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"Early 'Stooges' Episode"
Norman, c. 1320 CE
27 x 13.5 cm ~ Ivory, gold leaf highlights


Long before there was Hollywood or television, wandering entertainers amused gentry and plebeians alike in castle halls and upon the benches of cheap inns. Comedy shows were particularly popular with the royalty of the Dark Ages, and we have many early accounts of successful and unsuccessful performances (the latter usually wound up as archery targets).

One well-known troupe was called orchestopolarii biceps in Latin, or roughly the "Two (Headed) Stooge." This rough and tumble act was a sure laugh-getter at any social level, with its pie-throwing, head-bashing and eye-poking, an episode of which is shown in this panel from their cartoon series, which ran in medieval Sunday supplements for many years.

One of the attendants at the court of King Edward II recounts a performance in his diary, the entry being for January 9, 1321 (old calendar):

"We didst attend the Kyng to the Great Gallerie, wherein was performed
Such Antik after the Meat was Passed as I had never witnessed afore;
The toumblers, yclept "Ye Twa Stodges," didst assaill each the other with Pyes
And divers other Table-weapons they could catch up from the Servants.
The one called Mo giving so Fierce a Fish-beating to the Curléd one
That I didst Make water in my Hose, and fain did Stuff a Trencher of
Brede in my Cod as a Spongge withal. His Majesty did regale him so at the
Eye-pokings that he did Break wind mightily, and Bier didst pour from his Nose."

~ Alwyn of Essexshire, Hys Daybook & Record

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