Shakespeare's Fools by Carl Caulfield

This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent

Stage: A few costumes and props are evident. A throne. A table for SHAKESPEARE, with a quill and parchments. A small trampoline somewhere. Another small table with stools for the tavern


SHAKESPEARE: To the purpose…It begins where you are now – in the audience – where I’m sitting with my father – I’m about six or seven at the time…The occasion?…the Queen’s Men are performing in Stratford…my father’s been very excited about this for months - keeps nudging me …“He’ll be on soon…keep on watching…you’ll see!” He chuckles - shakes his head. “You’re a very lucky lad! You wait!” And then, it happened…this man in motley entered the stage – leaps onto the stage – out of nowhere – a strange-looking man with a button nose and a hunchback. But I remember the sound the moment he appeared - this loud roar of laughter and recognition that suddenly erupted from the crowd…it came as though from fathoms deep…from the very bowels of the earth it seemed to me - and my father is shaking and holding his stomach – his mouth agape – cackling - and I can hear the audience muttering…“Oh Good God above! It’s him. There he is! It’s our Dick Tarlton.” And I look at their faces – so alive - and their bodies shaking with mirth. And I think, if only I could do something like this…someday! Here was the very Lord of Mirth himself!

Actor playing TARLTON, enters (with a hunchback). He wears the jester’s cap and carries a drum.
TARLTON jumps up, then pulls a funny face. He grins to shows rotten teeth and then points to his back.

TARLTON: I've got the bloody hump, I have!

TARLTON quickly grabs a floppy farmer's hat and puts some straw in his mouth.

TARLTON: Oooo, arr. That be right, that be, ol' butty. Don't mind me, I got foot in mouth disease. Oooo, arr! Two cows in a paddock. One says to the other: What do you reckon to this Mad Cow's disease, then? The other one says: I don't know! I'm a goat!

SHAKESPEARE: He knew his vocation early on!

TARLTON: I'm going to be an idiot when I grow up. You wait and see. Nothing's going to get in my way. I have a dream, a reach that special place...that summit where fools are laureled and hardied!

SHAKESPEARE: He scaled the Mount Parnassus for The Idiot Factor.

TARLTON: I took all me qualifications in lunacy and Graduated in Idiocy 101 followed by two coupons short of a pop up toaster. I also studied at the University of like a lot of students I was a Heidelberger! My thesis was yclept St Thomas Aquinas ate my pet hamster - but he can keep his hands off me fool's bauble. No one could match me for being a fool.

SHAKESPEARE hands him a Diploma.

SHAKESPEARE: You're now a Complete and Utter Fool. (TARLTON bows and accepts Diploma. SHAKESPEARE gets a long bread roll and knights him with it.) I invest you in motley.

TARLTON: A great honour. I shall go forth as the Great Gods of comedy look down on me. I shall go forth and exercise me chuckle muscles. I'll have people historical with mirth.
They all laughed at me when I said I wanted to be a fool. They're not laughing now. (TARLTON grins and pulls a face. TARLTON lets out a fart.) I can pull faces at both ends! I'll have you in stitches, madam. I'll show you me operation. What is a laugh, ladies and gentleman, but a noise that comes out a hole in your face. Anywhere else - and you got problems! I draw on the traditions of the medieval Vice...
I draw on my own vices, too! In fact, I have so many I’ve attracted the Vice Squad. I’m the Lord of Misrule which goes right back to antiquity. I’m King for a day!

SHAKESPEARE: "There's no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail."

TARLTON: Let drunkenness and revelry be the order of the day. No more work and kissing the proverbial of the Lords and Masters! Fun frolics wild party rebellion and anarchy instead! I can do what the bloody hell I want!

TARLTON ponces around as the King. He plays high status and sits on a throne.

TARLTON: Go and get The Bishop and give him a sound beating on his bare- buttocks! Put the old goat i' the stocks and tell him to stop feeding his fat as lard face for the rest of the year while the peasants starve! Go and get one of the silver goblets from the Church and feed all the families in Eastcheap for a week! Masters are slaves and vice versa! Turn the world upside down and give it a bloody good shake! Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could extend this Festival, so that every day was a holiday...Oooo, what a dangerous and seditious idea! I’m the Master of Merry Disports.

