Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 August 2022
Few characters have been more maligned than the Clown in Shakespeare’s Othello – that is, when anyone remembers he exists.1 He has been labelled the ‘most forgettable character of his class in Shakespeare’, and a tonally confusing theatrical requirement rightly cut from most performances.2 Even critical work that champions minor clown characters justifies his removal, calling him ‘a distraction from the audience’s experience of the play itself’.3 Because the criticism has nothing nice to say about the Clown, it often says nothing at all. Cutting this clown is part of a larger trend in removing clown characters; over 150 years of King Lear productions without the Fool is perhaps the starkest example. But this critical and directorial approach to Othello’s Clown flies in the face of everything we know about early modern clown actors. As recent actor-centred criticism has shown, such men were leading solo and company performers with celebrity that made them as important as well-known straight actors – if not more so.4 How, then, can Othello’s Clown be so poorly regarded, even when scholarship has long celebrated other clown characters?