Article Title

“Wise Enough to Play the Fool”: Robert Armin and Shakespeare’s Sung Songs of Scripted Improvisation


Catherine Henze


When Robert Armin replaced William Kemp not only did Shakespeare’s comic role shift, but there was also a concomitant increase in both the amount of singing (from 1.25 to 3.44 songs and song fragments per play, or 204 percent) and the degree to which the songs were altered (either revised from their originals and/or interrupted). Seventy-seven percent of the altered songs occurred after Armin’s arrival, with the actor/author plausibly singing up to sixty-five percent of those. Beyond these changes is the question “Why did they occur?” Informed by the complicated textual status of songs and an examination of the autonomy of the clown, this paper also interrogates competing influences on singing: the move to Blackfriars, the increase in romances, other possible singers, the children’s companies, and overall song in Chamberlain's Men's/King’s Men's plays. Evidence, both internal from the plays—including a detailed analysis of two songs from Twelfth Night with newly reconstructed editions—and external, from Armin’s career as an author and solo performer, suggests that Armin, when he was acting in Shakespeare’s plays, was the dominant, but not the single, reason for the change in singing, and that the actor/author may have, to some extent, collaborated with Shakespeare on songs. As a collateral benefit, the study's findings add new information to the debates about when Armin joined Shakespeare, some plays’ dates, and why Kemp left.

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