The standard entry on fools and jesters usually makes mention of Shakespeare's jester characters, especially the fool in King Lear. It was Robert Armin (c. 1563 – 1615) who first acted the role as a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, as well as such similar roles as Touchstone in As You Like It, Feste in Twelfth Night, Lavatch in All's Well That Ends Well, and perhaps Autolycus in The Winter's Tale, as well as comic parts in other Elizabethan dramas. In fact, Armin's joining the company around 1600 is credited by some with Shakespeare's increased interest in witty jesters.
Armin was not just a leading actor of his day, but also a scholar with a keen interest in the ancient lineage of fools. He was one of the first to chronicle their history at length in his Foole upon Foole (1605) and his A Nest of Ninnies (1608), where he made a clear distinction between the natural fool and the "licensed fool," a performer sanctioned to play the role of the fool for money. It would be a logical assumption that, working as closely together as he and Shakespeare did for so many years, Armin shared his historical knowledge with the ever-curious bard.
Even though the text is short (56 pp.), it is rough sledding, given the wacky way they wrote and spelled back in those days. But it is historically significant and, once again, it is free...
Armin Foole Upon Foole
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