Anthony Munday Essay - Critical Essays

Munday, Anthony


Anthony Munday 1560-1633

(Also Mundy) English poet, essayist, playwright, translator, and fiction writer.

In his long career as a writer, Munday produced works in a remarkable range of genres, from translations to poems to journalistic pamphlets. He collaborated on plays with a number of other writers, including Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, and Thomas Middleton, and composed a series of civic pageants celebrating the installation of several Lord Mayors of London. He recounted his experiences at the English College in Rome in The English Roman Life (1582), a work valued for its historical interest and as a piece of travel literature. He also produced a prose fiction work, Zelauto: The Fountaine of Fame (1580), that is considered an important effort in the early development of the novel. Taken together, Munday's writings provide an extensive record of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

Biographical Information

Munday was born in October 1560. He was orphaned at a young age, and in 1576 he was apprenticed to the stationer John Allde. Two years later Munday made his literary debut with a poem contributed to the miscellany Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions. That same year he left the book trade and traveled to Rome, where he stayed until 1579. While in Rome he attended the English College, a Catholic institution, in order to spy on English recusants—in his words, to “undermine them and sift out their purposes.” In the decade following his return to England, Munday produced an impressive variety of works, including The English Roman Life, relating his experiences abroad, particularly in Rome; volumes of poetry; Zelauto; translations of French and Italian works; and a series of anti-Catholic pamphlets. In the 1590s Munday turned to writing for the stage, composing a number of successful plays alone or in collaboration with a series of partners. A manuscript survives of Sir Thomas More (1598), written in Munday's own hand; the manuscript includes revisions by four other playwrights, one of whom has been identified as William Shakespeare. From the late 1590s until at least 1623, Munday wrote many of the pageants with which Lord Mayors of London celebrated their entry into office. He devoted many of his last years to A Survey of London, expanding a work originally published by John Stow. Munday had published his first continuation of this historical and topographical examination of the city in 1618; a second enlargement was issued in 1633, shortly after Munday's death.

Major Works

Among Munday's varied output, The English Roman Life and Zelauto are considered his most important nondramatic works. Critics have found The English Roman Life to be entertaining and a valuable source of contemporary social history. His only original work of prose fiction, Zelauto, is seen as occupying a seminal position in the development of the novel, full of exciting tales of its main character's journeys and composed in a very relaxed conversational style. Munday's greatest popular success was achieved in the theater. John a Kent and John a Cumber (c. 1594) and his two Robin Hood plays, The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington (1598) and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington (1598), are notable for their use of elements of English folklore and intricate plots. Both Robin Hood plays were highly popular in Munday's day, and The Downfall was selected for performance at Court.

Critical Reception

Munday's contemporaries appear to have been divided in their opinions of him. His onetime collaborator Thomas Middleton dismissed him as an “impudent common writer,” and Ben Jonson and John Marston each lampooned him in a play. On the other hand, William Webbe admired his love lyrics as “well worthy to be viewed, and to bee esteemed as very rare Poetrie.” Francis Meres praised him as “the best for comedy amongst us.” Meres' further characterization of him as “our best plotter,” however, has been seen as sly thrust at Munday's activities as a spy. Until the twentieth century critics consistently viewed Munday as a hack writer. Beginning with M. St. Clare Byrne in 1921, modern commentators have come to consider Munday a figure of considerable interest. Jack Stillinger and Paul A. Scanlon have reassessed Zelauto, placing it in the romance tradition and exploring its underlying structure. Both have characterized it as a neglected and undervalued work. A number of critics, including John C. Meacher, J. M. R. Margeson, and Jeffrey L. Singman, have analyzed The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington, judging them important works in the development of the Robin Hood legend and clearly reflective of Elizabethan popular taste. David M. Bergeron has studied the contribution of Munday's civic pageants to the growth of the form and their possible influence on stage drama. While modern scholars do not place Munday in the top rank of Elizabethan and Jacobean writers, the impressive number of his works and the remarkable variety of their genres and subjects have led critics to accord him a measure of respect and to value the picture of Renaissance literary and social life that emerges from a study of his works.

