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An Attack of the Clowns: Comedy, Vagrancy, and the Elizabethan History Play

Maya Mathur
Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
Vol. 7, No. 1 (Spring - Summer, 2007), pp. 33-54
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40314233
Page Count: 22
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An Attack of the Clowns: Comedy, Vagrancy, and the Elizabethan History Play
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Abstract

The article discusses lower-class insurrection in three history plays from the 1590s: The Life and Death of Jack Straw, 2 Henry VI, and George a' Greene. Drawing attention to the leveling rhetoric of the texts' clown figures, Tom Miller, Simon Simpcox, Jack Cade, and Robin Hood, the article disputes the critical commonplace that their defeat at the hands of governmental emissaries comprised an endorsement of absolute monarchy. Instead, the article proposes that the clowns' refusal to recognize class differences was a leveling device that bolstered their potential for voicing social grievances. Accordingly, this essay posits that, rather than devaluing rebellion from below, ludic representation enabled popular resistance within the framework of the national history play.

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