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John Ford 1586?-1640?
Writing in a period when dramatists used sensational themes and bloody spectacles rather than dramatic quality to attract audiences, Ford developed a reputation as decadent playwright. Indeed, his dramas appealed to the most degenerate tastes of playgoers during the reign of Charles I. They offered Caroline audiences...
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- Critical Essays
John Ford 1586?-1640?
Writing in a period when dramatists used sensational themes and bloody spectacles rather than dramatic quality to attract audiences, Ford developed a reputation as decadent playwright. Indeed, his dramas appealed to the most degenerate tastes of playgoers during the reign of Charles I. They offered Caroline audiences a frank representation of the taboo theme of incest and the onstage dramatization of shocking violence. Perhaps the most striking instance of the joining of these devices occurs in the final act of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore: here, Giovanni murders his sister Annabella, whom he has secretly wed, to prevent her from marrying a rival suitor; he then interrupts a dinner hosted by the suitor by walking into the room covered with blood and holding up a dagger with Annabella's heart stuck on the point. For centuries, literary scholars have struggled to comprehend Ford's interest in such subject matter: while many have argued that Ford willingly catered to the decadent tastes of his Caroline peers, others have contented that the playwright's use of the medium of tragedy suggests that there is subtle, didactic moral philosophy at work in Ford's plays.
Little is known about Ford's life and career. There is record that he was baptized on 17 April 1586, to Thomas and Elizabeth Ford. The Fords were members of the gentry class from area of Islington, Devonshire, and it appears that John received a good education during his formative years. There is evidence that a John Ford from Devon enrolled in Exeter College, Oxford, in 1601. The next year, Ford matriculated at the Middle Temple, one of the law schools known as the Inns of Court; contemporary documents indicate that he remained affiliated with the Inns of Court until about 1605 or 1606, when he was expelled from the school for not paying his buttery bill. He was not readmitted to the Middle Temple until 1608. Ford encountered trouble again in 1617, when he and forty other students were suspended for wearing regular caps instead of traditional lawyer's caps. If Ford's experience as a student at the Inns of Court was lackluster, his contributions to the London theater scene proved to hold more promise. During this time and throughout his career, Ford worked with Christopher Beeston's acting company at Drury Lane, the King's Majesties Servants (the company with which Shakespeare had been affiliated), and he collaborated with such prominent Jacobean dramatists as Thomas Dekker and John Webster. Ford's dramatic career spanned from about 1612-1613, when An III Beginning Has a Good End, attributed to Ford, was staged at London's Court theater, until 1639, when The Ladies Triall, the last work bearing his name, was printed. It is not known when Ford died.
Before embarking on his career as a dramatist, Ford tried his hand at several other literary forms, including narrative poems, prose works, and pamphlets. He also honed his literary skills as an apprentice collaborator on plays composed by more seasoned playwrights. From this experience came The Witch of Edmonton, written by Ford, Thomas Dekker, and William Rowley. This play features sensational themes—including witchcraft, bigamy, and murder—that no doubt influenced Ford's theatrical style in his later plays. In The Lover's Melancholy, probably Ford's first individual effort, he experiments with the theme of jealousy in the context of tragicomedy; ultimately, Ford achieved a masterful depiction of this theme and its tragic consequences in two of his greatest dramas: The Broken Heart and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. In The Broken Heart, Ford introduces the theme of brother/ sister relationships that will also manifest itself in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Love's Sacrifice. While the siblings' relationship in The Broken Heart is not as overtly incestuous as that in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, there nevertheless exists a latent sexual tension between brother and sister—and by extension their lovers—which generates jealousy, revenge, murder, and ultimately tragedy. These same themes inform the dramatic events of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, but Ford's forthright and unflinching representation of them—especially the incestuous relationship between Giovanni and Annabella—is what makes the work such a controversial play. This relation-ship and the shocking theatrical effect of Giovanni taking stage with Annabella's heart on his dagger represent the pinnacle of decadent excess in Caroline theater. Love's Sacrifice was written about the same time as The Broken Heart and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, and, while it contains many of the same sensational themes, it nevertheless displays a lack of consistency which makes it less compelling than the other two tragedies. Critics point to Ford's last great tragedy, Perkin Warbeck, as evidence that the dramatist ultimately matured beyond the sensational decadence of The Broken Heart and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. In this play, Ford dramatizes the political conflicts among Warbeck, a pretender to the English throne, Henry VII, and James IV of Scotland. Here, Ford is at the height of his dramatic powers in that he creates a tautly balanced tragedy with well-defined characters.
