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"Would Not the Beggar Then Forget Himself?": Christopher Sly and Autolycus

William C. Carroll, Boston University

When Rivers suggests to the future Richard III that he and his followers would follow Richard, "if you should be our king," Shakespeare's Richard recoils in his usual false sincerity, "If I should be? I had rather be a peddler!" (Richard III 1.3.148-49). The contemporary depth of disgust in Richard's invocation of his symbolic opposite may also be seen reflected in the Maid's initial encounters with the Peddler in The Pedler's Prophecy (1595):

I never knew honest man of this occupation,
But either he was a diser, a drunkard, or a maker of shift,
A picker, a cutpurse, a raiser of simulation,
Or such a one as runne away with another mans wife.

[A type of men] whose whole trade is idlenesse:
Dicers, drunkards, makers of strife,
Very sincks and sentences of all wickednesse.

(A4V, B)

The low reputation of peddlers in the period derived not only from empirical evidence but from legal theory as well, for the statutes defining vagrants invariably included, like the 1597 law (39 Eliz. I, c.4), "all Juglers Tinkers Peddlers and Petty Chapmen wandring abroade" (TED: 2.355).1 Here we see that though a peddler holds an "occupation," he is defined by statute as a vagabond; so too jugglers2, tinkers, and others. Though they are not on the public dole, do not (usually) beg in the streets, and generally support themselves, such occupations are nevertheless legally and socially condemned. The real objection is that they are "wandring abroade"—literally vagrant (a peddler, one writer said in 1631, is "a wandring starre," Cater: 8). They are not bound through guilds to a master-apprentice hierarchical relation, to a fixed place or to a fixed wage.

Such free-lance economic activity was considered harmful in other ways as well. In Love's Labor's Lost, for example, Berowne complains of Boyet,

This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons pease,
And utters it again when God doth please.
He is wit's peddler, and retails his wares
At wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs;
And we that sell by gross, the Lord doth know,
Have not the grace to grace it with such show.


Recasting the dandified Boyet as a peddler is an insult in class terms, but a more concrete objection is that he "utters" or sells whenever the time seems appropriate, earning "retail" at the expense of those who "sell by gross," or wholesale.3 This violation of economic convention is repeated in the peddler's infiltration of various seasonal festivals and in his seeming ubiquity; as one character in The Ñedler's Prophecy says, "there be too many such runnagates at these days, / All the whole world with such idle persons doth flow" (C3r-v). The peddler was thus a loose cannon on the economic ship: unregulated, mobile, transgressive. Tinkers were little better. Indeed, "a sort [i.e., gang] of tinkers" (3.2.277) forms part of the mob in 2 Henry VI, and Robert Greene tells a conny-catching tale of "a tinker, that went about the country" and practiced the "black art" of the picklock (Salgado 1972: 227). "A Tinker," as one writer put it, "is a mooveable: for hee hath no abiding place; by his motion hee gathers heate, thence his cholericke nature" (Overburian: 34).4

Peddlers and tinkers were simply vagabonds, different from Counterfeit Cranks or Dommerars only in the details of their transgressions. In The Highway to the Spital-House, "Copland" and the Porter rank peddlers like any other stereotype of beggar.


Come none of these pedlars this way also,
With pack on back, with their bousy speech,
Jagged and ragged, with broken hose and breech?


.. . out of the spital they have a party stench.
And with them comes gatherers of cony-skins,
That chop with laces, points, needles and pins.

(Judges: 23-24)

Some master thieves, Gilbert Walker reports in A Manifest Detection of Dice-Play (1552), "follow markets and fairs in the country with peddlers' footpacks, and generally to all places of assembly" (Kinney: 83). Awdeley describes both types: "A Swigman goeth with a Pedlers pack" (5), and "a Tinkard leaveth his bag a sweating at the Alehouse, which they terme their Bowsing In[n], and in the meane season goeth abrode a begging" (5). Most tinkers, Dekker says in The Wonderful Year (1603), are "base, rascally . . . with a ban-dog and a drab at their tailes, and a pike-staffe on their necks, [and] will take a purse sooner then stop a kettle," though his story concerns a "devout" one (1963: 1.142). A man disguised as a tinker in Robert Armin's The History of the two Maids of Moreclacke (1609) enters "in a tawny coate like a tinker, and his boy with budget and staffe, Toures tincks upon his pan drinking" (C3V). The wandering tinker in Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's The Coxcomb (c. 1609) is more threatening, however, as he enters "with a Cord" (2.2.1.s.d.) and his doxy, Dorathy; frustrated by all the locked doors, they circle Viola menacingly, with many sexual comments, and finally bind her, before abandoning her (2.1.28-93).

Harman, as usual, amplifies these two rogue types considerably. If "dronken" tinkers, also called "Prigs," see any old kettles or pewter about, they "quicklye snappeth the same up, and in to the booget [i.e., budget, or pig-skin bag] it goeth round" (59), just as Autolycus, who sings "If tinkers may have leave to live, / And bear the sow-skin budget" (The Winter's Tale 4.3.19-20), describes himself as a "snapper-up of unconsidered trifles" (4.3.25-26). Such tinkers, Harman notes, mingle "with a litle worke for a coulour," or pretense, and so "they live with deceite." The "swadder or Pedler," Harman likewise concedes, is "not all evile, but of an indifferent behaviour"; they themselves fear the stronger beggars such as Upright Men because "they have often both wares and money of them" (60). Evidently uneasy with their ambivalent status, Harman nevertheless accepts their mere status as criminal: "But for as much as they seeke gaine unlawfully against the lawes and statutes of this noble realme, they are well worthy to be registred among the number of vacabonds" (60).

