INTRODUCTION

1. Since G. C. Moore Smith (pp. vii - xiii) argued the issue in 1910, nobody has doubted that the comedy Laelia was acted at Queens’ College on March 1, 1595, to celebrate an occasion on which the Earl of Essex and various other noblemen visited Cambridge for the conferral of honorary M. A. degrees. Nelson (I.355f.) quotes contemporary documents to this effect, the most specific of which (Ingram’s Book, Bodleian Library ms. Gough, Cambridge 46) is:

Memorandum that the next morning after my Lord of Essex and the rest wear come the Orator entertayned them in the regent howse with an Oration it being no Congregation<.> The<y> hard D Whitaker read and then went to dyner to Queens College wher after dyner the<y> had a comedy the day being turned into nyght.

The only doubt is whether Laelia was a new play or a revival of an old one. There are two arguments favoring this latter view. 1.) a Queen’s College accounts book for 1546/47 (quoted by Nelson I.147) records expenses for “New made Garments at the Comoedia of Laelia Modenas.” 2.) In introducing the Arden Shakespeare edition of Twelfth Night (p. xl) Lothian and Craik noted that the play contains several allusions to the 1527 sack of Rome by the Spanish, which discuss it as a recent event, and imagined this constitutes evidence for the date of the play. The latter point is negligible, as the sack is an integral part of the story’s donnée, since Laelia is a translation of a 1540 French play, Charles Estienne's Les Abusez, that already featured this detail. The first one is not so easily set aside. The principal difficulty with accepting it is simply the play’s excellence, as most eloquently appreciated in the discussion by Boas. Could an English academic play written as early as the 1540’s be of such fine quality, without a considerable dramatic tradition standing behind it? My personal inclination is to dismiss the idea as unlikely, but of course some readers may care to disagree. Unfortunately, we lack any university comedies of an equivalent date for the kind of comparison that might settle the issue. One possibility, perhaps, is that the play as we have it is a modernized rewriting of an earlier one.
2. The single manuscript that preserves the text fails to identify the author. There exists an epigram by John Weever, a Queens’ man, addressed to George Meriton and George Mountaine (Nelson I.356):

You entertaine (nor can I passe away)
Of Essex with farre-famed Laelia;
Nor fore the Queen your service on Queens day
When such a Maister with you beareth sway.
How can Queens College ever then decay?
No. Yet Queens College evermore hath beene,
Is, and will be, of Colleges the Queene.

Meriton and Moutaine were two members of Queens’ College who had acted in Laelia and subsequently participated in the performance of Essex’ Device at Court. Smith(p. xvi) opined:

I think…that Weever’s language implies that Meriton and Mountaine (or Montaigne) contributed more to the play than they would have done by merely acting in it, and that one or both should probably be credited with its authorship.

This interpretation of Weever’s language seems overoptimistic, and the most that can safely be inferred is that Meriton and Mountaine performed important roles. Furthermore, the Prologue (line 23) speaks of the playwright (poeta) in the singular, so the suggestion that these two individuals coauthored the play can probably be excluded. We have no realistic alternative to identifying the play as the work of some anonymous member of Queens’ College.
3. The ultimate source of Laelia is the Italian comedy Gl’ Ingannati (The Deceived ), acted by gli Intronati da Siena (“The Academy of the Thunderstruck” in Siena) in 1531, and printed at Vinegia in the following year. NOTE 1 More specifically, Smith (pp. xvi - xxi) has demonstrated that Laelia is not based directly on Gl’ Ingannati but rather on a French translation by Charles Estienne, which first appeared in 1543 under the title Le Sacrifice, and was reprinted in 1549 and 1556 under the title Les Abusez. The principal reason for this conclusion is that Les Abusez and Laelia omit precisely the same scenes of Gl’ Ingannati, featuring the braggart Giglio. Another consideration pointing in the same direction is that the names of some of Laelia ’s characters are Latinized versions of ones in the French, but not the Italian. Thus the servant originally named Pasquella is called Pasquette in the French, and Pacquetta in Laelia. The innkeeper who presides over The Mirror is called Frulla in the Italian, Brouillon in the French, and Brulio in the Latin. Clemens’ daughter is called Cittina in the Italian, Finette in the French, and Finetta in the Latin. All academic comedies based on Continental models are to some extent adaptations rather than translations, but Laelia is more faithful to its original than most. Some of the most conspicuous changes obviously grew out of the special requirements of a play written for a university audience: the part of Petrus the pedant is somewhat enlarged, and the ribaldry of the original has been toned down. Boas (pp. 294 - 6) admired some changes which introduce dramaturgic and psychological improvements in the interviews between Laelia and Flaminius, regarding them as signs of an especially talented dramatic hand, and went so far as to exclaim (p. 296):

It is impossible to read such passages without feeling that the love-scenes between Flaminio and Lelia, enacted before the Intronati at Siena, are already half-transformed into those between Orsino and Viola which, on February 2, 1601/2, delighted the Middle Templars in their hall.