In the centuries that followed the Caroline era, critics either dismissed or disdained Ford's work as an example of an age which glorified the theatrical representation of sensational sexual themes and graphic violence. Further, Ford could not avoid comparison with Shakespeare, his illustrious predecessor. In most cases, critics harshly judged Ford as an inferior dramatist who rewrote many of Shakespeare's plays to meet Caroline sensibilities. Such parallels were drawn between 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Romeo and Juliet, Love's Sacrifice and Othello, and Perkin Warbeck and Richard II. In recent years, literary scholars have begun to reexamine Ford's works as complex documents that contain not only ingenious manipulations of traditional dramatic devices but also a whole subtext of information relating to Ford's views on religion and morality. For example, Ford teases playgoers with the character of Giovanni in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore by giving him all of the characteristics of a conventional stage villain and then transforming him into the protagonist of the play. Similarly, in Perkin Warbeck, Ford shows dramatic insight in ignoring the megalomaniacal depiction of Warbeck in historical source material for the sake of dramatizing the pretender as a foil to Henry VII. There is a growing school of critical thought that believes that a skeptical Ford placed his dramatization of aberrant sexual behavior and the shocking blood spectacle within the tragic model as a didactic tool to instruct his audience about the dire consequences of such degenerate behavior. As Irving Ribner has argued, "Ford does not hold up incest or illicit love for the admi-ration of his audience; he is not a champion of moral anarchy. … Ford's moral position is far more subtle and complex than his critics generally have been willing to allow. It is the product of a skeptical age which can no longer accept without question the doctrine of a human law reflecting the will of God in a perfectly reasonable and harmonious universe."
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The Witch of Edmonton [with Thomas Dekker and William Rowley] 1621
The Lover's Melancholy 1628
The Broken Heart c. 1630-1633
'Tis Pity She's a Whore c. 1630-1633
Love's Sacrifice c. 1632-1633
Perkin Warbeck c. 1633-1634
The Fancies Chaste and Noble c. 1635-1636
The Lady's Trial 1638
The Queen, or The Excellency of Her Sex 1653
OTHER MAJOR WORKS
Fames Memoriali, or The Earle of Devonshire Deceased (poetry) 1606
Honor Triumphant. Or the Peeres Challenge, By Armes Defensible, At Tilt. Also the Monarches Meeting (prose pamphlet) 1606
Christes Bloodie Sweat. Or the Sonne of Gode in His Agonie (poetry) 1613
A Line of Life. Pointing at the Immortalitie of a Vertuous Name (prose pamphlet) 1620
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 30497
Clifford Leech (essay date 1957)
SOURCE: "Fordian Tragedy," in John Ford and the Drama of His Time, Chatto & Windus, 1957, pp. 67-98.
[In the following essay, Leech contends that despite displaying a generally refined dramatic technique, Ford nevertheless is unable to imbue the tragic events in Love's Sacrifice, The Broken Heart, and Perkin Warbeck with an overall significance.]
The totality of human perception embraces several levels of experience. Because, as we live from moment to moment, we have a strong sense of the actual, of 'now', we establish mental relationships with people, things, situations within the shortest period of time in which it is possible to apprehend them. We respond to, we evaluate, these objects of our perception as if their basic character were static, not subject to the principle of growth or to modification by circumstance, proof against the shifting of viewpoint or other change in ourselves. We know, of course, that this mode of perception is partial, but we commonly act upon it when the objects presented to our consciousness are not such as to call memory powerfully into play. If we are marginally aware of mutability, that may serve only to give an emotional intensity to our response. So we may pass judgment on a new acquaintance or a situation suddenly encountered, or yield to the immediate charm of a landscape. If we are Romeo or Juliet, we may fall in love at a glance. This kind of response, though normally of a lower degree of intensity than the experience of falling in love, is an everyday event with us. Yet, on another level of consciousness, we are aware of the world not as static but as wholly subject to the processes of time. We trace effects to their causes, anticipate effects from causes, finding our patterns—pleasing or otherwise—in time rather than in space. But this temporal mode of perception can hardly exist without the spatial mode, which is logically anterior to it. We cannot envisage process, mutability, without a point of reference in an actual or imagined 'now'. We can see this simply illustrated in Mr Aldous Huxley's recent story, The Genius and the Goddess. Here the novelist's concern is predominantly with the physical and mental growth of his characters, their subjection to accident, and to some extent their cyclic fluctuations of behaviour as circumstances come near to repeating themselves. But the whole story is securely anchored in a present moment, in which one of the chief participants in the events of the story recounts it all as a remote but highly formative experience. This present moment is given elaborate description at various points in the story, and the strength of the 'now' is increased when the reader is on occasion invited to consider the likelihood of processes that are still in the future. So Proust has his 'now' from which he sets out on his search for lost time. In this way we are prevented from ever quite losing ourselves in the momentary event that occurs in the story. We know, we are perpetually reminded of, the time-pattern within which that event falls. We see the most ecstatic or dreadful moment as an abstraction from a large phase of experience. The same effect can be achieved by the taking of an already well-known story, which we shall hold in our minds as a totality while we are reading any part of it. So that, when Chaucer describes Troilus and Cressida in bed, like children together taking shelter from the rain, we are simultaneously aware of Troilus's fruitless vigil on the walls of Troy. But there too the poet gives us a 'now' as a point of reference: at the beginning of each of Books I-IV he refers to himself and his writing of the poem, so that our consciousness of time-processes coexists with our consciousness of each apprehensible moment within the narrative.
