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Shakespeare's Characters: Autolycus (The Winter's Tale)

From The Works of William Shakespeare. Vol. 12. Ed. Evangeline Maria O'Connor. J.D. Morris and Co.

Clowns' heads are full of the prices of wool; they have no thought for roses and nightingales, and their simplicity is rather comical than touching. They are more than overmatched by the light-fingered Autolycus, who educates them by means of ballads, and eases them of their purses at the same time. He is a Jack-of-all-trades, has travelled the country with a monkey, been a process-server, bailiff, and servant to Prince Florizel; he has gone about with a puppet-show playing the Prodigal Son; finally, he marries a tinker's wife and settles down as a confirmed rogue. He is the clown of the piece — roguish, genial, witty, and always master of the situation. In spite of the fact that Shakespeare seized every opportunity to flout the lower classes, that he always gave a satirical and repellent picture of them as a mass, yet their natural wit, good sense, and kind-heartedness are always portrayed in his clowns with a sympathetic touch. Before his time, the buffoon was never an inherent part of the play; he came on and danced his jig without any connection with the plot, and was, in fact, merely intended to amuse the uneducated portion of the audience and make them laugh. Shakespeare was the first to incorporate him into the plot, and to endow him, not merely with the jester's wit, but with the higher faculties and feelings of the Fool in Lear, or the gay humour of the vagabond pedlar, Autolycus.
Brandes: William Shakespeare.


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