Other deviations from Les Abusez. are observed in appropriate commentary notes. Then too, of course, the act of translating Les Abusez into Latin, and specifically into the comic idiom of Plautus and Terence, employing many echoes and borrowings from their plays, had the effect of drawing the French original very firmly into the orbit of classical Roman comedy.
4. Gl’ Ingannati, Les Abusez, and Laelia will be titles familiar to any reader familiar with discussions of the sources of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This idea occurred to at least one contemporary theatergoer. After seeing a performance of Twelfth Night at the Middle Temple on Candlemasday 1602, the barrister John Manningham wrote in his diary:

At our feast wee had a play called “Twelve Night, or What you Will,” much like Commedy of Errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni.

Modern assessments range from confident assertions that Shakespeare was familiar with Laelia itself, or at least with Gl’ Ingannati or one of the other imitations it spawned (Nicolò Secchi’s 1562 Gl’ Inganni, Lope de Rueda’s Los Engañados, and the other plays itemized by Smith, p. xxiv) to equally assured pronouncements that Twelfth Night is based on none of them. NOTE 2 At minimum, even if Shakespeare had never laid eyes on Laelia, the play may still have exerted influence on the writing of Twelfth Night in the sense that, if Shakespeare had heard a report that a play on this subject of transvestitism had been successfully performed at Cambridge, and had gained the approbation of Essex and the other lords present on the occasion, this may have suggested to him the idea of writing a play on the same theme. In this sense, the situation would be rather comparable to that of Matthew Gwinne’s 1605 Oxford pageant-piece Tres Sibyllae, which is sometimes thought to have turned Shakespeare’s attention to the writing of Macbeth. The odds are overwhelming that Shakespeare did learn a great deal from Gl’ Ingannati or one of its progeny.
5. Issues of gender identity are a current Big Thing in literary criticism, and so modern critics have very predictably battened on the themes of gender ambiguity and homoeroticism in Twelfth Night. NOTE 3 One such writer, reviewing the possible relationship between Twelfth Night and its sources, has written that: NOTE 4:

Twelfth Night omits the explicit heterosexual encounters of the sources, thus concentrating on the possibilities of homoerotic desire which the aggressively heterosexual encounters of the sources defuse…[the play shifts] the emphasis of the action from heterosexual union to homosexual as well as heterosexual possibilities…the entanglements of gender and the displacements of desire are the distinguishing features of Twelfth Night, even though representations of such desires also appear in the sources.

