« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
The Council of the Shakespeare Society desire it to be understood that they are not answerable for any opinions or observations that may appear in the Society's publications; the Editors of the several works being alone responsible for the same.
The fleeting fame of men whose reputation has depended on arts that exclusively demand the exercise of the physical energies may be illustrated in the life of almost every actor, who was not likewise eminent as a dramatist. Burbage, the Kemble of Shakespeare's day, whose admirable personification of Richard the Third had so identified him with that character, that years afterwards the host at Leicester, as related by Bishop Corbet, confused the two-in how few does his memory remain ! Tarlton, who is known to the bibliographer and collector by the two excessively rare tracts, now reprinted, neither of which, however, were written by him, may on that account have retained a greater degree of posthumous reputation; but that he deserves more may be concluded from the opinion of Gifford,' that "he was, perhaps, the most popular comic performer that ever trod the stage, and his memory was cherished with fond delight by the vulgar, to the period of the revolution." Gifford is supported in this by nearly hundreds of contemporary witnesses, who agree in asserting that
1 Works of Ben Jonson, 1816, vol. iv., p. 364.
his comic powers were unrivalled, and in their estimation almost miraculous. He was the most celebrated clown of the school against which Shakespeare levelled his satire; and he is also indirectly connected with our great dramatist, as having performed a part in the old play of the "Famous Victories." There are, moreover, few names in the whole circle of Elizabethan literature so frequently alluded to as that of Richard Tarlton it will be familiar to all who have studied the progress of the drama during that period; and it is believed that a brief record of his merry sayings and doings will be generally acceptable to the members of the Shakespeare Society, highly illustrative as they are of the manners, or rather, perhaps, of the deficiency of them, at the court of Queen Bess.
Tarlton, according to Fuller, was born at Condover,3 in Shropshire," where," says he, "still some of his name and relations remain." If the "Jests" may be believed, his father was at one time resident at Ilford. See the present volume, p. 40. The period of his birth is not mentioned, but he was an author as early as 1570, as will be noticed hereafter. His mother's name was Kate,
1 Hamlet, act iii., sc. 2.
2 The name is not usual, but is found in the time of Henry VI. See Proceedings in Chancery, p. xxxv.
3 The registers do not begin till 1578, and none of those now preserved contain any notice of the family. Fuller erroneously gives Tarlton's Christian name Thomas. See also MS. Addit. 5749, f. 10.
4 The registers do not enable us to verify this circumstance. pedigrees of a family of the same name, resident in this part of England, kindly shown me by Sir Charles Young, do not commence early enough to clear up the point.
and a widow in 1588, as appears from his will. We have not succeeded in tracing any further information concerning his ancestors, but Fuller has preserved a very curious tradition respecting him, while he was yet resident at Condover. "Here," says this pleasant gossiping old writer, "he was in the field keeping his father's swine, when a servant of Robert, Earl of Leicester, passing this way to his Lord's lands in his Barony of Denbighe, was so highly pleased with his happy unhappy answers, that he brought him to court, where he became the most famous jester to Queen Elizabeth." It may, therefore, be reasonably concluded that his parents did not hold a very high position in society. His education appears to have been extremely limited, and we are distinctly told, by a writer who must have had good opportunities of ascertaining the fact, that "he was only superficially seen in learning, having no more but a bare insight into the Latin tongue." 2
A play called "The Pleasant and Stately Morall of the Three Lordes and Three Ladies of London," 4to. Lond., 1590,3 gives a brief account of Tarlton's early life. The author tells us, through one of his characters, that Tarlton was "a prentice in his youth of this honorable city, God be with him!" We are afterwards informed that he was a water-bearer in his early life, an
1 Fuller's Worthies, ed. 1811, ii., 311.
2 See the present volume, p. 53, and also an anecdote at p. 11.
3 Entered by Richard Jones on the Stationers' Registers the 31st July, 1590:-"Entred for his copie under thandes of Doctor Wood and the wardens, a comodie of the pleasant and statelie morrall of the Three Lordes of London."
assertion that is more likely to be of authority than the tradition related by Fuller. If his "Jests" are worthy of credit, he and his wife Kate at one time kept a tavern in Gracechurch Street, and, at another period, an ordinary in Paternoster Row. It is almost certain that he was a tavern-keeper at one period of his life, for in William Percy's play of "Cuck-Queanes and Cuckolds Errants," he is represented as "quondam controller and induperator" of an inn at Colchester. 2 His various allusions to his having been so employed must have some foundation in fact.
The earliest notice of Tarlton, yet discovered, bears date in 1570, when his name occurs as the author of a ballad on great floods which then happened in Bedfordshire. This curious ballad has been printed by Mr. Collier, and will be found in the Appendix. His name does not appear in the patent to players granted in 1574, although that patent was procured through the influence of the Earl of Leicester, who, from Fuller's account, would have been likely to have appreciated Tarlton's talents, had he then attained any eminence in that way.3 He must, however, have been eminent in his profession within a short time after this date, for early in 1583 *
1 It has been conjectured that this was on the site of what is now Dolly's Chop-House. See the Gentleman's Magazine for 1780, p. 325. 2 See the Roxburghe Club edition of this play, 4to. Lond., 1824. 3 See Collier's Annals of the Stage, i., 210.
4 "Comedians and stage-players of former time were very poore and ignorant in respect of these of this time, but being nowe growne very skilfull and exquisite actors for all matters, they were entertained into the service of divers great Lords, out of which companies there were xii. of