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  • Print publication year: 1983
  • Online publication date: March 2007

‘Pickleherring’ and English Actors in Germany


Clown-names seem to have had a way of attaching themselves to individual English actors travelling on the Continent so that the companies to which they belonged between 1590 and 1620 apparently succeeded in popularizing certain clownish figures. Three of these, John Posset, Stockfish and Pickleherring, have come to be generally acknowledged as representative clownish types in the standard accounts of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages. Yet, having gone through the evidence on which this general consensus is based, I have come to the conclusion that, for the time being, there is only one clown-name for whose existence there is ample evidence, both in archival material and in printed texts, and that is the figure of John Bouset or Posset, a name that became associated with Thomas Sackville, an English actor at the court of Duke Henry Julius of Brunswick (1564–1613) in Wolfenbüttel. As to the fishnames for the clown, those of (Hans) Stockfish and Pickleherring have been all too carelessly attached to the actors John Spencer and Robert Reynolds, although there is very little that can be advanced in support of the identifications. It is the purpose of this paper to show that there is little justification for looking upon Reynolds as one of the chief actors to introduce the humorous character of Pickleherring on to the German stage; and that, on the contrary, archival evidence points to another English Pickleherring-player whose career has only quite recently begun to emerge from the records.