Philip Massinger 1583-1640
English playwright and poet.
Massinger was a successful dramatist during the Jacobean and Caroline periods, authoring or co-authoring over fifty plays. He served for a time as the chief playwright of London's leading theatrical company, the King's Men, a post that William Shakespeare and John Fletcher had held before him. The best known of his fifteen extant plays are his realistic social comedies, A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1625) and The City Madam (1632), in which he satirizes greed, materialism, and ambition. As with these plays, an emphasis on morality is also evident in his more serious works, such as The Duke of Milan (c. 1621-22) and The Roman Actor (1626), in which he shows his concern with proper governance and attacks the evils of an unjust society. Although Massinger's reputation is overshadowed by those of Shakespeare and other contemporaries, including Fletcher and Ben Jonson, critics have commended the consistent moral framework of his plays, which often explore the tensions arising from social and political change. Massinger continues to be admired for the dramatic range of his plays, the effectiveness of his verse, and the forcefulness with which he conveys his moral convictions.
Most of what is known about Massinger's life has been gleaned from theater records. It is not known where he lived, or whether he married or had children. He was born in Salisbury in 1583 into a well-to-do family. His father, Arthur Massinger, served the Earl of Pembroke and was a member of Parliament. In 1602 Massinger entered Oxford, but he apparently did not graduate, perhaps because after his father's death in 1603 he did not have the means to continue his education. The details of Massinger's life from 1603 until 1613 are unclear, although it seems that he did not enjoy the social and economic advantages that he had known during his early life; it is speculated that he may have been an actor. Sometime during those years he most certainly began his apprenticeship in the theater. Around 1613 Massinger, along with fellow playwrights Nathan Field and Robert Daborne, was imprisoned for debt; a surviving letter contains an appeal to theatrical manager Philip Henslowe to pay their bail. From 1613 to 1620 Massinger collaborated on a number of plays with Field, Fletcher, Thomas Dekker, and others, but he was often uncredited. The Fatal Dowry (c. 1617-19), a collaboration with Field, is the earliest play in which it is clear that it was substantially written by Massinger. Around 1620 Massinger began to work as an independent author, though he continued to collaborate with Fletcher on plays for the King's Men. The Duke of Milan is thought to be the first play composed solely by Massinger. In 1625 he succeeded Fletcher as the leading playwright of the King's Men. In 1630 Massinger encountered difficulties with the censor when his play Believe as You List, which included a scene in which the king of Portugal is deposed by the king of Spain, was refused a license to be produced because of a recently declared peace between England and Spain. Massinger reworked the play, setting it in antiquity and depicting the defeat of the Syrians by the Romans. The rewritten play passed the censor and was staged in 1631. A copy of the revised play in Massinger's own handwriting survives; marked up and altered for an actual performance, it is one of the most significant extant theatrical documents from the period. He encountered difficulties with the censors again in 1638 with his (now lost) play The King and the Subject, which Charles I himself found offensive because of a passage about a tyrannical monarch's method of raising money. Two years later Massinger died in his sleep, and records indicate that his body was accompanied to the churchyard by actors from his theater company.
