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Beautiful idiots: the embodiment of the fool

Shrimpton, E. (2020). Beautiful idiots: the embodiment of the fool. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Guildhall School of Music and Drama)


This thesis considers the fool as a theatrical phenomenon and reflects on the approach an actor might make to playing the fool. The research notes that workshops and literature about this area of performance are scarce as compared to opportunities to train, for example, in clown. This inquiry responds to that gap by exploring the question: how might a twenty-first century actor approach the fool to bring this figure alive for a contemporary audience? It focusses on the work of Robert Armin, Shakespeare’s fool, as a major contributor to the manifestation of the fool on the English stage. The researcher identifies six principles that guide Armin’s work and undertakes a historical analysis of the fooling traditions which may have informed Armin. Using the six principles, the researcher explores the training to play the fool. Work with masks emerges as a particularly potent part of the researcher’s fooling technique. This work utilises an artistic research methodology, locating the actor-researcher as the subject of his own study. It describes an approach for actors wanting to play the fool and provides examples of exercises. The literature review also considers various explanations for the apparent disappearance of the fool from the dramatic canon and society and notes this presents a challenge to the actor – how to give the figure a contemporary significance for a modern-day audience. The researcher considers this question through the process of devising a one-man performance piece: The doors are open but no one’s at home – a parliament of fools. This performance straddles theory and practice in its content and form, embodying seven fools using seven masks, each mask focussing on one of Armin’s six principles and a seventh mask unifying the practice of playing the fool. The research culminates in two outcomes: a written thesis and a performance. The thesis argues the fool is a rich figure that is distinct from other comic figures such as the clown with which it has often been conflated, that the actor’s ‘fool breath’ is key to the playing of the fool, and that the fool is worthy of further attention and embodiment in the theatre of the twenty-first century.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Eliot Shrimpton thesis 'Beautiful Idiots - the embodiment of the fool' FINAL TO PUBLISH.pdf]
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[thumbnail of Eliot Shrimpton PhD performance recording.mp4] Video - Accepted Version
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