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John Taylor, William Fennor, and the "trial of wit".

Historians of early theater are typically concerned with reconstructing events that left behind little textual trace: the content, style, and reception of plays as performed rather than as printed; the vast extradramatic spectrum of stage clowning that filled up the rest of the theatrical program, yet survives only in anecdotal references; the even vaster array of spectacle teeming around the borders of the playhouse and occasionally spilling over them--baitings, tumblers, vaulters, ropedancers, jugglers, fencers, animal shows, motions, executions--that lacked text altogether. (1) The particular performance mode this essay investigates, the "trial of wit," poses a different methodological challenge. It consists of a relatively rich textual record seemingly devoid of actual events to which to attach. We know for certain of only one such trial of wit, and we know a great deal about it only because it never came to pass. At some point during the summer of 1614, John Taylor, the so-called "Water Poet," contracted with William Fennor, the so-called "King's Rhymer," to stage a "triall of wit" on 7 October at the Hope on the Bankside. On the appointed day, however, Fennor failed to appear, sparking a brief, incendiary pamphlet war between them over the ensuing months. In the course of Fennor's apology, we learn of another trial of wit that likewise failed to occur, at some date prior to the non-occurrence of theirs: between Fennor and the comedian William Kendall, at the Fortune, in which this time Fennor appeared but Kendall did not. Apart from what Taylor and Fennor reveal about their arrangements and expectations, only one other direct allusion to a "trial of wit" attests to its ongoing existence as a recognized, quasi-theatrical form. In Palladis Tamia (1598), Francis Meres praises Robert Wilson of the Queen's Men, "who for learning and extemporall wit ... is without compare or compeere as to his great and eternall commendations hee manifested in his challenge at the Swanne on the Banke side." (2) So total was Wilson's triumph, apparently, that it here obliterates the name of his opponent; as far as Meres is concerned, there was none. What are we to make of this? How can we understand what "trials of wit" were, when their entire history is of their effectively not happening--of the other guy's failing to show up?

These are productive failures, to be sure, because they are responsible for what little documentation we have. Their value, indeed, may exceed that of any direct representation of the genre--partly because they expose its financial underside, which its successful performance might have obscured, but also because, in Taylor and Fennor's case, they leave an affective footprint much larger than that performance, in which the genre is nevertheless implicated and through which its structure and pathology can be retraced. A broken performance is still a performance, even or especially when it migrates into other arenas to fulfill its original objectives. Precisely by virtue of its frustration, as we will see, Taylor and Fennor's abortive "trial of wit" metamorphoses into something far more complex, becoming a half-performed, half-literary object that cycles through multiple paratheatrical identities, illuminating along the way the plasticity of early modern playing and its contiguity with the wider landscape of London popular entertainment.

The intended performance was, first and foremost, a business venture. According to Taylor's opening diatribe, Taylor's Revenge: Or The Rymer William Fennor Firkt, Ferrited, and finely fetcht ouer the Coales (1615), Taylor approached Fennor with the proposal to "Answere me at a trial of Wit," giving him 10s. in earnest of his appearance; Taylor then caused "1000 bills" to be printed and posted throughout the city as advertisements, absorbing the charges himself, such that as a result of Fennor's absence he claims to have lost "twenty pounds in money." (3) In his rebuttal, Fennors Defence: Or, I am your first Man (1615), Fennor marshals contradictory excuses for his withdrawal. Disputing Taylor's accusation that Fennor's wife "did force thee basely Runne away," he insists he had been called to Warwickshire to attend his dying father and collect his inheritance; he claims he sent his man to return the security (which he quotes at 5s.), who "deliuered the Message, but lost the Money at Play"; simultaneously, he denies ever being "bound" by the money in the first place, since his conditions had been violated, Taylor having "printed his Challenge-Bill, and my Answere annexed thereunto, without my Hand, Knowledge, or Consent: Nay more; My Answere was by him set vp so meane and insufficient to so brauing a Challenge, that I altogether disliked thereof." (4) In turn, Taylor's counter-blast A Cast Over the Water (1615), mocks all these statements as gross fabrications, and alleges that Fennor had given "acknowledgment of my bill, [and] the acceptance of my answer"--confirming, at least, that the "Challenge-Bill" was a material element in such contests if not the formal start of the contest itself, and subject to approval by both parties. (5) How the contest was supposed to have ended, by contrast, is somewhat less clear, as are the terms of Taylor and Fennor's respective rewards. Fennor recounts several possible payment structures offered to him, without indicating which was finally adopted: "that I might haue halfe the Commoditie thereof; Or Securitie for flue pounds; Or else twentie shillings in hand, and the rest as the Day affoorded." (6) The participants, then, might choose to split the receipts evenly, or (hedging against poor attendance) one might take a hefty honorarium and cede the gate to the other; or, in the last and most interesting scenario, they might grant each other a minimal appearance fee and then compete for the rest, winner-take-all.

The centrality of gambling to the affair--both in its internal logic and peripherally, in all likelihood, among its audience--makes the "trial of wit" in essence a verbal equivalent of the early modern prizefight, a form with which it shares circumstantial features as well. Like trials of defense, their venues tended to be playhouses--the Swan, the Fortune, the Hope--that had fallen into relative disuse, or with predominantly lower-class patronage, or expressly designed for multipurpose, combat-oriented entertainment; like trials of defense, which mustered crowds by parading the contestants through the streets to the beat of a drum, trials of wit aggressively promoted cults of local celebrity, narratives of professional rivalry, and displays of technical mastery. (7) In contrast to the friendly, institutionalized variant of the practice that Edmund Gayton seems to recall in 1654, wherein "instead of a Prize, we are like to have a jigge of two principall Clownes, each gibing the other ... and without tickling, laugh till their sides ake," Taylor and Fennor's feud was not just showmanship--neither was a man of the stage, much less a stage clown--but born of genuine personal rancor and contempt for the other's literary pretensions. (8) Offended by Fennor's impostures as a court poet beloved of the king, Taylor grounds his quarrel in a discourse of vocational legitimacy: he distinguishes poetry from mere "Rime," "the Rump, the taile, the basest part / Of Poetry ... the dung of art"; he mocks the metrical ignorance of Fennor's "cripled Vearses"; he derides his claims to noble birth, describing him instead as a hustler who performs for "scrapps and broken beere" on street corners, his patrons "Rascalls, Rogues, & Queanes"; he declares him "the verie Scum / Of Riff-Raff-Rubish wit," and vows to "dash to peices these base Groomes." (9) Fennor, to his credit, reminds Taylor that poetry is hardly his to defend, "no better than a Poets Whelpe"; he calls him the social climber, "so base and desperate, / Thou wouldst turn Hangman to aduance thy state"; chides Taylor's unseemly "rayling" as the reason he lacks Fennor's preferment; and, predictably, belittles Taylor's trade in turn, urging him not to "descant vppon Court and King, / Twere fitter thou shouldst of a sculler sing." (10)

Clearly, with so much hypocrisy on either side, the onstage clash could never hope to settle their feud in absolute terms: a trial of wit was not a search for truth. Unlike a fencing match, which offered a consensual scoring system and an impartial referee, it determined the superior man not by appeal to rules of art but by popular acclaim, the victor simply whoever managed to perform with more crowd-pleasing panache. This locates the trial of wit among a host of other competitive performance genres in the period on whose outcome bets might ride, yet judged, unlike bearbaiting, cockfighting, and other blood sports, purely subjectively and according to no empirical standard. Actors, prone to boasting, seem to have overcome the apples-and-oranges problem of rating their skills by "playing for a wager," in occasional but seemingly ubiquitous challenges wherein two or more players delivered speeches from the same role before a private jury. (11) An undated letter to Edward Alleyn discusses a "hazarde" wherein "the partie affected to Bentley ... hath now giuen you libertie to make choice of any one playe, that either Bentley or Knell plaide"; "if you excel them," it continues, "you will then be famous, if equal them; you wynne both the wager and the credit, yf short of them; we must and will saie Ned Allen still." (12) Similarly, in Ratsies Ghost (1605) an itinerant actor is told he so surpasses Burbage that "I durst venture all the mony in my purse on thy head, to play Hamlet with him for a wager." Dekker's Jests to Make You Merrie (1607) mentions "a paire of players, growing into an emulous contention of one anothers worth," who "refused to put themselues to a day of hearing (as any Players would haue done)," while The Guls Horn-booke (1609) recommends invitation to "a fencer's supper or to a player's that acts such a part for a wager." George and Nell in The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1613) brag that their apprentice Rafe "should haue played Jeronimo with a shoemaker for a wager," and as Donald Hedrick observes, manifest throughout "a disposition to think of the entertainment in betting terms, "evaluating the actors and framing their experience of the action itself in a pervasive, nearly unconscious language of competition. (13) For Hedrick, such responses symptomatize what he calls the "sportification" of early modern theater--whereby plays sought to incorporate the pleasures of "real" entertainment, like gambling, in an effort to invest themselves with more immediate stakes. Insofar as Taylor and Fennor's event both proves and disproves this thesis, we shall have occasion to revisit its unilateralness, as well as the false distinction it presupposes between theatrical and extratheatrical reception.

