Clowns and Clowning
The age-old saying 'all the world loves a clown' is true. The mere mention of a clown can bring tears of joy and happiness to old eyes. Clowns take one back to one's childhood like no other character is able.
Today, theatrically there are three basic types of clowns. The Whiteface clown is the oldest and most well-known of the clowns; the Auguste clown is the least intelligent, and zaniest of the clowns; and the character clown is most commonly represented by the Sad Tramp or Happy Hobo. Visit http://www.clown-ministry.com to view images of these clowns.
However, the art of clowning has existed for thousands of years. A pygmy clown performed as a jester in the court of Pharaoh Dadkeri-Assi during Egypt's Fifth Dynasty about 2500 B.C and China has had a history of Court jesters since 1818 BC. In Europe, the comedic tradition and repertoire of the Italian Commedia del Arte can be traced back to the sixteenth century. It was the Commedia del Arte that dominated European theatre and the Shakespearian stage.
The Commedia del Arte was a highly improvised theatre based upon stock characters and scenarios. Its characters were usually divided into masters and servants. Interestingly, the Commedia del Arte also codified its characters by three definite roles; the First Zany, the Second Zany, and the Fantesca. The First Zany was a male servant who was a clever rogue often plotting against the masters. The Second Zany was a stupid male servant that was caught up in the First Zany's schemes and often the victim of his pranks. The Fantesca was a female servant, played by an actress, who was a feminine version of one of the Zany characters and would participate in the schemes and provide a romantic story among the servants.
With this knowledge it is safe to presume that Shakespeare was a great admirer of the Commedia del Arte. So much so, that he utilized the Italian technique in The Comedy of Errors. When The Comedy of Errors was first performed at Gray's Inn, Shakespeare's company was known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men and, Robert Armin was one of the clowns that worked in the company, and for whom Shakespeare created some of his most famous comic characters. The company would, in 1603, become to be known as The Kings Men.
Clowns and fools figure prominently in both Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies. Robert Armin was a master of what today is referred to as ‘winging it' or ‘making it up as you go along'. Armin was an accomplished singer and a playwright in his own name.
Richard Tarleton was also a clown actor in Shakespeare's company. Tarleton was Queen Elizabeth's favourite jester, and the most popular comedian of his time.
Shakespeare clowns and fools are sharp-tongued and are often wiser than the play's more noble characters. This is apparent in The Comedy of Errors which sees the Dromio twins realising all is not well long before their masters.
For further information on clowns and clowning visit:
1. Play a game of Grandma's footsteps (adapted from What's the Time Mr Wolf) as a warm-up.
2. Play for your class a scene from Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello or some other comedic duo but have the sound turned off. Make sure it is a scene with a lot of tomfoolery. Now, choose two volunteers from your class. Ask the volunteers to act out the scene physically. Choose another two volunteers who verbalise the action of the first two.
3. Now choose two new volunteers. The rest of the class can choose a scenario (ie. two cooks working in a kitchen with no knives, two painters painting a house but they have run out of paint, two characters who have climbed a rock but forgotten the rope they need to descend). These two act out the scene but are instructed to talk in gibberish. Choose two more volunteers to translate the drama into English. The actors must make extra effort with physical gestures and expressions to intensify the action.
4. This activity is very comical. Change characters and scenarios regularly until all the class has had a go at both activities - the acting and the translating.