November 21: the worst comedy character in the history of literature

The worst comedy character in the history of literature is the Clown in Act 3 Scene ! of Othello. Here is the worst scene in Shakespeare.

enter CLOWN

CLOWN: Why Masters, have your instruments been in Naples, that they speak i’ the nose thus.

MUSICIAN: How, sir, how?

CLOWN: Are these, I pray you wind instruments?

MUSICIAN: Ay, marry, are they sir.

CLOWN: O, thereby hangs a tail?

MUSICIAN: Whereby hangs a tale, sir?

CLOWN: Marry, sir, by many a wind instrument that I know. But, masters, here’s money for you. , and the general so likes your music that he desires you, for love’s sake, to make no more noise with it.

MUSICIAN: Well, sir, we will not.

CLOWN: If you have any music that may not be heard, to ‘t again. But, as they say, to hear music the general does not greatly care.

MUSICIAN: We have none such, sir.

CLOWN: Then put up your pipes in your bag, for I’ll away. Go, vanish into air. Away.


CASSIO: Dost thou hear, my honest friend?

CLOWN: No, I hear not your honest friend, I hear you.

CASSIO: Prithee, keep up thy quillets. There’s a poor piece of gold for thee. If the gentlewoman that attends the general’s wife be stirring, tell there’s one CAssion entreats her a little favour of speech. Wilt bthou dothis?

CLOWN: She is stirring, sir. If she will stir hither, I shall seem to notify unto her

exit CLOWN.

Comedy Gold!

Now and then Shakespeare reveals a sense of humour: in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; through Falstaff. But quite often he is a nerdy punner. Much less fun than, say, Marlowe, whose comedy in Dr Faustus, for example, needs to be reappraised.

The Clown scene here may well be just a piece of nonsense popped into a play with no other comedy scenes, giving the comic a part at the last minute. Or else it could be a poorly remembered scene when the play was assembled into writing. Or else an invention of the final editor of the first folio. There are a host of explanations for it, buit whatever the reason, what has been handed down to us is poor fare. Even Shakespeare can be rubbish.

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