The Rope Dancer

During the 1660s, Londoners seeking daredevil entertainment could enjoy the acrobatic skills of a number of performance troupes, one of which included a ‘rope dancer’ named Jacob Hall, who had distinguished himself as a performer on the tight-rope.

Dobson, William, 1611-1646; Jacob Hall, Rope Dancer (active 1668-1683)
Jacob Hall, Rope Dancer (active 1668-1683), by a follower of William Dobson,
©Trinity College, University of Oxford

The shows promised dancing and vaulting on the ropes, with a variety of feats and activity and agility, including “doing of somersets [somersaults] and flipflaps, flying over thirty rapiers, and over several men’s heads, and also flying through several hoops.”

Mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary as boasting he had often fallen but never broken a limb, Hall was also a favourite of the Restoration court, with Charles II’s mistress, Lady Castlemain, the future Duchess of Cleveland, apparently falling in love with him after being neglected by the King.* He would be a regular visitor at her house, and received a salary for his favours.

He was at the peak of his fame in 1668, and would be memorialised in a number of late 17th century publications for ‘delighting London with his jumping’.

Source: Wikipedia

*Another narrator suggests the affair actually began at the encouragement of Charles himself, who considered the rope dancer a less embarrassing paramour for Lady Castlemain than Sir Henry Jermyn, whom he described as ‘the most ridiculous conqueror that ever was.’ I’d love to know more about that dispute!

 

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