Fortunatus, Part 1

Anon. (1595?)

Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 14v (Greg I.28):
ye 3 of febreary 1595
R[es] at the 1 p of forteunatus . . . . . .

ye 10 of febreary 1595
R[es] at fortunatus . . . . . .

ye 20 of febreary 1595
R[es] at ffortunatus . . . . . .

Fol. 15v (Greg I.30):
ye 14 of aprell 1596
R[es] at fortunatus . . . . . .

ye 11 of maye 159[5]6
R[es] at fortunatus . . . . . .

ye 24 of maye 1596
R[es] at ffortunatus . . . . . .


Philip Henslowe's papers in the Dulwich College Library

Under the heading “The Enventary tacken of all the properties for my Lord Admeralles men, the 10 of Marche 1598” (Greg, Papers, APX, I.1.116-18):

Item, ij fanes of feathers; Belendon stable; j tree of gowlden apelles; Tantelouse tre; jx eyorn targates.
(Greg’s note: “The tree of golden apples was for I Fortunatus" Papers, APX. I, art. 1. p.117, l. 75)

Item, iij Imperial crownes; j playne crowne.
(Greg’s note: “Possibly as Fleay suggests for I FortunatusPapers, APX. I, art.1, p.118, l. 89)

Theatrical Provenance

6 performances of I Fortunatus as an old play (it was not marked ‘ne’) by the Admiral’s men, the earliest recorded of which occurred on 3 Feb 1595/6. There is no evidence of a second part having been written or performed, despite Henslowe’s designation of this play as “the 1 p of forteunatus.”

NB. In 1599, Henslowe paid Dekker £6 in full payment for “a booke cald the hole history of ffortunatus” (= Dekker’s Old Fortunatus). Henslowe proceeded to pay an additional 20s the very next day (“the 31 of novmbr”) for alterations. £10 were subsequently spent on properties for the play and another 40s paid to Dekker “for the eande of fortewnatus for the corte”. In the absence of a text for the lost I Fortunatus played in the 1595/6 it is not possible to establish if Dekker’s play was a revision of the earlier Fortunatus (as most critics tend to assume, without evidence) rather than a wholly independent play on the same subject.

Probable Genre(s)

Romantic Comedy (Harbage); travel; Eastern; wonders; “romantic ‘journeying’ play” (Parr)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

As Albert Feuillerat notes, “The history of Fortunatus was published for the first time in Augsburg in 1509” in the German Volksbuch, “the source of the legend”:

This Volksbuch falls naturally into two parts. The first part treats of Fortunatus’ life: his youth, his travels after Fortune presented him with an inexhaustible purse which assured him of sensational success wherever he went, his return to his native Cyprus, his marriage, his departure in search of new adventures, his stay with the sultan of Turkey from whom he stole the magic cap which enabled its possessor to obtain all he wished, his final return to Cyprus, and his death. The second part was devoted to the adventures of Andolosia, one of Fortunatus’ sons: his intrigue with an English princess, the loss of the purse and of the magic cap, his stratagem to recover them, and finally the assassination of Andolosia and of his brother Ampedo. The 1596 play must have contained only the life of Fortunatus; thus Dekker’s task was to abbreviate this subject and in the space thus gained to introduce the lives of Andolosia and of his brother Ampedo. This is no doubt what Dekker had done when he submitted his manuscript to the company on November 30. (Feuillerat 18).

Herford discusses the legend and its influence in his Literary Relations of England and Germany (esp.204-05), available at Internet Archive.

References to the Play

In a commendatory verse to Coryate’s The Odcombian banquet (1611), a writer identified as Joannes Iackson recalls and celebrates Fortunatus’s fabulous abilities:

Can it Be possible for A naturall man To trauell nimbler then Tom Coryate can? No: though You should tie to his horne-peec’d Shoes, wings fether’d more then Mercury did vse. Perchance hee borrowed Fortunatus Hat, for wings since Bladuds time Were out of date. (sig. N)

There is no reason to assume the reference is specifically to the play or even Dekker’s redaction; the Fortunatus legend may simply have become widely known by this stage.

Critical Commentary

Few critics consider the lost I Fortunatus without also considering Dekker’s Old Fortunatus, in part because for many critics the stationers' register entry for Dekker’s play apparently “suggests that the 1599 play was a revision of the 1596 one” (Chambers, ES, III.291). Here is the stationers' register entry for 20 Feb., 1600:

‘A commedie called old Fortunatus in his newe lyuerie.’ William Aspley
(S.R.1, III.156)

Malone notes the 3 February 1596 entry as if it were for Dekker's published play (p. 298, n5); Collier reads the entry as evidence that Dekker's play had a first part, but he is unsure when the play was new (p. 64, n1). Fleay (BCED I.126) claims that scenes 1-6 of Dekker’s play represent the earlier, lost Fortunatus play, and believes “[t]he date of writing the first part is fixed as 1590 by Sc.1, in which Fortunatus speaks ‘no language but An Almond for Parrot and Crack me this Nut’,” adding that the “allusions to Lyly and his imitators are too minute and numerous to be worked out here.” Greg also maintains that [t]he original play, which is of uncertain authorship, was presumably written about 1590” but adds:

