n Shakespeare in Southern Africa - The stranger as story-teller : Gypsies and others

Volume 23, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-582X



It could be said that the stranger has a story to tell, or, with equal justice, that the stranger has to tell a story. Gypsies, who feature strongly in the drama of Shakespeare's age, suggest themselves as a type of the story-telling stranger. This paper offers first a brief account of the arrival of gypsies, in England particularly, in an attempt to relate them to the native itinerant poor. Against this background Jonson's masque (1621) and the Dekker / Ford / Middleton / Rowley collaboration (1623), make a strange impression. Written, at least in part, to serve differing, but related, political ends, they offer imaginative, even parodic, rather than anthropological accounts of the gypsy. Shakespeare attempts no such extended if partial presentations of gypsies. His few direct references connect rather with a network of images in the plays which suggests sympathy with wanderers, exiles and other marginals. As Linda Woodbridge has shown at least is an expression of sympathy for the vagrant and homeless. I want to suggest further that the story-telling itinerant for Shakespeare is not only an image of social disruption, but offers the playwright instances of a particular type of psychological alienation.

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