Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The English Clown Tradition from the Middle Ages to Shakespeare

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The English Clown Tradition from the Middle Ages to Shakespeare

Article excerpt

Robert Hornback, The English Clown Tradition from the Middle Ages to Shakespeare (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2009). xiii + 240 pp. ISBN 978-1-84384-200-2. £50.00.

In this detailed and considered study, Robert Hornback focuses on the overlooked, even despised figure of the Renaissance clown. His introduction comes out fighting: within a few pages it dispatches the 'containment-subversion dynamic' of New Historicism, the Victorian dismissal of clowning as 'comic relief, and the notion that foolery was mere innocuous play, disconnected from wider, weightier concerns (p. 6). To combat these viewpoints, the study aims to disclose exacdy where clowning was situated within sixteenth-century culture, and to 'unearth' dike the skull of 'poor Yorick') its political and religious import.

However, this is not a straightforward anatomy of clowning, along the lines of Beatrice Otto's Fools Are Everywhere or John Southworth's Fools and Jesters. It does not claim to give a complete overview of every known form of foolery, as a range of specific concerns shapes its focus. This is perhaps most evident in the first of the five essay-chapters, dealing with the problematic usage of blackface in the theatre. Hornback's interest here is the relationship between this custom and early modern notions of race, since, as he notes, blackfaced fools proliferated on the stage as England began its first forays into the slave trade. His conclusion is that blackface clowning, by linking notions of idiocy and skin colour, provided a ready-made ideological support for the trade: it constituted 'a kind of proto-racism', tacitly legitimizing the subjection of 'irrational' Africans into 'bestial servitude' (p. 5 3). The section ends by considering how these same ideas were given a spurious 'scientific' sheen during the Enlightenment, the final irony being that racist 'logic' should be at root 'not only foUy but often the stuff of actual fools' play' (p. 62).

The following two chapters examine the relationship of clowning to Puritanism. …

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

Oops!

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.