Richard Tarlton was so celebrated as the premier comedian of his time that he was eulogized in a play by his fellow company players in one of their popular repertory pieces, The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London (S. R. 31 July 1590; published, 1590). In keeping with his theatrical career, Tarlton was associated with other forms of popular entertainments such as ballads, jests, and jigs. A posthumous collection, Tarlton's Jests (1600), confirms that his reputation extended well beyond his life. A feature of his theatrics was his skill as a musician; the primary image that depicts Tarlton from his times features him playing a pipe and tabor. In addition, he was a superb athlete, noted specifically for fencing. He also was a writer; a now lost "Seven Deadly Sins" (1585) is attributed to him.
Tarlton had a stage career with Sussex's men, but most of the details about his professional life fall within his tenure as a member of the Queen's men, which he joined in 1583. Thomas Nashe, a pamphleteer and playwright whose career was beginning as Tarlton's closed, provided anecdotes about Tarlton's amusement of Queen Elizabeth in Strange News (1592). A spate of publications full of stories of dubious accuracy also capitalized on Tarlton's fame, including a ballad called Tarltons Farewell and another called Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie ... Published by an old companion of his, Robin Goodfellow (c. 1590).
Having the roles of Tarlton and his fellows in mind, McMillin and MacLean define the skills of the Queen's men as a "medley" style that is "predominantly visual" (p. 125) with "a premium on ... the peculiar gesture, the odd inflection, the idiosyncratic bit of costuming" (p. 126). In this performance medium, the "clown is a literalist ... funny the minute he is seen" (p. 128). An emphasis on the physical rather than the verbal, McMillin and MacLean argue, explains why the plays of the Queen's men, when compared to those (for example) by Marlowe and Shakespeare, seem flat in print; "[t]heirs was not primarily a literary drama. ... we must assume that much of [the clowns'] knock-about improvisation was never recorded or lost its point in translation to the medium of print. ... One must imagine the routines by which the clown Bullithrumble made his mark on Selimus, for example, for the text is of very little help" (p. 85).
Tarlton died in September 1588 and was buried at St. Leonard's, Shoreditch. His will, dated 3 September 1588, leaves his assets to his son, Phillip, who was just six years old at the time (baseborn). He asks that his mother ("katherine Tarlton widowe" [Honigmann and Brock, p. 57]), a friend (Robert Adams, a lawyer?), and one of his fellow players (William Johnson) to see that his wishes are carried out. Adams soon became the center of a dispute about £700 of Tarlton's estate (Nungezer, p. 353).
Roles As the primary clown of the company, Tarlton would have had a role/s in the following plays:
"Phedrastus", "Phigon and Lucia", "The Red Knight", "The Cynocephali", "The Cruelty of a Stepmother", "The Rape of the Second Helen", "Murderous Michael", "The Duke of Milan and the Marquess of Mantua", "Portio and Demorantes", "Sarpedon", "The History of Ferrar"
Clyomon and Clamydes, The Famous Victories of Henry V, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, King Leir, The Old Wives Tale, Selimus, The Troublesome Reign of King John, Three Lords and Three Ladies, True Tragedy of Richard III
"Five Plays in One", "Phillyda and Corin", "Seven Deadly Sins", "Three Plays in One", "Valentine and Orson"
This category has the following 2 subcategories, out of 2 total.