesting opportunity to examine the staging of scene eleven. Bacon exits offstage left at the line “Draw close the curtaines, Miles” with only a foot showing beneath a curtain to indicate his continued presence behind the drape. The audience remains connected to him through this foot, although the focus of their attention is with Miles. The friar’s desk is a set piece with the Brazen Head hanging over it, pushed on-stage left directly downstage from Bacon. The combination of Bacon moving off stage and the set piece provides Miles the maximum amount of stage space (on a very small stage) with which to perform his subsequent clowning.[44] The scene as drawn for the woodcut offers a performance alternative, with Bacon on stage sleeping in a large chair, one arm propping up his head while the other hangs limp at his side. Keeping in mind that a traveling troupe such as the Queen’s Men would have been limited as to the number of stage properties they could bring on the road and would have encountered all manner of performance spaces, they would have been prepared to be as economical as possible in staging such a scene. For staging purposes, a chair would be far easier to move on and off than a bed or cot. It would also provide the actor playing Miles with more room to maneuver on a small booth stage. While the title page of the 1630 edition refers to a recent production by the Prince Palatine (or Palgrave’s) Men, we do not know where or when it was performed. If we discount the possibility that the artist based his drawing in some way on performance and relied solely on text for inspiration, why would he place the friar in a chair and not a bed? In his introduction to the 1969 edition of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, J.A. Lavin addresses the question of Bacon’s position in this scene at length, examining contemporary stage directions for clues:

“The brazen head scene (xi) raises three main problems: the location of the curtains mentioned in the initial s.d. and line 37; the placing of the head itself; and the relative positioning of Bacon and Miles. Most editors think the curtains those of a bed, and [Gerald Eades] Bentley not only specifies one in his initial s.d.: ‘Nearby is a curtained bed’, but also provides other s.d.’s in which Bacon gets into it and Miles closes the ‘bed curtains’ (p. 75) However, combining Bacon’s sleep and the two references to curtains do not render it necessary to postulate a curtained bed. In other plays of the period a similar combination calls for a quite different arrangement; see, for example, Peele’s Old Wives’ Tale (1591-4): ‘He draweth a curten, and there Delia sitteth a sleep’ (1595, F1v); and Munday and Chettle’s The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntington (1598): ‘Drawe the cuten, the king sits sleeping’ (1601, D3-3v). In an earlier play, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, Henry IV sleeps in his chair within a ‘chamber’ having curtains which are opened and closed” (xix).

Certainly, the frame is crowded, and keeping Bacon upright with the set full of furniture[45] effectively provides a small amount of extra space, blocking the figure at left from doing anything other than posing with his tabor and pipe. It also emphasizes the comic moments of the scene; how could Bacon possibly sleep through the sonorous musings of the Head, the flash and crash of the final “Time is past” and Miles’s comic antics? As a spectator at the SQM performance, I found the friar’s foot remaining under the curtain to be an effective device. While an early modern audience might well have accepted the conceit of Bacon remaining onstage and at the same time being oblivious to Miles’s antics, what made the modern SQM staging effective for the audience was that while they never forgot Bacon’s proximity to the action (the foot beneath the curtain), it was easier to accept that he might miss the ruckus because he did not see it. The curtain would act as a sound barrier as well as a visual one.

For the purposes of the woodcut illustration, Bacon’s presence is valuable. The viewer must be reminded that Bacon does no magic here. In fact, in the play, all of Bacon’s “seven years’ study” (CITE) regarding the Brazen Head take place offstage during a scene break. He does speak spells and conjure, but in the case of the Head we hear only of its potential (it will enable Bacon to protect all of England for his king) and the exhaustion it has caused him. The physical Head that is seen in the woodcut and on the stage is the product of mechanical skill – engineering, design, and we would call artificial intelligence programming. This mechanical creation is the culmination of Bacon’s long studies in science, rather than his mastery of the occult. In both the play and the source material Bungay, a scholar of lesser talents, has assisted Bacon in this project and is equally spent. Miles, the ne’er-do-well assistant and sometime student, appears to have contributed nothing other than supplying creature comforts to his master. And yet it is Miles who is rewarded with the experience of communicating with the Head. The slothful and frightened servant alone hears the prophecy. And Bacon must be in the visual frame to fully represent what is otherwise a performative experience: the power has transferred from disciplined master to rebellious servant. A body part such as a foot peeping out from beneath a curtain would not suffice. Bacon’s presence serves to communicate the foundation of the sequence: by surrendering his watch to Miles he surrenders his power over the Brazen Head.

