Robert Armin, one of the ‘principal actors’ of Shakespeare’s plays named in the First Folio, probably joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1599 to take the place of Will Kempe as the company’s clown; and it was for him that Shakespeare wrote the parts of Touchstone, Feste, and the Fool in
King Lear. Received wisdom, in part extrapolated from the nature of Armin’s roles, sees him as a more serious, even morose character than his predecessor, and he took his clowning seriously enough to write a book on ‘natural’ fools, Foole Upon Foole(1600), in addition to some minor verse, and a play, The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke, whence the only known illustration of him in performance derives. Although virtually disregarded by critics as little more than a jest book, Foole Upon Foolewas also, argues Peter Cockett, a serious attempt to survey the variety of qualities and conditions of natural folly. It not only reveals much about Armin’s likely approach to his roles, but questions the conventional distinctions between the natural and the artificial fool. With close reference to Armin’s description of one of his subjects, Lean Leanard, Peter Cockett compares what this tells us about Armin’s possible approach to the role of Touchstone with the problems faced by the actor, David Tennant, in the RSC As You Like Itof 1996. The author is a professional actor who emigrated to Canada in 1994. He now teaches acting and directing at McMaster University, Ontario, and is working with the University of Toronto’s medieval and renaissance players on a two-year project on the work and repertoire of the Queen’s Men.