With his usual combination of plagiarism and invention, Dekker (in O per se O, 1612) describes, in the familiar metaphor, the "swarms of locusts" who flock to the Deerhurst Fair, with a resonant political analogy: "If you look upon them you would think you lived in Henry VI's time, and that Jack Cade and his rebellious ragamuffins were there mustering" (Pendry 1968: 287). Dekker's vision of the fair is like something out of Dante, with more than one echo of The Winter's Tale and foreshadowing of Jonson's Bartholomew Fair. At Deerhurst, "None here stands crying 'What do you lack?' for you can ask for nothing that is good but here it is lacking. The buyers and sellers are both alike, tawny sunburnt rascals, and they flock in such troops that it shows as if Hell broke loose. The shopkeepers are thieves and the chapmen rogues, beggars and whores" (Pendry 1968: 288). In the usual projection of hierarchy, Dekker also describes how one "is chosen the Lord of the Fair, who is commonly the lustiest rogue in the whole bunch," leading his mob "from alehouse to alehouse" (288) in a drunken inversion of a royal procession. Such fairs always end in riot and violence, he concludes: "Here lies a rogue bleeding, there is a mort cursing, here a doxy stabbing with her knife. And thus this fair which begins merrily ends madly, for knaves set it up and queans pull it down" (Pendry 1968: 288). Dekker ironically ends his own book by identifying himself with such vagrants: "Enough of this, and he that desires more pieces of such pedlary ware may out of this little pack fit himself with any colours. Vale!" (Pendry 1968: 308).

The peddler and the tinker, then, were as clearly defined vagrant stereotypes as the Counterfeit Crank. In fact, at times, according to one writer, the peddler who fears impressment will resort to all the usual deceits of a Genings: he will "stirre his stumpes: but if that will not serve, he turnes counterfeit cripple, and as one cut off by the stumps, he cants his maimes most methodically: and this practice hee most constantly retaines till the coast be cleare" (Cater: 139). Like other vagrants, they blear the honest man's eye: the peddler was a "raiser of simulation," the tinker "live[s] with deceit." These vagabonds employ the standard canting language, "babbling French," as Copland says, but speak as well their own more specialized rhetoric; the Tinker's "tongue is very voluble, which with Canting proves him a Linguist" (Overburian: 35). They are also associated, like other types of masterless men, with disorderly mobs in country and city, even linked to Jack Cade as potentially rebellious subjects (Cade's wife is also said to be "a peddler's daughter," 2 Henry VI 4.2.44). Peddlers and tinkers are distinguished from most other vagrants, however, by the fact that they have an "occupation," though "they seek gain unlawfully against the laws and statues of this noble realm," as Harman noted; they are thus marked more by their tendency to rob than to beg. Overbury's Tinker ironically "observes truely the Statutes, and therefore hee had rather steale then begge . . . and [he is] so strong an enemie to idlenesse, that in mending one hole, he had rather make three then want worke" (Overburian: 35). In some ways, peddlers and tinkers figure as prototypes of early capitalist entrepreneurs, yet contemporary discourse in general ranks them as petty criminals and inveterate frauds, experienced practitioners of various "black arts," like their cousins the Dommerar and the Abraham Man. Residual feudal values thus criminalize their entrepreneurial economic self-sufficiency, serving as one additional marker of the period's obsession with socioeconomic transgression. Perhaps the most telling description of all is R.M.'s ironic vision of a tinker "in the summer season . . . most frequent to be seene at the Royall Exchange of a Bush or hedge" (C6V). The central symbol of the emergent new economy, the institution presiding over, but not really controlling, exchange transactions of capital, is thus fused with what is taken to be its economic and philosophic opposite, the tinker, in a metaphor of condescension.5 Yet the tinker's mobility reflected capital's liquidity—indeed, it proceeded from the same forces—in ways that were not yet understood. The bourse and the beggar are, once again, two dishes, but to one table.

Given their pedigrees of thievery and deception, then, we might expect that the representations of tinker and peddler in Shakespeare's plays would be as darkly edged as that of Poor Tom, but such is not the case. Instead, Shakespeare seems to move in the opposite direction, offering us the genial warmth of Snout the Tinker in A Midsummer Night's Dream rather than, say, a vicious Jonsonian cheat whose trickery mocks the stupidity of his victims. The purpose of this chapter is to consider in some detail the two chief Shakespearean exemplars of this vagrant type, Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew and Autolycus in The Winter's Tale.

The Taming of a Tinker

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Christopher Sly identifies himself to the lord by reciting a comical curriculum vitae that firmly locates him geographically and socially: "Am not I Christopher Sly, old Sly's son of Burton-heath, by birth a peddler, by education a cardmaker, by transmutation a bearherd, and now by present profession a tinker?" (Ind. 2.17-20). And he further cites as a reference "Marian Hacket, the fat alewife of Wincot," to whom he owes the substantial sum of fourteen pence for the ale he has drunk. Stage directions and speech headings of the Folio text of The Taming of the Shrew, however, identify him more simply as "Begger" and "drunkard," generic rubrics which include all of Sly's announced "profession[s]." Sly's career path follows a rather low arc, its endpoints of peddler and tinker legally and socially identical. As a "bearherd," however, Sly has begun the first small step toward the world of professional entertainer, a rural version of the quasi-theatrical urban spectacles on display at the Beargarden; perhaps this phase of his career accounts for his garbled allusions to The Spanish Tragedy (Ind. 1.9). But Sly's "education" as a "cardmaker"—that is, one who made cards for combing wool—is the most ironic of his occupations, since the enclosure of common lands to pasture sheep, as the More paradigm explained, led to depopulation and an increase in vagrants—hence, to wandering beggars like Sly himself.6 Sly denies that he is descended from "rogues. Look in the chronicles: we came in with Richard Conqueror" (Ind. 1.3-4), but when the lord tells him he has awakened from a dream, he is happy enough to renounce his "present profession," and in blank verse rather than prose: "Upon my life, I am a lord indeed, / And not a tinker nor Christopher Sly" (Ind. 2.72-73).7

I have written elsewhere (1985: 41-50) on the energies of metamorphosis in The Shrew, with particular emphasis on the various forms of transformation enacted in the Induction; Sly's attempted metamorphosis into a lord is mirrored in the transformation of the boy page who dresses like Sly's lady, in the multiple allusions to Ovid's Metamorphoses (including the transformations of Cytherea, Io, and Daphne), and in the transforming effects experienced by an audience watching a play (Ind. 1.93-97; 2.127-32). The relation between these modes of transformation in the frame plot and what happens to Kate and Petruchio in the inner plot is a complex issue, the subject of my earlier study and many other critics as well.8 But here I want to focus more narrowly on Sly's social and economic status and the class issues involved iti his metamorphosis into a lord.