The last point of Levin’s argument, pertaining to the longevity of Tarlton’s celebrity and its visual impact on London citizens some four decades on, bears more fruit. As has been demonstrated throughout this chapter, representations of Tarlton were readily available to the London public (as a subject, an ascribed author, and an image) for some two hundred years after his death. Unless some hitherto undocumented performance of Miles by Tarlton comes to light, we must resist the temptation to envision this jigging figure as some sort of portrait of Richard Tarlton. In “The True Physiognomy of a Man: Richard Tarlton and his Legend”, Peter Thomson examines both Tarlton’s larger-than-life persona and how his quintessence was absorbed, through the imitation of those who came after, into various forms of entertainment. Thomson suggests that Tarlton’s performance as Dericke in The Famous Victories was demonstrative of this because, “[t]he part is a composite of lazzi,[46] in which what was done must generally have had greater impact than what was said” (204, emphasis in the original). In the case of the illustration from the Friar Bacon title page, the figure is noted for just this sort of lazzo, but we cannot use it to identify the performer. This could be Tarlton, or Shank, or any other talented comic actor taking on the role as well as the clowning duties that went along with it. This visualization of a clowning performer as the illustrator might have seen him on stage transforms the scene into something memorable to the viewer and involves collective experience of performance. Regardless of whether or not Richard Tarlton actually ever played Miles, his essence imbues that character with a quality that overwhelms everything else in the scene.

That does not mean, however, that we cannot recognize some sort of visual echo here. I believe it is ultimately the question about the power of the extratheatrical jig and its relationship to the play that concerns us in the examination of the Friar Bacon illustration. The scene as incorporated into the Friar Bacon title page, while problematic in terms of its relationship to the play-text, incorporates both theatrical and extratheatrical elements. The Miles character performs a jig in the illustration that does not occur in either the play or the prose source, but would have been performed by Richard Tarlton and his protégés in the course of a performance of such a play. While the other elements in the scene – the sleeping friars, the Brazen Head, etc. – are all within the theatrical construct, the clown figure with pipe and tabor is distinctly without that framework, and acts as an intrusive presence for the viewer of the woodcut as he would have been for the audience. In my examination of the ninety-two extant title-page illustrations portraying a scene or character-derived portrait, all but the Friar Bacon scene adhere to a character/action-driven depiction. Even those identifying a clown figure, such as The Two Maids of Moreclacke and Nobody and Somebody are clearly of low modality, with no background detail that could suggest a scenic context or performance situation.[47] But this does not simplify the relationship between character and actor within these images, any more than it did for the players in performance. As Anthony Dawson explains, “[t]he Shakespearean performance-text distinguishes between theatrical and meta-theatrical effects, and shifts from one realm to the other in the pursuit, partially, of representational power. The person that emerges, both present and absent, physical and non-material, is the effect of a delicate poise between passionate engagement and awareness of fiction” (The Culture of Playing 37). This suggests a disconnection between the early modern and the modern (or postmodern) viewer when examining these particular illustrations. We may struggle with the presence of an extra-theatrical jigging clown in Friar Bacon, but as was suggested by the story of Tarlton in The Famous Victories it is distinctly possible that the seventeenth-century viewer would not have been troubled in the least by this oddity, and in fact might relate it more directly to the theatrical experiences of these plays.


