Summary

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Last Updated on January 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1857

First published: 1624

First produced: c. 1623

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragi-comedy

Time of work: Fourth century B.C.

Locale: Syracuse

Principal Characters:

Pisander, a gentleman of Thebes

Cleora, daughter of the Praetor of Syracuse

Leosthenes, Cleora's suitor

Archidamus, Praetor of Syracuse

Timoleon ,...

(The entire section contains 1857 words.)

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First published: 1624

First produced: c. 1623

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragi-comedy

Time of work: Fourth century B.C.

Locale: Syracuse

Principal Characters:

Pisander, a gentleman of Thebes

Cleora, daughter of the Praetor of Syracuse

Leosthenes, Cleora's suitor

Archidamus, Praetor of Syracuse

Timoleon, General of Corinth

Corisca, a wanton woman

Asotus, her stepson

Critique:

THE BONDMAN is a fine expression of Massinger's philosophy of human liberty. Through the action and the declarations of his characters, he reveals that man may be as fully enslaved by his jealousy, lust, and greed as by physical bondage. A second merit of the play is its swift, gripping action. To attain these two excellences, however, Massinger makes sacrifices in his portrayal of character. Often poorly motivated, his characters' behavior at times approaches the absurd.

The Story:

The people of Syracuse suffered from too much success. Years of wealth and easy living had made them soft, self-indulgent, and indifferent to the act of government. Now, under the threat of war with Carthage, they called upon Timoleon, the great Corinthian general.

When Timoleon arrived in Syracuse, he admonished the citizenry, especially the rich and the powerful, for slothful habits and lack of public spirit. Strict obedience to his commands he made a condition for his help. The people enthusiastically approved of his leadership—until he gave his first command. When he ordered that private money be confiscated, there was great lamentation. But the complaints were silenced by Cleora, daughter of the Praetor of Syracuse, who made an impassioned appeal to their sense of honor and patriotism. Timoleon next turned his attention to the formation of an army. To his disgust, they suggested that slaves and laborers be used to fill the ranks. A second appeal by Cleora, however, inspired the men to volunteer their services. An army was formed to take immediate action against the Carthaginians.

Among the most eager to go to war was Leosthenes, who saw in martial glory a chance to win the hand of Cleora. She had encouraged his suit, but her father, Archidamus, had prevented their marriage. At their parting, Leosthenes expressed his love for her and also revealed his fear that during his absence she would not remain chaste. With her father, her brother, and her lover gone, he doubted her ability to resist the enticements of a seducer. Deeply wounded by his distrust, she had him bind her eyes with a scarf, and she pledged not to remove it nor to utter a word until he returned.

After the army had gone, the city was populated by women, slaves, and men too old or too weak to fight. Among the men who remained were miserly Cleon and his cowardly son Asotus. The indignities that Asotus suffered because of his craven nature, he compensated for by his cruel treatment of slaves. The slaves fared little better with his stepmother, Corisca. The war was hard on Corisca. Married to an impotent old man, she was accustomed to entertaining young men. But the war left her only with slaves, who did not appeal to her, and with Asotus, who was a bungler. She decided one day to help Asotus overcome his awkwardness by enacting with him a love scene. In this practice session, Corisca played the part of Cleora, whom Asotus for a long time had been wooing unsuccessfully. So proficient was Corisca in her part that Asotus was inspired to perform his role effectively. Soon he began to think of Corisca as herself rather than as an actress. But they were prevented from playing the final act by the arrival of Cleon.

Unknown to their masters, the slaves were preparing to shake off their bonds. The revolt was led by Pisander, a Theban gentleman disguised as a slave. Having fallen in love with Cleora and having had his suit denied by her father, he, in order to be close to her, had himself sold as a slave to Archidamus. His chief reason for stirring up the rebellion was to advance his suit of Cleora, although he also felt sympathy for the bondmen. The ill-treated slaves, easily moved to insurrection, encountered no difficulty in taking the city.

With Pisander in Syracuse was his sister Statilia, also disguised as a slave. At Pisander's request, Statilia rendered an exaggerated account to Cleora of the insolence, bloodshed, and rapes that had accompanied the bondmen's victory. She also stated that Pisander had devised the plan so that he might rape her. Cleora was terrified by this announcement, but her fears were promptly allayed by Pisander himself. Treating her with great respect, he vowed his love but denied any intention of taking her by violence. Although Cleora, because of her vow, did not speak to him, she appeared to be moved by his generosity.

Adversity affected the citizens in various ways. Cleon, Corisca, and Asotus were brought closer together by their misery. While Cleon still displayed his selfishness and Asotus his cowardice, Corisca was radically changed. Accepting her position as a just punishment for her lust and pride, she rejected her former life as a courtesan and turned to the solace of a stoic philosophy.

In the meantime the army under Timoleon had been victorious over Carthage, and in the action Leosthenes' heroism had been outstanding. He, however, was unable to take joy in his feats because of the remorse he felt for having wronged Cleora's innocence.