Lessing in The Laocoon distinguished between painting and poetry by the assertion that the one was an art of space, the other an art of time. It was, he said, the painter's concern to capture the moment as it fleeted, to seek for pattern and significance in what was offered to the senses within a period of time sufficiently short for temporal changes not to appear. But the poet's concern was with processes. The painter might display Helen's beauty on his canvas, the poet should rather show men's response to it, in the launching of the thousand ships, in the old Trojans remembering their youth. In defence of his thesis, Lessing referred to the way in which memory functions. If a poet lists the various features of a landscape or a human being, his reader will not be able to bear in mind all the items in the catalogue and construct out of them an effective whole. But, while we cannot trust ourselves to memorize (and organize) a catalogue, we can simultaneously hold in the mind a series of events which are linked by a chain of causality or by any other form of consecutiveness. Because it takes time to read a poem, its material should be what happens, not what appears to have a static existence in a moment of consciousness. Now it is of course evident that those forms of art in which the mode of expression is itself subject to continuous change—the written or spoken word, music, a sequence of visual patterns—will be more easily able to objectify our sense of process, while those forms in which the mode of expression is relatively fixed—the pictorial and plastic arts—will be more at home in the field of spatial perception. Coleridge must have had this in mind [in Biographia Literaria, Chapter XIV] when, having said that Good Sense was the body of poetic genius and Fancy its drapery, he added that Motion was its life. Certainly his own poems, whether supernatural narratives or the exploration of a train of thought, are almost invariably on the move. And if Lessing is generally right in this prescription for poetry, the argument would seem to have even greater force for the drama. In the playhouse we see human beings moving before us, reacting to each other's words and actions, and composing for us an experience which continues for two or more hours. The plot, said Aristotle, is the prime element in tragedy, not the display of character or the enunciation of thought [The Poetics, Chapter VI]. The action must develop, must lead to achievement or catastrophe. If Lessing's thesis can be sustained anywhere, it is surely here.
But we must recognize that an artist is often ill-content with the limitations imposed on him by his medium. The painter, for example, will resort to various contrivances to enable himself to display his perception of process. Lessing was well aware of this, and spoke of the 'minor aggressions' ('kleinen Eingriffe') which poet and painter made on one another's rights. In the Middle Ages it was possible, within the framework of a single composition, to present a series of pictures showing the same figures at different points within the course of a story. Thus the key-moments of a saint's life could be brought within a spatial relationship. Similarly, the multiple setting that was usual in medieval drama, being visible to the audience throughout the representation, would suggest a temporal coalescence of all the events in the dramatic story. Or the painter may produce a series of separate works, yet each showing an isolated step in a process. That indeed is common enough, from the traditional Stations of the Cross to Hogarth's sequences. Or, if he is anecdotally given, he may paint a single imaginary scene which immediately suggests to the viewer the events that have led up to it or will ensue. Or, with greater artists and more lasting effect, he will choose for his subject a key-moment in a well-known story: the whole action will in that way be implied.
So, too, the poet is reluctant not to make use of the momentary, spatial perception. As the painter finds himself imprisoned by his limitation to a moment of time, so the poet will feel the need to remain within that moment. He will wish to dwell on the features of a place, a person, a situation, that has confronted him within a time-unit. Though Lessing blamed him for it, Ariosto listed the charms of Alcina, and many a poet has surveyed a landscape and drawn his reader's attention to each of its features in turn. Or he may expose different facets of a situation, as Shakespeare does in some groups of his son-nets, or as Matthew Prior in one of his songs turns from the lover to his pretended love and then to his real love and then to the invisible Venus who comments on the small spectacle they offer:
The merchant, to secure his treasure,
Conveys it in a borrowed name:
Euphelia serves to grace my measure,
But Chloe is my real flame.
My softest verse, my darling lyre,
Upon Euphelia's toilet lay—
When Chloe noted her desire
That I should sing, that I should play.
My lyre I tune, my voice I raise,
But with my numbers mix my sighs;
And whilst I sing Euphelia's praise,
I fix my soul on Chloe's eyes.
Fair Chloe blushed: Euphelia frowned:
I sung, and gazed; I played, and trembled:
And Venus to the Loves around
Remarked how ill we all dissembled.
It is a moment that is contemplated, and the poet isolates in turn each member of the group. However, the matter is slight and the description brief.