The idea of linking Richard Tarlton to a performance of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, while appealing, is insupportable. There is no documentary evidence that meaningfully suggests he would have been alive to play the Friar’s mischievous assistant in its initial Queen’s Men production. And if we cannot document that relationship, we cannot superimpose Tarlton upon the woodcut illustration that accompanied the 1629 edition of The Famous History and the 1630 edition of Friar Bacon. What is possible is to trace Tarlton’s influence as a clowning performer: from his days on the stage and as an entertainer at Elizabeth’s court, through a variety of visual and textual print references to him that underscore the power of his celebrity, to the incorporation of his clowning lazzi by comic performers who came after him.  Tarlton’s towering persona allowed him to eclipse the plays in which he performed. His extratheatrical and unorthodox relationships with Londoners and those at the highest ranks of society reinforced his celebrity both while he lived and long after he had died. His style of performance threatened the playwrights who were attempting to develop a new, more hermetically sound form of drama based on scripted comic roles rather than extemporaneous grandstanding. Even Queen Elizabeth embraced and encouraged Tarlton’s obstreperous witticisms in a way she apparently afforded to no one else. Tarlton’s royal relationship seems to have been unique, and no one stepped forward to replace him in quite the same way either with Elizabeth or the kings who followed. His influence on theatre and drama from 1588 to 1642 is curious for a different reason. While playwrights struggled to bring his protégés to heel by crafting more prescribed comic roles for them, the essence of Tarlton’s style continued to be felt. Whether as a eulogy (as with the Yorrick speech in Hamlet) or as a visual association (such as William Rowley’s performance of Simplicity in The World Tossed at Tennis), Tarlton’s jests and japes remained embedded in Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. Friar Bacon continued to be performed, albeit with less frequency than some of the more modern comedies. The role of Miles, although to the best of our knowledge never performed by Tarlton, required a Tarltonesque performer capable of invoking the clowning style that Tarlton had perfected. The strong elements of clowning referenced in The Famous History and Friar Bacon, separated by one year but probably both prompted by a popular performance by the Prince Palatine’s Men, would have each benefitted by the incorporation of a title-page illustration featuring a disruptive clown that controlled the narrative of the scene as written and as performed. This echo of Tarlton, which had the penchant for such danger to stable theatrical constructs, ultimately enhanced the value of the publications in much the same way it would have done for taverns bearing his iconic image on their signs. Long after anyone remembered Tarlton as a performer, his persona and mannerisms added cultural value to publications associated with humor and misrule.

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[1] From illustrations alleged to represent Tarlton, as well as contemporary textual descriptions, Tarlton’s clown costume consisted of a rough-woven, russet-colored jacket, a button cap, long pants, ankle-high boots, some sort of purse or pouch hanging from his belt, and a pipe and tabor drum upon which he played while he danced (see Figure ?, the engraving from Scottowe’s Alphabet for an example). This “Country Clown” outfit was also worn by many of Tarlton’s protégés, including Will Kempe and William Rowley (see Figure ? for a Country Clown supposed to represent Rowley in The World Tossed at Tennis).

[2] Andrew Gurr examines the psychology of the crowd and Tarlton’s ability to unite them as a “single unit through the cohesion of shared laughter”. Examining descriptions of various jests recounted in the compilation Tarlton’s Jests, Gurr points out that, “If Tarlton picked on an individual it became a contest of wit where the crowd cheered the winner and jeered the loser, as they might in a physical struggle” (Playgoing 156).

[3] See the categorical listing of references to Tarlton compiled by Edwin Nunzeger in the entry on Tarlton in his Dictionary of Actors, especially 356-65.

[4] It was registered with the Stationers Company on 31 July 1590 by Robert Jones – less than two years after Tarlton’s death. Although the association of this play with the XX Men, a troupe with whom Tarlton was not associated, the idea of a relationship between Tarlton, Simplicity, and these two plays suggests an intriguing dialogic connection.

[5] Barbara Hodgdon and Peter Cockett believe Tarlton may have played Simplicity in the prequel to this play, The Three Ladies of London. See Hodgdon, “From Popular Entertainment to Literature” 9, and Cockett, Incongruity, Humour and Early English Comic Figures 237-8.

[6] All line notations are from the 1590 edition, sig C2v.

[7] John Orchard Philipps-Haliwell’s 1844 edition of Tarlton’s Jests includes some forty pages of contemporary references; Edwin Nunzeger’s Dictionary entry on Tarlton amounts to a sort of miscellany about the comic that refers only tangentially to his profession as an actor.

[8] The character Simplicity, recalling Tarlton, describes him as an apprentice: “when he was yoong he was leaning to the trade that my wife vseth nowe, and I haue vsed, vide lice shirt, water-bearing” (C1v).