[t]he large receipts from the first performance [in Henslowe’s Diary, 1595/6], and the fact of its being particularly designated 'the first part,' show that it was not a mere revival. It had doubtless been revised for the occasion, and a second part had been planned. This, however, was for some reason delayed and in the confusion following on the inhibition of July 1597 the project was for the time abandoned. (II.179)

Critics agree that the £6 paid to Dekker for his “hole history of ffortunatus” (Henslowe's Diary F.65v / Greg I.114) was on par with the fee paid for an entirely new play, yet Greg is typical in adopting the hypothesis that Old Fortunatus was a mere revision. Greg believes that Dekker “had most likely already had charge of the earlier revision,” and hence “was entrusted with the recasting of the whole” in 1599. He does not explain why Dekker’s conjectured authorship of the original play should be assumed.

Criticism of Dekker’s play turns on ascertaining which portions of Old Fortunatus represent the old play and which portions are Dekker’s additions. Greg, working on the assumption that Old Fortunatus still contains remnants of the earlier play, declared that:

Fleay is, no doubt, right in thinking that scs. i-vi (ll. 1-1314) represent the original play, and scs. vii-xii (ll. 1315-2846) the additional part mentioned in sc. vi (see ll. 1253-4: ' See, heres a Storie of all his trauels; this booke shall come out with a new Addition: He treade after my Fathers steps' &c., which must belong to the revision of 1596). But the earlier portion was largely rewritten and shows many traces of Dekker's hand. (II.179).

Greg and Fleay’s argument here seems to rest on the assumption of a metatheatrical allusion in the line “this booke shall come out with a new Addition.” Such an allusion is not implausible, but the sentence is equally (if not more) intelligible as a simple pronouncement by the sons that they will continue travelling as their father had done, recording their adventures along the way.

Chambers, ES (III.291) assumes that “[p]robably Dekker boiled the old two parts down into one play” and agrees with Fleay and Greg that “the juncture may … come about l.1315.” On the authorship of the lost play, Chambers speculates as follows:

Dekker may or may not have been the original author of the two-part play; probably he was not, if Fleay is right in assigning it to c. 1590 on the strength of the allusions to the Marprelate controversy left in the 1600 text, e.g. l.59. I should not wonder if Greene, who called his son Fortunatus, were the original author. (III.291).

Halstead also speculates that Dekker tried to adapt the old romance Fortunatus for the public stage (rather than compose his own play independently), but realised it would not suit changed tastes; hence Henslowe instead tried to capitalise on the imminent Christmas season at court and the opportunity to entertain the Queen, and paid Dekker to revise the play for court performance (adding the prologue, the vice/virtue subplot, and the epilogue, to his own recent redaction of the Fortunatus legend).

As noted above, Feuillerat believes “[t]he 1596 play must have contained only the life of Fortunatus” and that Dekker tasked himself with reducing its subject matter (NB. this need not imply revising the play; only the source) so as to fit the sons’ story into the space of a single play (Old Fortunatus) (Feuillerat 18).

See also Wiggins, Catalogue #843.

For What It’s Worth

As McInnis notes, if the earlier, lost play did not include the sons’ story (Feuillerat) or the virtue/vice subplot (Halstead), how should the “tree of gowlden apelles” from Henslowe’s inventory be accounted for? In Dekker’s play, the tree of golden apples appears in I.iii as part of the Fortune/Vertue/Vice subplot, and at IV.i in the context of the sons’ story. The existence of a “tree of gowlden apelles” in the 1598 properties list suggests (if it were indeed from the lost Fortunatus play) that the episodes in Dekker’s play corresponded to scenes in the earlier text.

Works Cited

Bowers, Fredson (ed.). Dekker, Thomas. Old Fortunatus. The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970. 105-206.
Coryate, Thomas. The Odcombian banquet. 1611.
Feuillerat, Albert. The Composition of Shakespeare’s Plays: Authorship, Chronology. New Haven: Yale UP, 1953. Google books
Halstead, W. L. “Note on Dekker’s Old Fortunatus.” Modern Language Notes 54. 5 (1939): 351-352. JSTOR
Herford, C. H. Studies in the literary relations of England and Germany in the sixteenth century. Cambridge: CUP, 1886. Internet Archive
McInnis, David. “Fortunatus and the ‘Tree of Gowlden Apelles’ in Henslowe’s Inventory.” Notes & Queries 58.2 (June 2011): 270-72.
Parr, Anthony (ed). Introduction. Three Renaissance Travel Plays. Manchester: Manchester UP, c1995; rpt. 1999. The Revels Plays Companion Library.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated, 19 Feb 2011.