(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

This play is a rather trivial compound of Jacobean comic commonplaces; it is perhaps one of the least happy of the Beaumont and Fletcher collaborations. The main plot and the subplot explore different aspects of love, but they are so tenuously related that neither reinforces the other, and a virtual act of violence is required to bring them together at the end. Not only is the plotting slovenly, but also the characters are so imperfectly drawn as to be almost completely unbelievable. Antonio, the coxcomb, is so poorly developed that his cuckolding seems more of a shabby trick played upon him than a just punishment for his foolishness, and Mercury appears more the betrayer of a genuine, though ridiculous, friendship than one who takes legitimate advantage of a fool. In spite of the dramatists’ attempt to pass Maria off as a woman of wit and sophistication, her actions are little more than sordid. The young lovers of the subplot fare little better. Ricardo is fairly successful as the contrite youth who has lost his sweetheart through his own weakness, but Viola forgives him in the end not so much because she loves him as to extricate herself from an impossible situation. The minor characters are drawn directly out of the Elizabethan comic tradition, and nothing more is done with them than the tradition demanded. Nevertheless, the play seems to have been successful in its own time, perhaps because skilled actors were able to carry off the comic situations with farcical effect.