One begs to differ vehemently, for homosexual elements are already quite visible in Gl’ Ingannati and its derivatives. There is a distinct undertone of homoeroticism in the strange power of attraction that the disguised Lelia exerts over Flaminio, no less than in the attraction of the disguised Viola for Orsino, and the lesbianism implied in the Viola - Olivia relationship is fully prefigured in the “Fabio” - Isabella relationship, particularly visible in the love scene between the two (II.v). Hence the themes of gender ambiguities and homoeroticism provoked by Viola’s transvestitism are already present in Gl’ Ingannati, and upon inspection Shakespeare’s allegedly radical revision of the tale turns out to be, at least in this particular respect, not so original after all. Much likelier he acquired this from his source. All that can ultimately be said about Shakespeare's debts is that one of these plays suggested not only the idea for a plot but the theme of transvestitism, and showed him how the possibilities of this latter might be exploited, and there is no visible reason why Laelia could not have been that play.
6. Some things need to be said about the play’s dramaturgy. At various times, five structures are visible to the audience, 1. Virginius’ house, 2. Flaminius’ house, 3. Gerardus’ house, 4. The inn The Sign of the Fool, 5. Clemens’ house. They are employed in the various Acts as follows: I - 1, 2, 3, II - 2, 3, III and IV - 1, 3, 4, V - 1, 2, 3, 5. Other buildings mentioned in the text (the Cathedral, the church and associated convent of St. Crescentia, the inn The Mirror) are offstage. Abraham Fraunce’s comedy Victoria is another Cambridge comedy requiring four stage “houses,” which was probably the maximum number possible even in the largest collegiate dining halls; in an Appendix to my edition of the that play I have suggested how the use of four “houses” was feasible. In the case of Laelia, it would seem most likely that one of the “houses” was used to represent The Sign of the Fool and Clemens’ house in different Acts. Other scenes of Laelia are set in that anonymous “street” so common in Elizabethan drama.
7. The play’s internal time-scheme is problematic because of the sketchy information we are given. According to Smith (p. xxi ), the action takes place at Modena within the space of two days. Act I occurs in the early morning of the first day (in I.ii Clemens complains about the unusual behavior of her chickens, and in I.iii Laelia describes the risks she is undertaking by going abroad so early in the day). Act II takes place somewhat later (in II.ii Pacquetta chides “Fabius” for not visiting Isabella early in the morning). At the beginning of III.ii Fabritius complains that it is too late in the day to search for his father, so he and his retinue decide to spend the night at The Sign of the Fool. In III.iv Fabritius announces to the innkeeper that he will take a stroll while his companions are asleep. Smith interpreted this scene as occurring on the morning of the second day, but it not stated that they are having their night’s sleep rather than taking an afternoon siesta, as weary travelers are wont to do. Furthermore, at 1200 Virginius tells Gerardus that Laelia escaped from the convent “last night or this morning, if I’m not mistaken,” about which Smith writes (p. xxii):

If the dramatist has not made a slip, we must suppose either that Virginius has been deceived by the nun, or that he was purposely minimizing his daughter’s offence.

If this is an author’s slip, it cannot be blamed on the author of Laelia, since Virginio makes the same response in Gl’ Inganni, and Smith’s suggested rationalizations strike one as over-ingenious. It is perhaps likelier that this line should be taken as an indication that the travellers’ sleep of III.iv is a mere siesta, and that Laelia does conform to the standard one-day convention of Renaissance drama. To be sure, we are later told that III.iv transpired in the morning (1376), but if we assume that the party arrives at The Sign of the Fool in the late morning, I do not think this is an insuperable difficulty. Chronological problems of another sort involve possible “fast forward” jumps in time that are not rationalized in the text. Very near the end of II.vi Flaminius exits into his house, leaving “Fabius” onstage to deliver a brief monologue. Then in II.vii Flaminius and his servant Crivelus come out of the house, engaged in a conversation that seems to have been going on for some time. We are evidently supposed to imagine that some substantial passage of time elapses between these scenes, although no such information is provided. The same thing may happen between IV.vi and IV.vii. Flaminius’ abrupt appearance in the latter scene may occur because he rudely bursts in on Gerardus and Pacquetta, and begins the scene with a peremptory question rather than a normal polite greeting, but it is possible that we are to imagine elapsed time, so that IV.vii opens on a conversation already in progress. One hastens to add that, if all of these chronological issues seem a trifle awkward because they are inadequately indicated in the text, the blame should be placed on the author of Gl’Ingannati, in which they are already present, from which they were inherited by Les Abusez. (it should perhaps also be added that the final words of the Ingrams Book account quoted above, the day being turned into nyght, simply mean “Laelia was produced after dinner, after it had grown dark,” and so offer no testimony about the play’s internal time-scheme.)
8. Laelia is preserved in a single manuscript, Lambeth Palace Library ms. 838, art. 4 (a fascicule of i + 36 leaves), which also contains texts of Robert Ward’s comedy Fucus Histriomastix (1623), William Alabaster’s tragedy Roxana (which I have argued to have been written ca. 1595, somewhat later than the common view), and Walter Hawkesworth’s comedies Leander (1599 or 1600) and Labyrinthus (1603). The fact that these are all Cambridge plays suggests a Cambridge provenance for the manuscript. A photographic reproduction with an Introduction by Hans-Dieter Blume is ubiquitously available. The text is written by three hands, covering i.) lines 1 - 260, NOTE 5 ii.) the rest of the play, save for iii.) 1897 - 1907 and some speaker indications prior to that point. In addition, II.6, II.7, and III.1 have been heavily corrected in another hand, by overwriting (since such corrections usually render original readings illegible, these are not reported in this edition). Unfortunately, both of the principal copyists managed to make a hash of their jobs, so the received text is a very poor one. Smith labored mightily to improve it, and I have adopted many of his emendations. At some places where he realized the text is wrong, I have differed with him on how it should be fixed. But if Smith did much, he also left much undone, and I have introduced a large number of emendations at points where he was content to print received readings that are, in my opinion, impossible or at least extremely unlikely. Smith published his edition in an age in which an accompanying English translation may have been unnecessary; in the year 2000, a translation is obligatory. Our anonymous author wrote out his text in lines as if it were poetry, but is in fact prose. Elsewhere I have explained that this practice, common in Elizabethan and Jacobean academic comedy, appears to have been no more than a writing convention designed to give plays the physical appearance of Plautus and Terence (which were understood to have been written in prose until Bentley demonstrated otherwise in the eighteenth century). I see no reason for perpetuating this feature, which would only lead the unwary to look for verse where none exists. Also, writing out the text as prose performs the useful service of highlighting the bits of poetry embedded therein. The ms. contains no stage directions, and in general I have repeated those added by Smith, in some cases in modified form.

