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Famous Like Me > Actor > A > Robert Armin

Profile of Robert Armin on Famous Like Me

Name: Robert Armin  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 30th March 1952
Place of Birth: Los Angeles, California, USA
Profession: Actor
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Robert Armin (c.1580-1612) was an English actor, a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

He became the leading comedy actor with the troupe associated with William Shakespeare, in succession to Will Kempe. The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke (1609) was at least partly written by him, as were Foole upon Foole (1605) A Nest of Ninnies (1608) and The Italian Taylor and his Boy (1609).

Childhood and Apprenticeship

“…the clown is wise because he plays the fool for money, while others have to pay for the same privilege.” – Leslie Hotson in Shakespeare’s Motley

Robert Armin, the second fool of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, changed the part of the clown or fool from the rustic serving man turned comedian to that of a high-comedy domestic wit. Armin was a clown for two theatres, a writer of ballads, plays, and studies on foolery, and one of the most important comic actors in the history of western theatre. Armin drew upon the history of the clown, the home-grown stock of natural idiots in England, and on his education to create and help create motley fools which surpass anything in that kind before or since. Robert Armin was one of three children born to John Armyn II of King’s Lynn, a successful tailor and friend to John Lonyson, a goldsmith of the same place. His brother, John Armyn III, was a merchant tailor in London. Robert Armin did not take up his father’s craft; instead, his father apprenticed him to John Lonyson under the London Company of Goldsmiths in 1581. Lonyson was the Master of Works at the Royal Mint at the Tower of London, which according to Sutcliffe, was a position of great responsibility. The step from tailor to goldsmith was a large step-up, socially; the apprenticeship of a tailor’s boy either argues that Armin was an extraordinary child, or that his father’s friendship with Lonyson allowed him to secure a better future for Robert. According to David Wiles’s research, Robert Armin finished his apprenticeship in 1592.

The Chandos company

Armin began his career in entertainment with ballad-writing during his apprenticeship. He wrote The Italian Tailor and his Boy, published over a decade later, which reflected his family background of tailors. David Wiles tells us that “The projection of his own personality is always central to Armin’s writing and performance”. He was a tailor’s son, who paralleled in the Italian tailor’s apprentice, and the ruby ring of the play’s lore parallels the goldsmith apprentice. Upon completion of his apprenticeship, he became a player for the Chandos company, which travelled England until 1597. In writing and performing Armin followed the example of Richard Tarlton, but took it one step further; he wrote a book on the subject of natural fools. In 1600, after touring with the Chandos Company, under the pseudonym ‘Clonnico de Curtanio Snuffe’ or, Snuff, clown of the Curtain he published Foole upon Foole, his report on natural fools he observed during his travels. Later in the same year and under the same pseudonym, he published Quips upon Questions. In Quips upon Questions, he demonstrates his style; instead of having a conversation with the audience, as Tarlton did, and entering into a battle of the wits, he jests using multiple personas, improvised song, or by commenting on a person or event. Rather than exchange words, he gave words freely.

Lord Chamberlain's Men

Armin played on the Globe stage by August of 1600; Wiles theorizes that he may have joined the Chamberlain’s Men in 1599, but continued to perform solo pieces at the Curtain. During the plagues of 1608 and 1609, government authority shut down the theatres to limit the spread of the disease; in these years—perhaps to support himself—Armin published Nest of Ninnies, the previously mentioned Italian Tailor and his Boy, and Two Maids of More-clacke, this time all were under his own name. Nest of Ninnies continued Fool upon Fool with the character of a “philosopher-fool;” Two Maids of More-clacke gave Armin, as an actor, a chance to play the two fool characters John in the Hospital and Tutch the clown. The Two Maids was performed in Whitefriars a year or two earlier; printed in the preface of the published edition is an explanation for Armin’s absence in future performances: “I would have again enacted John myself, but tempora mutantur in illis, and I cannot do as I would”. The closing of the theatres destroyed the King’s Revels Company, the original performers. Sutcliffe attempts to credit Armin with a pamphlet published in 1599, A Pil to Purge Melancholie, on the grounds that it was published by the same press, mentions a clown with Armin’s nickname, and makes many jibes which tie in with Two Maids of More-clacke, but no critical response to this attribution has yet resulted.

Touchstone, Feste, and Lear’s Fool

Robert Armin played many roles in many theatres, but the truly unique roles are the motleys, or the licensed fools; these include Touchstone, Feste, Lavatch, Thersites, Passarello, and Lear’s Fool. Touchstone, Feste, and Lear’s Fool are the court jesters; Touchstone is, oddly enough, the fool of these three about which there is the most critical debate. Harold Bloom describes him as “rancidly vicious,” and writes that “this more intense rancidity works as a touchstone should, to prove the true gold of Rosalind’s spirit”. John Palmer disagrees and writes that “he must be either a true cynic or one that affects his cynicism to mask a fundamentally genial spirit”. Obviously, as Palmer continues, a true cynic doesn’t belong in Arden, so the clown “must be a thoroughly good fellow at heart”. Touchstone affects the front of a malcontented cynic, thus serving as proof of Rosalind’s quick wit. When she confronts both Jaques and Touchstone, she exposes their silliness and prevents the fools from making Arden out to be worse than it really is. Touchstone’s character is different from usual clowns in that he is not merely around for entertainment purposes. Jaques is the clown in that sense. Touchstone’s foolery puts things into perspective. In Feste’s character, we have the true philosopher-fool. The character is certainly written for Armin, as he is a gentleman, a scholar, a singer, and a wit. The true clowns here are the cast, and Feste is merely the wit; he was the court jester of Olivia’s father, inherited by Olivia, and welcomed by everyone but Malvolio. His purpose in the play was not merely entertainment any more than Touchstone’s purpose in As You Like It. Feste’s purpose is to reveal the foolishness of those around him. Lear’s fool differs from both Touchstone and Feste as well as from other clowns of his era. Touchstone and Feste are philosopher-fools; Lear’s fool is the natural fool of whom Armin studied and wrote. Armin here had the opportunity to display his studies. The fool speaks the prophecy lines, which he tells—largely ignored—to Lear before disappearing from the play altogether. Lear’s fool is hardly around for entertainment purposes; rather, he is present to forward the plot, remain loyal to the king, and perhaps to stall his madness.

A new fool

“If any player breathed,” Hotson tells us, “who could explore with Shakespeare the shadows and fitful flashes of the borderland of insanity, that player was Armin”. Robert Armin explored every aspect of the clown, from the natural idiot to the philosopher-fool; from serving man to retained jester. In study, writing, and performance, Armin moved the fool from rustic zany to trained motley. His characters—those he wrote and those he acted—absurdly point out the absurdity of what is otherwise called normal. Instead of appealing to the identity of the English commoner by imitating them, he created a new fool, a high-comic jester for whom wisdom is wit and wit is wisdom.


Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.

Hotson, Leslie. Shakespeare’s Motley. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952.

Palmer, John. Comic Characters of Shakespeare. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1953.

Suttcliffe, Chris. "Robert Armin: Apprentice Goldsmith." Notes & Queries December 1994: 503-504.

Suttcliffe, Chris. "The Canon of Robert Armin's Work: An Addition." Notes & Queries June 1996: 171-175.

Wiles, David. Shakespeare's Clown. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Robert Armin