Critical Evaluation

While it is generally accepted that Philip Massinger’s The Maid of Honour was performed before Henrietta Maria, queen of Charles I of England, in 1630, the precise date of the play’s composition is unknown. Some scholars have dated its writing to around 1621 and others to as late as 1630. The earlier date would make it one of Massinger’s first independent plays; the latter date would place it during his mature period of authorship. External evidence provides information about the play’s performance and publication but gives little or no indication of when it was written. Internal evidence, largely in the form of topical allusions to intrigues at the English court, is subject to various interpretations. What is clear is that the play, whenever it was written, comments upon issues facing English society and politics during the period. The play also transcends these topical issues to touch on enduring themes such as honor, loyalty, and courage.

Massinger, the only son of a family moderately prominent in the cultural and political life of the times, attended Oxford but left without receiving his degree and soon after entered a long and productive life in the theater. His extensive experience included collaboration with many distinguished playwrights, including John Fletcher and Thomas Dekker. He also wrote a number of dramas by himself, and became known as one of the finest of contemporary writers for the stage. In 1620, John Taylor’s poem “The Praise of Hemp-Seed” listed Massinger as one of England’s premier dramatists, along with notable authors such as John Drayton, Ben Jonson, George Chapman, John Marston, John Middleton, and Thomas Heywood.

The Maid of Honour clearly shows why Massinger was accorded such praise, for it is an excellent display piece for Massinger’s talents. It has a clear and fluent style, a deeply felt sense of morality, and a keen appreciation of individual character and motivation, which is seen most clearly in Camiola’s renunciation of the world and her fiancé at the moment when she appears to have won both.

The central themes of The Maid of Honour are money; the morality involved in the activities of royalty, especially marriages and foreign alliances;...

(The entire section is 921 words.)