‘For now hath time made me his numbering clock’: Shakespeare’s Jacquemarts

  • Wendy Beth Hyman Oberlin College
Keywords: Shakespeare, jacquemarts, clockworks, automatons, Falstaff, Jaques, Richard II,


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘jacquemart’ appears first in the early sixteenth century, a curious amalgam of the working class moniker 'Jack' with the French word for hammer, ‘marteau’. An articulated automaton that struck a clock bell, a jacquemart is a metallic embodiment of an ideology that conflates physical labour with dehumanization. Little considered, Shakespeare’s named and self-appointed ‘Jacks’ -- Falstaff, Jaques of As You Like It, and Richard II -- represent ‘rude mechanicals’ subject to the agency of more powerful political figures. Yet the automaton jack is not merely a pawn of history; he is also associated with the inventive Vulcan and models of early modern poetry as built, fabricated, or machined. Richard II’s ‘hammered’ thoughts or Falstaff’s multiplying buckram men help reveal the capacity for creative making within these dispossessed characters’ seeming mechanicity.