Principal Works

The Mirrour of Mutabilitie, or Principall Part of the Mirrour for Magistrates (poetry) 1579

The Paine of Pleasure (poetry) 1580

A View of Sundry Examples. Reporting Many Straunge Murthers (nonfiction) 1580

Zelauto: The Fountaine of Fame (fiction) 1580

The Araignement and Execution of a Wilfull and Obstinate Traitor, named E. Ducket, alias Hauns (nonfiction) 1581

A Breefe Discourse of the Taking of Edmund Campion (nonfiction) 1581

A Breefe Aunswer Made vnto Two Seditious Pamphlets (nonfiction) 1582

A Breefe and True Reporte, of the Execution of Certaine Traytours at Tiborne (nonfiction) 1582

A Discouerie of Edmund Campion and His Confederates (nonfiction) 1582

The English Romayne Lyfe (nonfiction) 1582

A Watch-Woord to Englande to Beware of Traytours (nonfiction) 1584

A Banquet of Daintie Conceits (poetry) 1588

Palmerin D'Oliua. The Mirrour of nobilitie, Mappe of honor, Anotamie of rare fortunes, Heroycall president of Loue: Wonder for Chiualrie, and most accomplished knight in all perfections [translator; from a work by Palmerin de Oliva] (nonfiction) 1588

The Declaration of Lord de la Noue, upon His Taking Armes [translator; from a work by François de la Noue] (nonfiction) 1589

*The First Book of Amadis of Gaule. Discoursing the Aduentures and Loue of many Knightes and Ladies, as well of the Realme of great Brittayne, as sundry other Countries [translator; from Nicholas de Herberay's French translation of an anonymous Spanish work] (romance) c. 1590; books three and four, 1618

John a...

(The entire section is 766 words.)


M. St. Clare Byrne (essay date 1921)

SOURCE: Byrne, M. St. Clare. “Anthony Munday and His Books.” Library 1, no. 4 (March 1921): 225-56.

[In the following essay, Byrne claims that, while he is not regarded by many as a great writer, Munday does provide an interesting life study and his works do merit critical consideration.]

Anthony Munday has sometimes been under-rated, but I have no wish to put in a claim for him as a long-neglected genius. If justification for this paper is needed I would rather base it on his inconvenient Jack-in-the-box habit of appearing suddenly in the midst of some respectable academic controversy, as if maliciously determined to introduce as many complications and...

(The entire section is 10233 words.)

Jack Stillinger (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: Stillinger, Jack. Introduction to Zelauto: The Fountaine of Fame, 1580, edited by Jack Stillinger, pp. vii-xxix. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963.

[In the following excerpt, Stillinger provides a thorough examination of Munday's Zelauto, assessing the nature of the work and its merit.]

Anthony Munday's single original contribution to Elizabethan prose fiction appeared in 1580 with the following title page:

ZELAVTO. / THE FOVN- / taine of Fame. / Erected in an Orcharde / of Amorous Aduentures. / Containing / A Delicate Disputation, gallantly / discoursed betweene two...

(The entire section is 6306 words.)

John C. Meagher (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: Meagher, John C. “Hackwriting and the Huntingdon Plays.” In Elizabethan Theatre, edited by John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris, pp. 197-219. London: Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd., 1966.

[In the following essay, Meagher examines Munday's Robin Hood plays for what they reveal of Elizabethan popular taste.]

By the late 1590's, the theatrical entertainment of the London populace had become a substantial business, and most of the trade was divided between two dramatic companies, the Chamberlain's Men and the Admiral's Men. We know little about whatever pressure the public might have exerted for quality in the plays they presented, but the survival of the diary...

(The entire section is 9408 words.)

David M. Bergeron (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: Bergeron, David M. “Anthony Munday: Pageant Poet to the City of London.” Huntington Library Quarterly 30, no. 4 (August 1967): pp. 345-68.

[In the following essay, Bergeron evaluates Munday's role in the development of Jacobean civic pageantry.]

Our knowledge of Anthony Munday, especially his contribution to English civic pageantry, is generally confined to what some of his contemporaries said about him in their various satirical barbs hurled in Munday's direction. There is a real need for a fresh assessment of Munday's work in the area of the lord mayor's shows. The only scholarly work which has attempted to discuss Munday and his contribution to...

(The entire section is 9053 words.)

David M. Bergeron (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: Bergeron, David M. “Anthony Munday.” In English Civic Pageantry 1558-1642, pp. 140-62. London: Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd., 1971.

[In this essay, Bergeron closely examines Munday's Lord Mayors' Shows and explores their relation to stage plays.]

