THE FOOL AND THE ICE.
A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF A SINGULAR
WHICH OCCURRED AT EVESHAM IN THE REIGN OF
QUEEN ELIZABETH, AND WHICH IS SUPPOSED
TO BE ALLUDED TO BY SHAKESPEARE
IN HIS DRAMA OF TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.
FOR STRICTLY PRIVATE CIRCULATION.
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For the local details which corroborate in one direction the authenticity of the following anecdote I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. Herbert New.
The municipal records of Evesham do not commence until 1608, some years after the occurrence here narrated. It is possible, however, that the Church registers might furnish notices of Jack Miller, and one of his death might narrow the period to which the episode could be assigned. The communication of any such allusions would confer a great favour.
J. O. HALLIWELL-PHILLIPPS.
HOLLINGBURY COPSE, BRIGHTON,
March 30, 1883.
In handwriting:Twenty-five Copies Only Printed.
Nos. Two. J.O.H.-P.
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THE FOOL AND THE ICE.
When Ulysses tells his love-embarrassed colleague that "the fool slides o'er the ice that you should break," the imagery is so peculiar, it may be reasonably suspected that there is a reference to an extraneous story or incident which was in the author's mind at the period of composition. And if it can be shown that one of the latter alternatives is probable, the allegory cannot be received as an original fancy without the assumption of a very remarkable and unlikely coincidence. When, therefore, it is found that there happened, in the poet's own day and at a short distance from his native town, a somewhat remarkable event to which the line spoken by Ulysses could perfectly apply, we may conclude that Shakespeare was either present on the occasion or was familiar with its details.
It happened one winter that the players of Lord Chandos of Sudeley had been acting at Evesham, a town distant, by the then only main road, about fifteen miles from Stratford-on-Avon. Their performances had been specially relished by Jack Miller, a native of the former place, and one of the natural imbeciles in whose eccentricites our ancestors so much delighted. He was, in fact, the popular Fool of the town and neighbourhood, so that when he announced his intention of decamping with his favourite performer, the clown, there was an anxiety on the part of the inhabitants to frustrate the design. They wished / p.6 / him, however, to have a last peep at the actors, so he was taken to the Hart Inn and there was locked up in a room whence he could see them when they were on the road to their next quarters at Pershore, the Avon flowing between that route and the apartment which was selected for the temporary imprisonment. No one dreamt that further precautions were necessary, for, although the water bore a coating of ice, the latter was too thin for it to be considered possible that a boatless individual, even should escape from the tavern be practicable, would be able to pass over the river. But no sooner did Jack get a sight of his pet buffoon than, managing to alight to the ground from the window, he scudded over the ice to the company, executing his venturesome feat, to the utter amazement of them all, in perfect safety.
Amongst the members of the company witnessing the occurrence was Robert Armin, who was afterwards one of Shakespeare's own professional colleagues. This individual subsequently made a collection of tales respecting persons of the Jack Miller type, issuing it, in 1605, under the title of Foole Vpon Foole or Sixe Sortes of Sottes, a curious little tract without the author's name, the writer simply describing himself as Clonnico del Mondo Snuffe, meaning, by this odd phrase, that he was then filling the post of Clown at the Globe Theatre. When Armin, however, re-edited the work in 1608 under the title of the Nest of Ninnies, he then openly acknowledged the composition. The history of the above-mentioned affair is introduced, in very nearly the same words, into both editions, the following copy of the account being taken from the second one:-
In the towne of Esam, in Worstersh., Jack Miller being there borne, was much made of in every place. It hapned that the Lord Shandoyes players came to towne and played / p.7 / there; which Jack not a little loved, especially the clowne, whom he would imbrace with a joyfull spirit, and call him Grumball, for so he called himselfe in gentlemens houses, where hee would imitate playes, doing all himselfe king, gentleman, clowne and all; having spoke for one, he would sodainly goe in, and againe returne for the other; and, stammering as he did, make much mirth: to conclude, he was a right innocent without any villany at all. -- When these players I speake of had done in the towne, they went to Partiar, and Jack swore he would goe all the world over with Grumball. It was then a great frost new begun, and the haven was frozen over thinely; but heere is the wonder;-- the gentleman that kept the Hart, an inne in the towne whose backside looked to the way that led to the river-side to Partiar, lockt up Jack in a chamber next the haven, where he migh see the players passe by; and they of the towne, loth to lose his company, desired to have it so; but he, I say, seeing them goe by, creepes through the window, and said, I come to thee, Grumball. The players stood all still to see further. he got down very dangerously, and makes no more adoe, but venters over the haven, which is by the long bridge, as I gesse some forty yards over; yet he made nothing of it, but my hart aked when my eares heard the ise cracke all the way. When he was come unto me I was amazed, and tooke up a brick-bat, which lay there by, and threw it, which no sooner fell upon the ise but it burst. Was not this strange that a foole of thirty yeares was borne of that ise which would not endure the fall of a brick-bat? but every one rated him for the deede, telling him the danger. He considered his fault, and, knowing faults should be punished, he intreated Grumball the clowne, who he so deerely loued, to whip him but with rosemary, for that hee thought would not smart. But the players in jest breecht him till the bloud came, which he tooke laughing, for it was his manner ever to weepe in / p.8 / kindnesse and laugh in extremes. That this is true mine eies were witnesses, being then by.
It is satisfactory to find that the truth of this narrative is well supported by the accuracy of its reference to the local details. The Hart Inn at Evesham, which continued to be a tavern till quite recently, was situated near the bridge over the Avon, at a few doors beyond the house now known as the Crown. A road that skirts the eastern bank of the river is the one leading to Partiar, the yet local pronunciation of the name of the town, and travellers on that highway would have been distinctly visible to spectators at the back window of the first-named tavern.
The time of Jack's adventure is unknown, but it must have occurred before August, 1600, in which month, if not for some time previously, Armin was a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Company. That actor speaks of himself as having been in the service of the fourth Lord Chandos, who held the title from 1594 to 1602, but this information is given in an address to that nobleman's widow, so that it is not unlikely that the writer had been one of the retainers of his lordship's predecessor. Throughout the reign of Elizabeth the Chandos actors performed occasionally at least, if not often, in Gloucestershire and the adjoining counties, and the glacial exploit was perhaps a subject of local gossip. Shakespeare had also of course the opportunity of hearing all about it from Armin himself, but there is nothing to warrant a conjecture that he was an eye-witness of the transaction, or one that he had ever joined, even for the briefest period, the company that were astounded by the successs of the perilous transit.
HARRISON AND SONS, PRINTERS IN ORDINARY TO HER MAJESTY, ST. MARTIN'S LANE.