The rogue pamphlets of Harman, Dekker, and Robert Greene echo official documents, such as Edward Hext's letter to Burghley in 1596, in describing the histrionic abilities of certain vagabonds, some of whom counterfeit mutilation and degradation, as we have seen, but also others who "play the role" of the proper citizenry, and even infiltrate the legal system. Their role playing is supposedly so perfect that no one can distinguish them by external signs. But Sly is clearly not such a beggar, for he seems to have no histrionic gifts at all, and his lower nature continually reveals itself in his new role. The lord anticipates that Sly,

. . . if he were conveyed to bed,
Wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes,
Would not the beggar then forget himself?

(Ind. 1.36-40)

The expectation is that when Sly awakens, they will "persuade him that he hath been lunatic, / And when he says he is [i.e. now], say that he dreams, / For he is nothing but a mighty lord" (Ind. 1.62-64).

Sly's inability to "forget himself into a new social role—or at least convince the audience that he can play the part—may remind us of Bottom (another weaver) and his similar incapacity in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it should also be noted that Sly's situation is not exactly identical with those of Dekker's and Fleetwood's rogues, whose counterfeiting reaches only into the ranks of the middling sort. Shakespeare makes Sly attempt something far more difficult, to become "a mighty lord." The social and economic gaps between the tinker and the lord are about as large as could be imagined. Though the tinker is legally condemned for his "profession," the lord has none at all, an "idleness" permissible only in the aristocracy. The lord's avocation is hunting, not for food but for sport. His concern for his overheated dogs, one of whom he would not lose "for twenty pound" (Ind. 1.20), an enormous sum, does not extend to the human being he discovers sleeping: "O monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies! / Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!" (1.33-34). The lord cares for his "dog" but now prepares to trick the "swine" by inverting his social position.

The world of the lord is one of spectacular conspicuous consumption, sensual indulgence, and practiced indolence, as close to the grotesque parody of Sir Epicure Mammon in Jonson's Alchemist as it is distant from Sly's "small ale" (Ind. 2.1) here. The lord commands the huntsmen—evidently now not his equals but his social inferiors—to see to the details of the jest:

Carry him gently to my fairest chamber,
And hang it round with all my wanton pictures.
Balm his foul head in warm distilled waters,
And burn sweet wood to make the lodging sweet.
Procure me music ready when he wakes,
To make a dulcet and a heavenly sound.
And if he chance to speak, be ready straight,
And with a low submissive reverence
Say, "What is it your honor will command?"
Let one attend him with a silver basin
Full of rosewater and bestrewed with flowers;
Another bear the ewer, the third a diaper,
And say, "Will't please your lordship cool your hands?"
Someone be ready with a costly suit,
And ask him what apparel he will wear;
Another tell him of his hounds and horse,
And that his lady mourns at his disease.

(Ind. 1.45-61)

All this because "he is nothing but a mighty lord." Yet it is not Sly's past life that can be thought of as a "dream" here, but rather the one the lord describes, which is a fantasy of hierarchical power and privilege.

The dream of class privilege, soothed by the murmurs of "low submissive reverence," is punctuated by the arrival of the players, who "offer service to your lordship" (Ind. 1.77). They had better receive the lord's patronage, too, otherwise these players will violate the same vagrancy laws—in the same paragraph, in fact—that defined tinkers and peddlers as vagabonds.9 The lord calls for a play, the players exit to prepare, and the lord instructs that "Barthol'mew my page" be "dressed in all suits like a lady," to pretend to be "Lord" Sly's wife. Again the language emphasizes the comic inversion of the hierarchical, and now specifically marital, power. The page's proper conduct, we are told, should be "such as he hath observed in noble ladies / Unto their lords":

Such duty to the drunkard let him do
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say, "What is't your honor will command,
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?"
And then with kind embracements, tempting kisses,
And with declining head into his bosom,
Bid him shed tears, as being overjoyed
To see her noble lord restored to health,
Who for this seven years hath esteemed him
No better than a poor and loathsome beggar.

(Ind. 1.104-22)

Now the "submissive" fantasy of class privilege merges with the patriarchal dream of the "humble wife," easy to "command," dedicated to "duty." These positions are normalized, in the lord's plan, while Sly's ordinary position is no better than, and legally, no different from, that of a "poor and loathsome beggar."

When Sly awakens into his fictive lordship, however, it becomes clear that no matter what "apparel" or "costly suit" he wears, he cannot be mimetically transformed into the elevated social position of the lord. Promises of fantastic sensual indulgences, including erotic Ovidian transformation scenes, are summoned up to encourage the befuddled tinker, but clothes, it is clear, do not make the gentleman, though Sly continues to try. It has often been noted how Sly's attempt to command his "Lady's" obedience anticipates Petruchio's with Kate, but the key passage again brings together both marital and class hierarchies:

Sly. Are you my wife, and will not call me husband?
My men should call me "lord"; I am your goodman.
Page. My husband and my lord, my lord and husband,
I am your wife in all obedience.

(Ind. 2.102-5)

Sly's wonderfully blunt command—"Servants, leave me and her alone. / Madam, undress you and come now to bed" (Ind. 2.113-14)—is no different from the lord's commands earlier, except that they are not obeyed. Instead, the players are announced, and Sly dispenses mock-aristocratic grace ("Marry, I will let them play it") but also reveals his confusion over the exact nature of this entertainment: "Is not a comonty a Christmas gambold or a tumbling trick? . . . household stuff?" (Ind. 2.133-36). The beggar is thus, as always, a kind of spectacle himself, an object lesson and source of amusement for the lord no less than the official entertainers, the players.