 

Notes

NOTE 1 The Italian text can be found in the first volume of Nino Borsellino (ed.), Commedie del Cinquecento (Milan, 1962). An abridged English translation has been printed by Bullough II.286 - 339, and a full one in Bruce Penman's 1990 Penguin paperback Five Italian Renaissance Comedies (the play was also translated in 1862 by Thomas Love Peacock). Then too, some think that Shakespeare got the idea from the tale of Apolonius and Silla in a collection by Barnabe Riche, which translated from the French of Belleforest (Histoires Tragiques, 1579) a story by the Italian Bandello which was based on this Italian comedy.

NOTE 2 Besides the discussion by Smith pp. xxiii - xxviii, cf. such important discussions as those of Bullough II.269 - 285 and Lothian and Craik pp. xxxv - xlvii.

NOTE 3 Cf., for example, Stevie Davis’ essay “Boy-girls and Girl-boys: Sexual Indeterminacy,” in her Twelfth Night (Penguin Critical Studies, London, 1993). 113 - 135. At the beginning of her essay, she makes the point that the London theater used boy-actors to play women, and that in modern productions where Viola is normally played by an actress “some but not all of the pederastic implication is forfeited” (p. 115). It is scarcely irrelevant that the transvestitism involved in producing plays with an all-male cast was high on the list of Puritan objections to academic as well as popular theater, as I have discussed elsewhere.

NOTE 4 Laurie E. Osborne, The Trick of Singularity. Twelfth Night and the Performance Editions (Iowa City, 1996), 168.

spacerNOTE 5 In a letter, Mr. Brandon Centerwall informs me that the hand of this first copyist is the same (albeit the style is less formal) as that of Henry Bellamy’s Iphis, produced at St. John’s College, Oxford, ca. 1625. It would seem that Bellamy had read and studied Laeila and incorporated many of its plot-elements into his play. Iphis was dedicated to Dr. William Juxon, President of St. John’s College, who became an Archbishop of Canterbury after the Restoration. It not seem unlikely, therefore, that the ms. containing Laelia was compiled at St. John’s and became part of Juxon’s collection of academic plays which were eventually deposited in the Lambeth library.

 

Works Consulted

Blume, Horst-Dieter, Hymenaeus, Abraham Fraunce, Victoria, Laelia, Prepared with an Introduction by Hans-Dieter Blume (Renaissance Latin Drama in England series, vol. 13, Hildesheim, 1991). Blume’s introductory remarks and plot summary occupy pp. 14 - 28.

Boas, Frederick S., University Drama in the Tudor Age (Oxford, 1914, reprinted New York, 1966). Boas’ discussion of Victoria occupies pp. 289 - 97.

Bullough, Geoffrey, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London - New York, 1958). Volume II is relevant.

Lothian, J. M. and T. W. Craik (eds.), Twelfth Night (Arden Shakespeare series, London, 1975).

Alan H. Nelson, Cambridge (Records of Early English Drama series, Toronto, 1989).

Smith, G. C. Moore (ed.), Laelia, A Comedy Acted at Queens’ College, Cambridge, Probably on March 1st, 1595 (Cambridge, 1910).