Closer in both spirit and substance to trials of wit, meanwhile, since they involved free-form composition, were the flytings of fishwives. Bywords for shrewishness, the women of Billingsgate market were notorious for abusing each other, and their penchant for graphic, profane insult seems to have given rise to formal scolding contests. (14) Seventeenth-century ballads celebrate "The Bloody Battle at Billingsgate ... between two young Fish-women, Doll and Kate," "A Scolding Match between Two Cracks of the Town, Margery Merry thought, and Nancy her Mistress," and "A new Dialogue between Alice and Betrice, As they met at the Market one Morning early"; Mercurius newsletters of the 1650s advertise "a Tryall of Skill" between a fishwife and a kitchen-stuff woman, their weapons "Tooth and Naile, Long tongue & taile, Thou Whore, and thou Whore", and between "a Shee-Dragon in Popping-hole Alley" and a "Billings-gate Fish-woman," with kitchen stuff women serving as judges. (15) Such fictionalized tournaments appear to have had a basis in real events, performed either as street theater or as expressions of sorority. Vinegar and Mustard (1673) purports to transcribe the merciless jibes of "bold Bettrice and Welsh Guintlin, two Fish wives, in Newgate Market ... where they had store of audience, and great attention"; "when they haue done their Faire," relates London and the Countrey Carbonadoe'd (1632), "they meet in mirth, singing, dancing, & in the middle as a Parenthesis, they vse scolding, but they doe vse to take & put vp words, & end not till either their money or wit, or credit bee cleane spent out." (16) Davenant's allusion in The Wits (1636) to the noise of "Mariners at Playes, or Apple-wives / That wrangle for a Si[e]ve" suggests a prize ceremonially awarded to the winner. As for how the winner was determined, The Transproser Rehears'd explains that "in a Controversie betwixt the Oyster-women and the Opponent Tankard-bearers ... the Rabble adjudg'd the Victory on their side, who manag'd the dispute with the greatest clamour, prosecuting the baffled Scold, that is the modester, with stones & hooting." (17)

Not much separates this picture from the format of Taylor and Fennor's intended challenge at the Hope, one suspects, other than their elevation onstage and the requirement of answering each other in verse. Indeed, it may have formed merely the reprise of an earlier, impromptu scuffle between them in the street, exactly where the battles of fishwives occurred: reminding Fennor of his lowly origins, Taylor says "Thou hast forgot thou Rym'st to me of late / For sixteen Oysters once at Billingsgate," adding that "I gaue thee my old breeches, / Because thou sung'st & spok'st extrum'pry speeches." (18) Yet even confinement to rhyme may have been variable, and contingent on the idiosyncratic designs of the parties; Meres' praise of Wilson's "extemporal wit" does not specify verse as its vehicle. Fennor's professed talent, clearly, lay in extemporal rhyme--"I'll ryme with any man that breath[e]s this day," he asserts, "Vpon a subject in extempore, / Or else be blotted from all memorie, / For any wager dare ingaged be"--and this is the skill he claims to have displayed when formerly he "chaleng'd Kendall on the Fortune Stage":
   I set vp Bills, the People throng'd apace,
   With full intention to disgrace, or grace;
   The house was ful, the Tru[m]pets twice had sou[n]ded,
   And though he came not, I was not confounded,
   But stept vpon the Stage, and told them this;
   My Aduerse would not come: not one did hisse;
   But flung me Theames: I then extempore
   Did blot his name from out their memorie,
   And pleasd them all, in spight of one to braue me,
   Witnesse the Ringing Plaudits that they gaue me.

"Themes," as documented in Tarltons Jests (c.1600) and Robert Armin's Quips Upon Questions (1600), was a staple of the clown's postludic repertory, in which he took the stage solus to versify on prompts called out at random by individual playgoers, either rhapsodically or in dialogic, rapid-fire skirmishes. If "Kendall" was William Kendall, a clown with the Prince's Men at the Fortune, then this may have been the intended format of their challenge all along, a marquee cage match of professional versus amateur--each either fielding themes from the crowd or rhyming against one another like freestyle rappers--that here seems to have been marketed as a stand-alone event, since "the Tru[m]pets twice ... sou[n]d[ing]" indicate the start of the theatrical program, not its end, and no other entertainment intervenes between them and Fennor's appearing onstage. (19) Fennor suggests such improvised performance was expected of him on the present occasion as well, which Taylor's absence would likewise not have thwarted: "Hadst thou beene away," he vaunts, "and my selfe supplyde the day, / I would haue rows'd my Muse incontinent ... And in extempore I would haue gain'd / The fauor of them all." (20)

Taylor's contribution, however, is less certain--surprisingly, since he is the one who kept the date. According to Fennor, Taylor "had studied such seuerall Humors in Prose, as neuer were the like before," and was "to play a Scene in Prose ... I to answere him in Verse"--an account Taylor nowhere refines or contradicts. (21) The format of this particular challenge, then, was mixed, not just metrically but generically: while Fennor responded with improvised rhyming reminiscent of "themes," Taylor's formal mode of attack ("play a Scene") evidently resembled a jig. Though "jig" most commonly denoted a salacious comic vignette, featuring multiple characters, cuckoldry and seduction plots, dance, and song, it also encompassed a broad swath of satiric stage caricature enacted by solo performers. Nashe alludes to a string of "Iigges" that had victimized Martin Marprelate at the playhouses, from his being "drie beaten ... then whipt ... then wormd and launced ... [and] made a Maygame vpon the Stage ... bangd, both with prose and rime on euerie side," to his being "attired like an Ape on ye Stage"; the principal actor of these jigs was the Queen's Men's clown John Laneham. (22) Taylor's one-man show seems to have been of this type, a lampoon of Fennor called "A maundering Roguish creature"--"a part," he adds, "thou couldst haue Acted well by nature." (23) Despite the clash of theatrical styles, which restores the apples-and-oranges problem, Taylor never doubts the audience's ability to judge the two performances against each other. "The house was filld with Newters, Foes, and Friends," he says, and claims that the majority already backed him; Fennor's absence disappoints "not cause the people long'd thy selfe to see / But that they look'd thou shouldst disgraced bee." (24) The audience's loyalties perhaps largely predecided, their expectations probably clear from the bill, the gallimaufry nature of the contest appears far less objectionable to them than its foreclosure, which robs them of their pleasure and defrauds them of their payment. Taylor repeatedly stresses how substantial their charges were, and how justifiable their outrage. Promised a "Bear-garden banquet of daintie Conceits," they "had all spent their moneyes extraordinarily"; "eu'ry one their money frankly spends"; "great cause they had to take it in offence, / To come from their Affaires with such expence / By Land and Water, and then at the Play / So extraordinarily to pay, / And when the thing which they expected / Then nothing to their likings was effected." (25)

What made the event even more gallimaufry, however, and almost as incoherent in theory as what its cancellation ended up precipitating, is that this particular audience had not paid solely to see a trial of wit, though Taylor describes it that way. Unlike Fennor's account of his match against Kendall, the Taylor/Fennor challenge was embedded within an ongoing dramatic performance--an amateur interlude, as it were, to an entirely separate professional play--for which the crowd presumably had also paid admission. This information comes out of nowhere in Taylor's pamphlet, which, after recounting how "to giue the audience some content, / [I] began to act what I before had ment: / And first I played A maundering Roguish creature ... Which act did passe, and please, and fild their Iawes / With wrinkled laughter, and with good Aplawse," suddenly discloses that
   Then came the Players, and they played an Act
   Which greatly from my Action did detract.
   For tis not possible for any one
   To play against a Company alone,
   And such a Company (lie boldlie say)
   That better (nor the like) e're played a Play.
   In breife, the Play my action did Eclips
   And in a manner seald vp both my lipps.