Massinger had a hand in writing over fifty-five plays, more than thirty of which survive. Fifteen of these were composed by Massinger alone; the rest were written in collaboration with a number of other playwrights. His most frequent collaborator was Fletcher, with whom he worked on some thirteen plays. Of the many plays to which he almost certainly contributed, his work on only two of them can be confirmed by external evidence: the domestic tragedy The Fatal Dowry, written with Field, and The Virgin Martyr (1620), a historical play written with Dekker. Massinger's independent work includes four tragedies: The Duke of Milan, The Unnatural Combat (1621), The Roman Actor, and Believe as You List. These works are noted for their intricate plots, often involving information that is withheld from the audience until late in the action; sensational incidents and displays of extreme passion; and examinations of moral and social problems, particularly the abuse of power. The Duke of Milan, for instance, shows the corrosive effects of power in its depiction of the autocrat Sforza. Insanely enamored of his wife, Marcelia, Sforza cannot bear the thought that she may outlive him. He therefore instructs his aide, Francisco, to kill Marcelia if he, Sforza, fails to return from an expedition. Francisco, as it is later revealed, seeks revenge against Sforza for his previous seduction of the aide's sister; he manipulates events to culminate in Sforza's murder of his wife in a fit of rage. The Unnatural Combat is generally considered Massinger's least-successful play, sensationalistic and badly organized. It centers around Malefort, the admiral of Marseilles, who kills his own wife and son and conceives an incestuous lust for his daughter. Although he does not seduce her, she is raped by another. Malefort repents in the end, but is killed by a bolt of lightning. More successful is The Roman Actor. This play interweaves the story of the tyrannical Emperor Domitian with scenes involving the actor Paris that demonstrate both the power and limitations of drama. Domitian lusts after Domitia, who becomes infatuated with Paris after seeing him in a play. As she attempts to seduce the actor, they are discovered by the Emperor. The jealous Domitian insists on performing in a play with Paris, during which he stabs him. Domitian is later murdered by a group of conspirators for his many atrocities. Believe as You List traces the conflicts, presented as a series of rhetorical debates, between the virtuous Antiochus, King of Syria, and the ruthless totalitarian power of Rome, as represented by the imperial ambassador Flaminius. Though noble and honorable, Antiochus is ultimately powerless against the might of Rome and is made a galley slave. In the end, Flaminius is arrested for his many misdeeds, but Antiochus, a destabilizing influence, is also incarcerated. The play thus ends at an impasse between the forces of morality and the immoral power of the state.
Although he produced a number of tragicomedies, Massinger composed only four purely comic plays: the “comical histories” The Great Duke of Florence (1627) and The Guardian (1633) and the two great satirical comedies on which his reputation long rested, A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam. A New Way to Pay Old Debts is a well-plotted study of a miser, Sir Giles Overreach, and his nephew, the gentleman Welborne, who has squandered his fortune and is forced to turn to Overreach to pay his debts. By a series of tricks and deceptions, Overreach is thwarted in his scheme to enter the aristocracy and Welborne is freed from his uncle's control. The comedy was highly popular in England and America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and some of the leading actors of the day relished the role of the unscrupulous Overreach. The City Madam is a vigorous comedy of manners centering on the home and family of the wealthy merchant Sir John Frugal. Wishing to restrain the extravagant spending of his wife and daughters, Sir John pretends to withdraw to a monastery, leaving his brother, Luke, a supposedly reformed profligate, to oversee the household. Left in power, Luke reveals himself to be a miser and a tyrant. By disguising himself as an “Indian,” to whom Luke plans to sell the women, Sir John in the end unmasks his brother's hypocrisy and curbs the social ambition of his wife and daughters. Critics have viewed both A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam as satirical commentaries on the decline in power of the aristocracy and the rise of the commercial class.
Massinger was a respected figure in the theater in his own time, although he clearly did not achieve the popularity or high status of dramatists like Shakespeare and Jonson. Over the succeeding centuries his reputation as a playwright depended almost exclusively on A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam. One of Massinger's most astute early critics was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who censured his characterization, judging his satirical characters to be mere types, but greatly admired his plotting and versification. T. S. Eliot's dismissal, early in the twentieth century, of Massinger's abilities as a playwright—particularly as a writer of tragedies—set the tone for much of the criticism for the next fifty years. Anne Barton's 1977 defense of Massinger, however, renewed interest in him as a skilled and effective dramatist in his own right, not merely as Fletcher's “junior partner.” Modern commentators have found Massinger's blank verse to be admirably constructed and have praised his command of stagecraft. They have extolled his adroit manipulation of plot, the simplicity of his language, and his keen political insight. Critics have increasingly come to regard Massinger as possessing clear moral principles which consistently inform all his plays, whether comedies, tragedies, or plays of mixed types.
