O, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for them;
for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to
set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh
too; though, in the mean time, some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered:
that's villanous, and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.
Enter POLONIUS, ROSENCRANTZ, and GUILDENSTERN
How now, my lord! I will the king hear this piece of work?
And the queen too, and that presently.
Bid the players make haste.
Will you two help to hasten them?
ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN
We will, my lord.
Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN
What ho! Horatio!
Here, sweet lord, at your service.
Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man
As e'er my conversation coped withal.
O, my dear lord…
Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flattered?
There are clown characters throughout Shakespeare’s plays - from as early as Titus Andronicus through Othello and The Winter’s Tale. There is no consensus on where the word’s origin is from (the earliest recorded instance is in the 1560s) but it is perhaps of Scandinavian origin. The great clown of the generation before Shakespeare came to prominence was called Richard Tarleton. His successor has generally been assumed to be Will Kempe.
Kempe was a popular actor with various companies, known for his ability to improvise. (This was so integral to his performances that often the texts of plays in which we know he acted seem rather dull, because it was left to the man himself to perform in the moment!) He was also famous for his dancing, and the jig that was so integral to Elizabethan plays was famous because of him. When Shakespeare and his colleagues founded the Globe Theatre, Kempe was one of the company. We do not know why he left soon afterwards, but it is possible that the absence of Falstaff from Henry V is a direct result of his departure. We do not know for certain if Kempe had played the role in other plays, but it is certainly possible. It is certain that he played Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing and Peter in Romeo and Juliet. It’s at very least possible that he also incarnated the roles of Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice, Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Costard in Love’ Labour’s Lost. After he left Shakespeare’s company - for whatever reason - his one other claim to fame is that he morris danced from London to Norwich (a journey that took nine full days) and wrote a book about it. It is believed that he died in 1603, but again, there is no concrete evidence.