Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

New Light on Dekker's Fortunati

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

New Light on Dekker's Fortunati

Article excerpt

To scholars of English literature, the best-known rendering of the story of Fortunatus and his magical purse and wishing hat is Thomas Dekker's The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus, published in 1600. (1) But Old Fortunatus was not the first English Fortunatus play; indeed, Fortunatus has an interesting, if elusive, history. Henslowe's Diary contains six entries concerning receipts for performances of Fortunatus, dated February 3, 10, and 20, 1595, April 14, 1596, and May 11 and 24, 1596, the first of these recording the play as "the j p of fortewnatus" (The First Part of Fortunatus). There are three additional entries in November 1599 (9, 24, 30) for payments to Dekker, as playwright, for "the hole hystory of ffortunatus" (The Whole History of Fortunatus), the last of these specifying "in full payment." Two other entries concerning payments to Dekker follow, the first on [sic] November 31, 1599 "for the altrenge of the boocke of the wholl history of fortewnatus" (for the altering of the book of The Whole History of Fortunatus), the second on December 12, 1599 for payment "for the eande of fortewnatus for the corte" (for the end of Fortunatus for the court). (2) The text that we know today, The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus, is the text Dekker prepared for court performance--the altered Whole History of Fortunatus--which, according to its title page, was performed by the Admiral's Men before the Queen during the Christmas season 1599.

There is also a Fortunatus play, in German, in a volume published in Leipzig in 1620. Compiled by Frederick Menius, Engelische Comedien und Tragedien, in addition to two Pickelherring plays and six interludes, collects eight plays--Esther and Haman, The Prodigal Son, Fortunatus, A King's Son of England and a King's Daughter of Scotland, Sidonia and Theagenes. Nobody and Somebody, Julio and Hyppolita, and A Very Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus--all performed by English actors in towns and at courts in Germany. (3) Menius, who was public notary at Wolgast in Pomerania from 1617 to 1621, may have seen the English actors perform there, for Philip Julius, Duke of Pomerania, nephew to Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig, hosted several troupes of englische Komodianten at the Wolgast court between 1606 and 1623. Menius apparently took pride in the volume: not only did he publish the plays but he did so in a form that would enable them to be easily acted ("dass sie gar leicht darauss Spielweiss widerumb angerichtet ... konnen"), and he made the point that none of the plays in the collection had been previously published (i.e., in German).

But Fortunatus had been previously performed; indeed, on the Continent it appears to have been a staple of the English actors' repertory. A letter from the Archduchess Maria Magdalena to her brother, Archduke Ferdinand (later Emperor Ferdinand II), documents a performance during Fasching 1608 in Graz, Austria, (4) when a visiting English troupe presented ten plays: the play about the prodigal son, about a pious lady of Antwerp, Doctor Faustus, about a Duke of Florence who fell in love with a nobleman's daughter, about nobody and somebody, Fortunatus's purse and wishing hat ("von des fortunatus peitl und Wunschhietel"), the play about the Jew, another play about the 2 brothers King Ludwig and King Friderich of Hungary, about a King of Cyprus and a Duke of Venice, and about the rich man and Lazarus. (5) Prior to that performance, in the winter of 1606/1607, a Fortunatus play was performed in Kassel, along with other plays in the Graz repertory and two plays that appear in the 1620 collection. (6) And on July 11, 1626, a Fortunatus play ("von Fortunato Wunschhutlein") was presented in Dresden, which, over nine months, saw English actors perform numerous plays, including four others that are also in the 1620 volume. (7)

The performances in Kassel, Graz, and Dresden were almost certainly of the play published in 1620; hence we need to ask what the relationship is between that text and Dekker's The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus. …

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