Beggar's Bush [with Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher] (play) c. 1615
Thierry and Theodoret [with Beaumont and Fletcher] (play) c. 1615
The Jeweller of Amsterdam [with Fletcher and Field] (play) c. 1617
The Queen of Corinth [with Fletcher and Field] (play) c. 1617
The Fatal Dowry [with Nathan Field] (play) c. 1617-19
The Knight of Malta [with Fletcher and Field] (play) c. 1618
Sir John van Olden Barnavelt [with Fletcher] (play) 1619
The Bloody Brother, or Rollo Duke of Normandy [with Fletcher and others] (play) c. 1619
The Custom of the Country [with Fletcher] (play) c. 1619
The False One [with Fletcher] (play) c. 1619
The Virgin Martyr [with Thomas Dekker] (play) 1620
The Double Marriage [with Fletcher] (play) c. 1621
The Maid of Honour (play) c. 1621-22
The Duke of Milan (play) c. 1621-22
The Prophetess [with Fletcher] (play) 1622
The Sea Voyage [with Fletcher] (play) 1622
The Spanish Curate [with Fletcher] (play) 1622
The Bondman (play) 1623
The Little French Lawyer [with Fletcher] (play) c. 1623...
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SOURCE: Eliot, T. S. “Philip Massinger.” The Times Literary Supplement, May 27, 1920, pp. 325-26.
[In the following essay, Eliot argues that Massinger is an inferior playwright whose dreary plays lack moral vigor and hence are typical of Jacobean decadence.]
Massinger has been more fortunately and more fairly judged than several of his greater contemporaries. Three critics have done their best by him: the notes of Coleridge exemplify Coleridge's fragmentary and fine perceptions; the essay of Leslie Stephen is a piece of formidable destructive analysis; and the essay of Swinburne is Swinburne's criticism at its best. None of these, probably, has put Massinger finally and irrefutably into a place; and if we still aspire to settle this distinguished and unread playwright, we shall find Professor Cruickshank's book1 more useful, perhaps, than any of them. English criticism is inclined to argue or persuade rather than to state; and, instead of forcing the subject to expose himself, these critics have left in their work an undissolved residuum of their own good taste, which, however impeccable, is something that requires our faith. The principles which animate this taste remain unexplained. Mr. Cruickshank's book is a work of scholarship; and the advantage of good scholarship is that it presents us with evidence which is an invitation to the critical faculty of the reader: it bestows a method,...
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SOURCE: Eliot, T. S. “Philip Massinger.” In The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, pp. 123-43. London: Methuen & Co., 1920.
[In this following essay, which was first published in The Sacred Wood as an addendum to a reprint of his Times Literary Supplement article, Eliot observes that although Massinger was not an artist of the first rank, he did write two “great comedies”: A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam.]
Massinger's tragedy may be summarized for the unprepared reader as being very dreary. It is dreary, unless one is prepared by a somewhat extensive knowledge of his livelier contemporaries to grasp without fatigue precisely the elements in it which are capable of giving pleasure; or unless one is incited by a curious interest in versification. In comedy, however, Massinger was one of the few masters in the language. He was a master in a comedy which is serious, even sombre; and in one aspect of it there are only two names to mention with his: those of Marlowe and Jonson. In comedy, as a matter of fact, a greater variety of methods were discovered and employed than in tragedy. The method of Kyd, as developed by Shakespeare, was the standard for English tragedy down to Otway and to Shelley. But both individual temperament, and varying epochs, made more play with comedy. The comedy of Lyly is one thing; that of Shakespeare, followed by Beaumont and...
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SOURCE: Knights, L. C. “The Significance of Massinger's Social Comedies, with a Note on ‘Decadence’.” In Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson, pp. 270-300. London: Chatto and Windus, 1937.
[In the following essay, Knights views Massinger as the last of the Elizabethans, as his works are concerned with aristocratic values and show little interest in the middle class or common people.]
The first symptom of decadence that we notice in Massinger is his dependence on Shakespeare. Canon Cruickshank gives a close-packed page to ‘a few examples of the imitation of incidents’, and over seven pages to ‘parallels in thought and diction’.1 The nature of this indebtedness is discussed by Mr Eliot, who concludes that,
Massinger's feeling for language had outstripped his feeling for things; that his eye and his vocabulary were not in co-operation. … Every vital development in language is a development of feeling as well. The verse of Shakespeare and the major Shakespearian dramatists is an innovation of this kind, a true mutation of species. The verse practised by Massinger is a different verse from that of his predecessors; but it is not a development based on, or resulting from, a new way of feeling. On the contrary it seems to lead us away from feeling altogether.2
Massinger not only imitates Shakespeare, he...
