Article Title

The Arlecchino and Three English Tinkers


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

In the certainty that he towered above his time, traditional criticism tends to deny Shakespeare was also of his time, one in which Italian theater had been flourishing for nearly a century before London’s first theaters were built. To the contrary, however, as Harry Levin points out, Shakespeare “was not less but more responsive than others to the currents of his age.… He had achieved them by using the same materials and techniques that they [the Italians] did and can be most fully understood in the light of conditions they shared.”1 In a spirit of inquiry about such shared conditions and theatrical cross-currents from approximately 1590 to 1625, I consider the likelihood that the Arlecchino, star of commedia dell’arte, served as godfather to several English player-fools, from Shakespeare’s drunken tinker Christopher Sly, to his singing tinker Autolycusm, to Chapman’s riddling tinker, Capriccio. Each stands in a dappled shadow of Italy’s nimble impersonator and each excites a consciousness of fooling as deeply antiauthoritarian. Whether or not an Arlecchino ever visited England, he seems to glimmer like a sprite in these characters, whose respective works bear other signs of Italian appropriation—a pivotal reason for my choosing to examine them.


1Harry Levin, Shakespeare’s Italy: Functions of Italian Locations in Renaissance Drama, rev. ed., ed. M. Marrapodi (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 19.

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