[9] In The Three Lords and Three Ladies, Simplicity says of him, “without he was plaine”, [C2v]. In “Tarlton’s jest of a red face”, his excellent mirth is explained as a compensation for his “squint eye, as custome made him hare eyed” [B1]; in “Tarlton’s answer in defence of his flat nose”, Tarlton responds to a question about his appearance from a member of the audience, “Though my nose be flat,/My credit to save,/Yet very well, I can by the smell,/Scent an honest man from a knave”. [C2v]

[10] In the introduction to Haliwell-Philipps’s edition of Tarlton’s Jests: and News Out of Purgatory, he states that, “In the British Museum is preserved a fragment of a register belonging to a School of Defence, a species of college fashionable and important in Tarlton’s time. Tarlton was admitted a Master of Fence, the highest degree, in 1587”, xi.

[11] On its first tour in June 1583 the Queen’s Men stopped in Norwich and played at the Red Lion Inn. A theatregoer refused to pay admission. Tarlton and two other actors, John Singer and John Bentley, exited the stage, rapiers drawn, and struggled with the customer. Tarlton may have tried to play the peacemaker in this battle, but an innocent bystander was killed in the melee, and Singer and Bentley were jailed for two days until they could be called before the court. Tarlton acted as guarantor for his fellow players, allowing the tour to continue (McMillin and MacLean 41-3).

[12] The original Queen’s Men were John Adams, John Bentley, Lionel Cooke, John Dutton, John Garland, William Johnson, John Lanham, Tobias Mills, John Singer, Richard Tarlton, John Towne, and the playwright Robert Wilson (McMillin and MacLean, Appendix C 194-7).

[13] Thomas Nashe refers to the Queen’s Men performing on tour in the Queen’s “cloath” (as cited in Nunzeger 357).

[14] In Pierce Penilesse (1592), Thomas Nashe relates the following anecdote about a performance by the Queen’s Men on tour, and the reaction of an over-anxious magistrate: “Amongst other cholericke wise Iustices, he was one, that hauing a play presented before him and his Towneship by Tarlton and the rest of his fellowes, her Maiesties seruants, and they were now entering into their first merriment (as they call it), the people began exceedingly to laugh, when Tarlton first peept out his head. Whereat the Iustice, not a little moued, and seeing with his beckes and nods hee could not make them cease, he went with his staffe, and beat them round about vnmercifully on the bare pates, in that they, being but Farmers & poore countrey Hyndes, would presume to laugh at the Queenes men, and make no more account of her cloath in his presence (Qtd. in Nunzeger 356-7).

[15] See Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean, The Queen’s Men and their Plays, particularly the section on Walsingham’s relationship to the troupe, 24-32.

[16] There is no evidence of Tarlton performing any espionage services, but his relationship to Walsingham reinforces the impression of his connection to Elizabeth’s Court, as well as the overall role players took on in this nation-building campaign.

[17] Thomson describes his jesting as “inclined to draw attention to the functions and appurtenances of the human body’s lower half”, ODNB.

[18] Thomas Fuller was a Puritan minister and author who sided with the Royalist cause during the Civil War. Through the efforts of Parliamentarian friends he was able to continue to publish throughout the Interregnum. Most of his works were theological in nature, but his last book, the History of the Worthies in England, is considered the first English biographical dictionary. It is organized by county and includes short biographies of notable persons who originated from each place. The lives are “marked by pungent, telling details that effectively bring his subjects to life” (Patterson, ODNB). Fuller’s biography of Tarlton is full of admiration and appreciation for his talents.

[19] David Nichol identifies the figure at the extreme right of the 1620 title page woodcut as Simplicity, portrayed, he believes, by Rowley. The allegorical masque features representative characters from different walks of English life. Simplicity is a country ranger.

[20] All line citations from Hamlet are from Harold Jenkins’ 2003 edition of the play.

[21] Nunzeger, A Dictionary of Actors and of Other Persons Associated with the Public Representation of Plays in England before 1642, 355; Banham, The Cambridge Guide to Theatre 1058.

[22] The other solution would be to edit the playbook significantly prior to the performance to allow for Tarlton playing both characters without their overlap on stage, but if time was as short as is suggested in the anecdote, this might be impossible.

[23] All references to the play are from the 1617 edition examined on EEBO.

[24] See “Doing Things with Image Schema” for an examination of the different types of connection between audience members and the characters they watch on stage.

[25] See the first chapter of Anthony Dawson and Paul Yachnin’s The Culture of Playgoing in Shakespeare’s England for an analysis of the relationship between the player and the performance he embodied, as well as a demonstration of the response of the audience in embracing both actor and character.

