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The comedies are superior to the tragedies. They prove that their authors understood the art of dramatic construction; and the witty dialogue and lively bustle, especially in the comedies written by Fletcher alone, make them the forerunners of the comedies of intrigue that flourished during the Restoration period. Beaumont and Fletcher were thoroughly in accord with the temper of their time, and thus their work was exactly suited to their audiences. In their own day they were preferred to Shakespeare, and later, Dryden declares that "their plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the stage; two of them being acted through the year for one of Shakespeare's or Ben Jonson's; the reason is there is a certain gaiety in their comedies, and pathos in their more serious plays, which suits generally with all men's humours".

III. Massinger, Ford, Webster, and Middleton.


Philip Massinger, whose father was a confidential servant of the Pembrokes,1 was born in 1583, and educated at Oxford. A scholar, eloquent, but inferior to several of his fellow-dramatists in imagination and wit, he wrote, mostly in collaboration with others, thirty-eight plays, of which only eighteen are preserved. Massinger was generally in straits for money, and many documents exist in which he asks for pecuniary assistance. He died in 1640, and was buried in St. Saviour's, Southwark.

All Massinger's plays are entertaining. known of them, A New Way to Pay Old Debts, still keeps the stage.

The best "A New Way to Pay Old Debts."

The principal character, Sir Giles Overreach, is a cruel extortioner, who grows rich by overreaching others, who

feeds high, keeps many servants,

Who must at his command do any outrage;
Rich in his habit, vast in his expenses.

1 Cf. page 21.

Sir Giles has a daughter, Margaret, and a nephew, Wellborn. The latter he has ruined. He is anxious to marry Margaret to Lord Lovell, and will spare no expense to gain a titled son-in-law. But Margaret loves Allworth, the son of a rich widow, Lady Allworth. Wellborn persuades Lady Allworth to pretend to be in love with him, and the prospect of a match between them so delights Sir Giles that he immediately pays his nephew's debts, hoping to fleece him again when he has become rich. Lord Lovell, to help Allworth, who is his page, pretends to be in love with Margaret, and tells her to make her father believe that he insists on an immediate and secret marriage. Overreach, without much inquiry, consents, and unknown to her father, Margaret, by Lovell's contrivance, is married to Allworth, the man of her choice. When Sir Giles discovers the plot and all the frauds that have been practised on him, he goes raving mad.

Of Massinger's tragedies The Duke of Milan is the most famous; another which has been highly praised is The Virgin Martyr, a story of the Roman persecutions, unique in subject among the plays of this period. Dekker is held. to have collaborated in it, but the interest in theological subjects is very characteristic of Massinger.

Massinger's plays are in blank verse, and Coleridge considered him unrivalled in reconciling metre with the natural rhythm of conversation; that is, in writing dialogue in verse which is harmonious without being forced or stilted in expression.

Characteristics of his work.

In the construction and working out of his plots Massinger was influenced by the dramas of Spanish and Italian literature; he understood the exigencies of the stage, but he had little or no humour, and slight power of characterization. There is a moral earnestness in his work, and although the highest poetry is not to be found in it, it is never trivial or lacking in dignity.

John Ford was born in 1586 in Devonshire. He was educated at Oxford, and afterwards entered the Middle Temple, London. He became a successful lawyer, and did not depend on his writings for a livelihood. The date of his death is



uncertain, but we have no record of him after 1639. collaborated with Dekker and Rowley in The Witch of Edmonton, and with Webster in a tragedy that was never printed.

Ford's first play, The Lover's Melancholy, was acted in 1628. It is full of a tender pathos that was "The Lover's the author's special characteristic. The well- Melancholy." known lines describing the contention between a musician and a nightingale are to be found in this play.

The most important of Ford's plays are Perkin Warbeck (printed 1634), and The Broken Heart, printed a year earlier.

Perkin Warbeck is an historical play, "the only English historic drama produced between the age of Shakespeare and our own".

It is

A history of noble mention, known,

66 Perkin Warbeck."

Famous, and true; most noble cause our own:
Not forged from Italy, from France, from Spain,
But chronicled at home; as rich in strain

Of brave attempts, as ever fertile rage,

In action, could beget to grace the stage.

