INTRODUCTION 

1. The Latin comedy Victoria was written, evidently in 1583, by Abraham Fraunce [c. 1558 - 1633], NOTE 1 author of such better known works as The Lamentations of Amyntas for the Death of Phillis, paraphrastically translated out of the Latine into English Hexameters (1587), The Arcadian Rhetorike (1588), The Lawiers Logike (1588), and The Countesse of Pembrokes Yvychurch (1591). At the time, Fraunce was a Fellow and M. A. student at St. John’s College, Cambridge. Victoria, an adaptation of Luigi Pasqualigo’s Il Fidele (first printed in 1576), is uniquely preserved in an autograph presentation manuscript dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, still owned by Sidney’s family, but transferred from Penshurst Place and deposited in the Kent Archives Office as MS. U1475/Z15, where it may be inspected with the permission of Sidney’s descendant, the current Lord De L’Isle. This expedient will rarely be necessary, because a photographic reproduction is now available, with an Introduction by Horst-Dieter Blume.
2. The dedicatory poem prefacing the manuscript has the heading HEROI NOBILISSIMO, DOMINO ILLUSTRISSIMO, MECAENATI OPTIMO, PHILIPPO SIDNEIO [“TO THAT MOST NOBLE, MOST ILLUSTRIOUS
DOMINUS, AND EXCELLENT MAECENAS, PHILIP SIDNEY”], and in his Introduction (p. xi), Smith argued that Victoria must have been written prior to January 13, 1583, when Sidney was knighted, a view not questioned by subsequent writers. It is true that this inscription does not contain the expected words EQUITI AURATO, but according to this view it seems hard to understand DOMINO, which in Latin of the time has two standard meanings: “Sir,” or an honorific title given to individuals who had been admitted to the B. A. Sidney was not a member of the nobility, and although he had studied for a while at Oxford, he never completed his undergraduate degree. It would seem likelier, therefore, that the play (or at least this dedication) was written after January 13, but prior to the time Fraunce went down from Cambridge in the third academical term of 1583. Also, at the play’s conclusion (1911ff.) Onophrius is made to say Cras si redeatis, spectatores optimi, audietis bona cum venia epithalamium Onophrii. Interim vero, vivite, valete, plaudite. [“ If you would come back tomorrow, good spectators, by your good leave you will hear Onophrius’ epithalamium. But in the meanwhile, live, thrive, and applaud.”] It would appear that Fraunce wrote these words assuming that on the following night another play would be enacted, containing a wedding and a celebratory poem. One therefore is tempted to think of the Baccalaureate celebrations in March, which served as an important occasion for dramatics at St. John’s College: thus the three plays of Thomas Legge’s trilogy Richardus Tertiuswere performed on three successive evenings in March 1579. But the possibility that Victoria was written for production in March 1583 is of course speculative since, if the suggested interpretation of the word DOMINUS is correct, it only serves to establish the date of the dedicatory poem and the manuscript itself, but leaves open the possibility that Victoria was composed somewhat earlier, such as for Candlemas 1582. In fact, no records survive to confirm that Victoria was ever produced; NOTE 2 although the concluding passage just quoted, as well as the initial stage-direction about houses, certainly show that Fraunce had production in mind when he wrote.
3. In the critical literature surrounding Victoria, there has been a tradition of sharp disparagement: one finds this particularly in the discussions of Smith and Blume. The bill of particulars may be summarized as follows:

