It’s the penultimate day today in my play-a-day series, with eight of the ten plays in Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays already completed (Arden of Faversham, Locrine, Edward III, The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Lord Cromwell, Sir Thomas More, The London Prodigal and A Yorkshire Tragedy) today it’s the turn of Mucedorus which has probably the lengthiest title in the collection so far, here it is in its entirety:
A MOST PLEASANT COMEDY OF MUCEDORUS THE KING’S SON OF VALENCIA, AND AMADINE, THE KING’S DAUGHTER OF ARAGON, WITH THE MERRY CONCEITS OF MOUSE. 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: very delectable and full of conceited mirth
Certainly a very comprehensive title, and even providing a small review at the end.. Surprisingly complementary! I read the title quickly and upon seeing the word mouse I found myself hoping that this featured elements either like Stuart Little or Ratatouille (yes I know he’s a rat), or maybe even Tom and Jerry.
I suspect not, but without further ado, let’s have a look and see – on with the play! I suspect it’s a play many know little about, but the introduction tells a different story, opening with the line, ‘Mucedorus was the most popular drama of the age’. So in terms of Renaissance plays, this one is worth knowing about. We’re talking Henry IV Part One or Richard III kind of popular. And if that wasn’t enough to such you in, this play also features the stage direction: ‘Pursued with a bear’. Almost the stage direction line we’re familiar with from The Winter’s Tale.
The play opens with a prologue which flatters and is aimed directly at the king, that is to say King James I in front of whom this play was performed, it basically tells the king why he is amazing before expressing hope that he likes their humble offering which they’re about to perform – the play. We’re then offered a character list in case we only have 10 actors available with suggestions of which could be doubled before the play itself begins with an Induction and Comedy (yes, that’s the name of a character) on stage. Envy enters and interrupts her predictions of tales of merriment, promising some tragedy to pepper the happy tale; they argue and cries of ‘stab, stab’ and drums are heard from within, quiet joy meets ‘envious disdainer of men’s joys’. They both vie for control of the play. Comedy begs he be gone, but he threatens the same again – he will have a hand in disrupting her happy Comedy but she promises to defend her play despite his tragic attempts. He begs her go on with the play so he can get on with messing it up. They both exit.
The first scene begins with Mucedorus and his friend Anselmo, they discuss how close their are as friends, before Mucedorus breaks the news that he will have to break this friendship at least in terms of physical distance, for he is to leave the court and country in order to seek out and woo Amadine. Anselmo warns that Mucedorus leaving the court will leave a gaping wound. But Mucedorus is adamant and will not be persuaded otherwise, as he simply states:
Let love’s strong magic charm thy trivial phrase,
Wasted as vainly as to gripe the sun.
He revels he plans to go in disguise in order to win her and then reveal his true self from his ‘best usurped shape’. He’s going to go as a Shepherd and sends Anselmo off to fetch the cassock he will wear.
They part quickly because ‘delay to lovers is a second hell’.
Scene two opens with Mouse (which apparently can also mean parts of meat rich in muscle tissues which may be suggested in the characters love of food – you see I wasn’t as far off with Ratatouille as you might have thought) and he’s carrying a bundle of hay. He’s concerned that a bear is pursuing him, or someone clothed as a bear, anxious to protect his father’s horse he decides to take another path in order to avoid the bear, he exits backwards, trips over the bear and drops his hay as he runs away, and now the stage direction is.. Yes that’s right: Enter Segasto running and Amadine after him, being pursued with a bear.
Segasto and Amandine are terrified and run away. Mucedorus appears (dressed like a shepherd) with a bear’s head in his hand, and announces in almost Jabberwocky style that he has indeed slain the beast that was pursuing her. She’s very grateful and tells him who she is (as if he didn’t know!) she’s her father’s only heir and he wants her to marry Segasto – the bloke who ran away screaming from the bear and left her to fend for herself. She tells him the tale of how she encountered the bear. He’s not sure where Segasto has got to but is not very impressed with his running off to save his own skin and leaving his woman helpless in the woods. She’s just grateful he saved her and promises to tell of his valour throughout the land. First off she wants to take him to her father to share the good news. Segasto enters and soliloquises. He’s not in a good state. Everything that could go wrong for himk seems to, the fates are after him and to top it all he’s been ‘assaulted with an ugly bear’. And he left Amadine to fend for herself – he’s certain she’s going to not want him anymore for his disloyalty will have damaged the relationship irrevocably he fears. He wishes he were dead, and thinks he ought to be. Mouse enters yelling ‘Clubs’ (i.e. summoning the watch). He’s scared of the white bear.
