circa 1490-circa 1501‘The first known subplot in English-language drama’
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
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Notes of interest
Fulgens and Lucrece was originally performed during a banquet or feast. The characters make several references throughout the play indicating that (although they are presumably in Rome) they are completely aware of the audience and their banquet.
The play is divided into two sections. The first section ends just after the contest that characters A and B ‘fight’ over Joan and the news that Lucrece has agreed to meet with her two suitors and make her choice.
The dialogue makes clear that the audience has been eating before the commencement of the play, have not been served during the first section, but are served again between sections one and two of the play.
Although Publius Cornelius refers to Scipio Africanus (236-183 B.C.E.) as his great-grandsire, placing the chronology of this play no later than the first century B.C.E., Fulgens and Lucrece apparently takes place in the post-Christian Roman world, for Fulgens begins the play with a lengthy praising of his Lord and Saviour and, near play’s ending, Lucrece specifically expresses her preference for a man living in the ‘Christian region’
In the opening moments of the play, while characters A and B are pretending to be members of the audience, A ‘mistakes’ B for a player because of his apparel. When B says that he is not, A apologizes, noting,
There is so much nice arrayIf taken at face value, this could indicate that players often dressed better than their audiences but that new fashions had almost eradicated this distinction. However, it is equally likely that these lines are ironic. The characters of A and B are ‘masterless’ men in need of employment later in the play. They could well be dressed poorly, as befitting their station in society, and these lines would therefore be delivered for comic effect, suggesting that the audience is dressed no better than they.
Amongst these gallants nowaday,
That a man shall not lightly
Know a player from another man.
Regarding the 'joust' between characters A and B, which they call fart prick in cule, Thomas Betteridge and Greg Walker, in The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama, opine that in this event ‘they launch themselves at each other in squatting positions with poles thrust between their buttocks, joking about incontinence and farting’ although they provide no evidence for this specific interpretation of the activity. The text itself only indicates that Joan must first truss them up, as the manner of tying appears impossible for one to do to oneself, and, later, both A and B must beg another to release their hands from their bindings.
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Plays to be compared
Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle for a similar metadramatic sensibilities: the use of character-audience interaction including characters ‘planted’ in the audience at the start who soon take active roles in the presentation.
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the perceived necessity to quiet an audience’s qualms. What the Lion does (humourously) in Act V of MND, assuring the ladies that he is no ‘lion fell’ but rather Snug the joiner, the characters in Fulgens and Lucrece perform in earnest. More than once, and by most of the characters, the audience is assured that the play does not intend to insult nor comment upon the nobility. The characters address one another and the audience in this fashion, repeatedly insisting that Lucrece’s choice of the common-born Gaius Flaminius is in no manner a commentary upon anyone present in the hall nor upon nobility itself but merely a singular choice brought about by the unique situation in which these particular characters find themselves in this isolated example.