In the anonymous play The Taming of A Shrew, as is well known, Sly is seen and heard again at the end of the play, the frame plot closing securely; once more dressed in his "owne appareil," Sly promises to try out the shrew-taming lessons on his own wife. He speaks of his experience as Bottom does in Midsummer Night's Dream: "I have had / The bravest dreame to night, that ever thou / H[e]ardest in all thy life" (Bullough: 1.108).

But in The Shrew, by contrast, there is no awakening or demystification of Sly, who has vanished textually from the play. In a way, then, Shakespeare at last fulfills the beggar's own fantasy, "I would be loath to fall into my dreams again" (Ind. 2.123), and he remains in the apparel of a gentleman.

Autolycus: A "Gentleman Born"

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Autolycus: A "Gentleman Born"

After Simon Forman saw a performance of The Winter's Tale at the Globe on 15 May 1611, he reported the Leontes-Polixenes plot with some care, explicitly noting the abandonment and recovery of Perdita. Yet Forman notoriously did not mention any of the spectacular stage effects from the second half of the play—no Chorus of Time (though he does note that Perdita is sixteen years old), no bear, no eating of Antigonus, no great statue scene; he does not even note Hermione's apparent death, much less her rebirth. But one feature of the second half of the play struck his attention greatly, and he devoted considerable space to it:

Remember also the Rog that cam in all tottered like coll pixci and howe he feined him sicke & to have bin Robbed of all that he had and howe he cosened the por man of all his money, and after cam to the shep sher with a pedlers packe & ther cosened them Again of all their money And howe he changed apparrell with the kinge of Bornia his sonn, and then howe he turned Courtier &c.

The message of all this was clear to Forman: "Beware of trustinge feined beggars or fawninge fellouss" (Chambers: 2.341). Autolycus is an entirely different kind of "feined beggar" than Poor Tom, of course—not a lunatic but the cheerful peddler, part of the tradition of the merry beggar. He enters singing of the red blood reigning in the winter's pale and the sweet birds, O how they sing.

Although Autolycus's character seems derived primarily from literary sources—something of the picaresque, a little of the Vice (Felperin: 217-18), and a great deal of a tradition that romanticized the freedom and openness of the tramp's life, as we saw in the first chapter—still, the language Shakespeare has created for him receives its life from a number of other wellsprings. The songs link Autolycus with a popular tradition of festive natural celebration; many analogous songs have been reported with the same peddler's cry, "What do you lack?"10 On the other hand, the language of Autolycus also reveals a strong indebtedness to the conny-catching pamphlets of Robert Greene, not only in the specific trick which Forman recalled (which seems to come from The Second Part of Conny-catching [1591]), but in the vocabulary and diction of his language.11 Autolycus is given many of the specialized terms of the thieves' trade: "doxy," "pugging" (or "prigging"), "die and drab," "prig," "cutpurse," "I picked and cut most of their festival purses," and so forth. More, his voice is both unique in its colloquial eccentricities and almost Jonsonian in its sharp familiarity with the conventions of thieving: "You might have pinched a placket, it was senseless. 'Twas nothing to geld a codpiece of a purse. I could have filed keys off that hung in chains. No hearing, no feeling, but my sir's song, and admiring the nothing of it . . . had not the old man come in with hubbub against his daughter and the King's son and scared my choughs from the chaff, I had not left a purse alive in the whole army" (The Winter's Tale 4.4.612-21).

Autolycus's language is Shakespeare's closest approximation to beggar's cant. He is indeed a merry-hearted, jovial vagabond, but he also knows that "Gallows and knock are too powerful on the highway; beating and hanging are terrors to me" (4.3.28-29). He can flourish now because "I see this is the time that the unjust man doth thrive" (4.4.677-78). In placing his character so precisely in this particular social context, Shakespeare inevitably invokes questions of class privilege and social identity—issues that concern the other characters in Bohemia as much as they do Autolycus.

While much criticism has in the past been concerned with the relative attractiveness of Autolycus as a character,12 his structural function in the play has also been frequently described in formalist terms.13 Yet Autolycus appears not in an eternal and unreal springtime but in the particular historical context of Jacobean England. David Kaula has demonstrated how "the terminology Autolycus applies to his wares [e.g., "trumpery," 4.4.600] belongs to the verbal arsenal of anti-Catholic polemical writing in Reformation England" (289), and he argues that as "the cunning merchant of popish wares" (292), Autolycus is intended to be "a counterpart to Perdita" (293), setting up a binary distinction between "the artificial and the natural, the predatory and the charitable, the licentious and the chaste" (294).14

One thread of Kaula's argument is directly relevant to my topic here: his observation that "Autolycus' 'popish' associations seem to be limited to his peddler's role" (301). But this association is completely predictable, given the essential transgressiveness of the peddler to begin with. Kaula quotes from several Protestant writers who link Catholic icons with peddlers' wares. One of them is Samuel Harsnet ("the trinkets, toyes, & pedlars ware in the Popes holy budget" [Kaula: 289]), from whose work Shakespeare quotes some years earlier in King Lear. Another writer claims, in 1602, that "Romish wares" are

sent abroad among the common people, both Protestants and Papists in London and in the countrey, & that, by certain women Brokers and Pedlers . . . who with baskets on their armes, shal come and offer you other wares under a colour, and so sell you these, where they see and know any likelihood to utter them. . . . under the habit of such, many young Jesuites, and olde Masse-priests range abroad, and drawe disciples after them. (Kaula: 291)

Here, there is transgression on many levels: not only religious and economic, but gender-related as well, for if anyone should not be errant, it is a woman, even "certain women." Yet as Alice Clark has noted, "in some districts the trade [of peddler] was almost [a] monopoly" of women (206).