This is very strange, and prompts a number of practical questions. If the Hope audience had paid "extraordinarily," how much did Taylor and Fennor charge above the regular entrance fee? How could those surcharges be separated, such that Taylor and Fennor could have agreed to compete for either a split or the bulk of the gate? Did they negotiate a percentage from the players? How common were such one-time playhouse sublets, especially for simultaneous use? Since the players were in all likelihood the Lady Elizabeth's Men, who likewise rented the Hope, did Taylor's deal involve them at all, or their landlord? What consideration could Taylor demand for augmenting their attendance? Why did he not sue the players, or Philip Henslowe? Why blame Fennor at all, indeed, when the audience still seems to have gotten most of what they paid for--including a complete play?

We can never recover the exact financial arrangement responsible for Taylor's losses, but his insistence that the worst damage is to his "Reputation"--"I ... gaind disgrace instead of my better expectations"--alerts us to a different dimension of the "trial of wit," in which the parallel presence of an acting company may have been not merely incidental but material. Taylor, it seems, was not just competing with Fennor but collaborating with him, to produce their own self-contained entertainment. On one level, they performed against each other, but on another level, they jointly performed against the players, in a bid to upstage the play itself. This would explain why Taylor's sense of injury shifts to the players whose "Play my Action did Eclips," as well provide the mechanism--a second-order sweepstakes, between the amateurs and the professionals--by which their cumulative revenue was to have been awarded: because Taylor had never intended "to play against a Company alone," and because "play[ing] against a Company" is precisely what he believed he was doing, his and Fennor's challenge enfolded all along within a metachallenge against the very institution hosting it. Fennor makes no mention of this as a factor in his trial with Kendall--nor of any ongoing play--but were it unique to the present occasion, we might expect Taylor to note its exceptionality; it makes sense, at any rate, as an inevitable permutation of the genre, an extension of its sporting logic to theater as a whole--"playing for a wager" on a grand, team scale--and a way both to complicate its dynamics and deepen its pot. For Taylor, indeed, this was the prime objective, his antagonism with Fennor subordinate to their antagonism with the players: "Hadst thou the Conquest got," he confesses, "I had not car'd, / So thou vnto thy word hadst had regard; / Then sure the Players had not playd a play / But thou or I had borne away the day." (26) The two layers of competition were thus hierarchical: before "thou or I," it was first and foremost us versus them.

This also solves perhaps the most basic mystery of Taylor's debacle at the Hope: why he went onstage. Why, in Fennor's absence, did he nonetheless elect to perform? Without an opponent, there can be no challenge; there seems little to do but apologize, claim victory by default, and bid the audience enjoy the play. But if the challenge included the actors as well, it was not over: Taylor really did now have to "play against a Company alone," or else forfeit the entire day to them. Though he says his motive was "to giue the audience some content," in other words, Taylor must have known that their support, however improbable, remained the only way he could redeem his investment in the enterprise--just as Fennor himself may have known it at the Fortune, when in Kendall's absence he did the very same thing, and "stept vpon the Stage ... in spight of one to braue me." Could Taylor have won them, indeed, and bettered the players singlehandedly, the redoubled honor--and profit--may have seemed alluring prospects. "Hadst thou done well, the credit had been thine," Fennor reminds him, "But doing ill, thou'dst haue the shame be mine. / The money pleased thy humor passing well." (27) Perhaps, then, he did not expect to be humiliated; perhaps he did not even expect to lose. He had reason to like his chances: his "scene" would be slanderous, sensational, and did not need a partner; and he already believed, as he himself admits, that "To see vs two the people did repaire / And not to see or heare, or Play or Player." (28)

What happened next is hard to filter through the rhetorical investments--self-pity, schadenfreude, trivialization, exaggeration--of its conflicting reports, but Taylor's conviction proved all too true. "To see vs two" the people had indeed come, not to see only one:
   But when I saw the day away did fade
   And thy look'd-for Apearance was not made,
   I then stept out their angers to appease
   But they all raging like tempestious Seas:
   Cry'd out their expectations were defeated
   And how they all were Conycatch'd & Cheated ...
   For now the stinkards, in their Irefull wraths
   Bepelted me with Lome, with Stones, and Laths,
   One madly sits like bottle-Ale, and hisses,
   Another throws a stone, and cause he misses
   He yawnes and baules, and cryes Away, Away:
   Another cryes out Iohn begin the Play ...
   Some Runs to the doore to get againe their Coyne
   And some doe shift and some againe purloine,
   One valiantly stept out vpon the Stage
   And would teare downe the Hangings in his rage.
   (God graunt he may haue hanging at his end
   That with me for the hangings did contend,)
   Such clapping, hissing, swearing, stamping, smiling,
   Applauding, scorning, liking, and Reuiling,
   Did more torment me then a Purgatorie ...

If there is still a play to come, one would never know it. As far as the audience is concerned, the challenge is what they paid for, its dereliction tantamount to swindle and sparking a rush to the door to demand refunds. But this is the minority response. Far more centrally, there is an explosion of violence against Taylor, whose various forms--complaint, catcall, a barrage of debris dismantled from the playhouse itself--may not be as anarchic as they appear. Like the Fortune audience that in Fennor's case "flung me Theames," they represent not so much anger at the challenge's elision as a spontaneous attempt to remedy it, by supplying its missing performer--in the person of the audience itself, a mass interlocutor that can disrupt, confuse, and redirect Taylor in real time, freezing him with contradictory demands ("Away, Away," "Iohn begin the Play") that seem to emanate from a single voice. That surrogacy is literalized, indeed, when one playgoer actually clambers up "vpon the Stage" and, absurdly, starts "contend[ing]" with Taylor for the playhouse drapes; denied verbal form, the challenge simply swaps participants and becomes physical, degenerating into a wrestling match. Yet its ethos, laid bare here, remains the same: "contention," play for its own sake, the spectacle of two men battling onstage for possession of that very stage.

Laid bare at the same time is the fundamental basis of early modern theater in sport--an analogy already clear in the normal operation of the trial of wit, but which its (seemingly chronic) malfunction collapses into absolute identity. In their adversarial format, their nested purse structure, and their implication of gambling amongst the audience, trials of wit may appear festive, occasional importations into theatrical performance of the partisan drive of cockfighting or bearbaiting--theater on holiday, as it were, from the aesthetic distance and passive consumption of mimetic drama. But when they break down, as they invariably did, trials of wit reveal that drive already latent in theater itself, not in its staged content so much as on the level of its economic transaction. Just as at bear gardens or cockpits, every playgoer was already a gambler, regardless of what kind of entertainment they had paid to see, simply by virtue of having paid for it in advance; yet unlike bear gardens or cockpits, plays had human entertainers, the only kind capable of being held personally accountable for disappointment. Theater mitigated this risk, ironically, by stressing rather than repudiating its kinship to these arenas of combat, framing its stakes in equally absolute, win-or-lose terms that empowered the playgoer as umpire and thereby fostered a sense of outcome. Thus, while actors were not (publicly at least) seen as "playing against" one another--the competition between playing companies being another matter--the global rhetoric of performance remained gladiatorial in its ritual deference to the authority of the audience. Epilogues invited audiences, who "sit in judgment on a play's life or death," to register their verdict with applause or hissing; first performances became known as the play's "trial," and playgoers paid double for the privilege of determining its success or failure; some epilogues even invited them to decree the fate of fictional characters, as at the close of The Tempest or Thomas Neale's The Warde (1637), which ends by asking "if you will not give, / From your full store, to let Thomazo live." (29) Whether a play were good or bad, something was perceived to happen as a result--it was approved, or it was condemned--and the audience participated in that result. Naturally, the construction of performance as sport influenced dramaturgy as well, with plays that incorporated episodes of simulated combat--warfare, mutilation, swordplay, wrestling, even prolonged, insult-heavy verbal repartee--notoriously more likely to withstand their own "trial." "For they [playgoers] commend Writers, as they doe Fencers, or Wrastlers," observes Ben Jonson, "who if they come in robustuously, and put for it with a great deale of violence, are receiu'd for the brauer fellows." (30) To a large segment of the playgoing public, indeed--like the citizens of Knight of the Burning Pestle, whose demands rapidly skew toward random showcases of martial prowess and oratorical bravado, and who incessantly interrupt to cheer and jeer them--"plays" must have been not organic, imaginative experiences so much as conglomerations of display, their advantage over other entertainments their variety and the direct suffrage they afforded. To posit (with Hedrick) "sportification" a goal of early modern theater, then, an institutional marketing trend of which trials of wit were some decadent outgrowth, is mistakenly to assume there was any gap between "theater" and "sport" to close; to ascribe its agency to playwrights, moreover, is to ignore the evidence of Knight of the Burning Pestle itself--to say nothing of other, more straight-faced testimonials of audience entitlement, belligerence, and invasion, Taylor's among them. (31) Plays did not need to be "sportified": sport was already their default framework, and the enforcer of this relation was the consumer. (32) Rather than experimental departures from theater, trials of wit were in some sense its distillation: shorn of frivolous pretense and artifice, reduced to mere naked striving for favor, their only remaining illusion that the performers' true opponents were not each other but the audience itself.

