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Tudor Minute September 3: RIP Elizabethan Clown, Richard Tarlton



Today we mark the death, in 1588, of one of the most well known actors of the Elizabethan period, a clown called Richard Tarlton. 

He was the most famous clown of his era, known for his extempore comic doggerel verse, which came to be known as "Tarltons". He helped to turn Elizabethan theatre into a form of mass entertainment paving the way for the Shakespearean stage. After his death many witticisms and pranks were attributed to him and were published as Tarlton's Jests.

Tarlton was also an accomplished dancer, musician and fencer. He was also a writer, authoring a number of jigs, pamphlets and at least one full-length play.

He was an early yet extraordinary influence on Elizabethan clowns. His epitaph says: "he of clowns to learn still sought/ But now they learn of him they taught".

He was Queen Elizabeth's favourite clown. He had a talent for improvising doggerel on subjects suggested by his audience; in fact, improvised doggerel verse became known for a time as "Tarltons". To cash in on his popularity, a great number of songs and witticisms of the day were attributed to him, and after his death the text Tarlton's Jests, containing many jokes in fact older than he was, made several volumes. Other books, and several ballads, coupled his name with their titles. Some have suggested that the evocation of Yorick in Hamlet's soliloquy was composed in memory of Tarlton.

That’s your Tudor Minute for today. Remember you can dive deeper into life in 16th century England through the Renaissance English History Podcast at englandcast.com.