The Thracian Wonder

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The Thracian Wonder is a stage play of English Renaissance drama, a work that constitutes a long-standing and persistent problem for scholars and historians of the subject.

English Renaissance theatre theatre of England between 1562 and 1642

English Renaissance theatre—also known as Renaissance English theatre and Elizabethan theatre—refers to the theatre of England between 1562 and 1642.

Contents

Publication

The Thracian Wonder enters the historical record with its initial 1661 publication, in a quarto printed by Thomas Johnson for the bookseller Francis Kirkman — the only edition of the play in the seventeenth century. The quarto's title page states that the drama "hath been several times acted with great applause," though no hard evidence of the play's date of origin or early productions has survived.

Book size size of a book

The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from folio, to quarto (smaller) and octavo. Historically, these terms referred to the format of the book, a technical term used by printers and bibliographers to indicate the size of a leaf in terms of the size of the original sheet. For example, a quarto historically was a book printed on a sheet of paper folded twice to produce four leaves, each leaf one fourth the size of the original sheet printed. Because the actual format of many modern books cannot be determined from examination of the books, bibliographers may not use these terms in scholarly descriptions.

Francis Kirkman British publisher

Francis Kirkman appears in many roles in the English literary world of the second half of the seventeenth century, as a publisher, bookseller, librarian, author and bibliographer. In each he is an enthusiast for popular literature and a popularising businessman, described by one modern editor as "hovering on the borderline of roguery".

Genre and source

The title page of the original edition describes the play as a "comical history." Scholar Marvin T. Herrick, borrowing from Polonius in Hamlet , termed it a "tragical-comical-historical-pastoral play." [1] The Thracian Wonder is in fact a pastoral comedy; critics have noted its general resemblances with Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale . Both plays derive from the prose romances of Robert Greene, Shakespeare's from Pandosto (1588), and The Thracian Wonder from Menaphon (1589).

<i>Hamlet</i> tragedy by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare at an uncertain date between 1599 and 1602. Set in Denmark, the play dramatises the revenge Prince Hamlet is called to wreak upon his uncle, Claudius, by the ghost of Hamlet's father, King Hamlet. Claudius had murdered his own brother and seized the throne, also marrying his deceased brother's widow.

Pastoral art genre

A pastoral lifestyle is that of shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasture. It lends its name to a genre of literature, art, and music that depicts such life in an idealized manner, typically for urban audiences. A pastoral is a work of this genre, also known as bucolic, from the Greek βουκολικόν, from βουκόλος, meaning a cowherd.

William Shakespeare English playwright and poet

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

More broadly, The Thracian Wonder reveals debts to the works of Edmund Spenser and John Lyly, [2] and can be classed with plays that show the influence of Sidneyan pastoral, like Shirley's The Arcadia .

Edmund Spenser 16th-century English poet

Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognized as one of the premier craftsmen of nascent Modern English verse, and is often considered one of the greatest poets in the English language.

John Lyly 16th/17th-century English writer, poet, dramatist, and courtier

John Lyly was an English writer, poet, dramatist, and courtier, best known during his lifetime for his books Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and His England (1580), and perhaps best remembered now for his plays. Lyly's mannered literary style, originating in his first books, is known as euphuism.

Philip Sidney 16th-century English poet, courtier, and diplomat

Sir Philip Sidney was an English poet, courtier, scholar, and soldier, who is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan age. His works include Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poesy, and The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.

Authorship

Kirkman's 1661 quarto assigned the authorship of the play to John Webster and William Rowley, though critical opinion has been essentially unanimous in denying Webster any hand in the play. It is possible that Kirkman may have confused the play with the genuine Webster/Rowley work A Cure for a Cuckold , which he also published in 1661.

John Webster was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often regarded as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. His life and career overlapped William Shakespeare's.

A Cure for a Cuckold is a late Jacobean era stage play. It is a comedy written by John Webster and William Rowley. The play was first published in 1661, though it is understood to have been composed some four decades earlier.

Nineteenth-century scholars proposed Thomas Heywood as a possible author, and the cases for Rowley and for Heywood have been debated pro and con in the critical literature. [3] Editor Michael Nolan, in his 1997 edition of the play, accepted the work as a Rowley/Heywood collaboration.

Thomas Heywood 16th/17th-century English playwright, actor, and author

Thomas Heywood was an English playwright, actor, and author. His main contributions were to late Elizabethan and early Jacobean theatre. He is best known for his masterpiece A Woman Killed with Kindness, a domestic tragedy, which was first performed in 1603 at the Rose Theatre by the Worcester's Men company. He was a prolific writer, claiming to have had "an entire hand or at least a maine finger in two hundred and twenty plays", although only a fraction of his work has survived.

(If valid, this attribution would constrain the play's possible date of authorship to the period of Rowley's playwriting career, roughly 1607 to 1625.)

