Richard Tarlton



  • (d. 1588) England's first professional comic actor. He is thought tohave inspired the characters of Bottom in A Midsummer Night'sDream and Yorick in Hamlet. Tarlton was short and slightlyhunchbacked with a squint and a flat nose (this had been damaged whilehe was separating dogs and bears during bear-baiting). He joked thathe still had "sagacity enough to smell a knave from an honestman". In 1583 he joined the Queen Elizabeth's Men and remainedthe queen's favourite jester until she banned him from court for tellingjokes about Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Leicester.

    Tarlton wrote the successful play The Seven Deadly Sins(1585) and several other lost works, while many of his witticismsare recorded in Tarlton's Jests, published posthumously in1611. He also popularized the comic jig and was famous forimprovising on stage. Hamlet's comment to the players, "Letthose that play your fools speak no more than is set down for them"was probably written with Tarlton in mind.