Richard Tarleton – An Elizabethan Clown

Richard Tarleton was the most famous clown of the Elizabethan age.

He had a gift of pleasing the groundlings of the Curtain theatre in Shoreditch and royalty alike. He was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite clown and became her Court Jester and Groom of the Queen’s Chamber. In this role he: …told the Queen more of her faults than most of her chaplains, and cured her melancholy better than all of her physicians.

The date of his birth is not recorded but he died on 3 September 1588. He wrote his will, died and was buried all on the same day, leading some to suggest that he was a victim of plague. We don’t know how old he was but he was married, had at least one son and was survived by his mother.

Richard Tarleton was so famous that it has been suggested Hamlet’s ‘Alas poor Yorick…’ speech was written in memory of him which could have been first performed as early as 1600, 12 years after Tarleton’s death and could have been one of the plays used to open the company’s new Globe Theatre.

Hear more about Shakespearean Shoreditch in our London History Podcast Episode 50: History of Shoreditch. Duration: 19 mins.

Hazel Baker is an award-winning London Tour Guide and qualified CIGA guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Hazel’s walking tours.


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