In this play about Will Somers, the long-serving jester of Henry VIII (r. 1509-47), we have art imitating life, showing the spectrum of fiction-to-fact which a famous historical fool can encompass; Somers is not the only household name to have plays written about him, or jokes and anecdotes pegged to him in any number of jest-books. Shelley wrote a fragment about Archy Armstrong, and the Chinese jester Dongfang Shuo had a few plays written about him.
Nor is he alone in having bouts of king-fool verse-capping have been attributed. This fictional exchange makes fun of Henry’s philandering reputation. Written about 100 years after the relationship it describes, the playwright probably felt safe with his lèse-majesté, as seen in these two charming examples.
Henry: `The bud is spread, the Rose is red, the leafe is green’
Somers: `A wench t’is sed, was found in your bed, besides / the Queene’ (ll. 3044-46)
Henry: `In yonder Tower, theres a flower, that hath my heart’
Somers: `Within this houre, she pist full sower, & let a fart’ (ll. 3054-55)
Source: Samuel Rowley (d. c. 1633), When You See Me You Know Me (1604), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952)
Image credit: Title page of the second edition of Samuel Rowley’s When You See Me You Know Me (1613), published in London by Nathanial Butter, British Museum copy, from the Tudor Facsimile reproduction published in 1913