In the drama, though it is impossible for 'motion' to be absent, it can for a while be arrested. The most obvious illustration of this is in the Greek chorus, in those passages where neither the past is recalled nor the future anticipated but where the general significance of the play's action is expounded or where the dramatist turns away from his contemplation of a growing dread and finds relief in a lyrical reminder of natural beauty. Aristotle rebuked Euripides for allowing his chorus at times to lose contact with the dramatic action, so that a particular choral song might be as appropriate to one play as to another. But in this Aristotle appears to have overlooked the dramatist's need for a point of rest, of static contemplation: to achieve this completely, it is necessary to lose contact with the dramatic action, for that cannot be contemplated without a sense of the dynamism that belongs to it. Shakespeare lacks the freedom that this use of a chorus could give: the practice of his theatre was to use a so-called chorus only for the anticipation of action or to bridge gaps in it. But he could come close to the moment of stillness in the use of the long sententious speech, where the thought is generalized, having some relation, it is true, to the action of the drama but couched in such terms that the particular application is not much in our consciousness. This is the case with Prospero's 'Our revels now are ended' and with Duke Vincentio's 'Be absolute for death'. It is almost the case, too, with the scene in Antony and Cleopatra where Antony's soldiers hear strange music under the stage and one of them says that this is the sign of Antony's desertion by the god Hercules: the action of the play is stilled; the god's alleged desertion is merely the symbol of a particular moment, though a decisive one, in Antony's fortunes; that moment is held, and contemplated. Thus Lessing's distinction between poetry and painting is one of emphasis and degree. Just as in our everyday experience perception cannot be wholly spatial or wholly temporal (though of course at certain times we shall tend towards one extreme or the other), so in art there is continually a reaching towards that mode of perception which the chosen art-form does not easily allow.
So far I have spoken of two modes of perception, but many people will perhaps be conscious of a third. Behind particular spatial patterns we have a sense of a general pattern which includes all particulars; behind the flux of things of which we are conscious through the temporal mode of perception there is a stillness which incorporates all movement, all sound. In the previous Chapter. ["Ford and Jacobean Tragedy"], I quoted Maeterlinck as saying that in Ford's women-characters we have an idea of the undifferentiated human soul. Individuals vary greatly from one another, but every mind knows and suffers, plans and desires, every human being is born and strives and in its fashion loves and in every fashion dies. So we are able to speak of Man, in a way that transcends mere intellectual generalization. In major works of art we are conscious of an individual person or situation being presented, but at the same time we see that the individual is humanity, the situation an image of the general human condition. Moreover, our notion of time is subsumed in a notion of simultaneity. The course of a complete action is immediately apprehensible, as it always is when we look back upon a narrative poem, a novel or a drama, which we have experienced moment by moment but which has stayed in our mind as a total image. When perception is of this order, we remain conscious of a time-sequence which is one of the dimensions of the thing we see, but we are not likely any more to think in terms of cause and effect. 'This is how it is,' we shall feel, not 'This is how it came about.' It is not that we see the different layers of time as forming an elaborate palimpsest, with the conclusion of the story as the top layer, as we do in any series of paintings on a continuous theme. Rather, we are equally aware of the beginning and of the end and of each separable moment within the sequence. In the nature of things, we shall have difficulty in achieving this kind of perception on a first reading, but a poetic dramatist, or a novelist similarly endowed, will—by means of continual echoes of preceding passages, parallels or reversals of preceding situations—urge us towards a state of mind in which we shall apprehend his work as a totality within which the separable parts, the moments of time, co-exist. In the totality of King Lear, Cordelia is always rejected, and Lear always in the storm, and the father and daughter always achieving peace together, and the father always holding the dead girl in his arms. In referring above to Coleridge's words on the body and drapery and life of poetry, I omitted the concluding term in his list: after assigning functions to Good Sense and Fancy and Motion, he added that Imagination was 'the Soul that is everywhere, and in each; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole'. A sense of wholeness is, I think, impossible if we see the arts of time as capable only of narrative, of construction within the time-dimension. When we contemplate Lear, we do not think of its end as the point we have to arrive at; we think of a whole in which that end is a part, as is every other moment of the play.
