Ariodante and Genevra

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Anon. (1583)

Historical Records

Original Accounts of the Office of the Revels

A historie of Ariodante and Geneuora shewed before her maiestie on Shrovetuesdaie at night enacted by mr Mulcasters children, ffor which was newe prepared and Imployed, one Citty, one battlement of Canvas. vij Ells of sarcenet, and ij. dozen of gloves. The whole furniture for the reste was of the store of this office, whereof sondrey garmentes for fytting of the Children were altered & translated[.]
(The National Archives: AO 3/907/9, f. 2v; qtd. Feuillerat 350)

Declared Accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber

To Richarde Mulcaster vppon the Counselles warr[ant] dated at Richmonde xvijmo Februarij 1582 for presentinge of a play before her highnes wth his Scholers on Shroue Twesday last at Richmonde the some of vjli xiijs iiijd and by way of rewarde towardes the Chardges of there preparacion and attendaunce in that behalfe lxvjs viijd in all     xli
(The National Archives: E 351/542, f.44v; qtd. MSC VI, 20)

Theatrical Provenance

"Ariodante and Genevra" was performed at court on 12 February 1583 by the boys of the Merchant Taylors’ School under Richard Mulcaster.

Probable Genre(s)

Romance (?) (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

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 duped 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.)

References to the Play

(information welcome)

Critical Commentary

Chambers (2.76), discussing Mulcaster's productions for court, cites Sir James Whitelocke, a seventeenth-century judge, who entered the Merchant Taylors' School in 1575:

"I was brought up at school under mr. Mulcaster, in the famous school of the Marchantaylors in London […] yeerly he presented sum playes to the court, in whiche his scholers wear only actors, and I on among them, and by that meanes taughte them good behaviour and audacitye." (Bruce 12)

Wiggins # 737.

(Further information welcome.)

For What It's Worth

The Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel, Germany, holds a seventeenth-century manuscript, in German prose, of a five-act Tragicomedia (8o Ms. theatr. 4). 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.

Works Cited

Bruce, John, ed. Liber Famelicus of Sir James Whitelocke, a Judge of the Court of King's Bench in the Reigns of James I. and Charles I. Camden Society. London, 1858. (British Library, Add. MS 53725.)
Feuillerat, Albert, ed. Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth. Louvain: A. Uystpruyst, 1908.
Harms, Paul. Die deutschen Fortunatus-Dramen und ein Kasseler Dichter des 17. Jahrhunderts. Hamburg und Leipzig: Verlag von Leopold Volz, 1892. pp. 54-94. Internet Archive

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