Segasto accuses him of lying suggesting that he’s never actually seen the bear and perhaps Mouse mistook a girl milking for a bear. I’m not that stupid, he retorts. He tells Segasto he is ‘the Goodman Ratson’ and his name is very similar – what a clown! (I’m picturing a Star Wars esque “I’m your father” moment coming from the mouth of a rat – though of course that’s not exactly what is meant). Segasto wants to adopt Mouse as his servant to wait on him in court – and to lighten his mood when he is feeling melancholic. Mouse agrees and off they go to court, Segasto hopeful that Amadine lives.
Scene 3 opens with the King, Amadine, a prisoner, Tremelio, Collin, Segasto, Mouse, and counsellors. The king is glad the wars are over, and is occupied now with his daughter’s marriage. Glad that the lords approve he dispatches one of them – Tremelio with the prisoner who is to be returned and a ransom collected. A ransom which Tremelio can keep because of recent valour.
Mouse is grateful to Segasto because he has been given weapons which keep him warm, he then asks Mouse to identify Tremelio and his chamber, which Mouse astutely declares has a door, and Tremelio has a nose – he’s given a description by Segasto and finally he admits he does know the bloke in question. He’s sent to find him because Segasto has a secret he wants to tell Tremelio. Mouse knows him because he is the mealman. Obviously. If he is unable to find him he promises to leave word with his dog, when Tremelio queries if the dog can speak Mouse replies that he is unsure but how else is he to leave word?!
After managing to get Tremelio’s name wrong he successfully summons him and then urges them not to interrupt him until he’s had his fill of beef, brewis, beer and so on.
Segasto after bigging himself up asks Tremelio to find a way to kill off the shepherd (his competition) subtly. Tremelio agrees – he’s not afraid of shepherds! He draws his sword as Mucedorus enters and goes to kill, but way ahead of him Mucedorus kills him instead. Segasto is not happy and vows revenge (it’s all getting a bit Romeo and Juliet).
Mucedorus tells him to stop making such a fuss he hasn’t murdered he’s merely defended himself. Segasto says he’ll tell the king what’s happened. Quite the tell-tale he is! Mouse re-enters and mistakes Tremelio for being drunk not dead, then he thinks that it is Segasto who has killed him and states emphatically that he will not serve anyone who kills his friends. He doesn’t want to carry the body alone because then he’ll look like the murderer so Mouse and Segasto carry Tremelio away together. Mucedorus muses on the state of man and how changeable men are before exiting certain of his death the following day.
Today I live revenged on my foe,
Tomorrow I die, my foe revenged on me
Bremo (a wild man) opens scene 5 and he’s holding a cudgel. He knows he’s strong, powerful and to be feared – even nature responds to his power: ‘The aged oaks at Bremo’s breath do bow’. Death lives in the wood with him: ‘Why death and nothing else but present death!’ And it seems he and his cudgel are hungry for more.
The next scene opens with the king charging Mucedorus with murder, he begs that he was only protecting himself, but in true actions speak louder than words fashion he is led away.
Amadine enters with a boy and the bear’s head and begs for Mucedorus’s life since he did after all save the king’s daughter – this is the first the king has heard of this. She tells of Segasto’s cowardly flight and of Mucedorus’s valour. Segasto pipes up about Tremelio who protected the king in war, while his daughter argues that Mucedorus protected her in time of danger. It’s turning into a crazy competition of valour and least worst crime. The King decides in the end to set Mucedorus free – he will die when the fates decide not men. They’ll honour him too for his valour.
Mouse is gutted he’d been looking forward t a good hanging and since he can’t hang Mucedorus he asks if he can instead hang his master – Segasto. Seagsto is suitably unimpressed and instead claims he’s going to battle for Mucedorus’s banishment as he couldn’t get him killed.
Mucedorus is alone on stage for the next scene and tells of the rich rewards he has reaped for his bear saving antics. The messenger hailing Mucedorus enters followed by Mouse whose greeting is rather more ridiculous: ‘All rain, lousy shepherd’.