In the great fantasy of paranoia, the "people" have been infiltrated by papists, peddlers, and women, each of whom works through a disguise, and operates through deceit, "under a colour." Even when something innocuous is being peddled—ballads, for example, rather than heresy—the same rhetorical negatives are invoked, as in one work of 1592, which complains of the "Ballad-seller, [who] hath a whole Armie of runnagates at his reversion, that swarme everie where in England, and with their ribauld songs infect the Youth of this flourishing Commonweale."15 Chettle (also 1592) echoes this vision in Anthonie Nownow's comment in Kind-Hartes Dreame.

I am given to understand, that there be a company of idle youths, loathing honest labour and dispising lawfull trades, betake them to a vagrant and vicious life, in every corner of Cities & market Townes of the Realme singing and selling of ballads and pamphletes full of ribaudrie, and all scurrilous vanity, to the prophanation of Gods name, and withdrawing people from christian exercises, especially at faires markets and such publike meetings. (15)

Thus, even these peddlers, often employed by the stationers themselves to distribute their printed commodities, "swarme," in the usual metaphor, and "infect" parts of the body politic.

Peddlers were known to frequent "wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs," as Berowne noted in Love's Labor's Lost, while a "petty Countrey Faire" itself was said to be little more than "the publication of some few Pedlers packs distinguisht into Boothes" (Saltonstall: 49); thus Autolycus's appearance at a sheep-shearing festival is conventional. Wassails, fairs, and sheep-shearing festivals were public sites outside the normal boundaries of surveillance and control, and thus they were socially marginal in every sense of the term. Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614) is a catalogue of every "enormity" imaginable at such a fair.16 Shakespeare's Autolycus combines in one character two of Jonson's—Nightingale the ballad-seller, who works in league with Edgeworth, the cutpurse. The commercial activity such peddlers engage in, though statutorily illegal, is considerable and quite welcomed by the customers. Peddlers such as Autolycus are condemned in part, then, because they enable a redefinition of the very concept of the marketplace—no longer closed but open, not static but fluid, not fixed in its elements but "placeless," in Michael Bristol's term (1991: 163). They represent, in short, the transgressive fluidity of capital.

Perhaps the central paradigm of the feudal conception of work, enshrined (or embalmed) in the London craftguilds and in the codifications of the Statute of Artificers, is the master-apprentice relation. But the peddler, both cause and symptom, heralds a different kind of economy, in which a different paradigm operates: "Come to the peddler;/ Money's a meddler, / That doth utter all men's ware-a" (The Winter's Tale 4.4.321-23). Money talks: money can "utter," both speak and put on the market, all "ware." The peddler is the embodiment of this medium of exchange, this "meddler." To "meddle" also carries the sense "to mix (wares) fraudulently" (OED v.1b) and "to have sexual intercourse (with)" (OED v.5)—perhaps from the standard contemporary pun on "medlar," the pulpy apple synonymous with the female genitals.17 Sexual meddling is therefore a refraction of economic meddling. All these associations may also be seen at play in the Pedler's speech in John Heywood's The Foure PP (c. 1531): "Why, dost thou nat knowe that every pedler / In every trifull must be a medler?/ Specially in womens triflinges" (lines 217-19). Money is the "meddler," Autolycus says, and the peddler's profession participates in an economy of alleged corruption linked to several other types of transgression.

Autolycus's personal history, moreover, mimics the declension from an older to a newer form of service: "I have served Prince Florizel," he tells the audience, "and in my time wore three-pile, but now I am out of service" (4.3.13-14). Now, for Autolycus, "My traffic is sheets" and "my revenue is the silly cheat" (4.3.23, 27-28). Poor Tom, too, was once "a servingman, proud in heart and mind" (King Lear 3.4.84), but is now "nothing." Since being "whipped out of the court," Autolycus reports (in the third person) of his career that he has been "an ape bearer, then a process server, a bailiff. Then he compassed a motion of the Prodigal Son and married a tinker's wife . . . having flown over many knavish professions, he settled only in rogue" (4.3.87-97).

As an accomplished, role-playing rogue, Autolycus has certainly mastered more than the role of peddler. In his initial encounter with the Clown, Autolycus does an excellent version of Nicholas Genings, as he falls to the ground in apparent agony:

Autolycus. O, that ever I was born! [He grovels on the ground]
Clown. I' the name of me!
Autolycus. O, help me, help me! Pluck but off these rags, and then death, death!

Clown. Alack, poor soul! Thou hast need of more rags to lay on thee, rather than have these off.
Autolycus. O sir, the loathsomeness of them offends me more than the stripes I have received, which are mighty ones and millions. (4.3.49-57)

Another Shakespearean character also has "the fallingsickness": "He fell down in the marketplace, and foamed at mouth, and was speechless" (Julius Caesar 1.2.252-53). But Julius Caesar's infirmity is meant to be real, while Autolycus is anything but speechless. Indeed, he claims that he has been robbed and beaten, "my money and apparel ta'en from me, and these detestable things [his garments] put upon me" (4.3.60-62). Claiming that his "shoulder blade is out," Autolycus picks the Clown's pocket as he is helped to his feet.

This scene's language of "rags," "apparel," "garments," and "horseman's coat" reflects Shakespeare's emphasis on the rogue's shifting, unstable identity and his histrionic gifts.18 Simon Forman's account of the play, quoted earlier, marked three distinct kinds of "apparel" for Autolycus: first, he "cam in all tottered like coll pixci"19; afterwards he came to the sheep-shearing "with a pedlers packe"; and finally, "he changed apparrell with the kinge of Bornia his sonn, and then howe he turned Courtier &c." In this last phase, the beggar and the king(-to-be) once again confront one another, and the mirroring of inversion is played out in an outright exchange of clothing. And like Christopher Sly trying to become a "great lord," Autolycus is to be "turned Courtier." When Camillo and Florizel approach Autolycus to exchange clothing, Camillo remarks that they will exchange only "the outside of thy poverty" (4.4.635). As we have repeatedly seen, though, the outside of poverty is always the least authentic of cultural signs; even the "millions" of "stripes" Autolycus claims to have received were frequently faked, and he never shows them anyhow.