These criticisms actually fall into two classes, those which pertain to features of Pasqualigo’s Il Fidele and those which specifically concern Fraunce’s adaptation. It may make sense, therefore, to discuss the Italian original first, and then to consider the innovations made by Fraunce himself.
4. In regard to Il Fidele, we are fortunate in having Pasqualigo’s dedicatory epistle to Alvigi Georgio and Prologo, and two intelligent and sympathetic discussions, those of Francesca Romana de’ Angelis in the Introduction to her edition of the play, and the remarks made by Richard Hosley in the course of his Introduction to another (and, as far as one can see, entirely independent) English adaptation, Anthony Munday’s 1585 Fidele and Fortunio (pp. 77 - 85). On the basis of these, it is abundantly clear that Pasquaglio had no intention to write a humorous comedy in the manner of Plautus, but rather a moralizing commedia erudita that would be an imitatio, speculum, imago veritatis. He was a moralist, and his idea was to write a play depicting the degeneracy of his times. His play is largely populated by amoral and openly cynical predators, scheming and manipulative sexual Machiavellis. Vittoria, Cornelio’s doubly adulterous wife, differs from the rest in degree (she plots the murder of her first lover, Fidele, when his importunity threatens to embarrass her current amour with Fortunio), but not in kind. Fortunio, the maid Beatrice, the pedante Onofrio, and other characters share an alarming number of Vittoria’s traits, and their competitive strivings yield a tale of complex intrigue. Hosley (p.81) observed that “There is also an atmosphere of impending catastrophe in Il Fidele, resulting from the vengeful brutality of its characters.” Not only does Vittoria attempt to murder Fidele: Fidele wishes to return the favor, as does her cuckolded husband Cornelio, and, although the play has the obligatory happy ending, at a number of points this comedy teeters on the brink of becoming something quite different. In the darkness of its theme, the threats of violence overhanging its action, and the authentic emotionality of some of its characters, it is at least comes close to the kind of tragicomedy that Renaissance audiences so adored. NOTE 3
5. Fraunce’s task was to adapt Il Fidele for the specific needs and tastes of an academic audience. Smith (p. ix) accused him of being “a dull dog,” an assessment repeated by later writers, but in fact, although he was careful to maintain the essential terms and atmospherics of Il Fidele intact, most of the innovations he introduced were calculated to increase the play’s humor. Most of these comedic innovations involve the comic pedant Onophrius. The part has been both expanded and overhauled. A sign of Onophrius’ enhanced role is the addition of III.vii and III.viii. The former is designed to throw a spotlight on his incompetence as a poet (which even his serving-boy Pegasus has no difficulty in discerning). The latter projects him into a scene of slapstick comedy, and the preceptor who offers Fidelis salubrious moral advice becomes a grave-robber, albeit inadvertently, and enriches himself with a ring stripped from the hand of a dead Cardinal. Surely this comic revelation of his hypocrisy is the scene’s point, and if it is irrelevant to the play’s action, it is scarcely irrelevant to the delineation of Onophrius. Blume (p. 30) objected that this scene “completely spoils the plausibility of character drawing.” But where, pray, is the implausibility in revealing Onophrius to be a scoundrel? Also, Blume dismisses Onophrius as a tedious character, but we can at least appreciate what Fraunce had in mind when he wrote the part. In the first place, he had a sound dramatic purpose in loading Onophrius’ speeches with so much arcane lore. Boas (p. 143) indicated the problem:

In his delineation of Onophrius, Fraunce was at an initial disadvantage with Pasqualigo. The Italian dramatist could throw into relief the pedant’s fatuous parade of learning by the simple device of interlarding his speeches in the prose vernacular with Latin tags. When the prose of the original was turned into the verse of Roman comedy in Victoria, other methods had to be found of giving the necessary artificial flavour to the schoolmaster’s utterances.

