Old Fortunatus – Introduction

Old Fortunatus has always been one of the more popular non-Shakespearean plays of the era.  In his 1904 edition, Oliphant Smeaton described the play in this way:  “The comedy of Old Fortunatus, though containing numerous faults in construction, in week and ineffective character-drawing, and in improbably psychological deductions, is nevertheless one of the greatest of the Elizabethan dramas.  It has the saving virtue of genius writ large upon it and is almost as much a fairy-masque as a drama.”

Early in 1596 Philip Henslowe records six performances of a play he refers to as the “first part” of Fortunatus.  No author is mentioned, but sebsequent evidencd suggest it was Dekker.  If there was a first part, then it can be assumed that a second part followed, but none is recorded.  Then on 9 November 1599, Henslowe records a payment of £2 to Dekker for “a booke cald the hole hystory of ffortunatus.”  Further payments followed, and the play was prested at court before the Queen on 27 December.  The general theory today is that a second part was written, though not recorded, and Dekker created the surviving play by consdensing the two plays into one.  The Chorus speeches begining Acts Two and Four, describing the adventures of the characters now specifically shows on stage suggest scenes from the original plays that were dropped.

As well, it would seem the ending of the original Part Two was altered for the royal performance.  In the German tale on which the story is based, the conclusion finds Fortune choosing the final judgement on the King.  Dekker’s play makes the plot a contest between Virtue and Vice with Fortune overseeing the contest.  The Queen is directly addressed by Fortune in the final scene and is called upon to pass judgement on which of the two combatants has won.

Dramatis Personæ
Act One, Scene One
Act One, Scene Two
Act One, Scene Three
Act Two, Chorus
Act Two, Scene One
Act Two, Scene wo
Act Three, Scene One
Act Four, Chorus
Act Four, Scene One
Act Four, Scene Two
Act Five, Scene One
Act Five, Scene Two

The translations of the Spanish speeches of Insultado in Act Three, Scene One are from Smeaton’s edition.

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