A: Niccolò Machiavelli Pb:c.1518–24 Pf:c.1520, Florence Tr: 1927 G: Commedia erudita in 5 acts; Italian (Tuscan) prose S: A square in Florence, early 16th c. C: 5m, 2fThe young and handsome Callimaco has fallen in love with Lucrezia, the virtuous and beautiful wife of the elderly lawyer Nicia. Since the marriage has failed to produce any children, Nicia arrogantly believes Lucrezia to be sterile and so welcomes to his house Callimaco disguised as a doctor. Callimaco proposes as a cure to administer a mandrake potion, which will however have the unfortunate effect of causing the death of the first man to have sex with Lucrezia. To avoid this fate, Nicia agrees to seize a passer-by and shut him up in the room with Lucrezia overnight. Lucrezia is persuaded by her mother and her priest to agree to the plan, and Callimaco, in another disguise, arranges to be the kidnapped passer-by. After a night of passion with this young lover, Nicia can now look forward to an heir, and Lucrezia happily sets her scruples aside and agrees to continue the affair.
A: Niccolò Machiavelli Pb:c.1518–24 Pf:c.1520, Florence Tr: 1927 G: Commedia erudita in 5 acts; Italian (Tuscan) prose S: A square in Florence, early 16th c. C: 5m, 2f
Best known for The Prince, Machiavelli was also the author of three comedies, which reflect the same cynical pragmatism as his political writing. The Mandrake is generally accounted the finest comedy of the Italian Renaissance. It is more tightly plotted than many contemporary comedies, and its depiction of character is outstanding, not only in the major characters but also in the satirical portrayal of figures like the disreputable priest Fra Timoteo and the devious parasite Ligurio. It is also extraordinary in that Lucrezia is as much a victim of the plot as Nicia, which may yield an ambiguous response to the comic situation. It was successfully revived at the National Theatre, London, in 1984.