This has been a long but perhaps useful preamble to the discussion of Ford's three characteristic tragedies, Love's Sacrifice, The Broken Heart and Perkin Warbeck. They are remarkable in their comparative indifference to event, in their cultivation of the static scene, in their approach to uniformity of mood throughout the drama, and above all in their suggestion of a total vision of human life in which vicissitude has become irrelevant. From Lessing's viewpoint they are defective writings indeed, for Ford has given scant attention to the study of processes. They are, most strangely in the playhouse, analogous in effect to that Grecian urn in which Keats found only arrested movement, fairness of attitude but no imaginable end. Of course, the plays were to be acted, and they had to have plots. The characters die and sometimes kill. But a reader who makes his way through them for the sake of the dying and the killing will have little satisfaction. Defying the natural limitations of drama, Ford aims at a form of spatial perception. When we first read his plays, what remains most persistently in our minds is a series of static groupings—Penthea dead in her chair, with her brother quietly near his own end and her lover addressing words of admiration to the man he has stabbed; Orgilus, with a proud heart, addressing himself to the formal ending of his life; Perkin Warbeck at the moment of his entry into the welcoming Scottish court, or later in the stocks, gracing with little heed the confessed fraud Lambert Simnel, who has accepted Henry's mercy and employment and now urges Warbeck to a like humiliation; the pictures of a solemn rite that come at the ends of Love's Sacrifice and The Broken Heart. We shall see that he is much nearer to the psychological drama of character and action in Love's Sacrifice than in the other two tragedies, yet in all of them the movement is towards the moment of stillness. It is no coincidence that these most remembered moments are those when death is imminent or just past. Here Ford, with his urge towards a cessation of movement, is necessarily the poet of death. The contrast thus presented between these plays and 'Tis Pity is extreme: there we remember with special force the earnest colloquy of Giovanni and the Friar with which the play opens; the fierce sensuality of the scene in which brother and sister avow their love; the moments of hubris and continued activity which come ever faster on Giovanni as the end approaches; the last scene of love; and the defiance of Giovanni's final entry.
This does not mean that the three other tragedies are mere occasions for tableaux vivants, however solemn and impressive. They come, as it were, into sharp focus at such points, but we remember them as wholes, not merely as frameworks in which a striking picture is momentarily displayed. The death of Calantha is moving not simply because of her firm and loving conduct in the moment itself, but because we have seen her with other manners upon her—listening to Penthea's account of Ithocles' love, playing the heir-apparent, with seriousness or lightness as the occasion demands, accepting Ithocles' love, dancing on as she learns that all her hopes are cracked, all her loves outraged. Moreover, the plays are wholes through the coherence and consistency of their language—though here indeed we must except certain portions of Love's Sacrifice. Ford has his special melody in his use of blank verse, and each major character will at times give utterance to it. Poignant as his phrasing can be, there is no over-excitement of tone, no use of language for persuasion's sake—no impetus, in fact, to action. His elegiac repetitions suggest always a withdrawal into an immobility that is a refuge and a means of full realization for his characters' mode of being. 'A peine ont-ils un passé,' says Professor Davril [in his Le Drame de John Ford, 1954] of Ford's men and women, and in effect this is true, despite the fact that in Love's Sacrifice and The Broken Heart and The Lover's Melancholy there is frequent reference to action before the time of the plays' beginnings: the things past are data, never strongly emphasized as causative or brought vividly before our minds. On the other hand, the frequent preoccupation with fame, chronicles, remembrance in after-times, suggests the notion that the characters have within the play achieved a status beyond mutability. This is strengthened by a tendency to see them in abstract terms, which achieves its most overt expression in The Broken Heart. In his list of dramatis personae for that play, Ford attaches a word or phrase to each character, presenting each as it were emblematically: Ithocles is 'Honour of Loveliness', Orgilus 'Angry', Penthea 'Complaint', Clantha 'Flower of Beauty'. Some of the labels are arbitrary and almost without point, and most readers probably find the device at first sight irksome. Yet its hold on our minds is sufficient to make the characters more remote from a world of particulars, associating them and their tragedy with a plane on which abstractions can be imagined, giving to each, moreover, an immutable quality.
Thus in large measure Ford compensates for his casualness of plot-development—through which he lacked some of the strongest factors making for a sense of the organic—and we are able from these plays to experience a totality in which particularities of space and time have become accidental. His fascination with the spatial picture should not blind us to his deeper capacities, his perception of a poignant order of things and his manner of authority in communicating what he saw.
There is a well-known epigram by Crashaw which closely links Love's Sacrifice and The Broken Heart:
Thou cheat'st us Fod, mak'st one seeme two by Art.
What is Loves Sacrifice, but the Broken Heart?