TARLTON grins and goes into song.

SONG: Oh, I'm the Lord of Misrule
Me dad said I was a loon
I was born to play the fool
But I'm no ordinary goon.
I have an anarchist spirit...
Gives the status quo a shake
I have the Wildest of wit
Puts your sanity at stake!


The world goes topsy-turvy...
We break all the rules...
We may pull a face so scurvy...
But we're lawless insane fools...
This world of ours so feudal
But we all hope that may change
So I use me comic noodle
That the system we derange...

Let's hear it for Festivity
Laughter's the sound of liberty!
Let's bring on the Revels
Let's break all the rules...
They tarnish us as the devils...
But it's the feast of Fools!


A puritan BISHOP enters.

BISHOP: The stage is an evil and sinful den of vice and corruption. That’s why all the theatres are so near to the Bear-pits and the brothels. The players pretend to be what they are not and this is tantamount to lying and dissembling.

TARLTON: It's called acting, you fool!

BISHOP: They indulge in counterfeiting and con tricks. In plays some feign madness and therefore belong rightly in Bedlam - if they be not mad then that be a kind of madness to counterfeit madness.

TARLTON: Perhaps I am mad but north-north west.

BISHOP: Therefore, in feigning madness - whether they be mad or no - actors are professional deceivers and ipso facto mad.

TARLTON: This man's a nutter!

BISHOP: The stage incites all manner of evils...You will learn now to be false and deceive husbands, or husbands their wives, or how to play the harlot, how to ravish, how to beguile, how to betray, how to allure to whoredom, to flatter, how to poison, how to mock, scoff, how to murder!

TARLTON: Haven't you heard of suspension of disbelief?

BISHOP: I'd like to suspend you. You should be whipped!

TARLTON: They loved whipping folk in them days. You didn't need to pay anyone in them days. You got whipped for nothing.

A rod in school
A whip for a fool
Is always in season
A halter and a rope
For him that would be pope
Against all right and reason...

BISHOP: These plays have wanton speeches that whet the desires of inordinate lusts...they draw the bridle from that part of the mind that should ever be curbed...It's all Epicureanism and LUST! LUST! It’s all the work of the’s all wantonness...

TARLTON: He's getting worked up! Down wanton! Down! (TARLTON picks up the fool's bauble.) Dost recognise thyself? Look! This be your Mini-me!

TARLTON whacks the BISHOP on the head and then puts the bauble on his own loin and gestures rudely. BISHOP exits.

TARLTON: Would anyone like to squeeze my bladder? Madam...? Go on...have a squeeze.

TARLTON squeezes bladder and it should make a squeezy noise. He gets someone in audience to squeeze.

TARLTON: Oooooo, I love havin' me bladder squeezed! There's nothing like a little squeeze o' the bladders!

Oo, I love to squeeze me bladder
It makes such a lovely noise
If I'm feeling low and sadder
This becomes me favourite toys.
I squeeze it both night and day –
It brings me lots of pleasure
I don't care what people may say
It's me favourite type o' leisure!

TARLTON then begins to fidget. TARLTON puts hand down his trousers and feels around crotch.

TARLTON: Wait while I get me bearings...

SHAKESPEARE: You keep your bearings to yourself!

TARLTON pulls out a carrot...and bites into it.

SHAKESPEARE: You don't know where that's been.

TARLTON leaps, lets out a crazed yell followed by a long fart. He waves the smell away.

TARLTON: Sorry. Farts stunk more in them days. The diet was bloody awful. Not as bad as me feet. They stink to high heaven. My feet account for Shakespeare's foul papers! You’re all welcome, gentles all, to come to Tarlton’s tavern where I entertain the clientele whilst selling my ale. I’m Queen Elizabeth's favourite, her clown extempore...

Drink drink drink
And you'll never feel pale...
Sink sink sink
Each drop of Tarlton's ale...
Come hear me verse - I'll think on me feet
Which stink a lot worse
Than The River Fleet...
I fling out a word
Let it shine like a jewel.
If I fling out a turd
You can use it as fuel!