The play depicts very finely the miseries of a disputed throne, as well as,

in a several fashion,

The threats of majesty; the strength of passion;
Hopes of an empire; change of fortunes; all
What can to theatres of greatness fall,

Proving their weak foundations.

The troubles are ended by the capture and execution of Warbeck, the "impostor without precedent", as he is called in the drama, although he never himself doubts the justice of his claim. Warbeck dies bravely enough.

Death! pish, 't is but a sound; a name of air;
A minute's storm; or not so much: to tumble
From bed to bed, be massacred alive

By some physicians for a month or two,

In hope of freedom from a fever's torments,

Might stagger manhood; here, the pain is past
Ere sensibly 't is felt. Be men of spirit;

Spurn coward passion: so illustrious mention
Shall blaze our names, and style us kings o'er death.

(M 407)


The character of Henry VII., of whom it is said that

The custom once of being styl'd a King

Hath fasten'd in his thought that he is such,

is well drawn.


The Broken Heart, in spite of much that is forced and unnatural, remains one of the most pathetic plays in the language. Two young "The Broken lovers, Orgilus and Penthea, are separated by Penthea's brother, Ithocles; Penthea is forced to marry He is old and insanely jealous of his wife, who, unable to endure her troubles, loses her reason, and starves herself to death. Orgilus determines to be revenged on Ithocles, who is in love with the Princess Calantha. Before her death, Penthea, so gentle, even to the brother who is the cause of her unhappiness, that she says I must leave the world,

To revel in Elysium; and 't is just

To wish my brother some advantage here,

bequeaths to Calantha

in holiest rites of love,

Mine only brother, Ithocles.

But Orgilus murders Ithocles, and during the progress of a court festivity himself brings the news to Calantha, who learns also the deaths of her father and of Penthea. However, Calantha calmly bids the dance proceed, and orders preparations to be made for her coronation. On the day of the ceremony she solemnly resigns the crown, and placing a ring on the finger of her lover's corpse, falls dead beside it.

Like Webster, Ford excelled in the delineation of dark and terrible characters and passions, but his most notable quality was pathos. What can be more pathetic than Calantha's last speech?-

Ford's pathos.

Now I turn to thee, thou shadow

(To the dead body of Ithocles)
Of my contracted lord: bear witness all,
I put my mother's wedding-ring upon
His finger; 't was my father's last bequest:
Thus I new marry him, whose wife I am;
Death shall not separate us. O my lords,


I but deceived your eyes with antic gesture,

When one news straight came huddling on another,
Of death, and death, and death; still I danced forward;
But it struck home, and here, and in an instant.

Be such mere women, who with shrieks and outcries

Can vow a present end to all their sorrows;

Yet live to vow new pleasures, and outlive them.
They are the silent griefs which cut the heart-strings:
Let me die smiling.

Charles Lamb greatly admired Ford's works, and declared that he "was of the first order of poets. He sought for sublimity, not by parcels in metaphors or visible images, but directly where she has her full residence in the heart of man; in the actions and sufferings of the greatest minds."

No facts are known about the life of John Webster. But among the Elizabethan dramatists his work stands next that of Shakespeare in grandeur of conception Webster. and execution. He was undoubtedly greatest

in tragedy, although one comedy, Westward Ho!, written in collaboration with Dekker, ranks very high indeed. In his tragedies we find "that depth of reflection, combining profound humanity with intense imagination, which is the surest mark of a great dramatic poet".

Webster wrote two tragedies, Vittoria Corombona (printed 1612), and The Duchess of Malfi (acted probably in 1618). He delighted in thoughts "The Duchess of death, in heaping horror on horror, terror of Malfi." on terror. The Duchess of Malfi marries her steward, Antonio, and her brother, incensed that she should have formed an alliance with an inferior, imprisons her and tortures her with all kinds of cruel devices, and finally causes his creature, Bosola, to strangle her. Webster, who is less of a rhetorician than the others of his group, handles the tragedy in his own brusque way. When Ferdinand looks on the murdered Duchess, his twin sister, all he says is,

Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young.

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