Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tickling Your Catastrophe

2 Henry IV's "I'll tickle your catastrophe" is one of the great Shakespearean insults, or is it? I don't know how I've been staring at this text for so long without making the connection, but Smug, in what I've dubbed scene 5, makes a remark about the wind 'O it tickles our catastrope.' And who is the source of the more well known "I'll tickle your catastrophe?" None other than the great Sir John Falstaff. That would be scanned.

One of the arguments I've been making is that some of the great clown characters of the King's Men come together in Merry Devil, and I've been casting Merry Devil's Sir John as an incarnation of Falstaff. But maybe that isn't so. Or maybe the roles these men played were more fluid than Tiffany Stern and other modern scholars have come to believe. We all know the story of William Kempe, the principle clown of the company, being replaced by Robert Armin, and thus the change in clown types in new plays, but Armin would have been expected to play Kempe's roles. Or would he? Is it possible that someone else better suited to those roles would have filled them in? Certainly Merry Devil requires a greater comic range than the reductive assignment of the company clown will allow. Just like a modern actor must be versatile in their range, so must an early modern one.

In any case, perhaps this is a pointer to Shakespeare's hand in Merry Devil. Or it could be a pointer to someone else's hand in 2 Henry IV. Or it could be that the tickling of catastrophes was such a common catch phrase that everyone was using it. 2 Henry IV was written between 1596 and 1599, a good 4 - 7 years prior to Merry Devil, so it is perhaps possible that we're seeing an actor re-inserting a favorite phrase, but even if this is the case, and Shakespeare is responsible for the invention of "tickle your catastrophe" we could be seeing Stern's culture of the commonplace book at work.

Three distinct possibilities emerge:
  1. Shakespeare originated the line, and re-used it in Merry Devil.
  2. Shakespeare originated the line, and someone else used it in Merry Devil.
  3. Shakespeare did not originate the line.
Thus we must allow one of the following: either Shakespeare has contributed to the authorship of Merry Devil, or someone else contributed to the authorship of 2 Henry IV.  Pause and consider.

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