Hence all his abstruse quotations and echoes. And it is well to bear in mind that the huge number of literary and academic allusions with which the play is loaded, most but not all in Onophrio’s speeches, might strike us as tedious or downright incomprehensible, but that it may well have delighted a contemporary spectator to see the Classics and the grist of his daily studies grossly misappropriated for use in a comedy. Furthermore’ Onophrio’s prominence and specific characterization were no doubt innovations made in the hope of capitalizing on the evident popularity of Edward Forsett’s comedy Pedantius acted two years earlier, for a conspicuous number of Pedantius’ traits are reproduced in Onophrius: his egotism, his flaunted learning which turns out on closer inspection to be bogus, his incompetent versification, his propensity for supplying etymologies, his eternal loquaciousness, and so forth. There are also conspicuous differences between the two. Pedantius is genuinely, albeit grotesquely, in love with his Lydia, he is a kind of overeducated Polyphemus doting on a latter-day Galatea, so that there is an element of genuine pathos in his situation. Onophrius, on the other hand, is no less sexually predatory than the other characters in Victoria. Then too, the character of Pedantius was written as lampoon of a prominent Cambridge figure, Gabriel Harvey, but Onophrius’ characterization is not particularized in a way that would lead one to suspect that he is supposed to represent any actual individual.
6. The humor in the comedy, however, is not limited to Onophrius’ characterization. Fraunce could write a good comic scene when the opportunity arose. The amorous banter between Narcissus and Attilia in II.vii has as much charming wit as one could wish in a scene of this type, and the scene in which Onophrius and Attilia appear in disguise, each imagining the other to be somebody else (IV.ix) is very effectively comedic. One may cavil at the idea of representing the serving-girl Attilia as conversant with Stoic philosophy (II.vii) and the witch Medusa as versed in the details of Scholastic logic (IV.iii). But there seems to have been a convention in academic comedy that for comic purposes “low” characters could be credited with kinds of knowledge their real-life counterparts would not have. Thus, for example, in Robert Ward’s 1623 comedy Fucus HistriomastixIV.v, a university student named Philomathes becomes involved in a kind of contest of swapping quotes from Classical authors with Villanus, a peasant, and Cinnamus the barber, and in this exchange these two latter characters hold their own very effectively. This is a topic about which academic audiences were willing to suspend disbelief in exchange for a good laugh. A final form of humor added by Fraunce is on the linguistic level. He wrote Victoria in a form of racy Latin drawing heavily on the comic language of Plautus and Terence. All in all, therefore, while it would probably be impossible to induce modern readers to regard Victoria as a satisfying play, or as a particularly funny one, it does not require a very great leap of the imagination to see how a Cambridge audience could have valued it more highly in the year of Salvation 1583.
7. Victoria has already been the subject of a 1906 edition by C. G. Moore Smith. This is a good and useful edition, and the primary reason why it is obsolete is simply that the changed conditions of the past century make an accompanying English translation obligatory. Since he was working from an author’s holograph, Smith had to deal with a Latin text that requires few improvements. Nevertheless, when an author makes a fair copy of his own work he is functioning as a copyist, so transcriptional errors may creep in, and I have fixed a few textual problems that Smith did not spot
as well as a couple that he did appreciate but felt unduly hesitant about correcting. Fraunce wrote out his text in lines as if it were poetry, but for the most part it is in fact prose. Elsewhere I have explained that this practice, common in Elizabethan and Jacobean academic comedy, appears to have been little 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 Fraunce’s text as prose performs the useful service of highlighting the bits of poetry that are embedded therein. In the translation I have added some extra stage directions to clarify the action. These are enclosed in square brackets. Smith was indefatigable, and remarkably successful, at tracking down literary quotes and allusions. In my commentary notes I have reproduced his findings, identifying them as his by the notation [Sm.]. My own contributions to the play’s annotation tend to be on two subjects ignored by Smith. First, he was unaware that Victoria was based on Il Fidele and so offered no information about the details of Fraunce’s indebtedness to his Italian model, and his occasional divergences from it. Then too, he was uninterested in how Victoria would play on the stage, or in technical dramaturgic questions. I, on the other hand, am, and so have made a number of observations on the subject. The most important dramaturgic issue that arises in connection with Victoria, however, is too substantial to be disposed of in commentary notes, and so I have added to this edition a separate essay on the subject, given as an Appendix. This has to do with Victoria’s important evidence for the number of stage “houses” employed in academic comedy.

Notes

NOTE 1 There is a biographical article in the Dictionary of National Biography, and cf. the lengthy discussion of Fraunce’s life and works in the Introduction to G. C. Moore Smith’ sedition of the play, pp. xiv - xl. For further biographical references click here, and scroll to Fraunce’s name.

NOTE 2 Cf. Alan H. Nelson, Cambridge (Records of Early English Drama series, Toronto, 1989) II.926f. and index s. v.

NOTE 3 Marvin T. Herrick, Tragicomedy; its origin and development in Italy, France, and England (Urbana, 1955). Herrick does not discuss Il Fidele or its adaptations by Fraunce and Munday, but a reading of his book will help the reader see how the Renaissance concept of “comedy” was elastic enough to embrace such a play as this one.

 

Bibliography

de’ Angelis, Francesca (ed.) Luigi Pasqualigo, Il Fidele (Rome, 1989).

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. 29 - 48.

Boas, Frederick S., University Drama in the Tudor Age (Oxford, 1914, reprinted New York, 1966). Boas’ discussion of Victoria occupies pp. 140 - 146.

Hosley, Richard (ed.), A Critical Edition of Anthony Munday’s Fidele and Fortunio (Garland Renaissance Drama series, New York, 1981).

Smith, G. C. Moore (ed.), Victoria, A Latin Comedy by Abraham Fraunce (Materialien zur Kunde des älteren englischen Dramas series, vol. XIV, Louvain, 1906)