chapter  5
12 Pages

· Mucedorus: the exploitation of convention

Between 1598 and 1668 Mucedorus appeared in sixteen editions: in the same period The Spanish Tragedy was printed eleven times. There is of course no necessary correlation between the number of times a play was published and the number of times it was played, but there can be little doubt but that this, like Kyd's play, was one of the most performed plays of its age. However the authorship of M ucedorus and, unfortunately, its date and auspices, remain a matter for conjecture. Claims have been made that it was written by Peele, Greene, Lodge - and Shakespeare himself. C. F. Tucker Brooke, who edited the play for the Shakespeare Apocrypha, suggests that it was written by 'an obscure and only moderately gifted disciple' of the University wits.' The play probably dates from about 15902 and although the titlepage of the first Quarto states that it had been 'sundry times played in the honorable City of London' we do not know in what playhouse or by what company. It may have belonged to some company that became extinct, possibly the Queen's Men,' the company that included Richard Tarlton who may have been the first to play Mouse the Clown. Like The Spanish Tragedy it probably passed into the hands of strolling players, even of amateurs. Jones, the publisher, added a dramatis personae to the second edition which points out that the fourteen characters could be impersonated by only eight players. The Grocer's Wife in Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle refers to amateur revels when she says that her apprentice Ralph, who has ambitions to be an actor, 'hath played. . . Mucedorus before the wardens of our company' (Ind. 82-3), and it was 'surreptiously presented by strolling players while the theatres were closed during the Commonwealth, and was performed by village actors in the north of England as late as 1666.'4 By 16 IO the play had become the property of the King's Men. The third Quarto of that year advertises it as being' Amplified with new additions, as it was acted before the King's Majesty at Whitehall on Shrove-Sunday night. By his Highness' Servants usually playing at the Globe'. This and all subsequent editions add to the text - a bad one, probably a faulty reconstruction from

memory by the player who performed Mouse - a prologue and three new scenes.5