The Medieval Review 12.04.15

Cocco, Cristina. Tito Livio Frulovisi, Oratoria. Teatro Umanistico. Florence: SISMEL Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2010. Pp. lxxxii, 110. . . 36 EUR. ISBN 978-88-8450-378-7.

Reviewed by:

David Rundle
Oxford University

Posterity has not treated kindly Tito Livio Frulovisi, the humanist from Ferrara who was active in both Venice and England. That geographical stretch has in itself been counted against him: he is often depicted as a difficult character, condemned to wander the known world in seek of employment as patron after patron cold-shouldered his off-putting traits. The last half century or so has been perhaps the cruellest: it is true that a new work of his came to light, an epic poem on the exploits of his English master, Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, but the Humfrois was met with immediate and universal scorn; more recently, scholarship has decided that what is undoubtedly his best-known work, his biography of Henry V of England, the Vita Henrici Quinti, was, after all, highly unoriginal (a decision in which I must put my hand up and say I have played a part). Meanwhile, his activity as a playwright, producing early examples of humanist comedies, has been acknowledged but rarely studied in detail. It is symptomatic of scholarship's disregard for Frulovisi that when Gary Grund produced a volume of specimens of this dramatic genre for the I Tatti Renaissance Library (vol. 19, 2005), he could do so by including only better-known names than Tito Livio, who receives no attention.

It is not entirely a case of mockery and the rest is silence. Frulovisi's seven comedies, written in the early 1430s when he was a schoolmaster in Venice and performed, he claims, by his students, have long been available to scholarship: a fine edition based on the sole manuscript witness (Cambridge, St Johns College, MS C. 10; val_manuscripts/medman/C_10.htm) was produced by a fellow of that college, the historian C. W. Previté-Orton, in 1932. More recently, one play, the Peregrinatio, has appeared in parallel Latin/English text as Travel Abroad, translated and introduced by Grady Smith (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 251, Tempe AZ, 2003). Meanwhile, there has been interest in his comedies in Italy, particularly emanating from the University of Genoa, where Stefano Pittaluga has led a research project on humanist theatre. That project is now producing a series of publications in a series overseen by Pittaluga himself, alongside Paolo Viti, on teatro umanistico. The first to appear is this edition of Frulovisi's fifth comedy, the Oratoria, by Cristina Cocco of the University of Cagliari.

The work takes its name from the actions of its central anti-hero, a Dominican preacher known as Leocyon; the character is, as Frulovisi explains in his preface, a lampoon of a living cleric who had had the audacity to criticize the humanist's plays. Apart from him, the action is populated from characters well-known from classical comedy: a prostitute, a young virgin, old men, and slaves--including one who is so accomplished an artist he can paint an image of the girl of his master's dreams (literally). Cocco provides the Latin text little changed from that presented by Previté-Orton and accompanies it with her own translation which unpacks Frulovisi's often compact prose imitative of Terentian style. In addition, the text is provided with critical apparatus, followed by a set of notes and preceded by a full introduction.

The introduction reviews what we know of Frulovisi's career and provides a listing of his works which is, in fact, overgenerous in its attributions to him (see Appendix below). However, the editor's long discussion demonstrates that her main interest in the text is philological. She is especially interested to delineate the classical- -Terentian and Plautine--influences on Frulovisi's structure and themes. Her focus means that matters some readers may find significant are either not mentioned or are relegated to the footnotes. She is not concerned to discuss the practicalities of the performance of the play in its Venetian school context. She does provide a long discussion of the central speech of Leocyon, in which the preacher calls for a flee from virtue, and in her footnote she adduces parallels with Leonardo Bruni's Oratio Heliogabali and Sicco Polenton's Catinia. She leaves to others both the consideration of whether either of those texts may have had an influence on Frulovisi, and the wider discussion of the relevance of this speech to the place of irony in early humanist writing.