[The Poems English Latin and Greek of Richard
Crashaw, edited by L. C. Martin, 1927]
Certainly there is much in common to the two plays. The story of Bianca, Duchess of Pavia, who loves Fernando but determines—though without complete success—to re-main faithful to her husband, has similarities to the story of Penthea, married to the elderly Bassanes but refusing to give to Orgilus, to whom she was formerly betrothed, even the hope of their marrying after Bassanes' death. In both plays, moreover, the chief woman-character dies before the end and she is much and most ceremoniously mourned. Both, as we have noted, move towards a static presentation of loss, and the dramatic incidents are casually introduced, so that we are surprised when anything happens but do not feel called on to give primary attention to the event. Incident is a mere interruption: even death is of use principally as a way of giving a final immobility to the group of figures. But the greater strength of these features in The Broken Heart than in Love's Sacrifice may indicate that Love's Sacrifice was written earlier. Indeed in this play there are frequent echoes both of 'Tis Pity and of the Jacobean tragedies with which 'Tis Pity must be associated. Towards the end of Love's Sacrifice the Duke returns suddenly to court, to confirm his suspicions that his friend Fernando is the Duchess's lover. He finds them indeed making love, and a scene follows in which Bianca speaks to her husband in terms of vigorous contempt, glorying in her love for Fernando. It is apparent that she seeks a quick death and wishes to drive the Duke to the point of killing her. This is very close to the scene in 'Tis Pity where Soranzo is brutally trying to discover from Annabella the name of her lover, and she, determined on secrecy and given over to despair, abuses him in the hope of immediate death. So too there is a resemblance in the situations of Fernando in Love's Sacrifice and Giovanni in Tis Pity. Fernando is the Duke's friend, and finds himself loving the Duke's wife. He attempts, as Giovanni did, to subdue his love, but in II, i, he cries out in terms almost identical with Giovanni's: 'For I must speak or burst.' The play has most elaborate echoes of Othello, for the Duke is worked on by the villainous D'Avolos in exactly Iago's fashion. In III, ii, D'Avolos, observing Bianca and Fernando in the Duke's presence, exclaims: 'Beshrew my heart, but that's not so good', and he goes on to pretend reluctance to make himself plain. The Duke turns on him in the following scene, his threats owing much to Othello's:
Thou art a traitor: do not think the gloss
Of smooth evasion, by your cunning jests
And coinage of your politician's brain,
Shall jig me off; I'll know 't. I vow I will.
Did not I note your dark abrupted ends
Of words half-spoke? your 'wells, if all were
Your short 'I like not that'? your girds and 'buts'?
Yes, sir, I did; such broken language argues
More matter than your subtlety shall hide:
Tell me, what is't? by honour's self I'll know.
In IV, i, D'Avolos has grown bolder and urges upon the Duke an imaginary picture of the two lovers as they 'exchange kisses, seeking one another's lips, nay, begetting an heir to the dukedom, or practising more than the very act of adultery itself. When in the last Act the Duke has come to believe Bianca innocent, he expresses his despair, his inability to envisage life on any terms, in words that recall Othello's remorse and his terror at the thought of Desdemona's reproachful presence at the judgment seat. And he sees D'Avolos as the devil that Othello came to see in Iago:
Slave, torture me no more!—Note him, my lords;
If you would choose a devil in the shape
Of man, an arch-arch-devil, there stands one.
Ford was so preoccupied with Othello here that he even gave Fernando a soliloquy reminiscent of Iago's. Love has just taken possession of him, and he debates its claims and those of friendship, the chance of success with Bianca, and the means of revealing his passion to her, in a way strongly echoic of Iago's early deliberations, staccato, colloquial, with all the marks of active and fevered thought:
So, now I am alone; now let me think.
She is the duchess; say she be; a creature
Sew'd-up in painted cloth might so be styl'd;
That's but a name: she's married too; she is,
And therefore better might distinguish love:
She's young and fair; why, madam, that's the bait
Invites me more to hope: she's the duke's wife;
Who knows not this?—she's bosom'd to my friend;
There, there, I am quite lost: will not be won;
Still worse and worse: abhors to hear me speak;
Eternal mischief! I must urge no more;
For, were I not be-leper'd in my soul,
Here were enough to quench the flames of hell.
What then? pish! [if] I must not speak, I'll write.
And there are echoes of Webster too in the play. The first words of the first Act are Roseilli's 'Depart the court?', which is close to Lodovico's angry cry 'Banished!' at the beginning of The White Devil. A minor villain Ferentes takes his leave with an utterance close to Vittoria's in Webster's play: 'My forfeit was in my blood; and my life hath answered it.' And when the Duke's sister Fiormonda is wooing Fernando for herself, she produces a ring that her first husband had given her and tries to persuade Fernando to take it—all very much in the manner of the Duchess of Malfi wooing her steward Antonio.
Yet these echoes of 'Tis Pity and of Shakespeare and Webster do not give to Love's Sacrifice its characteristic quality. That, rather, is one of lamentation for ineluctable distress. The fourth Act ends with an emphasis on the working of fate, as Roseilli says of Fernando:
I see him lost already.
If all prevail not, we shall know too late
No toil can shun the violence of fate.
