1. In my Introduction to the comedy Ara Fortunae, I have told how the members of St. John’s College, Oxford, elected Thomas Tucker as their Christmas Prince to preside over the plays and other entertainments performed over the 1607 - 1608 holiday season, and how the texts of the plays are embedded in a lengthy and detailed narrative of the events of Tucker’s reign, preserved in St. John’s College ms. 52.1.
2. Ara Fortunae was the first play to be performed (on November 30, 1607). It dramatizes Tucker’s institution, and tells how he, unsure whether he should accept this honor, went to the temple of the goddess Fortune to secure her blessing. Its companion-piece, Ira Fortunae, tells how his reign comes to an ignominious end, when the philosophers (representing the members of the college eager to resume their normal studies) rebel against him, and when the disillusioned officers of his royal court abandoned one by one. And the prince forfeits an even more important source of support, for he has failed to perform the vows he had made to Fortune at the time of his inauguration, and so has earned her hostility.
3. So he is ignominiously deposed, an object of scorn and mockery within his community. Worse still, some of the philosophers would very much like to kill him. In his anguished predicament, only one character stands loyally by him and shares his exile, his court jester or fool. It is impossible to read this play (and especially its Act IV) without being vividly reminded of Lear. The quarto edition of Lear was printed in 1608, and we have records of a performance at Court as early as December 26, 1606, so there is no reason for doubting that this is a deliberate parody of that play. The comic effect is greatly helped along by the excellent writing of the scenes between the prince and the fool, and, although in Ara Fortunae the fool makes no great impression, in Ira Fortunae he becomes one of the more memorable characters of the English academic theatrical tradition. Elsewhere I have catalogued some examples of Shakespeare's influence on English university drama; NOTE 1 Ira Fortunae is an important addition to this list (Dr. Martin Wiggins suggests to me that the storm scenes in another play in the Christmas Prince cycle, the English Periander (III.xi - xii) also take their inspiration from Lear).
4. Ira seu Tumulus Fortuna was performed on Shrove Tuesday (February 9), 1608. Its text is preserved on pp. 179 - 206 of the manuscript. After the text, the narrative goes on to describe the performance:
Many stranugers of all sorts were invited to this shew, and many more came together, for the names sake only of a resignacion to see the manner and solemnity of it, for yt was reported (and truly) that there was nothing els to bee done or scene beside the resignacion, and no man thought so much could have beene said of so little matter.
The stage was never so oppressed with company, insomuch that it was verely thought itt Could not bee performed that night for want of roome; but the Audience was so favourable as to stand as Close and yeeld as-much backe as was possible: so that for all tumuts it began about 7 a Clocke, and was very well liked of all.
Only some few more upon their owne guilty suspicion then our plaine intention thincking themselves toucht at that verse of Momus,
Dixi, et quem dederat cursum fortuna peregi
Laboured to raise an hissing, but it was soone smothered, and the whole Company in the end, gave us good applause, and departed very well pleased.
This last detail is perplexing. The line in question (780) is spoken by Cynic, not Momus, and Cynic is urging the prince to say these words himself, as a formal acknowledgment that his reign is now over. It is difficult to see how anybody in the audience could take offense at them.
5. As is often the case, I extend my thanks to Dr. Martin Wiggins for suggesting some ways in which this edition could be improved.
NOTE 1 D. F. Sutton, “Shakespeare and the Academics,” Neulateinisches Jahrbuch, Journal of Neo-Latin Language and Literature 3 (2001), 177 - 186 (what I wrote there about the resemblance of Matthew Gwinne's 1603 Nero to the beginning of Lear, however, requires correction: see here).