[26] Dawson translates this early instance of eyewitness theatrical observation and criticism (the original letter is in Latin) thus: “Desdemona, killed in front of us by her husband, although she acted her part excellently throughout, in her death moved us especially when, as she lay in her bed, with her face alone she implored the pity of the audience.

[27] Chettle, a playwright who wrote for the Admiral’s Men, was also an author of pamphlets.

[28] Halasz cites G. B. Harrison’s 1966 edition of Chettle’s “Kind-Hartes Dream”.

[29] The ESTC records the first edition of this work as being published in 1625, but it is possible that an earlier edition is now lost to us.

[30] Chambers, vol. III, 422-4; 328-9.

[31] It appears that in the article title and the article itself, Levin has conflated the title of the play with that of the prose material, making specific identification of his references difficult. To avoid confusion, I will refer to the play as Friar Bacon and the prose work as Famous History.

[32] Recognizable facial features could be achieved in cases where copperplate engravings were employed. This will be examined in chapter four.

[33] See the ink and watercolor “cartoon” Hans Holbein the Younger sketched in preparation for the dynastic Tudor family painting that hung in Whitehall Palace but was destroyed by fire. NPG website, 18 May 2010. http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait.php?search=ss&firstRun=true&sText=Henry+VIII&LinkID=mp02145&page=1&rNo=3&role=sit

[34] Thomas Slye is the figure on the left wearing a rustic clown’s costume reminiscent of that worn by Tarlton. Will Kempe is the figure on the right, dancing in motley.

[35] Of course, we cannot conclude that this was the first edition, nor must we assume that The Famous History was the – or the only – source for the play. Bacon was a well-known historical figure who lived in the thirteenth century. EEBO cites dozens of references to Bacon in texts as early as 1567 and surely elements of the story must have been included in earlier chronicles. A reference to “Frier Bacon the Coniurer” appears in John Jewel’s 1567 tract A defense of the Apologie of the Church of England.

[36] See chapter one for a definition of narrative pattern according to Kress and Van Leeuwen’s guidelines, as well as a demonstration of its application to Arden of Faversham, as was the case with the woodcut of the execution of the earl of Strafford.

[37] It was common practice throughout this period to scrape or rework a woodblock to make it usable for a different publication.

[38] All line notations for Friar Bacon are from Daniel Seltzer’s 1963 edition of the play. Original stage directions from the 1630 edition were confirmed using the EEBO facsimile.

[39] Friar Bungay shares titular billing in the play but not in The Famous History; for a while he acts as Bacon’s challenger in matters necromantic but by play’s end Bungay has become a collaborator and something of a confessor for Bacon after the grand failed experiment with the Brazen Head.

[40] In the play Miles is able to control magic (or rather magical beings) by his wits rather than through serious learning.

[41] We do not know if this is the first use of the woodblock, either; however, an examination of the print used in the 1629 edition retains a significant amount of hashing and detail, suggesting it was relatively new and had not been used too often. Compare this to the 1630 play title page, which is beginning to show signs of wear.

[42] The statue of Roger Bacon at Oxford University Museum of Natural History shows him holding such a sphere between his hands.

[43] For an examination of this question, see Appendix I of Seltzer’s edition of Friar Bacon, 98-100; and McMillin and MacLean, 139-40.

[44] The research project’s objectives and findings can be reviewed at their website, Performing the Queen’s Men, http://tapor.mcmaster.ca/~thequeensmen/index.htm. Video of the scene as described above can be viewed by requesting a user name and password from the site administrator.

[45] The illustration of the murder sequence in Arden of Faversham as examined in chapter one is likewise crowded with furniture that serves to identify the location as a room one might see in a house, thereby rooting the scene in a sort of reality, but which ultimately undermines its relationship to a staged interior.

[46] The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance defines the term “lazzo” as having originated with commedia dell’arte. It refers to a routine prepared by an actor the “details [of which are] rarely … explained in the scenario text.” A lazzo can be “anything from a one-line gag to a complex physical or verbal routine involving many players … [in] all cases [it] would have implied drawing on a stock of items already stored in the memory.”

[47] One of Theo Van Leeuwen’s degrees of modality, as defined in Speech, Music, Sound, is the articulation of the background to form a scale that ranges from zero (or low articulation, as when something is shown against a white or black background, via lightly sketched-in backgrounds) to high (when backgrounds are shown in maximally sharp detail), 159.