Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

Mucedorus and Counsel from Q1 to Q3*

Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

Mucedorus and Counsel from Q1 to Q3*

Article excerpt


The anonymous play Mucedorus is commonly cited for its popularity in the seventeenth century, running through over fifteen editions, but has been just as often dismissed as light slapstick fare, with little notice of its political interests and anxieties as it was revised after the accession of King James.1 The play has often piqued the interest of critics only to the extent that it offers an excellent authorship mystery, with the tantalizing prospect of possible Shakespearean collaboration.2 The First Quarto (Ql) of the play that we now call Mucedorus was published in 1598 with the title "A Most pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus the kings sonne of Valentía and Amadine the Kings daughter of Arragon, with the merie conceites of Mouse."3 Ql ends with one of the choric figures, Envie, a would-be rebel, completely humbled by the proximity of the Queen; the final moment is a prayer for the maintenance of divinely-ordained power as embodied in Elizabeth. The Third Quarto (Q3) text, published in 1610, during the reign of James, makes several cuts and additions to the twelve-year-old play, adapting it to take advantages of nascent themes in the original work to emphasize the importance of a monarch's willingness to heed his counsel. Specifically, while Ql ends with an Epilogue declaring the ultimate power of the monarch, the overall feeling of Q3 bends in the opposite direction-a concern for correctly mediated power of the monarch and the importance of honest consular advice.

In this article, I intend to argue that the Q3 revision of Mucedorus adapts Ql in order to highlight the tense but necessary relationship between monarch and counsel, a theme that has been generally overlooked in previous discussions of the two editions.4

The Political Background to Q3

After the 1598 Ql edition, a second printing (Q2) was published in 1606, with minor changes in punctuation and spelling (see Proudfoot). This text was revised, then, some time after 1606 and published as Q3 in 1610, in an atmosphere of concern about how King James (who acceded to the English throne in 1603) was defining monarchical power against the power of his counsel and Parliament. Counsel, and the nature of the king's relationship to counsel, was a topic of serious contention. Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Secretary in England, offers this analysis of contemporary English counsel:

It is impossible to deny that these English statesmen have, so to speak, bewitched [incantato] the King; he is lost in bliss and so entirely in their hands that, whereas the late Queen knew them and put up with them as a necessity but always kept her eye on their actions, the new King, on the contrary, seems to have almost forgotten that he is a King [...] and leaves them with such absolute authority [assoluto dominio] that beyond a doubt they are far more powerful than ever they were before.5

Adding to concerns about James, in 1607, John Cowell, "Doctor, and the Kings Maiesties Professour of the Ciuill Law in the Vniuersitie of Cambridge" published The Interpreter: or Booke Containing the Signification of Words: Wherein is set foorth the true meaning of all, or the most part of such Words and Termes, as are mentioned in the Lawe Writers, or Statutes of this victorious and renowned Kingdome, requiring any Exposition or Interpretation. Cowell's book, a dictionary of legal terms, set forth in strong terms that the king was an absolute monarch, with the authority to legislate without the need for approval from or consultation of Parliament. Cowell argues:

either the king is aboue the Parlament, that is, the positiue lawes of his kingdome, or else that he is not an absolute king [...] though it be a mercifull policie, and also a politique mercie [...] to make lawes by the consent of the whole Realme, because so no one part shall have cause to complaine of a partialitie: yet simply to binde the prince to or by these lawes, weare repugnant to the nature and constitution of an absolute monarchy. …

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