The Stage Clown in Shakespeare's Theatre

The Stage Clown in Shakespeare's Theatre

The Stage Clown in Shakespeare's Theatre

The Stage Clown in Shakespeare's Theatre


The majority of Shakespeare's plays have at least one clown figure making an appearance. These characters range from rogues who say only a line or two, to important figures like Touchstone and Falstaff. Videbaek examines even the smallest clown roles, showing how the clown's freedom of speech allows him to become a mediator between the audience and the action of the play, helping audience interpretation. This illuminating celebration of the stage clown's contribution to the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare's plays will be a valuable resource for both students and scholars alike.


William Shakespeare wrote a surprisingly large number of plays using the speech heading "clown," as can be seen from a reading of the First Folio. In fact, almost every play has a clown character making an appearance. These characters range from rogues, speaking only a line or two, to important, full- fledged parts.

Shakespeare is the only playwright of his time who explores the possibilities of the clown's part, and uses it to the fullest. We may often find clowns or clownlike characters in Elizabethan plays, but Shakespeare alone has deliberately used the clown's part as a major contribution to the understanding of the play. His London audience derived great pleasure from the fact that the company clown was a well-known actor, whose antics were predictable; but a modern-day audience may have benefits of equal importance once we realize the degree to which the stage clown aids us on our path to an interpretation of the play in hand.

The size and composition of a company of Elizabethan actors might vary with the circumstances, expanding with commercial success or shrinking during a plague, but we know that each company would always have two or three clowns in it. Of these, one would be the "star performer," while the others would take on the parts of minor clowns or comic characters, or they would double in other small parts. A well-known clown such as Will Kemp or Robert Armin, however, would not be doubling, as his appearance would carry the wrong connotations for the audience in nonclown parts and raise expectations the part could not honor.

Though the clown may appear in one scene or a few scenes only and have very little actual dialogue written down for him to speak, even small parts prove to be placed at significant turning points in the action. Unfortunately, in modern times, the part of the clown has often seemed irrelevant to both critics and directors. Critics may say that the part has been written in by somebody other than Shakespeare because the style seems inconsistent with the rest of the play . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.