TARLTON whistles.

TARLTON: Barker! Come on, boy! BARKER! (TARLTON rushes off and then enters with ACTOR 3 on a leash as a very miserable-looking dog with long dog ears and a doggie helmet. He drags the very reluctant dog to centre stage.) Good boy! You’re a good dog, eh, Barker...? Why do I call you Barker? Go them...Do it, then!...(TARLTON gives him a kick) DO IT!

BARKER (without enthusiasm): Woof woof...

TARLTON: That’s the boy! He’s a good doggie! (He holds out a dog biscuit and then taunts the dog, holding it above his head.) That’s a treat, that is...Now...Sit...sit...(Sniffs.) I said sit...not...Oh, no...(TARLTON picks up a turd.) Look at that! Bad dog! (He makes to scoop up it up, puts in a bag perhaps. BARKER looks unimpressed.) Who wants to pat my dog?
TARLTON drags BARKER to audience. Gets them to pat BARKER. Business with audience, but then BARKER decides to urinate on someone’s leg.

TARLTON: Oh! OY! Sorry about that madam/sir! I can’t take him anywhere. You’re meant to be trained! You’re an animal! Now show them a trick and earn your keep...Shake hands! Come on! (No reaction.) ...Right, let’s try the other trick. Roll over! Come on! Over you go! (BARKER doesn’t move.) Move! You fat bastard! No sausages for you tonight...

TARLTON drags him off.

SHAKESPEARE: Thank you, Richard Tarlton. Let's move on. The plot now thickens. Tarlton's days are over.

TARLTON: Is that it, then? You're finished with me, then? (SHAKESPEARE nods.) Goodnight Vienna?

SHAKESPEARE: Died a long time ago. Fare thee well. Thanks for the memories.

TARLTON: Am I getting paid for that?

SHAKESPEARE: It's a Co-op.

TARLTON laughs.

TARLTON: I'll have mine upfront methinks.

SHAKESPEARE gestures he leave.

SHAKESPEARE: Exit...pursued by a Fatal Disease.

TARLTON edges towards audience.

TARLTON: He never wrote Hamlet, you know! He did an Omelette with chips. But he never writted Hamlet!

SHAKESPEARE laughs, uneasily.

SHAKESPEARE: Of course I did. Everyone knows that forsooth, i'faith.

TARLTON: You can forsooth off i'faith, thou coney-catching cozener and brazen- faced bawd. You never wrote Hamlet.


TARLTON: Didst not!


TARLTON: Nay, thou liest - thou errant whey-faced loon and laggard! Thou four- score beggarly knave and cullionly fat-kidneyed coxcomb. Thou base footballer playing worm-eaten scurvy rascal. Thou vile vexatious varlet and vain...villain! Thou pasty-faced putrid pestilential prick-eared plume-plucked popinjay! Thou toad-spotted...mewling motley-minded...wibbling wobbling warbling...wart.

SHAKESPEARE: Look, I'm not descending to Shakespearean insults. I wrote the book on it. It's beneath me.

TARLTON: Oh, go on...thou foul lump of deformity! Thou...blubbering...burly- boned boil-brained...bilious...blob!

SHAKESPEARE: I warned you. You've got nowhere to go now! You have spent all your wit.

TARLTON: Then don’t leave me short-changed. Play along a little, can't you...? Insult me back.

SHAKESPEARE: Not I, insulterous cretin. I'll insult ye not.

TARLTON: Please, I pray ye. Call me a warped hugger-muggering full-gorged miscreant or some such well-chosen barb. Have at me! Give me your slings and arrows.

SHAKESPEARE: To the point: I'm here to defend my reputation, sir.

TARLTON: Ha-hah! You seek the bubble reputation. You're just a Bardolator, sire! You're an Upstart Stratford crow beautified by your own feathers!

SHAKESPEARE: Just ask them.

TARLTON: Ask them what?

SHAKESPEARE: Who wrote Hamlet.

TARLTON asks audience. A bit of Yes He did, No He Didn't with audience.

