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The Mandrake


The Mandrake

The Mandrake
Cover plate from 1556 edition
Written by Niccolò Machiavelli
  • Callimaco
  • Siro
  • Messer Nicia
  • Ligurio
  • Sostrata
  • Friar Timoteo
  • A woman
  • Lucrezia
Date premiered Carnival season, 1526 (1526)
Place premiered Florence, Italy
Original language Italian
Genre Comedy
Setting The Florentine Republic, 1504

The Mandrake (Italian: La Mandragola) is a satirical play by Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. Although the five-act comedy was published in 1524 and first performed in the carnival season of 1526, Machiavelli likely wrote The Mandrake in 1518 as a distraction from his bitterness at having been excluded from the diplomatic and political life of Florence following the 1512 reversion to Medici rule. Both contemporary and modern scholars read the play as an overt critique of the House of Medici; however, Machiavelli set the action in 1504 during the period of the Florentine Republic in order to express his frustrations without fear of censure from patrons already ill-disposed towards him and his writing.[1]


  • Synopsis 1
  • Modern revivals and adaptations 2
    • Revivals 2.1
    • Musicals and operas 2.2
    • Film 2.3
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


The Mandrake takes place over a 24-hour period. The protagonist, Callimaco, desires to sleep with Lucrezia, the young and beautiful wife of an elderly fool, Nicia. Nicia above all else desires a son and heir, but still has none. Callimaco, conspiring with a rascally marriage broker and a priest, masquerades as a doctor. He convinces Nicia to drug Lucrezia with mandrake, claiming it will increase her fertility. He adds, however, 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. A reluctant Lucrezia is eventually convinced by her mother and the priest to comply with her husband's wishes. She allows a disguised Callimaco into her bed and, believing that the events which caused her to break her marriage vows were due to divine providence, thereafter accepts him as her lover on a more permanent basis.

The plot and importance of the play is mentioned in the 16th Letter of Amabed in Voltaire's Les Lettres d'Amabed (1769) stating that "the piece mocks the religion which Europe preaches, of which Rome is the centre, and the throne of which is the Papal See".[2]

Modern revivals and adaptations


The Mandrake, with Tom Hanks as Callimaco (center), in the Riverside Shakespeare Company production in New York, 1979.

Wallace Shawn's translation, commissioned by Joseph Papp, was staged in 1977 at the Public Theater in Manhattan, and it launched Shawn's acting career as well.[3]

The Riverside Shakespeare Company performed The Mandrake at the Casa Italiana in New York City in 1979, starring Tom Hanks as Callimaco. This run was directed by Dan Southern, with an original jazz score by pianist Michael Wolff, and Italian Renaissance sets by Gerard Bourcier.[4]

In 1984 Wallace Shawn's translation The Mandrake was produced at London's National Theatre.[5]

The Long Beach Shakespeare Company mounted a production of The Mandragola in the Spring of 2011, directed by Helen Borgers.[6][7]

Musicals and operas

La Mandragola, an opera by the composer Ignatz Waghalter, premiered at the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin in January 1914. The opera, richly melodic and deeply sympathetic in its treatment of human foibles, features a libretto by Paul Eger. It was warmly received by the critics, and was booked for a European tour that was aborted due to the outbreak of the First World War.[8]

Michael Alfreds and Anthony Bowles wrote a 1968 musical adaptation, Mandrake, which has been performed in Edinburgh, London, New York, and elsewhere.[9]

Another musical adaptation, Mandragola, composed by Doug Riley with libretto by Alan Gordon, made its debut in Canada over CBC Radio in October 1977, and was later issued as an LP record on the CBC label.

Mandragola, an opera in Serbian by composer Ivan Jevtic, was given its world premiere in Belgrade at the Madlenianum Theatre on 16 December 2009.


In 1965 an Italian film version was made by writer/director Alberto Lattuada.[10] A 2008 film version was made, The Mandrake Root. Adapted and directed by Malachi Bogdanov, it was shot in HD in Sassari, Sardinia. Produced by European Drama Network,[11] it was made in English with limited Italian sections, and it remains close to the original story. It was nominated for Best Drama of 2008 by the Royal Television Society Awards Midlands.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Prunster, Nicole (1995). Lesley Henderson, ed. Reference Guide to World Literature"The Mandrake: Overview" in . New York: St. James Press. Literature Resource Center. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Review by Jann Racquoi, Heights/Inwood Press of North Manhattan, 14 March 1979.
  5. ^ National Theatre Website List of past productions
  6. ^ Farrell, John. "`Mandragola' a tale of love, lust, fertility". LBSC Mandragola review. Long Beach Press-Telegram. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Rudis, Al. "Amazing Women – Arts and Culture: Helen Borgers". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  8. ^ Signale, January, 1914.
  9. ^ MandrakeMusical:
  10. ^ IMDB "La Mandragola" 1965
  11. ^ European Drama
  12. ^ Blackaby, Anna (12 October 2008). "The Mandrake Root nominated for top drama award".  

External links

  • Detailed summary and analysis of the play
  • in Italian, Bibliotheca PhilosophicaLa MandragolaFull Text of
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