In a 1908 study, O. L. Hatcher pointed out resemblances between The Thracian Wonder and Greene's dramatisation of Orlando Furioso in addition to Menaphon, and on that basis argued for Greene's authorship of The Thracian Wonder — a hypothesis that has not found other support among critics.

Synopsis

The play begins with a scene of dramatic action, as the Thracian princess Ariadne, her infant son in her arms, flees the violent threat of her father Pheander; the Thracian king, his sword drawn, pursues his daughter with the intent of punishing her apparent unchastity. Radagon, the infant's father, bursts in upon the scene to protect Ariadne; but he is the son of the king of Sicily, an enemy of Thrace, and his presence only incenses Pheander more. The king's pursuing courtiers try to palliate Pheander's rage, and succeed to the degree that the king spares the young couple's lives; he decrees that they be set adrift at sea in small boats, and left to the mercy of the winds and waves. (In his impatience the king refuses to listen to his daughter's explanation, which is that she and Radagon are in fact married.)

The play's second scene introduces the characters of the subplot, a group of Thracian shepherds. Among them is Palemon, who is deeply in love with Serena. She spurns his affections; his lack of success in love affects his mental balance, leaving him a "mad lover." His brother Tityrus represents the opposite viewpoint, expressing cynical misogyny (until he himself falls in love later in the play). The scene also introduces the clown Muscod, who provides the play's comic relief in this and subsequent subplot scenes.

Act I closes with a dumbshow, which shows a storm-tossed Ariadne and Ragadon separately rescued by shepherds; a Chorus and a personified Time comment on the action.

Pheander's brother Sophos comes to court to protest his brother's conduct regarding Ariadne; Sophos bears a letter from the princess that explains her marriage. But the intemperate king refuses to listen, and banishes his brother from the kingdom. Thrace is struck by a plague, with many fatalities. Pheander sends to the oracle at Delphi for guidance about the plague, but dislikes the Pythia's dismal and cryptic answer. The king of Sicily invades with his army; Pheander is at first determined to resist, but his military weakness gives him second thoughts. He negotiates a truce with the Sicilians to search for their missing prince Radagon, and takes up the life of a wandering pilgrim while a Sicilian viceroy rules the kingdom.

Both Radagon and Ariadne live among the shepherds under assumed identities, he as "Menalchas" and she as "Mariana." At one point they are elected the king and queen of a shepherds' festival, but fail to recognise each other. (This inability of characters to recognise their friends and loved ones in changed circumstances can strike modern readers as absurd and imbecilic; but it is a recurring element in the popular literature and drama of the era. To select only one of many possible examples, Heywood's The Four Prentices of London features characters with the same handicap.) "Menalchas" does fall in love with "Mariana," however, because she so strongly resembles the supposedly dead Ariadne.

The scene shifts to Africa, where Sophos is shown with the King of Africa and his daughter and courtiers. In his exile, Sophos has won the friendship of the ruler of the Moors, who is now prepared to intervene in Thracian affairs. Also present is Eusanius, the son of Ariadne and Radagon. An infant at the start of the play, he is now a young man of twenty, eager for military adventure. He and the king's daughter, Lillia Guida, are attracted to each other; when the king realises this he grows irate, and exiles Eusanius. The young man returns to Thrace, and he too falls in with the shepherds, meeting both Ariadne and Radagon – without knowing they are his parents. Ariadne feels a strong emotional bond toward both men, who react jealously to each other.

While wandering in his pilgrim guise, Pheander also arrives on the scene, and is struck by Ariadne/Mariana, the "shepherds' queen." He abducts her and returns to court to resume his rule. The shepherds rise up in rebellion to rescue their "queen" — but then join forces with Pheander when the armies of Sicily and Africa arrive. The final scenes depict a confusion of battle among the assembled forces. Eusanius captures his unknown grandfather, the Sicilian king, and turns his prisoner over to the shepherds' commander, his unknown father Radagon. Radagon, however, knows his own father, and switches sides to defend him.

The conflict eventually boils down to a single combat between Radagon and Eusanius; but before they can kill each other, their true identities are revealed, and the differences among the principals are resolved. Eusanius, the lost child who triumphantly returns as heir to the kingdom, is the "Thracian wonder" of the title. (Obscure plot points, such as the reason for Eusanius's presence in Africa with Sophos, are also elucidated.) Among the shepherds, Palemon is wounded in the battle; the shock helps to cure his love-madness, and also helps Serena realise that she actually loves him. Palemon and Serena are happily united at the play's end, as are Radagon and Ariadne, and Eusanius and Lillia Guida; peace and amity are restored.

Notes

  1. Herrick quoted in Logan and Smith, p. 175.
  2. David Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics (1968), cited in Logan and Smith, p. 175.
  3. Logan and Smith, pp. 174–5.

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