Fat King, Lean Beggar: Representations of Poverty in the Age of Shakespeare

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Overview

Investigating representations of poverty in Tudor-Stuart England, Fat King, Lean Beggar reveals the gaps and outright contradictions in what poets, pamphleteers, government functionaries, and dramatists of the period said about beggars and vagabonds. William C. Carroll analyzes these conflicting "truths" and reveals the various aesthetic, political, and socio-economic purposes Renaissance constructions of beggary were made to serve.Carroll begins with a broad survey of both the official images and explanations of poverty and also their unsettling unofficial counterparts. This discourse defines and contains the beggar by continually linking him with his hierarchical inversion, the king. Carroll then turns his attention to the exemplary case of Nicholas Genings, perhaps the single most famous beggar of the period, whose machinations as fraudulent parasite and histrionic genius were chronicled by Thomas Harman. Carroll next assesses institutional responses to poverty by considering two hospitals for the destitute, Bridewell and Bedlam, and their role as real and symbolic places in Elizabethan drama.Fat King, Lean Beggar then focuses on dramatic inscriptions of poverty, primarily in Shakespeare's plays. Carroll's analysis of The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter's Tale links the tradition of the merry beggar to the socioeconomic forces of the day; and his reading of King Lear makes a case for the uniqueness of Edgar, the Bedlam beggar, in the history of drama. Carroll also considers later plays such as Fletcher and Massinger's Beggars' Bush and Richard Brome's Jovial Crew to show how idealizations of the beggar ironically equate him with a monarch in his supposed freedom.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"William Carroll's Fat King, Lean Beggar is a fascinating as well as functional survey of the ways in which the period understood and rationalized the presence of the poor in their midst. . . . Carroll has set before us in compelling detail the minds and motives of privileged early modern Englishmen as they tried to understand and cope with the poverty that surrounded them."—Journal of English and Germanic Philology

"Carroll's enlightening investigation . . . reveals convincingly the gaps and contradictions between what the dramatists, poets, pamphleteers or government functionaries presented as the truth about beggars and vagabonds. . . . It is a pleasure to read his subtle and well-demonstrated argument."—Anglia

"Every student of Shakespeare will want to read this important book."—Shakespeare Quarterly

"Carroll convincingly argues that Lear and other plays address a real and pressing social division within Stuart England."—Steve Mentz, Shakespeare Newsletter

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801431852
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations and Documentation
Introduction 1
1 Discourses of Poverty 21
2 Thomas Harman and The Caveat for Commen Cursetors 70
3 Bedlam and Bridewell 97
4 "The Perill of Infection": Vagrancy, Sedition, and 2 Henry VI 127
5 "Would Not the Beggar Then Forget Himself?": Christopher Sly and Autolycus 158
6 "The Base Shall Top th'Legitimate": King Lear and the Bedlam Beggar 180
7 "Is Poverty a Vice?": The Disguise of Beggary 208
Works Cited 217
Index 231
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