Ep 98: Dawn Tucker and Elizabethan Acrobats


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Biron in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost declares “O my little heart:—

And I to be a corporal of his field,

And wear his colours like a tumbler's hoop!”

And in Romeo and Juliet there are stage directions which call for Romeo to

[He climbs the wall, and leaps down within it]

These references have gone largely overlooked by theater companies who perform these plays, being glossed over in dialogue, or constraints of the theater space itself determining what precisely it will look like for Romeo to leap down a wall. Our guest this week, Dawn Tucker, Executive Director of the Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival, has done research into the history of leaping, tumbling, and feats of activity on stage in Shakespeare’s lifetime and discovered that acrobats were a key part of Elizabethan theater.

Tumblers, as they were called, travelled to England from places like Italy and the records of performance for playing companies like The Queen’s Men, show that acrobats were employed in the theaters, and that death defying leaps of acrobatics and performance were a regular part of performances in plays like Hamlet, As You Like It, and even Romeo and Juliet.

I had the pleasure of hearing Dawn speak on this topic of acrobatics in Shakespeare’s England at the Blackfriars conference last year, and I am delighted to welcome her to the studio today to share with us what she found inside the Master of the Revels accounts and Chambers archive about Shakespeare’s performance history.

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