Mucedorus was the play that never looked back

Our next Read Not Dead event takes place on Sunday 16 July and actors will be looking at Mucedorus, a play published in 1598.

Ahead of the event, Dr Peter Kirwan, Associate Professor in Early Modern Drama from the University of Nottingham, looks at why this play was so frequently performed at the time…

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Photo: Title Page of Third Quarto of Mucedorus, 1610, from Wikipedia (Public Domain).

What happens when Comedy and Envy get into a fight about who is more powerful? The answer, Mucedorus – perhaps the single most popular play ever performed on the London stage.

Mucedorus and Amadine are two of the unluckiest star-crossed lovers in the early modern dramatic canon. Not only is Amadine a princess and Mucedorus a shepherd (at least, so he says…) but they have to contend with the menagerie of villains thrown at them by Envy: a ravenous bear, a jilted suitor, a disaffected soldier, and finally Bremo, the cannibalistic self-proclaimed “King of the Forest”. It’s a breathless romp through the motifs of romance, with a high body count and a hilariously irreverent sense of humour.

Mucedorus went through more printed editions than any other in the seventeenth century, played repeatedly at court, on tour and in the London theatres, and was revised at least twice to take into account changing monarchs and developments in taste. These days, it is best known as part of the so-called ‘Shakespeare Apocrypha’, thanks to a spurious attribution in the 1630s (and some still argue that he wrote the additional scenes in the third quarto). But the play’s anonymity didn’t stop it being regularly performed, quoted and referenced.

It’s hard to pin down what made Mucedorus so popular, but its experimental intermingling of slapstick comedy and genuine threat, sympathetic romance and high adventure, may well have been part of it. Mucedorus complicates simple genre categories, offering non-stop entertainment. As Mucedorus and Amadine face one challenge after another to their love, the play keeps its audience guessing about the eventual outcome.

Any play that starts its main action with “Enter, pursued with a bear” sets up high expectations, and Mucedorus never looks back. This Read not Dead is a rare chance to see one of the most innovative, entertaining and unexpected plays of its time.

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Photo: In our Read Not Dead series, actors are given the play on a Sunday morning and present it, script in hand, to an audience later that afternoon. 

Book tickets online for the Mucedorous event on Sunday 16 July.

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