It could also be said that Cocco's attention to the philological is at the expense of the codicological. In revising Previté-Orton's text, she worked from a microfilm of the unique witness to the work. She is not, then, in a position to confirm or deny the recent revelation that the manuscript closes with a now-erased ex libris in the hand of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, Frulovisi's sometime employer. It was written immediately beneath the final colophon at fol. 154v of the manuscript but was so successfully removed by re-washing that it went unnoticed by scholarship until the last decade; it reads, using the duke's usual formula: "Cest livre est A moy homfrey duc / de gloucestre du don tite lyve." This definite evidence of ownership does not knock our worldview off its axis--in his 1980 Unfredo duca di Gloucester e gli umanisti italiani, Alfonso Sammut assumed that the manuscript had come from the duke's library. It does, however, provide certainty about the context of the duke's receipt of the volume--Previté-Orton had mused that it might have been confiscated, a context which is not allowed by the reference to a gift. The ownership note also helps date the manuscript, corroborating other codicological features: it is on English parchment, with illuminations in a particular English style favoured by the humanists around Duke Humfrey. The manuscript, in other words, appears to have been made in the context of the duke's circle. This is not to say that it was constructed at one sitting; indeed, it appears to have been formed of three fascicules, the first including five of the plays, the second and third one play each (Peregrinatio in fascicule II and Eugenius in fascicule III). Previté-Orton's assumption was that at least three scribes were at work: the first fascicule written by one copyist, the last two by another, with Frulovisi adding corrections; Cocco is also inclined to consider there to have been more than one scribe, noting that there is a difference of spelling of proper names in the Oratoria (p. lxxxix). However, the analysis of palaeographers led by the late A. C. de la Mare has judged that the variations of script are all the product of one scribe working at different moments--and that the scribe was Frulovisi himself. There is a common-sense reason to accept this argument: in the late 1430s in England, when and where the manuscript was produced, there were few scribes capable of producing littera antiqua and, what is more, Frulovisi's own version of it was distinctive: while his practice does change, it stretches credibility to suggest that someone else was imitating closely his palaeographical accomplishments in Humfrey's circle during his own time there. Codicology must, in this instance, trump philology: the whole manuscript is by Frulovisi himself.

I belabour this point because it has several other implications for how we view Frulovisi as a writer of comedies, but, in concluding, I wish to emphasise just one insight which is rarely given the attention it is due: five of Frulovisi's plays were produced in the context of the Venetian lagoon, but no evidence emanating from there remains of these activities. The author himself thought it appropriate to compile a presentation copy of his theatrical works for a courtly patron who had never travelled the Grand Canal or heard the water splashing against the pavement near St Mark's. The context of the works appears so particular to their place of first performance, but the context of their use and survival places them at the other end of Europe.



In her discussion of the works of Frulovisi, Cocco includes two texts that with good reason should be attributed to other authors:

(1) Cocco mentions that an Oratio in laudem regis Angliae has been attributed to various well-known humanists, and to Frulovisi. As Cocco notes, Roberto Weiss thought the work too generic for its authorship to be definitely assigned, though she herself draws parallels with other works by Frulovisi. All scholars have worked from the one printed edition of the text (Venice, 1574) but Weiss actually discovered a manuscript witness to the work in Pisa: Biblioteca del Seminario Santa Caterina, MS. 136; in this codex, the title announces its author to be Antonio Luxorta. He is a humanist more obscure even than Frulovisi, and Weiss himself did not note the connexion between this witness and the printed text; however, for want of more convincing evidence, we should accept the early testimony of the manuscript. On this, see now the online fourth edition of R. Weiss, Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century, ed. D. Rundle and A. J. Lappin (Oxford, 2009; online at, 75.

(2) Cocco also mentions the attribution to Frulovisi of the changed ending of Lucian's Dialogus mortuorum XII, translated by Giovanni Aurispa in Dublin, Trinity College, MS. 438 (description online at This suggestion, which was only ever tentatively hazarded, has to be firmly rejected: the ending was composed in the manuscript, which was compiled in Oxford by John Manyngham between 1449 and 1451, about a decade after Frulovisi had left England. On this, see the notice of the manuscript in D. Rundle, "Of Republics and Tyrants: Aspects of Quattrocento Humanist Writings and Their Reception in England, c. 1400-c. 1460" (unpublished D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 1997), 34854.