Out of an enormously varied and prolific career it was all but inevitable that Anthony Munday try his hand at Lord Mayors' Shows, and it is his spirit which broods over almost the entire Jacobean period. For his dramatic productions Munday had earned recognition from Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia where he is cited as being among ‘the best for comedy’ with the additional compliment that he is our...

(The entire section is 9791 words.)

J. M. R. Margeson (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: Margeson, J. M. R. “Dramatic Form: The Huntington Plays.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 14, no. 2 (spring 1974): 223-38.

[In the following essay, Margeson examines The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington within the romance tradition.]

Recent editions by the Malone Society of The Downfall and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington may renew interest in these plays which have been looked at in the past chiefly because of complicated problems of authorship and revision,1 or because of their place in the Robin Hood canon. There are indeed good reasons for a new...

(The entire section is 6754 words.)

Paul A. Scanlon (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Scanlon, Paul A. “Munday's Zelauto: Form and Function.” Cahiers Elisabéthains, no. 18, (1980): 11-15.

[In the following essay, Scanlon attempts to demonstrate the underlying coherence of Zelauto, despite its episodic structure.]


According to Stillinger, had Anthony Munday finished Zelauto. The Fountaine of Fame (1580) «it could have been one of the most structurally sophisticated novels of the period.»1 In support of this claim he proceeds to compare it with epic poetry, particularly The Odyssey. And there is undoubtedly some truth in what he says. If the structure of Munday's narrative is...

(The entire section is 2145 words.)

William D. Wolf (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Wolf, William D. “Anthony Munday as Popular Artist.” Journal of Popular Culture 13, no. 4 (spring 1980): 659-62.

[In the essay below, Wolf discusses The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington as a work of mass entertainment.]

Studying the “high art” of the English Renaissance through popular works is hardly a new direction, since sociological, historical and biographical approaches have provided a good start.1 Yet these are too often audience- rather than text-oriented; studying the popular arts requires and yields an even stricter historicism, and a sense of why and how previously Apocryphal mass culture (as Shakespeare's plays...

(The entire section is 2107 words.)

Carole Levin (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Levin, Carole. “‘Lust being Lord, there is no trust in kings’: Passion, King John, and the Responsibilities of Kingship.” In Sexuality and Politics in Renaissance Drama, pp. 255-78. Lewiston, Penn.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Levin considers how The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington and The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntington “explicate the ideology of uncontrolled sexuality as a metaphor for all manner of ill-rule.”]

One consistent political concern in late sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century England was what attributes a ruler needed to govern well. While the monarchy could represent a hope for...

(The entire section is 8759 words.)

David M. Bergeron (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Bergeron, David M. “Thomas Middleton and Anthony Munday: Artistic Rivalry?” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 36, no. 2 (spring 1996): 461-79.

[In the following essay, Bergeron questions the accepted belief by many scholars that Middleton had nothing but contempt for Munday.]

Artistic lives have intersected in varied, challenging, and sometimes productive ways, whether T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. In the early seventeenth century Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher seem a fixture of artistic collaboration. We know that Thomas Middleton worked with Thomas Dekker...

(The entire section is 7325 words.)

Jeffrey L. Singman (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Singman, Jeffrey L. “Munday's Unruly Earl.” In Playing Robin Hood: The Legend as Performance in Five Centuries, edited by Lois Potter, pp. 63-76. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998.

[In the essay below, Singman considers Munday's depiction of Robin Hood in his Huntington plays, which he claims was not only unprecedented, but one of the most influential interpretations ever written.]

At the end of a century that witnessed both the apex of the Robin Hood games and their precipitous decline, Anthony Munday's Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon and his Death of Robert Earl of Huntingdon stand as a momentous yet little-examined milestone...

(The entire section is 5192 words.)

Further Reading


Eccles, Mark. “Anthony Munday.” In Studies in The English Renaissance Drama, edited by Josephine W. Bennett, Oscar Cargill, and Vernon Hall Jr., pp. 95-105, New York: New York University Press, 1959.

Detailed discussion of Munday's life, assembled from various records.

Kenny, Anthony. “Antony Munday in Rome.” Recusant History 6, no. 4 (January 1962): 158-62.

Analyzes The English Roman Life and other sources for evidence of whether Munday really did attend the English College in Rome.

Turner, Celeste. Anthony Mundy: An Elizabethan Man of Letters. Berkeley:...

(The entire section is 301 words.)