( England: c 1568-1615)
Dana E. Aspinall
When in the 1580s a clever young apprentice named Robert Armin entered Richard Tarlton's tavern seeking to collect his master's money from a delinquent debtor tenant, he unwittingly bequeathed an important clue for understanding the profound comic change attributed to his 1599 London stage emergence. Learning that the debtor Charles could not pay, Armin scribbled with chalk across a wall,
O world, why wilt thou lye? Is this Charles the great! that I deny. Indeed Charles the great before, But now Charles the lesse, being poore. ( Halliwell, Tarlton's Jests22)
Although the easy musical rhyme, uncanny improvisational quality, and churlish flavor of the insult all could have sprung just as easily from Tarlton or the equally talented Will Kemp, Armin's jest demonstrates an intelligence and tone that would later be his distinguishing characteristic.
Stage critics and historians emphasize that Armin's influence rests in elevating the Tarltonesque clowns' rustic knockabout roles to more sophisticated representations wherein these clowns become courtly fools, infusing wisdom into the dramatic circumstances in which they operate.1 Leslie Hotson perhaps summarizes this evolution best: Shakespeare "made the low-comedy clowning and