As the gentles speak the language of the theater—"play," "part"—Camillo advises Perdita to "disliken / The truth of your own seeming" (4.4.655-56), a practice she is already unwittingly engaged in, and which is being extravagantly enacted by Autolycus. His self-transformation into a courtier begins when he takes off a false beard ("Let me pocket up my peddler's excrement," 4.4.716-17), and announces himself to the Clown and Shepherd in high astounding terms, almost Falstaffian in their mock-pomposity:

Whether it like me or no, I am a courtier. Seest thou not the air of the court in these enfoldings? Hath not my gait in it the measure of the court? Receives not thy nose court odor from me? Reflect I not on thy baseness court contempt? Think'st thou, for that I insinuate to toze from thee thy business, I am therefore no courtier? I am courtier cap-a-pie, and one that will either push on or pluck back thy business there. Whereupon I command thee to open thy affair. (4.4.733-41)

While the Clown thinks "this cannot be but a great courtier," his father the Shepherd reflects more observantly that "his garments are rich, but he wears them not handsomely" (4.4.751-54).

"Garments" and "apparel" continue to be the subject when we next see the rustics at the court of Sicilia. They now wear new clothing and claim the same transformation of social class that Sly and Autolycus did: "See you these clothes? Say you see them not and think me still no gentleman bora. You were best say these robes are not gentleman born. Give me the lie, do, and try whether I am not now a gentleman born" (5.2.132-35). These jokes may have been meant to reflect the phenomenon of the great number of newly made "gentlemen" in King James's court, but there is an equally strong connection to Shakespeare's interest throughout the play in whether a "gentleman" is "born" or made, natural or constructed. The Clown reports a comically confusing nexus of kinship relations: "I was a gentleman born before my father; for the King's son took me by the hand and called me brother; and then the two kings called my father brother; and then the Prince my brother and the Princess my sister called my father father" (5.2.140-44). Like the famous debate in 4.4 over the priority and value of art and nature, the Clown's speech further blurs the categories of distinction. Yet clothes, again, do not make the gentleman. In a final irony, Autolycus and the clowns reverse position again, and he enters "courtly" service again to his new "good masters" (5.2.175), the Clown and the Shepherd.

Autolycus is hardly a Grand Rogue or Upright Man in Harman's terms: "On the highway," he admitted, "gallows and knock are too powerful . . . beating and hanging are terrors to me." He projects his memory of such "terrors" onto the rustics in a comic but disturbing set-piece when he threatens them.

If that shepherd be not in handfast, let him fly. The curses he shall have, the tortures he shall feel, will break the back of man, the heart of monster. . . . Some say he shall be stoned; but that death is too soft for him, say I. . . . He has a son, who shall be flayed alive; then, 'nointed over with honey, set on the head of a wasp's nest; then stand till he be three-quarters and a dram dead; then recovered again with aqua vitae or some other hot infusion; then, raw as he is, and in the hottest day prognostication proclaims, shall he be set against a brick wall, the sun looking with a southward eye upon him, where he is to behold him with flies blown to death. (4.4.772-95)

Such tortures far exceed what any beggar might legally receive, though the testimony of some former prisoners in Bridewell, we saw, was chilling enough.20 The only way to escape such torture, as Autolycus notes, is to approach the prince. Shakespeare's conclusion to this line of action in the play resonates suggestively with the passage in Lear that exposes "the great image of authority" (4.6.158ff.). Here, the Clown says of Autolycus, "He seems to be of great authority. Close with him, give him gold; and though authority be a stubborn bear, yet he is oft led by the nose with gold. Show the inside of your purse to the outside of his hand" (4.4.803-7).

The nature and validity of authority, in both legal and social categories, are thus brought into question by the very presence of the beggar: poor implies rich, low implies high, "nothing" implies "all." The lean beggar serves not just as an antithesis to the fat king, but as an opposing principle to all authority that derives from the sociopolitical hierarchy that maintains and justifies the monarchy, the court, and the social gradations ramifying from it. "What authority surfeits on would relieve us," says the First Citizen in the opening scene of Coriolanus (1.1.15-16). Here the reality of hunger among the poor is not genially transformed, as it is in the cases of Sly and Autolycus, but fully staged in a Shakespearean version of Bacon's dictum that "the rebellions of the belly are the worst."21

If they would yield us but the superfluity while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely. But they think we are too dear. The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize their abundance. Our sufferance is a gain to them. Let us revenge this with our pikes ere we become rakes; for the gods know I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge. (Coriolanus 1.1.16-23)

"The leanness that afflicts" the poor, in the Citizen's dialectic, is at the same time the sign of the patricians' "abundance." The patricians are fat, overflowing, surfeited, indifferent to the poor: they "suffer us to famish, and their storehouses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich; and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will" (1.1.78-84). The "statutes" are "piercing," not just in the general sense, but as we have seen, in the literal ways in which beggars' bodies were marked and punished. Yet this rebellion, in Menenius's famous allegory, turns out not to be one of the belly, which is said to signify the beneficent Senators of Rome, but the "great toe," because like it, they are the "lowest, basest, poorest" of the rebellion (1.1.155-56).

Shakespeare's general allusion in this scene to the Midlands Revolt of 1607 has often been noted, perhaps most brilliantly by Janet Adelman, who illuminates the play's underlying dynamic of rebellion, hunger, and violence.22 As Manning shows (1988: 229-46), the rising in 1607 began as enclosure riots and soon spread to wider forms of disorder and violence before it was suppressed. Although the contemporaneity of the allusion in Coriolanus is clear enough, it is also significant that one of Coriolanus's lines attacking the mob ("You cry against the noble Senate, who, / Under the gods, keep you in awe, which else / Would feed on one another," 1.1.185-87) echoes a line from the similar insurrection scene, probably by Shakespeare, in The Book of Sir Thomas More, where "men like ravenous fishes / Would feed on one another" (2.3.92-93). Whether this allusion is understood as a specific one, or as a coincidental reference to the familiar political trope of "big fish eats little fish," it continues the recurring discursive formation of the beggar or masterless man or woman as essentially constituted by his or her body—indeed, as one of the lowest levels on the food chain.