When the basic conditions of the theatrical contract were violated, however, and the audience denied its right to judge anything, that illusion instantly evaporated, and as we have seen, the audience became the opponent in earnest. (33) Only now it was no longer a fair fight, or a challenge at all. Given only a single performer onstage, and possessed of overwhelming numbers, the audience simply channeled its appetite for sport into a different sport, this time based precisely on mismatched odds:
   I, like a Beare vnto the stake was tide,
   And what they said, or did, I must abide.
   A pox vpon him for a Rogue sayes one
   And with that word he throwes at me a stone,
   A second my estate doth seeme to pitty,
   And sayes my Action's good, my speeches witty.
   A third doth screw his chaps awry, and mew,
   His selfe conceited wisdom so to shew.
   Thus doth the Third, the Fourth, the Fift and Six
   Most Galliemawfrey-like their humors mix.
   Such Motley, Medley, Linsey Woolsey speeches
   Would sure haue made thee vilifie thy breeches.
   What I endur'd, vpon that earthly hell
   My tongue or pen cannot discribe it well.

Continuing its reversion from words to blows, from poetry into wrestling, the challenge now devolves further still into bearbait; if the trial of wit exposed the atavistic basis of theater in sport, its failure exposes its own basis in cruelty--the desire to destroy and see destruction, already present in Taylor's prediction that the people had expected a rout, assuring Fennor that "they look'd thou shouldst disgraced bee." The animal trajectory of Taylor's disgrace in his stead, of course, owes something to the venue--the Hope having also been a bearbaiting arena--and both Taylor and Fennor appreciate the convergence. Taylor, fixated on the sight of his assailants' mouths, is reduced to subhuman abjection, regarded with both pity and disgust; "T'were easier to subdue wilde Beares or Bores," he says, "Then to Appease, or please, the raging people." (34) Recalling "Bear-garden banquet," Fennor wryly suggests Taylor became the meal, deriding him as "thou poore Beargarden sport" and noting "how amongst them thou mad'st a beastly smell." (35) Yet Taylor uses similar imagery to dispute Fennor's claim that he had escaped this fate at the Fortune, implying that it would have befallen almost anyone in that predicament: "I neuer saw poore fellow so behist, / T'applaud thee, few or none lent halfe a fist ... Where (like a Scar-crow) or a lack of lent / Thou stood'st, and gau'st the people smal content." (36) If two performers could not be produced to clobber each other, the audience simply attacked whichever remained; either way, it got what it wanted--power over the stage, through a bout waged for its pleasure or through a brutalization inflicted to vent its anger.

It is unclear, then, whether Taylor persisted because he somehow believed he could still turn the crowd and win the wager, or because they continued summoning him to suffer abuse, and he feared even deeper disgrace--or genuine physical harm--if he refused. But he evidently kept performing, under an avalanche of criticism, even after the players' first act had made his solitary talents "as sweet in their opinions / As Tripes well fry'd in Tarr, or Egges with Onions." (37) He is conspicuously silent on what he played after "The Maundering Rogue," but Fennor's unsparing review suggests that he was brought out between every act, forced to conduct interludes of increasingly desperate capering:
   For all the rest, that was deuisde by thee,
   Was nothing but a heape of Fopperie.
   I heard, thou letst the Wine run tumbling downe
   Thy rotten wind-pipe, like a drunken Clowne:
   But yet thy Lion drunke could not defend thee,
   For 'twas thy Ape drunke made some men co[m]mend thee:
   For that daies censure thou canst not escape,
   Which sayes, That all thy actions played the Ape.
   But thy Tobacco was such stinking stuffe,
   That all the people cry'de, Enough, enough.
   Thy third Act skew'd the humors of men frantick,
   Wherin, most like an Asse, thou stoodst for Antick ...
   Thy last Act shewes thy skill vpon the Seas
   To be so rare; it did them all displease:
   And in conclusion, such a Tempest rose,
   That blew thee off, and made thy friends thy foes.

We will never know of exactly what species were "Lion drunke," "Tobacco," "Franticks," or "Skill vpon the Seas," but they seem pantomime routines of the sort that stage clowns often performed--weakened, no doubt, by Taylor's ordinary facial expressivity and inexperience at working a crowd; "the Players," Fennor adds, were "asham'd of thy distraction, / For none amongst them plaide the foole but thou." (38) Certainly these skits had nothing anymore to do with parodying Fennor (the last is plainly self-referential), and must have been hastily devised in lieu of an opposite against whom to play. Fennor confirms as much, because he sarcastically gives Taylor full credit for them, whereas of "Maundering Rogue" he charges "thou knowst I know a Poet wrot." (39)

This returns us to the trial of wit's nominal emphasis on "wit" and to the question of how much of this particular one, notwithstanding Fennor's truancy and the ensuing audience revolt, was to have been improvised. We already know that "Maundering Roguish Creature," Taylor's "scene in prose," was a premeditated thing--its title perhaps even pre-circulated on the bill--and both men call it Taylor's "Play" throughout. Apparently it was the object of much rehearsal too: in addition to his money and his name, having been made "a wondring stock / A scorne, a Bye-word, for the world to mock," Taylor now regrets his loss of time, "for me each hower to persist / (Vpon his word) to studdy and to write / And scarce in six weekes rest day or night"; noting as well the long interval between the Hope catastrophe and Taylor's first pamphlet, Fennor teases that "thou art nothing without three months studie." (40)

Yet Fennor, who prided himself on his skill "in extempore" and his superior nimbleness as a streetwise wordsmith, had no intention of improvising either. In the conditions of his initial contract with Taylor, remarkably, he stipulated "That I might heare his Booke read (which was fit) to know on what ground I might build my Invention"--a clause with which Taylor seems to have complied. (41) Fennor, then, had had the benefit of nearly as much preparation as his opponent, apprised of every barb in advance and able to craft responses at his leisure; his defense, in effect, would have been just as choreographed as Taylor's attack, and but for the histrionic mode of the former, the skills they exercised were essentially identical. Unless Taylor really cared most about maximizing their chances against the players, his letting Fennor perpetuate the very self-misrepresentation his challenge sought to expose is bizarre, since he does not hesitate to reveal that fraud in print: again disputing Fennor's purported triumph at the Fortune, he claims that "thou know'st, thou promist in thy Bill, / In rare Extemporie to shew thy skill. / When all thou spok'st, thou studied'st had before, / Thou know'st I know, aboue a month and more." (42) Opposite a scripted drama, Taylor thus staged a scripted "play" of his own, to be followed by seemingly spontaneous rebuttals from Fennor that--as in his prior challenges--were scripted as well. Had Fennor not fled, ironically, and driven Taylor to wretched follies in order to fill the acts, their trial of wit may have featured no improvisation whatsoever--and hence no genuine "wit," perhaps, beyond the guile of presenting it as such.

