The Roman Actor Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

Philip Massinger

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

THE ROMAN ACTOR was licensed on October 11, 1626, by Sir Henry Herbert, who had become Master of Revels three years earlier. In 1629 the play was published in quarto as acted at Blackfriars by the King’s Men. The play takes its source material from Dio Cassius and Suetonius, and Massinger interspersed that with his own inventive episodes. Perhaps herein lies the problem. For as masterful as Massinger was with plot development, THE ROMAN ACTOR displays little of his artistry in that respect. Within the first act of the play, he introduces two plots: one centering on the nature of tyranny as it emerges in Domitian’s quest to be placed above the law and looked upon as divine, particularly as he maneuvers to acquire the hand of Domitia; and the other focusing on Paris as he supports the value of the actor’s profession. It is not until Act III that Massinger attempts to combine the two plot lines in a semblance of interaction. Because of the incompatibility of the two themes, the play remains highly episodic, though the situations posed have dramatic value. This characteristic makes THE ROMAN ACTOR atypical of Massinger’s high abilities.

The play should not be discounted, however, for it has several qualities worth examining. One of these is in the character of Paris. In the Elizabethan period the actor was looked upon as a vagabond and a rogue. The art of acting was admired, but to act for a living was disgraceful. Yet, actors were popular in Court circles, and it was a common practice to give parties in their honor. The actor had suffered the same in Roman times. Actors were branded infami; and if they were Roman citizens, they lost their civil rights. Like their Elizabethan counterparts, their entertainments were a favorite diversion for the Emperors. To Paris, the actor, falls the task of defending the theater of Rome, and by inference, the theater...

(The entire section is 773 words.)