Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Renaissance April Fools: The Good Old "We Three" Joke

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night, or What you Will. [Arden Shakespeare, Third Series.] Ed. Keir Elam. Lodon: Centage Learning, 2008.

When Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Feste (the jester) meet up in Act II of Twelfth Night, we get this exchange:
Sir Andrew: Here comes the fool, i'faith.

Feste: How now, my hearts? Did you never see the picture of "we three"?

Sir Toby: Welcome, ass. (II.iii.14-17)
The footnote to the Arden Shakespeare (Third Series) explains this in this way:
. . . alludes to a painting or inn sign representing two asses or loggerheads; the caption "we three" implicated the spectator—here presumably Feste himself—as the third ass or loggerhead (i.e., fool) . . . (212)
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has just such an image, dated from 1600-1625:


One fool looks at another fool who, in turn, looks out on the third fool: you, the viewer! April Fool!

The audience participation part of the joke is the best part. The observer needs to be present for the "We Three" to be fulfilled.

There are a number of other related images, including these two signs from a pub in Mold, Whales:



Some images seem to have been created by someone who didn't get the joke and included all three figures in the image itself, leaving out the audience participation:


But additionally interesting is the plethora of postcards around the year 1900 that have combined this Shakespeare-era joke with a Shakespeare quote. They're most often (as in the image that heads this post) an image of two donkeys with the caption "When shall we three meet again?"






Yes, as I said, a plethora. At least one plethora. Perhaps even a multitude of plethora. Again, I like the audience participation aspect of this. The card with two donkeys and the query "When shall we three meet again?" is sent to a person who is absent. At first glance, it seems like the message being conveyed is on the order of "Wish you were here," but the two donkeys turn it into a clever insult—the recipient is the third ass of three.

And remember, if you ever look at an image like this, it means that someone is calling you a donkey: you become the third ass of three.  This April Fools' Day, don't let anyone fool you with a similar joke. 

Oh, wait—I just did. A plethora of times.  April Fool!

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest