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Richard Tarlton, Queen Elizabeth’s jester and Shakespeare’s clown

Richard Tarlton (born unknown date – died  September 3, 1588)

Richard Tarleton was a clown, actor in William Shakespeare’s company, ballad writer, favorite jester of Queen Elizabeth I, and the most popular comedian of his time. Very little is know of his early life, although it is known that he was born hump-backed. The first historical note is about a ballad that he wrote on a recent flood. In 1576 he wrote a book, now lost, titled “Tarltons Toyes”.  By the 1570’s he was a well-known actor and Queen Elizabeth’s favorite jester.  He was the only one permitted to tell the Queen her faults.

Richard TarletonRichard Tarleton performed various clown roles for William Shakespeare, and is believed to be the model for Yorick, in Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”. It is probable that he played the part of clown, grave-digger, etc., in Shakespeare’s comedies.  And he no doubt took liberties with his parts. It is thought that part of Hamlet’s advice to the players–“and let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them,” etc.–was leveled at Tarleton.

Tarleton wrote several plays, which like his other writings are lost. He was also talented musically, playing the pipe and tambor.  He was also able at the sport of fencing.

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