Coriolanus dismisses the hunger of the poor along with their "proverbs": "That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat, / That meat was made for mouths, that the gods sent not / Corn for the rich men only" (1.1.205-8). Hunger and poverty are, if not technically synonymous, nevertheless inevitably linked, and Shakespeare constantly associates the wandering poor with the kind of starvation that leads to political danger. The citizens of Rome in Coriolanus "are all resolved rather to die than to famish" (1.1.4-5), and Richard III can think of no greater insult than to call Richmond's troops

A sort of vagabonds, rascals, and runaways,
A scum of Bretons and base lackey peasants,
Whom their o'ercloyed country vomits forth
To desperate adventures and assured destruction.

These famished beggars, weary of their lives,
Who, but for dreaming on this fond exploit,
For want of means, poor rats, had hanged themselves.

(Richard III 5.3.316-19, 329-31)

Again, these beggars are in opposition to plenitude, though the "o'er-cloyed country," having much too much its fill of such figures, must vomit them forth; famished themselves, they are paradoxically also a nauseating food to others. And "rebellion . . . hurly-burly innovation . . . [and] insurrection" are fueled, as Henry IV warns, by "moody beggars, starving for a time / Of pell-mell havoc and confusion" (I Henry IV 5.1.74-82). Thus the hungry hunger for chaos, which will leave them yet hungrier and more desperate. The same kind of "loud rebellion" threatens in Henry VIII, where

The clothiers all, not able to maintain
The many to them 'longing, have put off
The spinsters, carders, fullers, weavers, who,
Unfit for other life, compelled by hunger
And lack of other means, in desperate manner
Daring th'event to th'teeth, are all in uproar,
And danger serves among them.


This last reference to the social unrest arising from widespread unemployment in the wool industry returns us to Sly and Autolycus, who had adapted to rather than rebelled against their subjection. Sly, we recall, had once worked as a "cardmaker," and Autolycus finds his greatest success as a cutpurse at a sheep-shearing festival—the end product, so to speak, of the socioagricultural revolution of the enclosure movement which, it was argued, created vast numbers of vagabonds such as Autolycus himself. While Jack Cade was "ready to famish," "so hungry that, if I might have a lease of my life for a thousand years, I could stay no longer," and claims to be "vanquished by famine, not by valor" (2 Henry VI 4.10.2, 4-6, 74), Autolycus is a source of plenitude, commercially speaking. "He utters [tunes] as [if] he had eaten ballads" (4.4.184-85), we are told, and his peddler's pack is a "silken treasury" (4.4.350), a cornucopia of consumer products, as eagerly desired "as if my trinkets had been hallowed and brought a benediction to the buyer" (4.4.604-5). Sly, as we saw, was offered a vision of sensual and gustatory plenitude ("A most delicious banquet by his bed," The Taming of the Shrew Ind. 1.38) which is inverted in the inner plot in Petruchio's strategy of starving Kate to tame her. The associations she makes by now seem inevitable:

What, did he marry me to famish me?
Beggars that come unto my father's door
Upon entreaty have a present alms;
If not, elsewhere they meet with charity.
But I, who never knew how to entreat,
Nor never needed that I should entreat,
Am starved for meat, giddy for lack of sleep,
With oaths kept waking, and with brawling fed.


Such deprivation can only be comparable to the life of a beggar, it seems, but Kate's confidence in their receiving "present alms" is not always borne out in Renaissance England: she obviously never met anyone like Timon of Athens, who advises "Hate all, curse all, show charity to none, / But let the famished flesh slide from the bone / Ere thou relieve the beggar. Give to dogs / What thou deniest to men" (Timon 4.3.532-35).

Cade's attempted ascent to a kind of peasant kingship and Poor Tom's elevation (as we will see) to the position of "learned justice" are therefore comically mirrored in Sly's and Autolycus's reversals in status from vagabond tinker and peddler to lord and gentleman. These doubled inversions suggest that the beggar's status in these plays is not only to speak the voice of the dispossessed, which they do insistently, and not only to offer a sociopolitical impersonation of the voice and values of those above them, but also to be that force which naturally seeks to rise, and so constitutes a deeply politicized energy.23 The presence of the beggar always engages the question of social class. Even Christopher Sly, the most passive figure in this group, begins to imagine the impossible: "I am a lord indeed, / And not a tinker nor Christopher Sly" (Ind. 2.72-73). But the beggar, in the end, is never permitted fully to "forget himself," and all the mock-elevations are eventually overturned.


1 The language of the 1572 statute (14 Eliz. I., c.5) is virtually identical: "all Juglers Pedlars Tinkers and Petye Chapmen" (TED: 2.329).

2 For "juggling," or legerdemain, see Samuel Rid's how-to manual, The Art of Juggling or Legerdemaine (1612); Rid plagiarizes freely from Reginald Scot's The Discovery of Witchcraft (1584). For a dramatic example of a beggar con-man practicing juggling, see Fletcher and Massinger's Beggars' Bush (3.1.62-96), where Prig tricks the "Boores."

3 The Arden edition of Love's Labor's Lost quotes from Gabriel Harvey (1592) and William Covell (1595) in illustrating "by gross" as a term for wholesale, in opposition to "retail" (155). Dekker (1609) has the same conjunction of terms—one sells "by the gross" and another "buys his sport by the penny and like a haggler is glad to utter it again by retailing" (Pendry 1968: 98).

4 In a more benign characteristic, tinkers were also said to be innately musical, in some accounts even the ur-musicians: "From his Art was Musicke first invented, and therefore is hee alwaies furnisht with a song; to which his hammer keeping tune, proves that he was the first founder of the Kettle-drumme" (Overburian: 35); "his Musicke is alwayes a paire of woodden Organs under a Peinthouse, or a Crosse which he loves not to see; beside his daily practice of the voice set and sung to the Tabering on a Kettle" (R.M.: C6V). Shakespeare makes nothing of this tradition in Sly, and little beyond Autolycus's singing itself.

