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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Paul Scarron (1610–1660)

Strolling Players

From “The Comic Romance”

BRIGHT Phœbus had already run through about half his career; and his chariot, having passed the meridian and gone on the declivity of the sky, rolled on swifter than he desired. Had his horses been willing to have made use of the slope of their way, they might have finished the remainder of the day in less than half a quarter of an hour; but instead of pulling amain, they curveted about, sniffing brine in the air, which set them neighing, and made them sensible that they were near the sea, where their father is said to take his rest every night.

To speak more like a man and in plainer terms, it was between five and six of the clock, when a cart came into the market-place of the town of Mans. This cart was drawn by two yoke of lean oxen, led by a breeding mare, which had a colt that skipped to and fro like the silly creature that it was. The cart was laden with trunks, portmanteaus, and great packs of painted clothes, that made a sort of pyramid, on the top of which sat a damsel in a half-city, half-country dress. A young man, as poor in clothes as rich in mien, walked by the side of the cart. He had a great patch on his face (which covered one of his eyes and half of one cheek) and carried a long fowling-piece on his shoulder, with which he had murdered several magpies, jays, and crows, that, having strung together, made him a sort of bandoleer; at the end of it hung a hen and a goose which looked as if they had been taken from an enemy by way of plunder. Instead of a hat he wore a night-cap, tied about his head with garters of several colors, and which was without doubt a kind of unfinished turban. His doublet was a griset-coat, girt about with a leather thong, which served likewise to support a rapier so very long that it could not be used dexterously without the help of a rest. He wore a pair of breeches tucked up to above the middle of his thighs, like those that players have when they represent an ancient hero. Instead of shoes he wore tragic buskins, bespattered with dirt up to the ankles. An old man, somewhat more regular in his dress, though in a very ordinary habit, walked by his side. He carried a bass-viol on his shoulders; and, because he stooped a little as he went, one might have taken him at a distance for a huge tortoise walking on its hind feet. Some critic or other will probably find fault with the comparison by reason of the disproportion between that creature and a man, but I speak of those great tortoises that are to be found in the Indies; and besides, I make bold to use the simile on my own authority….

Let us return to our strolling company. They have passed by the tennis-court at the “Hind,” before which were then assembled some of the chief men of the town. The novelty of our strollers’ equipage and the noise of the mob, which had by this time gathered around the cart, drew the eyes of all those honorable burghers upon our unknown travelers. Among the rest was a sub-sheriff, La Rapinière by name; he, bearing the authority of a magistrate, asked them who they were. The young man whom I described before, without offering to pull off his turban (because with one hand he held his gun, and with the other the hilt of his sword, lest it should beat against his legs), answered him that they were French by birth and players by profession, that his stage-name was Destiny, his old comrade’s Rancor, and the gentlewoman’s (who sat roosting like a hen on the top of their baggage) Cave. This odd name set some of the company laughing, whereupon the young player answered that the name of Cave ought not to seem more strange to men of sense than Mountain, Valley, Rose, or Thorn. The conversation ended with the same tumult of blows, cursing, and swearing as took place before the cart. The squabble had been occasioned by the servant of the tennis-court falling foul upon the carter without saying why or wherefore; yet the reason was that his mare and oxen had made too free with a truss of hay that lay before the door. However, the combatants were at length parted, and the mistress of the tennis-court, who liked to hear a play better than sermons or vespers, with marvelous generosity for the keeper of a tennis-court, bid the carter let his cattle eat their bellies full….

La Rapinière renewed the conversation interrupted by the squabble, and asked the young player whether the company consisted only of Rancor, Cave, and himself. “Our company,” answered he, “is as complete as that of the Prince of Orange, or of his Grace the Duke of Épernon; but through a misfortune that befell us at Tours, where our rattle-headed door-keeper happened to kill one of the men-at-arms of the governor of the province, we were forced to flee in a hurry, and in the sad pickle in which you see us. Had we but the keys of our trunks, we might entertain the town for four or five days.” The player’s answer made every one prick up his ears. La Rapinière offered an old gown of his wife’s to Cave, and the tennis-woman two or three suits of clothes to Destiny and Rancor. “But,” answered some of the bystanders, “there are only three of you.” “No matter of that,” replied Rancor, “for I once acted a whole play myself, and represented the king, queen, and the ambassador in my single person. I made use of a false treble tone when I impersonated the queen; I spoke through the nose for the ambassador, addressing myself to the crown, which I placed upon a chair; and when I did the king, I resumed my seat, my crown, and my gravity, and lowered the key of my voice to a bass. Now to convince you of this, if you will satisfy our carter, defray our charges at the inn, and lend us what clothes you can spare, we will act before night; otherwise we must beg leave to refresh ourselves and rest, for we have come a great distance.”