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SOURCE: Hoy, Cyrus. “Verbal Formulae in the Plays of Philip Massinger.” Studies in Philology 56, No. 4 (October 1959): 600-18.
[In the following essay, Hoy discusses the repeated verbal patterns in Massinger's own plays and his collaborative efforts.]
Massinger's habit of repeating himself is well known. Scholars such as Boyle and Oliphant, investigating his share in the Beaumont and Fletcher plays, have adduced the tendency as evidence for determining his work in collaboration with other dramatists.1 Critics such as T. S. Eliot, L. C. Knights, and M. C. Bradbrook see in the habit a symptom of the decadence that is generally regarded as the characteristic note of the later Jacobean drama.2 The current attitude toward parallel passages as evidence for authorship being what it is, the interest that once attached to Massinger's repetitions as sources of authorial evidence is no longer the primary one; though when a dramatist repeats himself on the scale of Massinger, certain at least of his more distinctive tricks of expression (those which are not demonstrably a part of contemporary usage) must come to possess a corroborative value as authorial evidence that it would be sheer obstinacy to deny. Still, it is for what it tells us about what has happened to Elizabethan dramatic verse by the 1620's that Massinger's language is chiefly interesting to us now, and for that purpose it...
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SOURCE: Edwards, Philip. “Massinger the Censor.” In Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig, edited by Richard Hosley, pp. 341-50. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962.
[In the following essay, Edwards argues that Massinger was a thoroughgoing moralist who nonetheless was capable of producing fine dramas in which he restrained his own views and displayed a moral tolerance.]
Massinger seems to have been one of the reluctant dramatists of his age: a gentleman in reduced circumstances who became a playwright as gentlewomen later became governesses. That he would have preferred to be a lord (of the old school) seems a safe guess. What he might have done, as a nobleman, to educate his family, his tenants, his neighbors—and, indeed, his king and his country—he had to do in his plays. Everyone who writes on Massinger recognizes him as a moralist, a sage and serious man determined to indicate what behavior was acceptable and what was not. Yet the kind of dramatic romance he chose to write, or felt he had to write, seems preposterously unsuitable for preachments and sermons. The incongruity has often been noticed. Massinger's latest biographer, T. A. Dunn, has no doubt that the moralist sabotaged the dramatist. “For him,” he says, “artistic conscience always succumbs to the conscience of the moralist” (Philip Massinger, 1957, p. 74). I do not think this...
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SOURCE: Davidson, Peter H. “The Theme and Structure of The Roman Actor.” AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian University Languages and Literature Association 19 (May 1963): 39-56.
[In the following essay, Davidson examines the structure of The Roman Actor and the connection it makes between kingship and the stage, noting that the play shows “metaphorically by means of the stage the essentially human nature of kings.”]
The work of Philip Massinger does not appear unduly complex or profound and it is thus rather surprising that his plays should have aroused such divergent critical comments. Although very different views are most abundant in criticism of Massinger's language, other aspects of his work show an absence of critical agreement. For example, T. A. Dunn believes that ‘The divine right of kings … is accepted by Massinger, but with his own implications’,1 whereas Emile Legouis states, Massinger ‘had no respect for the divine right of kings’.2 In The Roman Actor, according to T. S. Eliot, ‘the development of the parts is out of all proportion to the central theme’3 (which he does not define) but Emil Koeppel observes how, in The Roman Actor, ‘the process of blending the accounts of historians … results in well arranged scenes in which no trace of patchwork is to be discovered’.4 As it is with the...
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SOURCE: Gross, Allen. “Contemporary Politics in Massinger.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 6, No. 2 (Spring 1966): 279-90.
