The Bard knew capers. He used a lot of court jesters and clowns in his plays, so capering should naturally be a part of his stories. It is a colorful word, conjuring up images of frolic and flirtation. But capering is not all fun and games!
Take Richard III.
When the War of the Roses ends, Richard should be happy. His house, Team York, has won. Not only is his brother Edward declared the undisputed King, but now the York men have a lot of free time on their hands and they could spend it wooing the ladies.
“Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.”
Yet Richard is apparently still in the winter of his discontent. There will be no capering in the ladies chambers for him, as he feels he is not handsome enough to engage in sex play:
“But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature; Deformed…
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:”
Ouch! Poor Richard. He had nothing better to do during peace time than watch his own shadow and lament his deformity. (Later he began to plot against his family and lock his nephews in the Tower…)
But Shakespeare may have been unfair. Phillippa Gregory gave Richard better looks and a better disposition in her treatment of the story, called ‘The White Queen’. This book was made into a series on Starz.
Richard III was played by this guy.
Nuff said. But back to capers.
Consider Fenton from the Merry Wives of Windsor. Fenton is an eligible bachelor who hopes to marry Windsor’s number one It-girl Anne Page. The Innkeeper tries to recommend him to Anne’s father:
“What say you to young Master Fenton? He capers, he
dances, he has eyes of youth! He writes verses, he
speaks holiday, he smells April and May.”
Who would not want Fenton? He capers, he dances, he even smells good! Anne’s father, however, is suspicious. The Page family is rich, and Fenton (who is also a penniless playboy) may be a gold digger. Mr. Page answers:
“Not by my consent, I promise you. The gentleman is
of no having. He kept company with the wild prince
and Poins! No, he shall not knit a knot in his fortunes
with the finger of my substance! The wealth I have waits on
my consent, and my consent goes not that way.”
Mere capering will not a good marriage make! Do they get together in the end? Read the play and find out!
And finally, what may be the smartest words of all about capers.
Touchstone, the jester in As You Like It philosophizes about love:
“I remember, when I was in love, I broke my
sword upon a stone, and bid him take that for coming a-night to
Jane Smile; and I remember the kissing of her batler, and the
cow’s dugs that her pretty chapt hands had milk’d; and I remember
the wooing of peascod instead of her; from whom I took two cods,
and giving her them again, said with weeping tears ‘Wear these
for my sake.”
He is so devoted to Jane Smile that he kisses the stick she carries, and also the cow’s udders she milks. He practices his flirtation speech on a pea pod. That’s dedication.
But then again, he IS the Clown.
Shakespeare’s clowns are usually the wisest characters. In fact, Shakespeare invented the term ‘wise fool’.
Touchstone goes on to say:
“We that are true lovers run into strange capers;
but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal
We are all fools in love. But we can be forgiven, for we are only human. And humans (even Shakespeare!) lose their common sense when it comes to affairs of the heart.