It would be nice to know what some of this elaborately conceived material was: to be able to answer the question of what a trial of wit actually sounded like, what its rules and sensibilities were, how it negotiated a balance between artfulness and bile. What had Taylor planned to do after his opening vignette? What comebacks had Fennor prepared (or failed to prepare) in response? How, and at what rate of alternation, was the rest of this mudslinging contest to have developed across five entr'actes? Did the format remain long and virtuosic, or did it accelerate into lightning volleys of one-liners? We can only guess, since Taylor and Fennor's challenge never occurred. Yet had it occurred, all trace of it would surely have been lost: like Wilson's, Kendall's, and presumably all other such challenges, there would have been no reason to record it. Because it did not occur, however, and in such spectacular fashion, gave Taylor and Fennor cause to quarrel afresh. And precisely because so much of it seems to have been scripted, the form that quarrel took--their pamphlet war--may replicate the form and substance of the challenge itself. The pamphlets retain the same dialogic structure, each man reviewing the other's recriminations, pretending indifference to such slurs, and then lobbing worse taunts of their own. They may even recycle jokes--such as Taylor's frequent wisecracks about Fennor's ugliness ("thine eyes do Rowle / And squint so in thy doltish Iobbernowle"; "Natures care was cheife / To fashion thee on purpose for a theefe; / She turnd thine eyes keele vpwards for the nonce, / that thou might'st see hue or six wayes at once"), which, since they entail Fennor's visibility, seem intended to have been delivered onstage. (43)

Most tellingly of all, the pamphlets stray far from the issue that was their impetus. Only in their prose prefaces do they recount the circumstances of the thwarted challenge, and lay out their respective cases. Except for isolated sections thereafter, whose abrupt segues ("Now to the disasters of the day") suggest grafting into existing material, the event in question is rarely mentioned. Instead, the rest is devoted to topics that might have suited the event itself: Taylor's aforementioned denigration of Fennor's parentage, poverty, thievery, social climbing, and metrics; Fennor's aforementioned slights against watermen, his defense of his pedigree, and his poetic brags; their mutual fantasies of seeing the other jailed, tortured, or destitute. None of these screeds originates particularly in Fennor's marooning Taylor. Rather, they represent an airing of the animosities that prompted the challenge in the first place, and the sort of matter one might reasonably expect to have filled it. So too with their accusations of habitual plagiarism, of which Fennor's claim that another "Poet wrot" Taylor's play forms but one in a series. According to Fennor, Taylor "borrow[s] his wit from others worth, / And in his owne name set[s] it forth"; Taylor, more ferociously, alleges that even Fennor's memorized material at the Fortune had not been his ("thou had'st them from a better wit"), charges him with peddling forgeries ("Vpon S. Georges day last, Sir, you gaue / To eight Knights of the Garter (like a Knaue) / Eight Manuscripts (or Books) all fairelie writ, / Informing them, they were your Mother wit ... then were you regarded, / And for anothers wit was well rewarded"), declares that "th'ast stole flue thousand rimes, / From But ends of old Ballads, and whole books," and recommends he source his next poem from "Chimney sweepers cries, / Or worke for Tinker, Couers for close stooles." (44) It is difficult to imagine Taylor compiling all this calumny only because Fennor had dodged their trial; surely it was the very stuff of the trial--a trial, after all, meant to separate true wit from pretender--which Taylor levels only now because print gives him a second chance. (45) Prosecuting blame for an unperformed challenge is not, finally, the pamphlets' chief concern. What they really wish to do is re-perform it--or rather, perform it for the first time--thereby providing us for long stretches with the text of the challenge itself.

Yet in restaging their contest, Taylor and Fennor were not just cannibalizing labor that would otherwise have gone to waste. They were restaging it in print, which in a sense is where it always belonged. Theirs was a feud between two hack poets over literary legitimacy more than performative versatility, for which the playhouse's traditional resolution format--democratic, oral, improvised, prone to error and indignity--was never the proper arena, nor one with which (despite their boasts to the contrary) either of them seems to have been very comfortable. (46) Their challenge began on paper, with the posting of Taylor's bill, was blocked by paper, with Fennor's cavils at that bill, and was to have revolved around paper anyway, in scripted monologues impugning each other's talents and output; it seems fitting, then, that paper is where it should have ended. The safety of print, however, lets Taylor and Fennor not only acquit themselves in the best possible light--here there are no stunned silences, no forgotten lines, no spectators to interfere--but retroactively construct an idealized challenge that merges text with performance, in which remote correspondence actually substitutes for face-to-face confrontation. To be sure, they are manifestly writing, and they make abundant reference to that fact. Yet that writing now serves to enable their combat, rather than just to litigate its evasion: Taylor vows "my Inkhorne ile not shut ... before each night I write some scourging vearse," and promises the fury of "my enraged Muse, and angry Quill"; "But with thy Penne write, & reuenge thy spleene," Fennor scoffs, "lie haue an Answere that shall cut as keene"; "Perhaps thou hast good Paper, Pens, and Inke," Taylor chimes back, "But thy inuention (Fogh) how it doth stinke." (47) They even narrate the act of composition in real-time, representing it as spontaneous production: "And now to write a iest," Taylor hums, readying a shot at Fennor's mother; elsewhere, pleased with a device, he exults that "I haue found a Theame, / That ouerflowes with matter like a streame." (48) The effect--especially easy if they were merely transcribing bits drafted months ago for oral delivery--is to make it seem as if they are thinking out loud, to mask discontinuous writing as immediate speech. Their entire exchange, similarly, emulates the conditions of live performance, as if their challenge were only just now taking place. Taylor welcomes his readers as he might have done their original spectators, as "either Friend or Foe or indiferent"; Fennor addresses his reply to "all that can Iudge, of what degree soeuer." (49)

What those readers are judging, it soon becomes clear, is not each man's account of the Hope contest, but a reprise of that contest, their relative merits as poetic stylists. That is the pamphlets' stated reason, after all, for being in verse--a transition their prefaces handle ceremoniously: "I proceed to my Exclamations," Taylor now declares; Fennor launches into rhyme to satisfy the reader's "expectation of my Practise in Poesie"; "But I thinke it time to leaue Prose," Taylor's next tract announces, "and fall into Verse, for the satisfaction of the Reader, thy shame, and my Fame." (50) Thereafter, their evolving structure suggests the back-and-forth, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better rhythm of a stage duel. Taylor unflatteringly anagrammatizes Fennor's name; Fennor critiques it, and reciprocates with one of his own; Taylor critiques that in turn, and offers another. Taylor concludes by foretelling Fennor's ignominious end, and writes him a burlesque epitaph; Fennor does the same, and writes him an epitaph in kind; not to be outdone, Taylor writes back with another. Fennor notices the Dutch imprint of Taylor's first pamphlet, "At Rotterdam, at the sign of the blew Bitch," and tacks on an inquest of it that literalizes the canine image; Taylor's rebuttal adds a "defence of the honesty of his Blew-Bitch," in which Fennor becomes a dog to sniff its anus. Duplicate, elaborate; attack, defend, counterattack; round and round they go, tracing each other's steps, seizing and expanding upon every particularity of the preceding missive--phrases, motifs, rhetorical ploys, internal partitions--as if determined to tire their opponent through not just wit but inundation. "If I should answer euerie lie and line," Taylor groans, "My book would then be bigger far, then thine"--and it is, twice the length of his first. (51) Rather than an echo of their unperformed challenge, their textual rematch becomes its apotheosis, affording them everything orality precludes: total composure, retention, and comprehensiveness; the ability to hold the floor indefinitely, until every vitriolic resource is sapped; a contest of quantity as much as quality, of sheer volume as much as substance.

It also gives them no way to end. Without any clear criteria or third party to officiate, their contest is not really a contest--merely solipsism, an escalating shouting match in airless silence. "Thus doe I leaue my lines to all mens view, / To iudge if I haue paid thee not thy due," Taylor reflects, and it is all he can really do. (52) Print may let them vent their spleens, but it cannot take the place of live performance to bring their feud any resolution. And so they try to force that resolution themselves, by conforming their textual practice to the theatrical conventions it elides. Since extemporality is inapplicable to writing, they nominate instead speed of composition: whoever writes faster, writes wittier. "I haue a Penne and Inkhorne," vows Fennor, "To answere all thy Rayling, Satyrizing, / In three daies, what ye three months are deuising"; "Thus haue I answered thee in three dayes space," he repeats, adding for good measure "and yet my Penne ranne but an ampling pace." (53) "In three daies thou didst write that booke of thine, / Thou saist," Taylor replies, "and I in fourteen houres did mine." (54) Of course, they have no one to corroborate these claims but themselves. Accordingly, Taylor suggests they couple speed with stamina, and settle the matter by making their next round of pamphlets a kind of performance art in extremis:
   if my business were but ouer-past
   The writing such another, I durst fast
   From sleepe, or sustenance of meate or drinke,
   And such a task would famish thee I thinke.
   I for a wager will be locked vp
   And no reliefe will either bite or sup
   Vntill as much as this my Muse deuise,
   And scarcely be an hungered when I rise. (55)

Replace pen with voice, and the creative constraints of this "wager"--isolation, deprivation, concentration--start to resemble the terms of their first one, approximating the experience of versifying at length onstage. Yet another proposal, meanwhile, goes further still to reduce writing to immediate, physically present speech: "But to the purpose, dar'st thou thus much doe / Let one man giue one Theame betwixt vs two, / And on that Theame let both of vs goe write, / And he that best and soonest doth endite, / Give him the praise; and he that is out-strip'd / (For his Reward) let him be soundly whip'd." (56) To decide the winner, in other words, all their poetic trial needs is a meta-trial, just like the original trial it was supposed to replace--in which they again stand before an independent authority, compete on the same field, and have their skills judged side-by-side. Once offstage and free to do what they really want--write--Taylor and Fennor spend most of their time trying to write their way back on; the re-run of a challenge that never was, their textual altercation is also merely the preamble of a challenge never to be, requiring something always beyond itself for closure.

