Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Vicki K. Janik; Emmanuel S. Nelson | Go to book overview

Will Sommers

( England: ?-1560)

Andrew Vogel Ettin


BACKGROUND

Famous jester to England's King Henry VIII, Will Sommers (sometimes spelled "Somers") also served Henry's next two successors, his children Edward VI and Mary, though he was less prominent during their reigns. Said to have been a native of Shropshire and a household servant of Richard Fermor, Sommers came to Henry's notice in 1525 through his badinage and was promptly installed as court jester. Numerous royal household accounts through the years attest to outlays for his clothing.

Sommers was, in Tudor parlance, an "artificial" rather than a "natural" fool: that is, he was not what his contemporaries would have labeled a "simpleton" nor a "madman" nor a "freak," but rather, he was a talented performer. His specialty was verbal wit more than physical antics, though he could mug funny faces and bizarre gestures. In centering his humor on clever play with language and extemporaneous versifying, he can be considered at the very least the first notable comedian of the English Renaissance, a jokester for the humanist age. He was also the first whose fame greatly outlasted his own lifetime.

Most of what we know about Sommers comes from the Elizabethan and Jacobean comic actor Robert Armin A Nest of Ninnies, which was based on eyewitness recollections. An anonymous "Pleasant Historie of the Life and Death of William Sommers", indiscriminately mingling presumed fact and undeniable apocrypha, appeared in 1676 and, though biographically unreliable, is notable in attesting to the persistence of Sommers's remarkable reputation ( Welsford166). Earlier he was memorialized as a character in Thomas Nashe

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