- Anthony Munday and Civic Culture: Theatre, History and Power in Early Modern London 1580-1633
Tracey Hill has risen admirably to the challenge of rescuing Anthony Munday, who has largely suffered benign neglect for decades (the last book-length study appearing in 1928). Surely many have wondered at Francis Meres's judgment in Palladis Tamia that Munday showed great skill in comedy and that he was "our best plotter" — if only Meres had written "plodder." Fortunately, Hill lays out a compelling case for taking Munday and his writing seriously in her literary geography. She sets out to "demonstrate that exploring only canonical texts and writers can never provide a complete account of a culture of so much dynamism and diversity as that of early modern London" (1). In all likelihood, Hill is preaching to the choir. This book becomes another attempt to break through the dominance of Shakespeare and his unyielding grip on literary and critical minds. In ways that Hill documents, Munday had a far more diverse and perhaps lively professional writerly life than did Shakespeare, who by comparison seems a piker.
Scholars in the past have branded Munday a "hack writer," as if that settled the issue. Hill puts to rest this reductive stance. In her discussion Munday emerges as energetic, opportunistic, quirky, and wide-ranging, one whose life centered wholly on London. Hill gives us a persuasive "local reading" of Munday's writing career, informed by his involvement in and commitment to the city that also frequently employed him — from writing an antitheatrical tract to Lord Mayors' Shows. Munday regularly signed himself as "Citizen and Draper," a sign of civic pride in his status and guild membership. He began his working life as an apprentice to the printer John Allde but did not complete the apprenticeship before taking off for Continental Europe, where he spent time, apparently undercover, as [End Page 304] a Catholic in Rome at the Jesuit English College, only to return and write a scathing attack, The English Roman Life, an intriguing inside story that includes an account of an audience with Pope Gregory XIII, surely an opportunity that Shakespeare never had. I wish that Hill had spent some time on this tract, as I personally find it one of Munday's most engaging polemical exercises.
Hill writes about four major issues in Munday's professional career that I think warrant a much more extensive analysis: patronage, authorship, history, and translation. Munday sought the patronage of the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Essex, and others — "unscrupulous" Hill calls him (37). But Hill provides no context for the system of literary patronage in place at this time, nor does she benefit from Wendy Wall's important work on this topic. Likewise, she refers to Munday's self-fashioning as a writer, but what exactly is the struggle over authorship at this moment? Hill rightly shows how invested Munday was in history, both national and guild, evident in his mayoral pageants and in his revisions of John Stow's Survey of London; but she never tells us how Munday understood history and what the competing ideas might have been — or even some of the Tudor historians. Munday spent much effort in translating, especially Spanish romances, but what theories of translation operated at this time?
Tracey Hill does make comprehensible what might have seemed intractable in trying to pin down this diverse author. She provides us with a welcome and fresh assessment of this important marginalized figure, and she skillfully underscores the complexity of the city's relationship with the theater. She grapples with the curiosity of Munday's antitheatrical tract, but does not put it in conjunction with Thomas Heywood's ringing theatrical endorsement, Apology for Actors (1612). I longed for more extensive analysis of some of the literary texts so that we might come to appreciate, say, the accomplishment of Munday's long prose romance Zelauto. About this text she makes...