Ariodante and Genevra

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Ariodante and Genevra was performed at court on 12 February 1583 by the boys of the Merchant Taylors’ School under Richard Mulcaster. A source for the play may have been Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso: though this long ottava rima poem did not appear in English translation until 1591, the Italian original was published as early as 1516 and, in its complete form (over 38,000 lines), in 1532. In Cantos 4, 5, and 6, the author relates the story of the knight Ariodante and Scotland’s royal daughter Genevra, whom he loves. But Duke Polynesso, ambitious and jealous, wants the princess for himself. He confesses his interest to Dalinda, Genevra’s attendant, and, through exploiting the young woman’s love for him, secures her unwitting complicity in his shameful plan: to stage a rendezvous between him and Dalinda that would, in the eyes of the beholder, compromise Genevra’s virtue. Just as Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing is dupped by Don John, so Ariodante, shocked at what he sees, wrongly forsakes the Scottish princess. (Editions of Orlando Furioso, translated by Sir John Harington, reproduce a composite woodcut depicting scenes from the poem, including Polynesso climbing a rope ladder to reach Dalinda, in Genevra’s room and clothing, while the incredulous Ariodante watches.) The Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel, Germany (8o Ms. theatr. 4), holds a seventeenth-century manuscript, in German prose, of a five-act Tragicomedia, its plot and characters—Ariodante, Genevra, Polinesso, Dalinda, the King, Lurcanio (Ariodante’s brother), Rinaldo, and others—those of Orlando Furioso. Act and scene divisions are in Latin, in italic hand; stage directions, centered, and speech headings, in the left margin, are also in italic hand; the text is in a clear German secretary hand. With only recto pages numbered, the manuscript, including a five-page Prologue by Tempus, consists of 60 numbered pages, 110 in all, ending with a “Finis.” Dated by the cataloguer “before 1620,” the manuscript (16 x 10 cm) is bound with a seventeenth-century manuscript of Fortunatus, in the same hand. (Another file, 8o Ms. theatr. 3, contains a third manuscript in the same hand: I Gelosi—Comedia molto piaceuole p[iena] d’ogni gelosia et amore—[99 pages, 15 x 10cm, first half of the seventeenth century].) In Shakespeare’s time, the Landgrave Moritz presided over the Kassel court. A patron of the arts, he kept English actors, including Robert Browne, at court from c. 1594 to at least 1613. Under Moritz, the players performed in Kassel and elsewhere, including the Frankfurt Fair and the courts of other German princes, at first in English and, within a few years, in German. Hence it would not be surprising if the German prose version of Ariodante and Genevra were related to the lost English play.