Mucedorus is an Elizabethan play, performed up until the Restoration and surviving in seventeen quartos, making it the most widely printed extant play from the time. It has been attributed in whole or in part to William Shakespeare, but this theory is generally not accepted by Shakespeare scholars and Mucedorus is generally classified as apocryphal and not part of the main Shakespearean canon. The play was performed in front of both Queen Elizabeth and King James I. A revised and expanded version with additional scenes dates from 1610.
The play opens with a meta-theatrical flyting between the abstract characters 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 therefore he has decided to disguise himself as a shepherd so that he can sneak into Aragon to see if she is really as gorgeous as she is made out to be. He uses a shepherd's costume to see whether or not she will associate with him as a test of her character. 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 requests that he escort her back to Aragon.
Upon Amadine and Mucedorus's arrival, Segasto becomes envious of Mucedorus, a lowly shepherd who is now honoured in court for his bravery. Segasto thus asks his friend, Tremelio, to kill Mucedorus, which Tremelio agrees to do, but Mucedorus dispatches him quickly. Mucedorus is brought before the King and sentenced to death for killing Tremelio, but Amadine reveals to the King that it was Mucedorus who saved her from the bear. 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.
While waiting to meet up with Mucedorus later in the nearby woods, Amadine is captured by Bremo, a wild man, to be his bride. Mucedorus, finding that Amadine has disappeared, disguises himself again as a hermit and is captured by Bremo as well. Mucedorus 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 sheds his disguise as the hermit and becomes the shepherd again. Segasto, who had been searching the forest for the lost couple, finds Amadine and Mucedorus. Amadine declares her love for Mucedorus, and Segasto decides to relent. Mucedorus now reveals that he is actually the Prince of Valencia.
Upon learning of these events, the King approves of the marriage between Mucedorus and Amadine, and the play ends with all the characters leaving to celebrate. The characters Envy and Comedy return to the stage, with Envy claiming that he can still defeat Comedy. As the two fight, they recognise the monarch in the audience (either Queen Elizabeth or King James) and declare that both comedy and tragedy serve the throne.
Source and Genre
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.
Mucedorus is an early romantic comedy. It often elicits humour 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. Most of the characters in Mucedorus are stock expectations for the genre, offering little depth or originality. Mouse's deafness is a play on the stock comedic fools who often wilfully twist a speaker's words. The bear would have initially been played by a live bear rather than an actor.
Mucedorus was the most frequently reprinted play prior to the Restoration, with 17 quarto texts surviving before the end of the 17th century.
Mucedorus was performed by strolling players as late as the eighteenth century. One such performance, at Witney in Oxfordshire on 3 February 1653 (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./
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 favour by the modern scholarly consensus.
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.
- Logan and Smith, pp. 229–30.
- 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.
- One exception among twentieth-century critics: MacDonald P. Jackson, who assigned the 1610 additions to Shakespeare. Logan and Smith, p. 228.
- 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. archive.org Google Books