5 Dekker says "the theatre is your poets' Royal Exchange," where the Muses are merchants, "players are their factors," and gallants and courtiers are "the soundest paymasters and . . . the surest chapmen" (Pendry 1968: 98). As Knights observes, "It was international finance that first made capital mobile. It was international finance that prepared the way for the doctrine of complete economic freedom. . . . All that Gresham [who built the Royal Exchange] and the financiers who followed him represented, therefore, would be completely alien to the peasants and small masters who still formed more than three quarters of the population of England. The ideas of the local community were not those of the Royal Exchange, and a clash was inevitable" (44-45).

6 Boose situates the play in the context of "a vast cultural circulation of the anxieties of displacement that arose from the enclosure era" (203), linking the concepts of "husbandry" and the ownership of common lands to the situation of women, particularly Kate. See also Stallybrass on this question. Boose goes on to show how "the disgruntlements of class are being transferred into the space of gender" (213) in Shrew. Her reading of Sly overlaps with mine at several points.

7 None of the details of his "profession" is present in The Taming of A Shrew.

8 Two recent, and quite different, discussions by Sirluck and Hager (26-33) are useful.

9 Skura offers a fine reading of the Induction, through the trope of the "Player King as Beggar in Great Men's Houses" (99-106). She points out that while the Lord is "necessary to realize Sly's fantasies, . . . Sly is also necessary for the Lord to work out his own" (103).

10 See, for example, The Pedler's Prophecy: "What lacke you, what buy you, any good pinnes etc" (D3), as well as the Dekker reference from O per se O quoted in the first section of this chapter. Gerrard's song in Beggars' Bush—"Bring out your Cony-skins, faire maids to me" (3.1.97-113)—is part of the same tradition. As one writer noted of the peddler, "What doe yee lacke is his ordinary intergatory" (Cater: 138).

11 Autolycus's links to the traditions of vagabondage were briefly described in McPeek (237-46). A far more compelling account of Autolycus's historical and social contexts is provided in Mowat's essay, which authoritatively discusses the "texts and infracontexts" of The Winter's Tale 4.3 in particular, and of the character in general. Mowat emphasizes the specific use of the term "rogue" to refer to Autolycus (64-66), whereas I believe he is more clearly marked in the tradition of the peddler.

12 Opinion about Autolycus's character has varied considerably. For Knight, Autolycus "is spring incarnate; carefree, unmoral, happy, and sets the note for a spring-like turn in our drama" (100). Berlin claims that, as Autolycus is the representative of "the lowest, the underworld . . . the audience feels no sadness about his plight, because he is a rogue, because his spirit is essentially merry, and because the audience is not sympathetic toward him at the play's end. Shakespeare casts no moral opinion against him" (228). Vickers, however, finds that Autolycus's "attitude and especially his images reveal a boasting superiority which is less attractive" (414).

13 Tillyard argues that Autolycus is "organic to the whole country scene, and that it would collapse into an oversweetness of sentiment without him. . . . His delinquencies, like the pastoral realism, keep the earthly paradise sufficiently earthly without disturbing the paradisiac state" (Muir: 86). Frey sees his structural function in similar terms: Autolycus is "a figure who mediates humorously between the claims of Polixenes and those of Perdita and Florizel. He excites a laughter whose result is always to lessen the tension between opposing forces: age and youth, pretension and reality, greed and charity, wrath and forgiveness, lion and lamb" (148). Cox, however, describes in some detail the parallels between Autolycus and Leontes, concluding that "the story of Autolycus, self-robber and self-deceiver, is a springlike variation of the winter story of Leontes" (298).

14 Kaula's argument becomes unconvincing, for me, when it pushes over into explicit allegory: so Perdita's "betrothal to Florizel is meant to represent, on one level of symbolism, the union between Christ and his Bride" (296), and Perdita is equated with "the Virgin Mary" (297). I also see the binary distinctions Kaula lists as deconstructed within the play. Hamilton attempts, with mixed success, to place Autolycus in the historical context of the Union debates of 1604-10: he "is not a Scot exactly, but he is a refiguration and an acknowledgment of a social and political phenomenon in which the Scottish people were implicated and one that was threatening the English system of legitimation" (244).

15 E. de Maisonneuve, Gerileon of England (1592), A4; quoted in the Arden edition of The Winter's Tale (100).

16 See Stallybrass and White on the cultural significance of Bartholomew Fair.

17 Cf. Coriolanus (4.5.49-52): Third Servingman: "Do you meddle with my master?" Coriolanus: "Ay, 'tis an honester service than to meddle with thy mistress"; and Romeo (1.2.39-40): "It is written that the shoemaker should meddle with his yard." For "medlar," see Romeo (2.1.35-37), Measure for Measure (4.3.172), As You Like It (3.2.116-18), and Timon (4.3.309-15).

18 See my comments elsewhere on the metamorphoses of Autolycus and those in the play as a whole (1985: 210-25). Mowat points out the inversion of the Good Samaritan story here (61-62).

19 The Arden editor glosses "coll pixci" as "Colle- or Colt-pixie = hobgoblin, particularly in the form of a ragged (tattered) colt which leads horses astray into bogs, etc." (xxii).

20 The literary source of this torture is probably Boccaccio's Decameron 2.9 (Arden The Winter's Tale: 132), but oral traditions of contemporary Spanish cruelties might also have been in the background.

21 Leinwand reminds us that the mob in Coriolanus is made up of "citizens" of the "middling sort": "Only their hunger may temporarily align them with either the poor or with those just a step ahead of poverty" (1993: 296).

22 For an early study, see Pettet; see also Patterson (135-46).

23 Though they are very different characters, Cade, Poor Tom, Sly, and Autolycus share many common attributes in their language: it is almost exclusively prose, highly colloquial, filled with puns and dramatic irony, semantically and syntactically unstable, invariably refracting the imagery and thematic concerns of the "high" language of the plays. But beyond the obvious political themes in their language, the most political aspect of it is that it exists at all. For more on their language, see my essay (1992).

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