Dr Andy Kesson, Principal Investigator behind the Before Shakespeare project, takes a look at the history of Anthony Munday’s Fedele and Fortunio, the next play in our collaborative Read Not Dead and Before Shakespeare programme.
Read Not Dead series offers especially unusual opportunities to play with old
plays and make them new, precisely because they often have no performance
history after the seventeenth century.
Fedele and Fortunio is, we think, the fourth surviving play from
the London playhouses, and the fifth such play to be printed. But it is the
first of these early plays to look like a comedy as conventionally understood –
to look, that is, much like a Shakespeare comedy. Men and women are in love
with one other in productively cross-purpose sorts of ways, provoking plots,
counterplots and cross-dressing, and also a bunch of courtship techniques that
are perhaps a bit less conventionally Shakespearian: necromancy, games with
urine, nets and partial nudity, that sort of thing.
play provides a point of connection between the comedy of Ancient Rome and the
future comedy of early modern London and Paris. Everything happens on the
street, and characters are constantly going in and out of houses, seeking
nooks, crannies and privy corners in which to hide or speaking through windows.
This draws on the Roman comedy of Plautus and Terence, but is also explores the
possibility for privacy in a relentlessly public world that The Comedy of Errors, Much Ado about Nothing or Measure for Measure would go on to explore (think, for example, about the
length of time these plays spend at doors that do not open on command, windows
through which people might be seen having sex, or in streets displaying those
shamed for sexual misdemeanours).
The great thing about Read Not Dead is that
these old plays are now new: they represent lost traditions, lost stage
possibilities, lost opportunities for actors and audiences.
Our Read Not Dead Fedele and Fortunio staged reading takes place this Sunday 18 June, 4.00pm. Buy tickets.