Anthony Munday was a poet, playwright, pamphleteer, and translator. After a period as a spy in France and Italy he returned to England in 1587 and went into acting in the London theatre. As was the case with many other young men starting out on the stage he began writing for the theatre and developed into a prolific writer. Most of his work was done in collaboration with other writers, mainly in large teams. Only two of his own individually written plays were printed. At the same time he wrote poems and translated several volumes of French and Spanish romances, and produced numerous prose pamphlets.
Munday is famous mainly for two things. He wrote two plays on the life of the legendary outlaw, Robin Hood – The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon and The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, both written in 1585. The other work is Sir John Oldcastle, a play about the 15th century political rebel. It is one of the sources for Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays. Indeed, Oldcastle is seen as the prototype of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. When Henry IV Part 1 opened at the Globe Theatre, the character, Sir John Falstaff, was called Sir John Oldcastle. Munday stopped writing plays after after 1602, although during 1605–23 he wrote several of the pageants that were performed in celebration of the lord mayor of London’s inauguration into office. His pageants were much acclaimed and earned him the title, ‘gentleman.’
Munday worked a great deal with Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker and Michael Drayton, who seem to have been his favourite writing partners, but also with many other familiar names, sometimes several on one play. For example, the play, Two Harpies, was produced in true Hollywood scriptwriting style by Munday together with Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, John Webster and Thomas Middleton. It was never printed, and it’s a pity that with such writing stars it hasn’t lasted. He worked with Shakespeare on Sir Thomas More. He wrote almost all of it and it is thought that Shakespeare did some editing, helping to revise it, as some of the pages are in Shakespeare’s handwriting. Once again, there were other authors involved in producing the text.
Munday lived a long life and died in London. There is a monument to him in the church of St Stephen in Coleman Street.
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