[In the following essay, Gross argues against the predominant opinion that Massinger's plays are full of specific topical references but notes that Massinger did have an interest in politics and political theory and occasionally dealt with contemporary political questions in his plays.]
Nowadays the plays of Massinger and early Stuart politics seem linked as a matter of course. T. A. Dunn, in his recent study of the playwright,1 certainly has no doubt that several of Massinger's works are full of references to and comments upon the attitudes and personalities of specific contemporary political figures. In this scholar's opinion, we need only read Massinger's plays with a working knowledge of Jacobean and Caroline history to have such references and comments—largely derogatory—stand out immediately in high relief. In coming to his conclusion, Mr. Dunn makes no pretense to originality. Nearly a century ago, Samuel R. Gardiner, the famous English historian, discovered what he took to be political allusions in Massinger and, over and over again, commentators have repeated, modified, and amplified his conclusions.2 Therefore, when Philip Edwards, in a recent article on the playwright, says that the king in The Maid of Honour is “usually...
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SOURCE: Bennett, A. L. “The Moral Tone of Massinger's Dramas.” Papers on Language and Literature 2, No. 3 (Summer 1966): 39-56.
[In the following essay, Bennett argues that Massinger was at his best when dealing with moral and political questions and was less successful at dramatizing romantic situations.]
It is remarkable that Philip Massinger, a dramatist without a ready wit and with only a modicum of humor, should have written the most successful comedy of Jacobean times (exclusive of Shakespeare's). What is stranger still, though perhaps not inexplicable, is that a writer with such an intense moral earnestness should have the morality of his dramas questioned by so many good critics. “Everyone who writes on Massinger,” says Philip Edwards in a temperate and entirely sympathetic essay on the subject, “recognizes him as a moralist, a sage and serious man determined to indicate what behavior was acceptable and what was not.”1 Hazelton Spencer has remarked that Massinger was “consistently serious, didactic even” and speaks of A New Way to Pay Old Debts as “sweating moral earnestness at every pore.”2 But there is an impressive role of critics and poets from Coleridge to T. S. Eliot who are skeptical of the moral integrity of Massinger's plays. To say that a writer may be didactic without being genuinely moral is only to suggest a partial answer to the...
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SOURCE: Hogan, A. P. “Imagery of Acting in The Roman Actor.” The Modern Language Review 66, No. 2 (April 1971): 273-81.
[In the following essay, Hogan discusses Massinger's thematic use of actors, acting, plays, and theater in The Roman Actor.]
In theatrical tradition, The Roman Actor is merely a showcase for Paris's oration to the senate—Kean toured with this scene alone as a tour-de-force in 1822—and critics too have assumed that the actor, Massinger's heroic self-portrait, is the absolute centre of the play.1 But one need only review the disgruntled comments of T. S. Eliot, T. A. Dunn, and others to realize, in their disappointment, the impossibility of reading The Roman Actor as a mere frame for one short scene.2 Recently, critics such as C. A. Gibson and Peter Davison, anxious to avoid the pitfalls of such negativism, have preferred to view the play as an artistic whole composed of many parts; and their results have been both positive and provocative.3 But Gibson and Davison have both emphasized political motifs to the point of fostering a new error: they have disparaged Paris and over-valued Caesar. The real key to The Roman Actor, as I hope to show in this study, is neither an anti-Puritan ars poetica nor an essay on divine right, but a thoughtful, dramatic analysis of that passionate power lust which drives men to...
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SOURCE: Hogan, A. P. “Massinger as Tragedian: Believe as You List.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1971): 407-19.
[In the following essay, Hogan argues that Believe as You List is a subtle experiment in the integration of theme and structure that shows Massinger to be a tragedian of “considerable power.”]
Critics seldom praise Massinger's tragedies. The Roman Actor has begun to come into its own,1 but most commentators still agree with Robert Ornstein that “Massinger had to be content in tragedy with unsubstantial regal gestures” as a substitute for “imagination.”2 The most recent verdict is that the young dramatist sought to follow Shakespeare, and failed.3 As is often the case, this kind of neo-Eliot negativism leads to distortion. Massinger's tragedies are important both for an evaluation of the playwright himself and for an adequate understanding of Caroline drama in general. And, of the tragedies, Believe as You List is the most ambitious and original.