While the Messenger conveys his message Mouse parodies his words, while the shepherd hears only the bad news from Mouse and not the great greetings that the messenger brings. As a result he thinks himself banished from court on Amadine’s orders. He couldn’t be more wrong. The dramatic irony is ramped up another notch.
Mucedorus is not happy with the news, and is uncertain (Hamlet style) what to do, the next lines definitely have a distinctly Shakespearean sound to them and sound to me like they also appear in another play though I can’t for the life of me think which one: ‘And must I go? And must I needs depart?/Ye, goodly groves, partakers of my songs..’
He wails awhile and begs to die, desiring others only to wail and mourn his loss with him. Amadine enters and asks Mucedorus how he’s doing. He says he only wishes his death would come sooner – banishment is far worse than death (reminiscent of lovesick Romeo and his violence which caused his banishment). He begs one thing of Amadine: that she would honour him as her servant. She refuses saying she can only honour him as sovereign in her heart. He’s flattered but says it is too great an honour, furthermore he’s confused – didn’t she just want to banish him? She clears that up – it was Segasto not her who wanted him banished. She wants to live with him in exile. He again says it is unfair for her to do so, but admits that he burns for love for her.
(Which perhaps sacrilegiously reminds me of the burning loins episode in Friends)
He makes it clear that he doesn’t know what he can promise her, but she remains determined and off she dashes to get her necessities from her father’s house. They’re to meet in the wood in the place he killed the bear, by a tree and a well, to elope together in about three hours’ time. They’re sad to be parting but off they both trot.
Segasto enters new scene and he’s feeling rather pleased with himself. He got his way with regard to the banishment of Mucedorus and he’s managed to save his reputation (as a coward) in the process. Mouse enters and begs his master come to eat; he pretends he has forgotten to give the banishment message but promises to relay all over food.
Amadine enters at the meeting place alone and sits to wait for him after professing that with him she has true love, with Segasto she only likes him because duty decrees she must. Bremo enters and he’s hungry for meat, he grabs her (and you can almost imagine him licking his lips as he does so): ‘Now glut thy greedy guts with lukewarm blood./Come flight with me – I long to see thee dead.’
Amadine cannot fight for she has no weapons, Bremo asks her to lie down ready to die. She’s not best pleased at these turn of events. Saying a last goodbye to Mucedorus she kneels ready to die:
Then, Mucedorus, farewell, my hoped joys farewell.
Yea, farewell life, and welcome present death
To thee, O God, I yield my dying ghost
Bremo suddenly is frightened he has lost his strength and he strikes her, but then feels he ought to spare her even though he has never done so before now. He is confused by his new feelings of kindness: ‘I think her beauty hath bewitched my force’. He offers her live if she agrees to live with him in the woods. She wants to live but not to live in the woods but she’s offered no choice, so off she is taken by Bremo. Moments later Mucedorus enters (yes in true dramatic style he’s just missed his lady – he was late after all (As You Like It wooing flashbacks?). He hears the cries “Hold him, hold him!” and fears others are after him and flees.
Enter Mouse, a little worse for wear and swiftly followed by an Old Woman. He’s run off with her pot, she’s not happy. He calls her a whore and she eventually reclaims her pot and exits. Segasto enters and pronounces Mouse mad when he claims that Segasto has flies all around his face. Segasto asks Mouse to raise the alarm in town, and contact the Constables because the king’s daughter has fled with the shepherd. Mouse then asks astutely:
Is the shepherd run away with the king’s daughter, or is the king’s daughter run away with the shepherd?
Segasto agrees he doesn’t know but instructs Mouse to search high and low for them. Mouse agrees and promises to search as many beer barrels as he can first (i.e. drink himself silly) for the shepherd and Amadine.
New scene: Valencia, Anselmo, Roderigo, Lord Barachius et al enter. Valencia begs the music stop it is only tormenting him further, sounding happy when he is melancholic. He’s mourning the loss, or rather absence, of his son Mucedorus. Anselmo assures him his son is safe – he explains that Mucedorus is in Aragon because of reasons of love tinged with jealousy for Amadine. Valencia wants to go to Aragon and see the king there. Find out what’s what.
