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Tarlton, Richard (DNB00)

TARLTON, RICHARD (d. 1588), actor, was born, according to Fuller, at Condover in Shropshire. His father afterwards resided at Ilford in Essex. His mother, whose name was Katharine, survived her son. A sister, named Sara, married Abraham Rogers of London, son of Robert Rogers (d. 1595), archdeacon of Chester (Harl. MS. 2040, f. 179). His education was limited; according to the author of ‘Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie,’ ‘he was only superficially seen in learning, having no more but a bare insight into the Latin Tongue.’ Fuller relates that Richard in his youth was employed at Condover keeping his father's swine. While thus engaged he was one day accosted by a servant of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, whom he so pleased with ‘his happy unhappy answers that he brought him to court, where he became the most famous jester to Queen Elizabeth’ (Worthies of England, 1811, ii. 311). It is stated, however, in Robert Wilson's ‘Pleasant and Stately morall of the three Lordes and three Ladies of London,’ 1584, that Tarlton was a water-bearer in early life, and was afterwards apprenticed in the city of London. There is much contemporary testimony to the effect that at one period he followed the calling of an innkeeper. According to the author of ‘Tarltons Jests,’ he and his wife Kate at one time kept a tavern in Gracechurch Street, and at another an ordinary in Paternoster Row, the site of which has been identified with that of Dolly's Chophouse (Gent. Mag. 1780, p. 325). In William Percy's play of ‘Cuck-queanes and Cuckolds Errants’ he is represented as ‘quondam controller and induperator’ of an inn at Colchester.

Tarlton owed his fame to his conspicuous ability as a comic actor, but the date of his formal assumption of the histrionic profession is not known. It may be best referred to his middle age. By 1570 he had made some popular reputation in London—doubtless as an actor and an occasional singer of ballads in dramatic performances. In 1570 his name was affixed as that of author to the ballad entitled ‘A very lamentable and wofull discours of the fierce fluds whiche lately flowed in Bedfordshire, in Lincolnshire, and in many other places, with the great losses of sheep and other cattel, the 5 of October, 1570’ (imprinted at London by John Allde, 1570). It is unlikely that Tarlton was author of the ballad. His name was probably attached to it for the purpose of recommending it to the public, who were beginning to manifest interest in him. The ballad was reprinted for the Percy Society in 1840 under Collier's supervision.

Tarlton's name does not figure in the first known patent granted to players, which was bestowed on the Earl of Leicester's servants in 1574, but he was soon afterwards recognised as an experienced player. He played the part of Derrick the clown in the old pre-Shakespearean play of ‘Henry V.’ Early in 1583, on the institution of the queen's players, he was one of the twelve who were chosen to form that company. ‘They were sworn the queenes servants, and were allowed wages and liveries as groomes of the chamber’ (Stow, Annals, 1615, p. 697). He remained one of the queen's actor-servants until his death (cf. Bohun, Character of Queen Elizabeth, 1693, pp. 352–3).

During the last five years of his life Tarlton's popularity on the stage as a clownish comedian was enormous. ‘Richard Tarleton,’ says Stow, ‘for a wondrous plentifull pleasant extemporall wit, hee was the wonder of his time,’ and Nash declares that ‘the people began exceedingly to laugh when Tarlton first peept out his head’ (Pierce Penniles his Supplication to the Devil, 1592). He was credited with the power of diverting Elizabeth when her mood was least amiable, and it was believed that her ‘highest favorites’ frequently sought his countenance for their suits. The faculty which excited the highest enthusiasm among his hearers was his power of improvising doggerel verse on themes suggested by the audience. So famous was he in exhibitions of this nature that he gave his name to them; and Gabriel Harvey, speaking of Robert Greene in 1592, mentions ‘his piperly extemporisizing and Tarletonizing.’ William Kemp (fl. 1600) [q. v.] succeeded Tarlton in the field of comic improvisation. Tarlton was also noted for his jigs, metrical compositions sung by the clown to the accompaniment of tabor and pipe. The music of several is preserved among Dowland's collections in the university library at Cambridge (Halliwell, Cambridge Manuscript Rarities, p. 8). The words of one, ‘The jigge of the horse loade of Fools,’ are reputed to have been preserved. They were published by Halliwell in the preface to his edition of Tarlton's ‘Jests,’ ‘from a manuscript in the possession of John Payne Collier.’ The authority excites some suspicion of the genuineness of the composition.

Tarlton was also a skilled fencer, and on 23 Oct. 1587 was admitted to the highest degree, that of master of fence at the school of the science of defence in London. A part of the school register containing the entry of his admission is preserved at the British Museum (Sloane MS. 2530).

During the latter part of his life Tarlton dwelt in ‘Haliwel Stret,’ now known as High Street, Shoreditch. Tradition asserts that he led a dissipated life, and stories of his recantation and repentance were the favourite, though probably fabulous, themes of later ballads. In spite of royal patronage and popular appreciation he was poor, and his poverty gave occasion for more than one contemporary witticism. He died at Shoreditch, at the house of Emma Ball, a woman of bad reputation, on 5 Sept. 1588, and was buried in St. Leonard's Church on the same day. His wife Kate died before him. Anecdotes of her in the ‘Jests’ represent her as a loose character. By her he left an only child, Philip Tarlton, about six years of age, to whom, by a will dated 3 Sept., he bequeathed all his belongings. His mother, Katharine Tarlton, and two friends, Robert Adams and William Johnson, were appointed his son's guardians. Immediately after his death a dispute as to the disposition of the property arose between the boy's grandmother, Katharine Tarlton, and Adams. Katharine, who suspected Adams of fraudulent designs, appealed to Sir Christopher Hatton, and her memorial, with Adams's rejoinder, was privately printed by Halliwell in 1866.