We are, in fact, made to feel that the love-relationship of Bianca and Fenando is an inevitable consequence of their situation. She, young and dowerless, has married the elderly Duke: Fernando is his young friend, and Bianca is fair: she resists his wooing, thinking to bring the matter effectively to a stop by going to him at night and offering to accept his love, while making it plain that, if he allows her to do this, she will kill herself in the morning. Fernando, of course, responds generously and abandons for a while any thought of her love. Then Ford's shrewdness of understanding is shown most finely. Bianca becomes increasingly imprudent, increasingly a prey to the love that she has apparently succeeded in bringing to an end. In III, ii, she and Fernando are on stage with the Duke and his courtiers. She speaks, apart, to Fernando, asking him: 'Speak, shall I steal a kiss? believe me, my lord, I long.' The previous assertion of her virtue has so satisfied her scruples that now she is heartily ready to accept Fernando's love, and will show her feelings with folly and rashness. After she has driven the Duke to kill her, we are again made to feel the inevitability of his new belief in her innocence: he has been too devoted to the idea of her to be able indefinitely to think her disloyal. So he and Fernando join in doing her posthumous honour, and together they kill themselves to escape from their sense of loss. We are left with an image of these three people and their relationships: there is no question of blame, or of praise; but there is much pity, and Ford joins the two men in their devotion to Bianca.
It will be seen that the main plot of Love's Sacrifice is of the slightest. Ford filled out his play with various court-intrigues, to some degree incorporating the dully farcical comedy which was so often a blemish on his work. He was to do better than this in The Broken Heart, where he secured enough material for his five Acts by a skilful interweaving of actions, all of which, however, had the high seriousness that his tragedy needed. Love's Sacrifice thus has all the marks of being an intermediary play between 'Tis Pity on the one hand and The Broken Heart and Perkin Warbeck on the other. Nevertheless, it is to be valued for its central action involving Bianca, who has been drawn by Ford with a supreme understanding of human waywardness and a woman's passion.
If Professor Alfred Harbage is right in his belief that The Great Favourite, or The Duke of Lerma, published as the work of Sir Robert Howard in 1668, is an adaptation of a lost play by Ford, it is probable that in the original form it had a strong family likeness to Love's Sacrifice. In Howard's version it shows how the Duke of Lerma re-establishes his tottering fortunes by loosing his daughter Maria to the young King of Spain: she is virtuous, but when the King falls quickly in love with her there is a general assumption in the court that she is his mistress. She wishes to save her father from ruin, but will not sell her love or approve of his unscrupulous dealing with his enemies. The King and court are ultimately convinced of her virtue. Her father saves himself from the growing power of his rivals by purchasing a Cardinal's office: he has a splendid last entrance when he confronts his judges in his Cardinal's robes, and Howard's preface indicates that this was in the 'old play' he had adapted. It is, of course, impossible to say how much of the extant version is Ford's, but we can surely detect Howard in the very ending of the play: this is largely in couplets, and shows Maria slowly yielding to the King's wish to make her his Queen. In his preface, Howard says of the original:
it ended abruptly: and on the person of Philip the 3 there was fixed such a mean character, and on the daughter of the Duke of Lerma such a vicious one, that I could not but judge it unfit to be presented by any that had a respect, not only to princes, but indeed to either man or woman.
In Howard's version Maria has no trace of viciousness. She is as virtuous and as calumniated as Spinella in The Lady's Trial, and like Spinella she disappears from view during the later part of the play, returning at the end for a solemn exculpation. But the 'old play' made her 'vicious', and we must therefore assume that her character was there nearer Bianca's than Spinella's. Professor Harbage has wondered if Ford suggested an incestuous relationship with her father, for certainly Lerma often describes her with an unusual fervour. This possibility is strengthened when we consider than an incest-motive shows itself in The Broken Heart as well as in 'Tis Pity. But it is unlikely that it was the mainspring of the action. The whole conduct of the plot depends on Lerma's use of his daughter to re-establish himself as the King's favourite, and on her reluctance to play her part. Though it is rash to speculate on the exact sequence of events in the 'old play', it seems possible that Ford's Maria was rather more wavering in her virtue than Howard's, that like Bianca's her resistance to the power of love was not lasting, that Lerma's fall was ultimately bound up with the King's view that a mistress, once attained, was but a mistress. In IV, i, her uncle the Duke of Medina comes in disguise to Maria and presents a masque-like entertainment which is intended to arouse the workings of her conscience: she protests her virtue indignantly and nobly, so that Medina is astonished and begins to wonder if calumny has been done. It would be close indeed to Love's Sacrifice if her yielding to the King had quickly followed this successful demonstration of her virtue. Howard said the King's character was 'mean' in the original, and we can have no doubt that, as in Love's Sacrifice and The Broken Heart, Ford would here have put all his strength and admiration at Maria's disposal. There would, however, be no opportunity for a last-act glorification of his heroine. Howard, we have seen, said the old play 'ended abruptly', and Lerma's triumphant wimdrawal from his judges and the world, safe in his Cardinal's scarlet, was doubtless almost the last incident. There would be no final entry for Maria, no elevation to a throne. There is no historical warrant for Maria's existence, but the real Duke of Lerma had a son who turned against him, and Philip IV—the successor of the King in me play—had a mistress called Maria Calderon. Ford's Maria may well have been nearer than Howard's to the historical Duke's son and King's mistress.