That something, ultimately, is not just an audience to name a victor, but each other, a visible adversary on whom defeat can palpably register--and be relished, as Taylor's preference for whipping suggests, as a form of torture. Thus Fennor can acknowledge the limitations of textuality and in the same breath animate his opponent as an object of corporal punishment: "But though we could not then meet face to face," he says, "I hope my Penne hath followed him apace: / If I be not deceiu'd, it hath out-stript him, / And spight of all his rods in pisse, 'tath whipt him, / And made his howling hollow voice to rore; / Yet for your loues, Ile giue him one lash more." (57) By the end of the sentence, we have exactly the "face to face" meeting it initially conceded, with each stroke eliciting an immediate, pained response from its absent recipient. Taylor interpolates even subtler reactions from Fennor, conjuring his presence so he can browbeat it into submission: "What saist thou for thy selfe," he demands, "hold vp thy lookes? / He faulters, and his words are all vnsteady, / Poore fellow looks as he were hang'd already." (58) These are not just pugilistic metaphors for rhetorical effect; if Taylor and Fennor often depict an opponent close enough to strike, it is because they really want to strike them, their malice so unrestrained that verbal intimidation becomes ambiguously physical. Taylor, the more aggrieved party, provides the fiercest litany:
   I would Rayle on, till I had paide the score ...
   And by your leaue Sir, I'le a little firke yee,
   And with a milder lash I'le gently ierke yee.
   I will not Rayle, or Rogue thee, or be-slaue thee,
   But I will finely baffle, beard, and braue thee;
   I'le squeeze, & crush, and vnto poulder pounce thee,
   lie make thy witts for euer to renounce thee,
   lie lay thee open, and I will ataint thee,
   And for a pitifull poore scab He paint thee.
   He nip, and strip, and whip thee out of breath,
   Like Bubonax, He rime the[e] vnto death. (59)

On a few occasions, indeed, there is no ambiguity, and Taylor's rants climax in direct threats on Fennor's life. "Dar'st thou to look vpon me once agen," he seethes, "were't not for feare of Lawes / I'de stab my Dagger thorow both thy lawes ... What here I write, vpon thee He make good / And in the hazard lie engage my blood." (60)

This was the genesis, ultimately, of every trial of wit--the enmity of the duel, the desire to inflict violence, to stand over one's enemy and watch them suffer--and what it sublimated into a competitive display of poetic skill. Just as its spectators yearned to witness destruction, the founding motive of its performers was to destroy, held in balance by a form that transmuted the hazard of blood into one of money and art, and made them partners in an entrepreneurial entertainment venture. That desire extrudes to the surface here because it has been refused its outlet, redoubled by rage over the refusal itself and the gratuitous injury it caused; as a result, ironically, Taylor and Fennor's paper challenge ends up a more visceral, embodied encounter than their staged one would likely have been. In this sense, as with the information it preserves about publicity, financing, purse, relationship to plays, and audience response, precisely for its non-performance it provides perhaps more insight into the genre than could any transcript. Instead of a tight snapshot, we get a wide-angle photonegative, illuminating the charged field around the trial of wit by illustrating the course those energies took if it went unrealized. The result, in this case, is a hybrid document--part recapitulation, part instantiation, half scripted for performance, half improvised for print--that suggests, in the genres through which it passes, the hybridity of the trial of wit itself. Interlude, paralude, play, jig, "themes," debate, arraignment, scolding bout, wrestling match, prizefight, bearbait, pantomime, recital, prose, verse, extemporal, rehearsed: these are the various modes against which Taylor and Fennor define their activity, and the cultural frames of reference needed to comprehend it. Potentially, a trial of wit could contain all these elements; other than pleasing an audience, it had no fixed parameters, functioning instead as a metagenre, a kaleidoscopic lens through which any performance idiom could be miniaturized, sampled, and converted to the purposes of public abuse.

And since it had no essential form, even its content could reduce merely to citing other entertainments. Thus Fennor threatens Taylor:
   But whatsoere my birth or breeding bee,
   Spider, I liue to tosse and torture thee,
   Vse thee like Stock-fish, gill thee like a Sprat.
   Duck thee i'the Towne-ditch, like a Water-Rat,
   Make Iigges and Ballads of thy apish Toyes,
   For to be sung by thred-bare Fidlers Boyes. (61)

And thus Taylor threatens Fennor:
   More could I say, and more could I deuise,
   But that I thinke I should rime out thine eyes ...
   I in thy nose will put an Iron ring,
   And leade the[e] vp and downe the Towne to sing,
   To Feasts, and Market, Wakes, & Sturbridge faire,
   And then to euery place with me repaire,
   I would aduance a faire ingrossed bill,
   That in these words should promise wondrous skil.
   Then I, or else my Boy, will beate a Drum
   If any be desirous for to come.
   At two a clock within the afternoon
   There shall you see an Old blind braue Baboone,
   That can put on the Humor of an Asse
   Can come aloft lack, heigh passe and Repas;
   That for ingenious study downe can put
   Old Holdens Camell, or fine Bankes his Cut,
   And for his action he ecclipseth quite
   The Iigge of Garlick, or the Punks delight.
   King Ninus motion or the great tall Dutch-man
   Or th'Elke, or man-Bear baiting was no such man.
   To all your costs, he will his wits Imploy
   To play the second part of Englands Ioy.
   Heele Rime, and sing well, and if need require,
   Can tell more lies then you would all desire. (62)

Jig, ballad, puppet show, freak show, cucking, pageant, execution, trained ape demonstration--spanning the breadth of London popular experience, these encyclopedic degradations as far exceed carrying out onstage as on the page. But that hardly mattered: they exemplify spite in concrete terms, and insofar as they endlessly vary that central theme, their manic unspooling, offset throughout by the control of rhyme, represented exactly the high-wire act of prosodic ingenuity that contestants were expected to produce. There are only so many ways of saying "I hate thee," in other words, and the goal of a trial of wit was to exhaust them. Necessarily, then, its performance devolved into future performance, threats that could never be effected within its scope. Then as now, all trash talk is promissory, not about the last move in a game but the next; the trial of wit, circularly, made trash talk the game itself, conferring victory on whoever simply declared it more forcefully and pictured it more vividly. Which means there was never much difference, finally, between the texts in which Taylor and Fennor take turns envisioning the other humbled onstage, and the stage on which they would have taken turns envisioning the other led through the streets in chains; the latter contest, just like the former, was never the end of the contest, always anticipating some further chapter. And even in that chapter, fittingly, administering the other's eternal punishment, their fates remain unchanged: bound together forever, mated until death, each waiting for a last laugh that will never come.


(1.) On clowning, see Richard Preiss, Clowning and Authorship in Early Modern Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), and David Wiles, Shakespeare's Clown: Actor and Text in the Elizabethan Playhouse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); on feats of activity, see Philip Butterworth, Magic on the Early English Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), as well as N.W. Bawcutt, ed., The Control and Censorship of Caroline Drama: The Records of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, 1623-73 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), for the range of non-dramatic spectacles licensed during the period.

(2.) Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia (London: Cuthbert Burbie, 1598), sig. Ee5 p.633.

(3.) John Taylor, Taylor's Revenge: Or The Rymer William Fennor Firkt, Ferrited, and finely fetcht ouer the Coales (Rotterdam, 1615), A3r-v. Taylor's stated outlay of 20 [pounds sterling] seems very high to have been spent merely on playbills and their attendant labor--since, as we will see, the cost of renting the playhouse may have been defrayed by the acting company also performing that day. Perhaps his calculation includes wagers he personally placed on his own victory, which might have been lost to Fennor's forfeiture. But Taylor habitually claimed losses on his subscription-backed publications that may have been inflated or even untrue.

(4.) Taylor, Revenge, A8r; William Fennor, Fennors Defence: Or, I am your first Man (London: Roger Barnes, 1615), A3r-A4r.

