The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.
§ 11. Mucedorus
The popularity of The Merry Devill of Edmonton was as nothing compared with that of A Most pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus, the kings sonne of Valentia and Amadine the kings daughter of Arragon, with the merie conceites of Mouse. The eariest known edition of this play is dated 1598; but the words, “newly set foorth,” on the title-page, indicate that it was first produced at some earlier date; numerous reprints followed, and W. W. Greg has succeeded in tracing no less than seventeen quarto editions of the play up to the year 1700. This popularity is the more remarkable since, as the epilogue makes clear, it was not written for popular representation, but for a performance at court. And, having delighted queen Elizabeth, it was revived, with numerous additions and an altered epilogue, for a Shrovetide performance at Whitehall early in the reign of James I. The text, thus enlarged and amended, was first published in 1610. The vogue of this “very delectable” comedy, while it illustrates the uncritical temper of the age, is somewhat hard to understand; for the play, though doing credit to the infancy of Elizabethan romantic comedy, is, in respect of plot construction, characterisation and metric art, a very primitive piece of work. It teems, however, with action and romantic adventure, and these, with the crude wit and cruder folly of Mouse the clown, seem to have been deemed sufficient by courtier and groundling alike. A Spanish prince, who, in the prosecution of his love, disguises himself first as a shepherd and then as a hermit; a wild man of the woods, who combines cannibal instincts with a nice taste for romance; a rustic clown; and a bear that instructs the princess Amadine how to distinguish between the hero lover and the coward—these are the most notable ingredients of the play. The appearance of such morality figures as Envy and Comedy in the induction and epilogue is a sign of an early date of production, and it is hard to believe that the drama, in its original form, is later than 1590. The name Mucedorus, and the disguise of that prince as a shepherd, recall one of the two heroes of Sidney’s Arcadia, and the probability is that the plot is taken from some half chivalrous and half pastoral romance of Spanish or Italian literature.