Tarlton was the alleged author of several songs and ballads. But it is probable that they were from other pens, and that his name was attached to them with a view to attracting public attention to them. Several productions with which his name was associated are noticed in the registers of the Stationers' Company. These include three lost works, entitled respectively ‘Tarltons Toyes,’ 1576, which is alluded to by Nash in his ‘Terrors of the Night,’ 1594; ‘Tarltons Tragicall Treatises,’ 1578; ‘Tarlton's Devise upon the unlooked for great Snowe,’ 1579 (Arber, Transcript, ii. 306, 328, 346). According to both Gabriel Harvey and Nash, Tarlton was the contriver and arranger of the extempore play the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ (cf. Nash, Strange Newes; Harvey, Foure Letters). The original ‘platt’ or programme of the second part is preserved in the library at Dulwich College.

The memory of Tarlton long endured. On the authority of an annotated copy of the 1611 edition of ‘Teares of the Muses,’ Tarlton has been identified with the ‘Pleasant Willy’ whose recent death and the gloom it spread among the lovers of the theatre Spenser commemorates in that poem. ‘Willy’ was used at the time as an appellation implying affectionate familiarity, and often bore no direct relation to the real christian name of the person addressed. The music of a song, ‘Tarltons Willy,’ is preserved in manuscript at Cambridge (cf. {{sc|Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, 1887, i. 93). It has also been conjectured with great likelihood that in Hamlet's elegy on Yorick, Shakespeare embodied a regretful remembrance of the great jester (Cornhill Mag. 1879, ii. 731). After Tarlton's death there appeared the ballad ‘Tarltons Farewell,’ and in 1589–90 three other ballads were licensed, ‘Tarltons Recantacion,’ ‘Tarlton's Repentance,’ and ‘Tarlton's Ghost and Robyn Goodfellowe’ (Arber, Transcript of Stationers' Reg. iii. 500, 526, 531, 559). None of these ditties are extant. A Latin elegy was published by Charles Fitzgeffrey in his ‘Affaniæ,’ 1601; another, by Sir John Stradling, in his ‘Epigrammatum libri quatuor,’ 1607; while a third, in English, is in ‘Wits Bedlam,’ 1617. According to Gifford, ‘Tarlton's memory was cherished with fond delight by the vulgar to the period of the revolution,’ and as late as 1798 ‘his portrait with tabor and pipe still served as a sign to an alehouse in the Borough’ (Ellis, Hist. of Shoreditch, p. 209).

In 1590 was published ‘Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie. Onelye such a jest as his Jigge, fit for Gentlemen to laugh at an houre,’ London, 4to, containing a description of purgatory purporting to come from Tarlton, with which several tales were interwoven. One of them, the story of the ‘Two Lovers of Pisa,’ is a version of the tale employed by Shakespeare in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor.’ Tarlton was in no way responsible for the book. Tom Nash has been claimed as the author, but the point cannot be determined (a reprint appeared in 1630). It evoked a reply in the year of its original publication, entitled ‘The Cobler of Canterburie: or an Invective against Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie.’ Another edition appeared in 1608, and this was reprinted in 1862. It was republished, with alterations, in 1630 under the title ‘The Tincker of Turvey.’ Tarlton's fame also led to the collection and publication of a popular volume of more or less fictitious anecdotes in which he figured as hero. Many of the stories are far older than Tarlton. Some of them, however, contain biographical details concerning him which in several instances are confirmed by independent testimony, and serve to show that the compiler of the work was familiar with Tarlton's history. The work, ‘Tarltons Jests,’ appeared in three parts. An allusion by Nash would seem to refer the first part to 1592. The second part was licensed on 4 Aug. 1600. The earliest extant edition is that of 1611, London, 4to, which contains the three parts. That impression was issued with a new title-page in 1638, was reprinted in Hazlitt's ‘Shakespeare Jest Books,’ vol. ii., in 1874, and was reproduced in facsimile about 1876. The ‘Jests’ and ‘Newes out of Purgatorie’ were edited by James Orchard Halliwell in 1844 for the Shakespeare Society, with a valuable biographical introduction.

In person Tarlton was ugly. He had a flat nose with a tendency to squint. An early drawing of him is preserved in the Harleian manuscripts with some verses by John How of Norwich (No. 3885, f. 19). There is another likeness in the Pepysian Library, and a ballad in the Ashmolean collection has Tarlton's portrait as a drummer.

[Halliwell's introduction to his edition of Tarlton's Jests; Halliwell's Papers respecting Disputes from Incidents at the Deathbed of Tarlton (privately printed), 1866; Fleay's Biogr. Chronicle of the English Drama, ii. 258; Collier's Dramatic Poetry, 1879; Warner's Cat. of Dulwich MSS. pp. 341–2; Malone's Variorum Shakespeare, ed. Boswell, iii, 132, 348; Hunter's Chorus Vatum in Addit. MS. 24487 ff. 424–6; Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica; Notes and Queries, II. vi. 7, xii. 62, 102, 302, 361, 412, 450, 514, III. iii. 328, xii. 222, VI. i. 113.]

E. I. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.262
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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370 i 11 Tarlton, Richard: after improvisation insert Roger Williams, in the address to the reader prefixed to his ‘Discourse of War’ (1590), wrote of Tarlton that he ‘would couuterfeite many artes, but he was no bodie out of his mirth.’