TARLTON: No, he didn't! I was there! You're all a bunch of bloody ring-ins! You namby-pamby bunch of twenty-first century ne'er do well...TOURISTS with your digi-cameras and your DVDs and your mobile phones and your iPods and Facebook friends! I was there! He never did!

SHAKESPEARE: Who did then?

TARLTON: Thomas Kyd wrote Hamlet first. I saw his version years before yours. You bloody nicked it.

SHAKESPEARE: My version was much better. I refined it.

TARLTON: You nicked it!

SHAKESPEARE: It was homage.

TARLTON: One man's homage is another man's plagiarism.

SHAKESPEARE: My Hamlet goes down in history. Why is Kyd's Hamlet completely forgotten...?

TARLTON: He probably left it in The Nag's Head...

SHAKESPEARE shakes head.

SHAKESPEARE: Mine was much better.

TARLTON: I thought you said comparisons are odious.

SHAKESPEARE: I said oderous. Your feet are odious!

TARLTON: We didn't have odious eaters in them days!

SHAKESPEARE: Your time is up, Tarlton. Befoul the air no more with your odious feet and mal-odious farts. And so, ladies and gentlemen. Tarlton lived in Shoreditch...and is buried in the cemetery there.

TARLTON: So, I'm dead now am I?

SHAKESPEARE: Yes. We've moved on now. Theatre's an ephemeral art and a savage God. You had your day. That was it. Eclipsed.

TARLTON: Don't I even get a good death scene...? You know...something tragic...A fencing battle perhaps...and then...a sword or rapier right in the guts...(He mimes the fencing and then the knife in the guts. He yelps.) S'blood...there's blood. I'm dead...I pant for life! (SHAKESPEARE shakes head.) Or how about a Kit Marlowe special. A knife in the eye. (Mimes getting it in the eye. He yelps) Oooooo, all dark and comfortless! (Staggers) I must pray my last prayer! (Groans, falls to floor, lies still. Then leaps up.) What do you reckon? (SHAKESPEARE shakes head.) Why not?

SHAKESPEARE: You didn't die tragically.

TARLTON: How did I die?

SHAKESPEARE: I don't really know. You probably died in your bed. That's not tragic.

TARLTON: It was tragic for me at the time, mate. I had much more to give. I was cut off in me prime. I didn't even get time to change me underwear.

SHAKESPEARE: You'll get over it.

TARLTON: Maybe I was suffocated. A touch of the O Desdemonas and - aaaaagh! Can't breathe!!!! AND bingo! Goodnight Vienna. How's that for Slumberland? I'll get a pillow.

SHAKESPEARE: No pillows! This play's too propy already!

TARLTON: Can't you write me a tragic end?

SHAKESPEARE: No. You're a clown...

TARLTON: Lots of clowns die on stage. I've died a number of times: the Globe, The Cockpit, The Nag's Head and - most lamentably - the Ducks Nuts. I can't finish my glorious career like this...before an audience most of whom look like they're waiting for a hip operation. Let me leave in some dignified tragic manner.

SHAKESPEARE: Hurry up then. Make it a quick one!

TARLTON: A quick one! I bet you never said that to Cleopatra! Can I at least rehearse my parts?

SHAKESPEARE: I think we've seen enough of your parts for now, I thank thee! (TARLTON goes to his bag and rummages about.) What are you doing?

TARLTON: Shhh! I'm looking for an asp.


TARLTON: An asp. I'll die like Cleopatra. Or Pyramus and Thisbe. Or Romeo and Juliet...(He pulls out a rubbery snake or eel and begins to wrestle with it. He falls to the floor and rolls around with yon asp! ) Avaunt, yon asp! (Asp sidles up towards his neck.) AAAAAGH! (Holds his neck.) I'm bit! Nasty little teeth of asp! Ooooooh! I've got it in the neck!
Farewell, cruel world. I'm poisoned - it courses through my neck and now my chest! Oooo, my guts are like a furnace.

TARLTON begins to choke. He falls to the floor, choking and gurgling. The death scene takes a while.

[End of Extract]

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