Tristram Shandy Book 1, Chapters 11-14 Summary

Laurence Sterne

Book 1, Chapters 11-14 Summary

As the narrator, Tristram offers the name of the pastor who owns the skinny horse. The parson's name is Yorick. This is not only an old family name, the narrator states, but one whose spelling has never been altered for "nine hundred years." Tristram questions whether the long history of the same spelling of this name, which he insinuates is very unusual, is due to pride or to shame. Then he concludes that it is probably a little bit of both sentiments.

In an attempt to discern why the name of Yorick has stayed unchanged, the narrator provides some historical information about one of the family's members. The Yoricks came to England from Denmark. One of the family's earliest immigrants held an impressive government position. However, this post was abolished two hundred years earlier because it was deemed completely unnecessary in every court of the "Christian world."

Upon reading the family history of the Yorick family, the narrator assumes that the only court position that the Yorick ancestor might have held is that of the king's chief court jester. Tristram then connects the Yorick jester to the jester in Shakespeare's dramatic play Hamlet. Then Tristram confides that he has not actually completed the necessary research to ground his statements in fact, but should the reader have the time and desire to do so, he or she should go right ahead and delve into it.

Continuing with his story of Parson Yorick, the narrator writes that he has found that Danish people tend to have moderate intelligence. Parson Yorick, nine hundred years down the family line, appeared to have no sign of Danish blood, from which we infer the evaluation that Yorick also does not have much of Danish intelligence. Unlike other Danes that Tristram has met, Yorick was "unpractised in the world." Yorick, in other words, did not know how to make his way through life nor did he understand other people.

Being the descendant of a jester, according to Tristram, Yorick was handicapped by his responses to life's experiences as well as to the people he met along his way. Not only did Parson Yorick enjoy a good laugh, he also liked to make fun of other people. He laughed, in other words, at other people's expense.

Yorick's friend Eugenius often warned him that this tendency might one day lead him into dire trouble; someone might seek revenge. Not fully comprehending the consequences of his inappropriate behavior, Yorick continues to laugh not only at the common people but also at legislators and other people in positions of power. In the end, Yorick is murdered. On his gravestone, Eugenius carves the words: "Alas, poor Yorick!" At the end of the chapter of Yorick's death, the author inserts two black pages, suggesting a memorial for Yorick.