(5.) John Taylor, A Cast Over the Water (London: William Butler, 1615), A6r. In her analysis of Taylor's use of prepaid subscription fees to finance his travelogues, Alexandra Halasz notes that " [i]n the late pamphlets whose surviving exemplars include a 'bill,' the bill is an integral part of the pamphlet ... Often in verse, the bills set out the basic elements of the subscription scenario: that Taylor undertakes a journey upon completion of which he will present a printed account" (97). This suggests a structural homology between Taylor's playhouse ventures and his pub lication practices. See "Pamphlet Surplus: John Taylor and Subscription Publication," in Arthur F. Marotti and Michael D. Bristol, eds., Print, Manuscript, and Performance (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2000), 90-102; on playbills in general, see Tiffany Stern, "'On each Wall and Corner Poast': Playbills, Title-pages, and Advertising in Early Modern London," English Literary Renaissance 36, no. 1 (December 2006): 57-89.

(6.) Fennor, Defence, A3v.

(7.) On early modern prizefighting and its institutional affinities with (as well as geographic proximity to) theater, see Ian Borden, "The Blackfriars Gladiators: Masters of Fence, Playing a Prize, and Elizabethan and Stuart Theater," in Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage, ed. Paul Menzer, (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2006), 132-46. In addition to being the most famous stage clown of his age, Richard Tarlton was also a registered Master of Defence; on the structural kinship between stage clowning and prizefighting, see the discussion of "themes" below, as well as n. 8 below.

(8.) Edmund Gayton, Pleasant Notes Upon Don Quixot (London: William Hunt, 1654), 108, P2v. It is curious that, despite Gayton's allusion to what he evidently considers familiar practice, there should be no references in the period to arranged "play-offs" between stage clowns, since they were popularly perceived as enmeshed in intergenerational lineages and professional rivalries, across or even within particular playing companies. Tarltons Jests (1613), for instance, features an anecdote wherein Tarlton discovers Robert Armin as a young goldsmith's apprentice, and, admiring his wit, grooms him as his protege "to enjoy my Clownes sute after me" (C2r); had this anecdote appeared in editions prior to 1600, it must have been some provocation to Will Kemp, whom Nashe had called "vicegerent general to the ghost of Dick Tarlton" (An Almond for a Parrat (1590), A2r), and whom Armin was by then in the midst of replacing in the Chamberlain's Men. There may have been genuine ill will between them: the conclusion of Kemps Nine Daies Wonder (1600) may contain a veiled attack on Armin, while the anonymous, possibly Arminian A Pil to Purge Melancholie (1599) ends with a (mock?) invitation to "one pleasant conceit or other of Mounsier de Kempe on Monday next at the Globe" (B4v). More broadly, the ballad "Turners Dish of Lenten Stuffe" (1612) arrays the distinct styles of London's playhouses as a choice among their respective clowns: "the fat foole of the Curtin" on the one hand, probably William Rowley, and "the leane foole of the Bull" on the other, Thomas Greene; "since Shanke did leave to sing his rimes," meanwhile, may reference John Shanke's recent move to the King's Men and his corresponding (albeit temporary) cessation from jigs, for which "He is counted but a gull" (Alv). At least some of the appeal of The Stage Players Complaint (1641), finally, must have lay in its imagined coupling of two stage clowns, Andrew Cane of the Prince's Men and Timothy Reed of the King's Revels', to protest the closure of the playhouses for plague; were the two rivals, their joint petition carries more emotional force--and they intimate as much by their similar nicknames ("Quick" and "Light"), as well as in their dueling reminiscences of "the times, when my tongue have ranne as fast upon the Scene, as a Windebankes pen over the Ocean ... the times, when my heeles have capoured over the Stage as light as a Finches Feather" (A3r).

(9.) Taylor, Cast, B8v, B2r; Revenge, A5v, A6v, A7r.

(10.) Fennor, Defence, Blr-B2r.

(11.) On "playing for a wager" (from which most of these references derive), see Murray Bromberg, "Theatrical Wagers: a Sidelight on the Elizabethan Drama," Notes and Queries CXCVI (o.s.), Dec. 1951, 533-35, and B. L. Joseph, Elizabethan Acting (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951).

(12.) Alleyn's fame remained tied to this practice of histrionic joust in a particularly strong way. Upon The few of Malta's revival at the Cockpit in 1632, its new prologue seeks to discourage any perception of Richard Perkins's Barabas as displacing the dead Alleyn's, whose original performances it is not "his ambition / To exceed, or equall." Similarly, and curiously, the epilogue again reminds its audience--to the exclusion of any other theme--that the purpose of mounting this production was not to compare them: "He only aym'd to goe, but not out-goe ... Nor thinke that this day any prize was plaid, / Here were no bets at all, no wagers laid" (A4v). Yet this implies such a comparison possible, and disavows its monetization only officially; how, one wonders, could one arbitrate the quality of a live performance against that of a distant memory? On the vexed relationship between the two actors that may have fueled this sense of agon, see David Mateer, "Edward Alleyn, Richard Perkins, and the Rivalry Between the Swan and the Rose Playhouses," Review of English Studies 60.243 (n.s.) (2007): 61-77.

(13.) Francis Beaumont, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (London: Walter Burre, 1613), B2r; Donald Hedrick, "Real Entertainment: Sportification, Coercion, and Carceral Theater," in Peter Kanelos and Matt Kozusko, eds., Thunder At A Playhouse: Essaying Shakespeare and the Early Modern Stage (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2010), 57 (emphasis in original). Almost as a reflex, George and Nell respond to plot developments with predictions couched in counterfactual bets ("Pie be hang'd for a halfe-penny, if there be not some abomination knauery in this Play" (B3v); "George, what wilt thou laye with mee now, that Maister Humphery has not Mistress Luce yet, speake George, what wilt thou laye with mee?" (E2v); "Fie holde him a pennie hee shall haue his bellie-full of fighting now" (D4v); "I hold my cap to a farthing hee does" (F4r)) and to individual performances, especially Rafe's, as though they were competitive histrionic displays rather than personations ("harke you Rafe, doe not straine your selfe too much at the first" (Civ); "thou art the best on 'em all" (C3r); "for cleane action and good deliuerie they may all cast their caps at him ... the twelve Companies of London cannot match him" (D3v)).

(14.) The following references are gathered from C. R. Baskervill, The Elizabethan Stage fig and Related Song Drama (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1929), 69-71. Taylor, in fact, in a later pamphlet attacking one John Booker no less vituperatively than he had Fennor thirty years before, mentions "the Fish-wives scoulding colledge at Billingsgate" as a place to learn slurs (John Taylor, being yet unhanged, send greeting, to John Booker, That hanged him lately in a Picture (1644), Alv). Similarly, the anonymous mock-almanac Vox Graculi, or Jack Dawes Prognostication (1623), predicts at one point (fatuously) that "The 10. 11. And 12 [of March] ... it will so thunder in Turne-againe-Lane, that the Fish-wiues will fight a combat with Belins-gate Playce" (H4r).

(15.) Among the songs included in the first part of Thomas D'Urfey's The famous history of the rise and fall of Massaniello (London: John Nutt, 1700) is the dramatic interlude "A Dialogue between two Fish-wives" (G2v-G3r), in which a dispute over pilfered herrings erupts into name-calling and hair-pulling ("Ye carrion" / "Ye mawkin" / "Ye slattern" / "Ye puss" / "I'll teach you to slander me, thus, thus & thus" / "I'll teach you to Cuckold me, thus thus & thus").

(16.) Donald Lupton, London and the Countrey Carbonadoe'd (London: Nicholas Oakes, 1632), 92-3.

(17.) A "sive" or "sieve" was a kind of basket used by market gardeners, and evidently the mock trophy here.

(18.) Taylor, Cast, B1r. Taylor's denigration of Fennor's minstrelsy is a running theme: elsewhere he alleges that "some few yeares since / Thou Rym'st at Gravesend for some fourteen pence / I'the street, from seauenteen people vnrespected / This Ground Collection, justly was Collected." Statements like these are accompanied, however, by mock-esteem for Fennor's fluency in "the braue Canting tong / And how in Pedlers French to sing a song / And Ryme for Butter-milk for Curds and Whay / And in a Barne at night thy bones to lay" (Revenge, B4r), making fact difficult to separate from hyperbole.

(19.) On themes, see Preiss, Clowning, 90-104; on Kendall, see Edwin Nungezer, A Dictionary of Actors (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1929), 223-24, as well as Mark C. Pilkinton, ed., Records of Early English Drama: Bristol (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 215, for an episode from the commonplace book of Philip Powell that seems to record Kendall practicing (and failing very badly at) "themes."

