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Mucedorus is an Elizabethan play, enormously popular in its own era and after, that was at one time attributed to William Shakespeare. Seventeen printed quartos survive between 1598 and 1668. The play was revised and expanded in 1610, and was performed in front of both Queen Elizabeth and King James I.

Contents

Plot summary

The play opens with a meta-theatrical flyting between Comedy and Envy. Envy declares that she will turn this pleasant comedy into a tragedy. Comedy challenges Envy to do so and claims that mirth will triumph in the end.

The Prince of Valencia, Mucedorus, has heard that Amadine, the daughter of the king of Aragon, is extraordinarily beautiful, and as such he has decided to disguise himself as a shepherd so that he can sneak into Aragon to see her himself. Meanwhile, Amadine and her arranged fiance Segasto are being chased through the woods by a bear. Segasto flees and leaves Amadine to fend for herself, but Mucedorus kills the bear off stage and saves her. She thanks him and takes him back to Aragon, where he remains disguised as a shepherd and is showered with praise.

Segasto becomes envious of Mucedorus and asks his friend Tremelio to kill Mucedorus. Tremelio agrees, but Mucedorus appears and kills him instead. Segasto brings this matter to the King, but Amadine reveals that it was Mucedorus who saved her. The King spares Mucedorus's life, but Segasto falsifies a directive banishing Mucedorus from the kingdom. Amadine and Mucedorus declare their love for each other and decide to leave the kingdom together. They plan to meet later in the woods.

Amadine arrives first, but Mucedorus is late. Bremo appears and is so moved by emotion that he takes her captive rather than killing her. Meanwhile, Segasto sends his servant and fool, Mouse, to go and find the missing couple. Mucedorus, finding that Amadine has disappears, disguises himself as a hermit and searches for her. Bremo attempts to woe Amadine but she refuses. Mucedorus finds the two, and before Bremo can kill him, Amadine requests that he spare his life and take him captive as well. Mucedorus then convinces Bremo that he and Amadine must be taught how to fight so that they may defend themselves when Bremo is not around to protect them. Once Bremo gives Mucedorus a sword, Mucedorus kills him and reveals to Amadine that he is the shepherd. Segasto finds them, but Amadine choses to love the shepherd instead and Segasto accepts his fate. Mucedorus now reveals that he is actually the Prince of Valencia.

The characters return to Aragon to tell the king, who is grieved that his beloved daughter is missing, what has transpired. After hearing the entire story, the King approves of his daughter's love and all involved leave to celebrate.

Envy and Comedy return. Envy claims that he can still defeat Comedy and the two continue their verbal battle. They then recognize the monarch in the audience (either Queen Elizabeth or King James I) and declare that both comedy and tragedy serve the throne.

Genre and Cast

Mucedorus is an early romantic comedy. It often elicits humor through rapid transitions between comedy and tragedy. For example, when Bremo is killed, there is only one line reflecting on his death before the play returns to the romantic plot.

All of the characters in Mucedorus are stock expectations for the genre. Mouse's deafness is a play on the stock comedic fools who often willfully twist a speaker's words.

The bear would have initially been played by a live bear rather than an actor.

Printing History

Mucedorus was the most frequently reprinted play of its age, with 17 quarto texts before the end of the 17th century. They are: Q1—1598; Q2—1606; Q3—1610; Q4—1611; Q5—1613; Q6—1615; Q7—1618; Q8—1619; Q9—1621; Q10—1626; Q11—1631; Q12—1634; Q13—1639; Q14—1663; Q15—1668; and two that are undated or undatable (Q16, Q17). The first six of these quartos were published by the bookseller William Jones.[1]

Modern scholarship suggests a date for the play's origin c. 1590. Individual critics have considered The Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney (one of whose characters is named Musidorus) as a source for the play, and have studied its relationship to pastoral and folkltale forms, and to traditional mummers' plays, Medieval theatre and chivalric romances, and the Italian Commedia dell'arte.[2]

Staging History

Mucedorus was performed by strolling players as late as the eighteenth century. One such performance, at Witney in Oxfordshire on February 3, 1654 (new style), saw a number of the audience killed and injured when the floor collapsed under the weight of the crowd. A Puritan preacher considered the accident a sign of God's displeasure with play-acting.

Relationship to Shakespeare

Q3 (1610) of Mucedorus claims that it was in the repertoire of the Globe Theatre:

A/Most pleasant/Comedie of Muce-/dorus the Kings sonne of Valen-/tia, and Amadine the Kinges/daughter of Aragon./With the merry conceites of Mouse./Amplified with new additions, as it was/acted before the Kings Maistie at/White-hall on Shroue-/sunday night./By his Highnes Seruantes vsually/playing at the Globe./Very delectable, and full of conceited Mirth./Imprinted at London for William Iones./dwelling neare Holborne Conduit/at the signe of the Gunne./1610./[3]

Starting with this same Q3 and continuing through all subsequent editions, the text of the play is augmented with six additional passages, which are plainly not the work of the original author. Some early critics considered Shakespeare as a potential author of these additions rather than the original play — though even this view is not regarded with favor by the modern scholarly consensus.[4]

The play was assigned to Shakespeare in Edward Archer's play list of 1656, published in his edition of The Old Law; it was also bound together with Fair Em and The Merry Devil of Edmonton in a book labelled "Shakespeare. Vol. I" in the library of King Charles II.

Notes

  1. ^ Chambers, Vol. 4, p. 34.
  2. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 229-30.
  3. ^ Henrietta C. Bartlett, Mr. William Shakespeare, Original and Early Editions of His Quartos and Folios: His Source Books and those containing Contemporary Notices (New Haven 1922), p. 61.
  4. ^ One exception among twentieth-century critics: MacDonald P. Jackson, who assigned the 1610 additions to Shakespeare. Logan and Smith, p. 228.

References

  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Kozlenko, William, ed. Disputed Plays of William Shakespeare. Hawthorn Books, 1974.
  • Logan, Terence P., and Demzell S. Smith, eds. The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1973.
  • Tucker Brooke, C. F., ed., The Shakespeare Apocrypha, Oxford, the Clarendon Press, 1908.

External links

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