Words and Image of a Nobody

There are a lot of images from our history that suggest there was some heavy drug taking happening – disproportioned people, strange animals etc. These are often accepted as elements of folklore but there may have been a more straightforward explanation, as a mans of insulting the rich and powerful without getting arrested. This was especially after the introduction to England of puppets, which use stock characters to portray events and emotions – also practiced by Shakespeare.

These pictures of Nobody and Somebody look like monsters on maps of are away places, but it comes from Gerald Kahan’s book George Alexander Stevens & The Lecture on Heads which explains the following:

An early literary reference to Nobody and Somebody appears in an English play of he same name dated about 1606. The characters belong to the underplot of a political satire and are depicted in two woodcuts in the printed edition… Nobody is a figure with almost all legs and nobody and Somebody is shown with almost all body and no legs. the title page tells us that the printer, John Trundle, used the figure of Nobody on the sign over his shop. shakespeare and his audience were familiar with the character: in the third act of The Tempest, Trinculo declares, “This is the tune of our catch, played by he picture of Nobody.” Speaight tells us that in 1748 Madame de la Nash had given a puppet show for a fashionable audience the advertisements of which referred to a “pacifick dance between Somebody and nobody”. He suspects political satire and concludes, “Somebody and Nobody were stock figures of popular legend… they must have leant themselves to interpretation by puppets.”

But there is another level to this. England’s first prime minister Robert Walpole passed The Chamberlain’s Act in 1727 which effectively banned political satire of his government which was akin to a modern Banana Republic. But the English people would not be silenced, so as with Cromwell’s ban on pubs, people took to brewing at home, so entertainers resorted to stock characters to ridicule those in authority without naming them.

This makes me wonder what those characters on the maps really meant, and maybe other images of folklore. Were they satires on notions of noble savages? Were they warnings to people desperate to flee Europe for a better life abroad by depictions of cannibals etc? This is supposed to be the reason for the strange names of Greenland which is far more icebound than Iceland.


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