(20.) Fennor, Defence, B3v.

(21.) Ibid., A3v.

(22.) ?Thomas Nashe, Martins Months Minde (London, 1589), E3v; on the abundant traffic between the Marprelate pamphlets and stage jigs, particularly those of the Queen's Men, see Baskervill, fig, 52-54, and Colin MacCabe, "Abusing Self and Others: Puritan Accounts of the Shakespearian Stage," Critical Quarterly 30, no. 3 (September 1988): 3-17. At least two ascriptions of these jigs to Laneham come from Martins Months Minde (where Martin repents the "foolery" he has "learned ... at the Theater of Lanam and his fellowes" [F2r]) and from Lyly's A Whip for an Ape (London, 1589) ("And let old Lanam lash him with his rimes" [A3v]).

(23.) Taylor, Revenge, Blv.

(24.) Ibid., B3r.

(25.) Ibid., A3r-v, A8v, B3r.

(26.) Ibid., A8v.

(27.) Fennor, Defence, B3v.

(28.) Ibid., B3r.

(29.) Thomas Neale, The Warde (16 September 1637), Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. Poet 79, 52. The most famous reference to first performances as trials occurs in the preliminaries to Shakespeare's First Folio, where Heminges and Condell note that these plays "have had their triall alreadie," and have "stood out all Appeales" (A3r). In Documents of Performance in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), Tiffany Stern suggests that this term is invoked with greater frequency around Inns of Court audiences (88), but there is plenty of evidence to argue that it applied to virtually every professional performance situation.

(30.) Ben Jonson, The Alchemist (London: Walter Burre, 1612), A3r.

(31.) To be sure, the Lady Elizabeth's Men's presumed consent to share their stage (and their profits) with a trial of wit, effectively submitting their own performance to direct, differential evaluation, supports Hedrick's thesis--if only indirectly, since the impetus for doing so did not originate with them. My point is simply that players did not need (nor, indeed, would especially have wished) to resort to such marketing gimmicks to promote their entertainment: these appear to have been the terms on which theatrical performance was always evaluated, a discursive matrix into which theater was born and with whose constraints, even as it sought to detach itself from them, it was compelled reluctantly to comply. Among its "combinatorial" projects, for instance, Hedrick lists Henslowe's opening the dual-purpose Hope in 1614, but rather than being "apparently the first such marketing experiment ... to offer theater on alternate days with bearbaitings" (56), it was merely a reversion to that combination. On the long history of entanglements of theater and bear-baiting, see Andrew Gurr, "Bears and Players: Philip Henslowe's Double Acts," Shakespeare Bulletin 22 (2004): 31-41, and Andreas Hofele, Stage, Stake, and Scaffold: Humans and Animals in Shakespeare's Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). On audience misbehavior as norm, see Preiss, Clowning, chapters 1 and 2.

(32.) Apart from a brief consideration of jigs (58-59) as built-in "extra fun" to incentivize attendance, it should be noted, Hedrick pays scant attention to stage clowning, which tended to be cast as sport far more readily than as "theater." The genre of "themes," in particular, was explicitly competitive in structure, and seems to have originated with Tarlton as early as the mid-1570s--coeval with the emergence of purpose-built playhouses.

(33.) The paradigmatic example of this is of course Richard Vennar's (by a nice coincidence apparently Fennor's cousin) monumental scam at the Swan in 1602, wherein he advertised a pageant called England's Joy, celebrating Queen Elizabeth and supposedly to be acted by gentlemen and ladies; he made off with the receipts without presenting anything, whereupon a riot ensued. Gayton, however, suggests that audiences could revolt with far less provocation--if they were denied their choice of play, for instance. It was customary at the Fortune and the Curtain, meanwhile, for audiences to throw nuts, apples, and stones at the hangings simply because they were impatient for the play to begin.

(34.) Taylor, Revenge, B2r.

(35.) Fennor, Defence, A8v, B2v.

(36.) Taylor, Cast, B5v. The "Jack of Lent" or jack-a-lent was a sacrificial effigy, personified as emaciated and perpetually hungry, that was ritually paraded at the end of Lent and subjected to various farcical torments; see Frederick B. Jonassen, "The Meaning of Falstaff's Allusion to the Jack-a-Lent in The Merry Wives of Windsor," Studies in Philology 88, no. 1 (Winter 1991), 46-68, as well as Preiss, Clowning, 67-69.

(37.) Taylor, Revenge, B2r.

(38.) Fennor, Defence, B2v. Professional stage clowns such as Tarlton, Kemp, John Singer, Thomas Greene, and the continental transplant "Pickelherring" (as well as possibly Armin and many others--this may have been a universal staple of the English clowning repertory) seem to have parlayed their homeliness into freestanding dumb shows that consisted entirely of making grotesque faces and imitating various actions, gestures, and animals, either as set routines or in response to specific audience demands; instructing a character called "Clown" in his own craft, Dromo in The Pilgrimage to Parnassus (c. 1599) assures him that "if thou canst but drawe thy mouth awrye, laye thy legg over thy staffe, sawe a peece of cheese asunder with thy dagger, lape up drinke on the earth, I warrant thee theile laughe mightilie," adding that "[c]lownes haue bene thrust into playes by head and shoulders euer since Kempe could make a scuruey face." It is difficult, at any rate, to imagine what Taylor's solo performances might have been other than material of this type. See Preiss, Clowning, 85-87.

(39.) Fennor, Defence, B3r.

(40.) Taylor, Revenge, B5v-B6r; Fennor, Defence, A7v.

(41.) Fennor, Defence, A3v.

(42.) Taylor, Cast, B5v.

(43.) Ibid., A8v and B3v.

(44.) Ibid., B5v, C3r, C3v, B3r.

(45.) This would not be the only time Taylor suffered the failure of a theatrical stunt--or, likewise, used print to reanimate it. In 1630, he wrote The Great Eater of Kent, whose interest in extolling the prodigious gastric capacity of one Nicholas Wood may have stemmed from Taylor's attempts to put his talents onstage, in what amounted to a marathon eating contest: "Now my plot was to haue him to the Beare-garden, and there before a house full of people, he should haue eaten a wheele barrow full of Tripes, and the next day, as many puddings as should reach ouer the Thames (at a place which I would measure betwixt London and Richmond) the third day, I would haue allowed him a fat Calfe, or Sheepe of twenty shillings price, and the fourth day he should haue had thirty Sheepes Geathers, thus from day to day, he should haue had wages & dyet with variety; but he fearing that which his merits would amount vnto, brake off the match ... whereupon our hopefull Beare-garden busines was shiuerd, and shatterd in pieces" (C2v). "[S]hiuerd and shatterd" suggests that Taylor's plans may already have been in motion by the time Wood backed out; if Wood's "wages" were to have been merely his "dyet" (his misgivings at such paltry remuneration perhaps the real reason for their split), Taylor probably expected to keep all the revenue--which in turn would be augmented by the gambling such a contest inherently attracted. To salvage some of that revenue, then, the pamphlet details what Wood "should haue" done had the exhibition come off, perhaps with an eye to regaining the public trust in advance of his next circus promotion. The phrase "hopefull Beare-garden," finally, should remind us that this was also the scene of his catastrophe with Fennor; every performance he tried to stage at this unlucky venue seemingly always came up one performer short.

(46.) In his glance at the Taylor/Fennor episode, Hedrick erroneously categorizes Fennor as "an actor" ("Real Entertainment," 55).

(47.) Taylor, Revenge, A7v-A8r, B3v; Fennor, Defence, B4r; Taylor, Cast, B6v.

(48.) Taylor, Cast, A8v; Revenge, A4r.

(49.) Taylor, Revenge, A3r; Fennor, Defence, A3r.

(50.) Taylor, Revenge, A3v; Fennor, Defence, A4r-v; Taylor, Cast, A6r-v.

(51.) Taylor, Cast, B6r.

(52.) Ibid., C7r.

(53.) Fennor, Defence, B2r, B6v.

(54.) Taylor, Cast, C6v.

(55.) Ibid.

(56.) Ibid., B2v.

(57.) Fennor, Defence, B7r.

(58.) Taylor, Cast, C3v.

(59.) Ibid., Blv-B2r.

(60.) Taylor, Revenge, B3r, B4v.

(61.) Fennor, Defence, B4v.

(62.) Taylor, Cast, B4r-v.
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Title Annotation:early modern theater; Forum: Skill
Author:Preiss, Richard
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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Next Article:Something wanting: the actor, the critic, and histrionic skill.

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