Mucedorus disguises himself again and debates where he ought to go: home or deeper into the woods. He concludes he will dress like a hermit and often attend the meeting place he was to see Amadine in case she comes again. Mouse enters on his search for Amadine and the shepherd and runs into Mucedorus who he fails to recognise as the shepherd. Mucedrous quizzes him on who or what he’s looking for. Mouse reveals all. Mucedorus asks for a description and promises to keep his eye out. Mucedorus muses that Amadine got lost trying to find the well and is still in the woods. He vows to seek her out and exits. Immediately (of course) Amadine and Bremo enter. She’s not happy with the situation. She only loves the shepherd not Bremo, he claims he rescued her from certain death (well yes but at his own hands) and begs her kiss him. She refuses. He promises to try and win her love by conjuring up all the beauties of the forest he can devise. It’s all getting a bit like The Tempest or even Narnia.
As he plans a lovely woody welcome for Amadine, complete with nymphs and violets, Mucedorus enters. Bremo wants him dead but Amadine begs for his life (again!). Mucedorus gives a speech on how the world used to be run on violence and wrong prevailed over right but friendship finally arose from despair and that period became known instead as the golden age. He suggests Bremo is from that violent age and ought to be returned to it by the sword. Bremo agrees to spare his life as Amadine (his queen) begs him to – and in return Mucedorus promises to be his servant.
New scene: Mouse has returned empty handed with no sightings of Amadine or the shepherd – he only saw the hermit dressed all in white. Rumbelo who must also search has just about given up but mouse suggests they enter the wood at opposite ends and meet in the middle in one last attempt to find the lovers, he agrees and off they go to dinner.
Mucedorus enters alone and bemoans his situation living with Amadine and a ruthless murderer. Amadine enters and states she loves neither Bremo nor his woods, he asks her story and why she now lives with Bremo. She begins to disclose but they are interrupted by Bremo who wants to know what the whispering is all about. Mucedorus says they were nervouse for Bremo’s welfare and their own as they are unarmed. He promises to teach them to fight beginning with Amadine. She is too weak for his weapons so he begins to teach Mucedorus (you can see where this is going..). Mucedorus asks where the best place to hit is, and Bremo replies, the head of course. And of course seconds later Mucedorus has struck Bremo dead on the head. Amadine is happy and vows to search the woods until she finds her shepherd. He begins to remove his clothes and she recognises him as her shepherd. They must hide until the search party has left.
Mouse enters looking for them, and discovers them. Segasto wants to claim the glory but Mouse makes it clear he found them. Amadine now has three blokes to choose from: Mouse; Segasto; or the shepherd. She wants the shepherd but he wonders why. She promises he will not need to be a shepherd but instead will one day be king. On which note Mucedrous reveals his real identity and his royal heritage. Segasto is ashamed and yields Amadine immediately to Mucedorus.
So is the moral of the story: humble valour is far better than shows of wealth. True honour lies within (below a disguise or two)? But it’s not over yet..
Amadine’s dad is sad because his daughter is missing, Collin tries to keep his spirits up. But just as he’s ready to die news of joy and happiness sent by Mouse comes of the true identity of Mucedorus and the successful search for Amadine. Soon after Amadine, Segasto, and Mucedorus enter apologetic for their wrongs and begging pardon. The king wants revenge on Mucedorus until he learns he’s Mucedorus in disguise. He explains why he’s been disguised (and it’s not quite as weird as Mrs Doubtfire but not far off). The King asks Segasto if he wouldn’t mind giving up Amadine to this worthy prince. Segasto is more than happy to. Mouse is glad this is over and excited about his breakfast plans. Valencia enters and everyone is even happier.
With the play over, it’s time again for the epilogue and the fierce fighters comedy and envy are once again present. Comedy is glad to have conquered and envy is ashamed to have failed but it is true both were present in the play and it was unsure until near the end how the play would emerge, who would live and die. Envy promises double revenge next time for the comedic conclusion. But Envy grows weak, like Bremo in the face of love:
My power hath lost her might, Envy’s date’s expired.
Yon splendent majesty hath felled my sting
And amazed I am
Good humour, love, and valour, have conquered cowardliness, bitter anger and deathly desires – at least this time, and Envy is a reformed character. And there endeth the play.
Tomorrow it’ll be time for the last instalment: Double Falsehood.