From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- For the 1965 film based on this play, see La Mandragola (film).
The Mandrake (Italian: La Mandragola; written in 1518 and first printed in 1524) is an acclaimed satirical play by Niccolò Machiavelli. Its tale of the corruption of Italian society was written while Machiavelli was in exile, allegedly having plotted against the Medici. Written between 1504 and 1518 and first performed in 1518, the play dramatizes the principles from The Prince; Callimaco is La Mandragola's prince, his actions are in the pursuit of happiness at the expense of others. Historically scholars connect him to Bernardo Rucellai, a Florentine aristocrat and opponent of Soderini. Lucrezia is the state, Nicia is the "hereditary prince", Father Timeteo is the 'ecclesiastical prince', and Ligurio is the prince's philosopher advisor, or Machiavelli himself.
The play details a 24-hour period. It concerns Callimaco's desire to sleep with Lucrezia, the young and beautiful wife of an elderly fool, Nicia, who, above all else, desires a son and heir. Callimaco, masquerading as a doctor, convinces Nicia to drug Lucrezia with mandrake claiming it will increase her fertility, but adds the dire warning that the Mandrake will undoubtedly kill the first man to have intercourse with her. Callimaco helpfully suggests to Nicia that an unwitting-fool be found for this purpose. Lucrezia, is eventually convinced to comply with her husband's wishes and finally allows a disguised Callimaco into her bed and thereafter accepts him as her lover on a more permanent basis.
La Mandragola was adapted for opera by the composer Ignatz Waghalter. The opera, richly melodic and deeply sympathetic in its treatment of human foibles, was premiered at the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin on January 23, 1914. It was warmly received by the critics. The libretto was written by Paul Eger.
The Mandrake has also enjoyed contemporary revivals, such as that of the Riverside Shakespeare Company at the Casa Italiana in New York City in 1979, starring Tom Hanks as Callimaco in his only New York stage performance, directed by Dan Southern, produced by W. Stuart McDowell and Gloria Skurski, with an original jazz score by pianist Michael Wolff, and original masks and costumes by Broadway designer Jane Stein. A musical adaptation, Mandragola, composed by Doug Riley with libretto by Alan Gordon made its debut in Canada over CBC Radio on October 13, 1977, and was later issued as an LP record on the CBC label.