Massinger's last extant tragedy4 describes how a virtuous Asian king returns from exile and attempts to lead his quarter of the world in rebellion against the power of Rome. In terms of theme, an objectively real but politically impotent moral order, symbolized by Antiochus' personal virtue and legitimacy, clashes with...
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SOURCE: Barton, Anne. “The Distinctive Voice of Massinger.” The Times Literary Supplement, May 20, 1977, pp. 623-34.
[In the following essay, Barton reviews Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson's 1959 edition of Massinger works and, unlike most critics from Eliot on, sees the mark of a distinctive artistic personality in Massinger's plays.]
Philip Massinger died in 1640, fifteen years after his friend and collaborator John Fletcher. According to Aston Cokayne, who celebrated the curiosity in a poem, Massinger was buried in Fletcher's grave at St Saviour's, Southwark. This interment proved oddly symbolic. At least thirteen plays in which Massinger was a secret but important sharer were to be printed in the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio of 1647, without acknowledgment of his authorship. Moreover, as Fletcher's reputation gradually declined from its seventeenth-century height, it took Massinger's with it. Except for A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam, comedies which stand apart from the rest of the canon, Massinger's very considerable body of dramatic work has all too readily been dismissed in the twentieth century as that of a ponderous and untalented imitator: a man who exploited Fletcher's dubious, tragicomic mode without being able to extract from it even those limited and suspect theatrical virtues of which “decadence” was capable in the hands of its chief creator....
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SOURCE: Neill, Michael. “Massinger's Patriarchy: The Social Vision of A New Way to Pay Old Debts.” Renaissance Drama n.s. 10 (1979): 185-213.
[In the following essay, Neill views A New Way to Pay Old Debts as a conservative work that seeks to maintain aristocratic values in the face of the demands of the rising middle class.]
An Houshold is as it were a little Commonwealth, by the good government whereof, Gods glorie may be advantced, and the commonwealth which standeth of severall families benefited.
John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A Godly Forme of Household Government1
Strangely, since it is one of Massinger's few acknowledged successes and the most frequently performed of his plays, A New Way to Pay Old Debts, has received scant critical attention. The play's continuing popularity evidently depends on the powerful characterization of Sir Giles Overreach; but the scale of this villain-hero and the violence of his end have led to uneasiness about the “melodramatic” quality of the action, and about the moralization which accompanies it.2 Moreover the tendency to read the play simply as Jonsonian satire of an extortionate arriviste—an outsize burlesque of Sir Giles Mompesson3—can make the love plot of Margaret Overreach and Alworth seem an irrelevant exercise in...
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SOURCE: Edwards, Philip. “Massinger's Men and Women.” In Philip Massinger: A Critical Reassessment, edited by Douglas Howard, pp. 39-49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
[In the following essay, Edwards explores Massinger's depictions of conflicts between the sexes and argues that the playwright presents the relations between men and women with sensitivity and insight.]
An extended session with Massinger's plays is likely to give a reader a frequent sense of déjà vu as similar images, protestations, situations and even characters come round again and again. But repetitiousness is not necessarily a sign of a lack of inventiveness, and Massinger's pronounced tendency to do things more than once often shows him absorbed in the ramifications of some particular issue or problem. His two satirical comedies, A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam, show general similarity in treating the war between the nobility and the city, but the scrupulous attention to social detail in these two plays reveals Massinger extending, not repeating, his views of the problem. I shall try to show that in dealing with the relations between the sexes Massinger's tendency to repeat patterns of conflict shows him exploring perennial problems about domination and submission with subtlety and shrewdness.
A king or duke who is a besotted and infatuated husband embarrassing...
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SOURCE: Howard, Douglas. “Massinger's Political Tragedies.” In Philip Massinger: A Critical Reassessment, edited by Douglas Howard, pp. 117-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
[In the following essay, Howard sees The Roman Actor and Believe as You List as evidence of Massinger's increased political involvement in the Caroline period and of his shift towards more appropriate subject matter for tragedy than he had treated in his earlier plays.]