On returning home, the soldiers expected a glorious welcome. Instead, they were shocked to find the gates of the city closed and the walls armed by their slaves. Pisander, who had inspired the bondmen to take a stand against their masters, demanded that they be given their liberty as a condition for surrendering the city. Timoleon, regarding the terms unreasonable, gave orders to attack. The slaves at first made a valiant stand against the army, but when, at the suggestion of the general, their masters exchanged their swords for whips, they immediately surrendered.

Leosthenes was fully convinced that Cleora, if she had not submitted willingly, had at least been raped. Only after the repeated protestations of Cleora and Statilia did he abandon his belief. When he asked Cleora who her preserver had been, she, having had her gratitude increased by Statilia's accounts of Pisander, gave a glowing report of her benefactor. The passion of her speech again filled Leosthenes with jealousy and doubt.

Pisander, after the defeat of the bondmen, hid himself in Cleora's chamber. Discovered, he was seized and taken to prison. Cleora, whose interest in Pisander continued to increase, asked her father to intercede for him. Told that he was being tortured, she rushed to the prison.

When Leosthenes and Timagoras, Cleora's brother, heard of her action, they too hurried to the prison. There they found her comforting Pisander and even offering some encouragement to his suit. Timagoras, infuriated that his sister could associate with a bondman, was preparing to kill her when Archidamus and the officers arrived and restrained him. In answer to Leosthenes' claim on Cleora, Archidamus said the matter must be decided in court.

At court, Leosthenes and Pisander were permitted to speak in their own behalf. Leosthenes, stressing the degradation of having to argue with a slave, accused Cleora of being ungrateful and of having loose desires. Pisander, in contrast, spoke of the pureness of his love for Cleora. Timagoras, indignant at the impertinence of a slave, suggested that he be whipped. Pulling off his disguise, Pisander revealed his reasons for coming to Syracuse. Leosthenes had once been plighted to Statilia. After he had deserted her, Pisander had come to Syracuse to kill the false suitor, but love for Cleora had stayed his intent. Now, having undergone danger and suffering, he felt that he had a just claim to her. With her father's blessing, Cleora readily consented to marry him. Leosthenes returned to Statilia. The slaves, ably defended by Pisander, were given full pardon.

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:

The background of this play, which deals with an uprising of slaves who are overthrown not by weaponry but a display of whips, could have come from a number of sources—Justin, Giles Fletcher's RUSS COMMONWEALTH, Herodotus, or Diodorus, who places the event in Sicily as Massinger does. Another bit of Sicilian history is added with the appearance of Timoleon, who was the subject of one of Plutarch's LIVES and is the Corinthian general who aids the Sicilians in the defeat of the Carthaginians. Placement of the setting in Sicily was likely Massinger's attempt to have the audience draw parallels with their own island-state: Corinth came to Sicily's aid against Carthage as Holland hoped Britain would ally with her against Spain. With only this parallel as a beginning, it is a wonder that Sir Henry Herbert, Master of Revels, licensed the play on December 3, 1623 for a performance by the Lady Elizabeth's Men.

Indeed, throughout THE BONDMAN, Massinger maintains his reputation for paralleling contemporary political events with his dramatic writing, and offering outspoken observations on the first two Stuart kings and their government—honestly criticizing what he saw and condemning that of which he disapproved. His view of politics, however, was really more moralistic than partisan. For example, many of the allusions made in THE BONDMAN are directed toward the vain and dissolute favorite of Charles I—the Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers.

Several characters in THE BONDMAN promote Massinger's view of political liberty, a subject dealt with more in this play than in any others of the Massinger canon. To Massinger, political liberty was synonymous with the liberty of the human soul, which could only be obtained when reason and respectable conduct ruled over baser passions, and when the social bond of the subject to ruler or state did not interfere. In Act I of THE BONDMAN through the character of Timoleon, Massinger points out that freedom is deserved only by the virtuous. In the same act and scene, Cleora places the liberty of one's soul at a value worthy of the surrender of all one's worldly goods and riches. All this talk of liberty perhaps seems ironic when Massinger, being a supporter of political stability and an opposer of revolution, has the slaves in the play defeated. The resolve Massinger chooses is weak when juxtaposed with the eloquent speeches on freedom and liberty.

Another characteristic of Massinger's plays evident in THE BONDMAN is his interest in the marriage or betrothal relationship. No other sixteenth or seventeenth century playwright, with the exception of Thomas Heywood, makes the relationship a central part of his drama. Massinger felt that betrothed or wed, couples had an obligation of mutual respect and trust and that infidelity or jealousy was highly disruptive in love. That Leosthenes in THE BONDMAN loses Cleora because of the raging jealousy he displays, and that Marullo (Pisander) instead, becomes the captor of Cleora's heart with his unfailing trust, is moral justice in the true Massinger sense.

Perhaps it is well, then, that the Master of Revels licensed THE BONDMAN for production, despite its political overtones. Without this play, we would know less about Philip Massinger, the man, and his time.

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