The death of Fletcher in 1625 marked an obvious turning point in Massinger's career as a playwright, since thereafter he occupied Fletcher's place as chief dramatist for the King's Men. Massinger had been associated with this company as Fletcher's collaborator as early as 1616, but before 1625 only two of his unaided plays, The Duke of Milan (?1621-2) and The Unnatural Combat (?1624-5), were written for audiences at the Globe and indoors at Blackfriars. The remainder of his extant unaided works from the years before the death of Fletcher were undertaken for Christopher Beeston's companies at the Phoenix (or Cockpit) in Drury Lane, and they were all either tragicomedies or comedies.
After 1625, however, Massinger's name was—with the puzzling exception of The Great Duke of Florence (1627)1—associated exclusively with the King's Men. The majority of his plays continued to be...
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SOURCE: Clark, Ira. “The Power of Integrity in Massinger's Women.” In The Renaissance Englishwoman in Print: Counterbalancing the Canon, edited by Anne M. Haselkorn and Betty S. Travitsky, pp. 63-79. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Clark argues that by emphasizing the value of female chastity, Massinger's plays “presented a reformation of gender roles that considerably increased women's power without rupturing tradition.”]
Most critics have admitted the dominating power, or at least the willfulness, of women in the drama of Philip Massinger, premier professional playwright of the late Jacobean and Caroline theater.1 But despite recognition of these women's superior wills and language, little note has been made of their exceptional personal integrity or of their extraordinary persuasiveness in public arenas. Nor has the significance of these women's powerful integrity and effective public speech been deemed potentially important for understanding a sociopolitical principle that Massinger consistently presented for the applause of his privileged audience of inns of court friends, Blackfriars' supporters, and noble patrons. Understanding the relative enhancement of women's status in Massinger's stage world is important for understanding a social principle he regularly presented—accommodation. Massinger's customary representation of...
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SOURCE: Butler, Martin. “A New Way to Pay Old Debts: Massinger's Grim Comedy.” In English Comedy, edited by Michael Cordner, Peter Holland, and John Kerrigan, pp. 119-36. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Butler examines the historical and political events that influenced A New Way to Pay Old Debts, contending that it reveals the anxiety of the aristocracy about losing power and status in a changing society.]
The fate of Philip Massinger has been a curious one for a major writer of comedy. A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam are arguably the most enduring comic achievements to have been produced between Bartholomew Fair and The Country Wife, and they almost alone have kept Massinger's name alive, yet in recent times his reappraisal has been made largely on the basis of his strengths in non-comic genres. The range and solidity of his work are perhaps more highly regarded now than they ever have been: most notably, Anne Barton's classic essay ‘The Distinctive Voice of Massinger’ makes a compelling case for the clarity of his language, the integrity of his dramaturgy, and the coherence of his political preoccupations.1 But while the tragedies and tragicomedies are in the ascendant, the comedies continue to be dogged by a conviction that they are just not comic enough. The trouble is they are really not...
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Dunn, T. A. Philip Massinger: The Man and the Playwright. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson, 1957, 284 p.
Full-length critical biography that is largely unsympathetic to Massinger as a man and as an artist.
Lawless, Donald S. Philip Massinger and His Associates. Muncie, Ind.: Ball State University, 1967, 67 p.
Detailed biography of Massinger that pays special attention to his social and literary connections.
Adler, Doris. Philip Massinger. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987, 152 p.
Views Massinger as an important playwright whose works are best read as implicit political commentaries intended to expose the corruption of James I and his court.
Burelbach, Frederick, Jr. “A New Way to Pay Old Debts: A Jacobean Morality.” College Language Association Journal 12 (1964): 103-26.
Argues that the play is a dramatized caution to Charles I to not confer power on greedy opportunists.
Clark, Ira. The Moral Art of Philip Massinger. Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell University Press, 1993, 313 p.
Comprehensive study of Massinger's life and works, reassessing his political inclinations and claiming that his tragicomedies display a sophisticated understanding of the political and...
(The entire section is 534 words.)