In Howard's version Lerma is presented as a man ready to challenge fate:
Mar. Are there divinities below?
Ler.There are. Every wise thing is a divinity
That can dispose and check the fate of things.
But his efforts are puny: he cannot control Maria's will, his hold on the King is always insecure, his enemies are finally able to drive him from court. When the play ends, his one remaining achievement is a purchased immunity from death and imprisonment, and it seems a small matter for one who sought 'divinity'. Maria, on the other hand, though he would use her as an instrument in his advancement, has always his homage and the King's. It is her initial bewilderment, her love for the King which yet will not kill her virtue, her resolution in defying the King's lust, curbing her father's plans and yet seeking to preserve him, that provide the play with its centre. The scenes in which she meets her father or the unprincipled Confessor or the King or her uncle Medina have Ford's note in them. And if we have lost a later scene between her and the King, we have lost the chance of seeing her as vividly as we see Bianca. Nevertheless, the play may have been left unpublished by Ford because he could not devise an ending satisfactory to him.
The action of The Broken Heart, like that of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, is centred in a brother and a sister, Ithocles and Penthea. Indeed at one point in the play Bassanes, the husband of Penthea, suspects that she and Ithocles are lovers. And at another point we are reminded of the earlier play when Orgilus manifestly resents his sister's acceptance of Prophilus's love. These, however, are only stray echoes: as in Love's Sacrifice, the stress here is on suffering, not on the daring and violence of Giovanni and Annabella. Penthea, we learn, was formerly betrothed to Orgilus, but Ithocles was ambitious and contrived for her the more splendid match with Bassanes. She and Orgilus suffer from their separation, and there is a touch characteristic of Ford when she tells him that, even after Bassanes' death, she will not allow Orgilus to take her at second-hand:
Org. … Penthea is the wife to Orgilus,
And ever shall be.
Pen. Never shall or will.
Pen. Hear me; in a word I'll tell thee why.
The virgin-dowry which my birth bestow'd
Is ravish'd by another; my true love
Abhors to think that Orgilus deserv'd
No better favours than a second bed.
Org.. I must not take this reason.
Pen. TO confirm it;
Should I outlive my bondage, let me meet
Another worse than this and less desir'd,
If, of all men alive, thou shouldst but touch
My lip or hand again!
This is one of the most unpleasant manifestations of Ford's exaltation of beauty and virginity, a peculiar exhibition of a snobbery that disregards the person while exalting its condition. One would be willing to believe that here Ford has insight into the quirks that may afflict a human being in a state of deprivation, but Penthea is so generally exalted in the play that this seems unlikely. While Penthea, however, is thus morbidly faithful, Bassanes is jealous, and Penthea is ultimately driven to a state of mind in which she starves herself to death. Ithocles has long repented his arrangement of his sister's marriage, and recognizes the wrong he has done to her and Orgilus. Penthea forgives him, and pleads on his behalf to Calantha, the Princess of Sparta, whom he loves. Orgilus respects Ithocles, but cannot allow him to escape unpunished. In the presence of Penthea's dead body, he kills Ithocles, admiring his fortitude and being ready himself to die for what he has done. At Calantha's order he gives himself to death, with resolution, no thought of a compensating heaven, no remorse:
Org. I feel no palsies.
On a pair-royal do I wait in death;
My sovereign, as his liegeman; on my mistress,
As a devoted servant; and on Ithocles,
As if no brave, yet no unworthy enemy:
Nor did I use an engine to entrap
His life, out of a slavish fear to combat
Youth, strength, or cunning; but for that I durst not
Engage the goodness of a cause on fortune,
By which his name might have outfac'd my
O, Tecnicus, inspir'd with Phoebus' fire!
I call to mind thy augury, 'twas perfect;
Revenge proves its own executioner.
When feeble man is bending to his mother,
The dust he was first fram'd on, thus he totters.
Bass. Life's fountain is dried up.
Org. SO falls the
Of my prerogative in being a creature!
A mist hangs o'er mine eyes, the sun's bright
Is clouded in an everlasting shadow;
Welcome, thou ice, that sitt'st about my heart,
No heat can ever thaw thee.
Near. Speech hath left him.
Bass. He has shook hands with time.
Calantha, too, as we saw earlier, goes to her death with dignity as well as with a broken heart.
If we were to seek for the beginning of the series of disasters that the play exhibits, we should find it in Ithocles' arranging of his sister's marriage to Bassanes. But that seems irrelevant to the play's effect. There is hardly a character here that does not demand our sympathy: Ithocles, truly repentant of the wrong he has done his sister; Penthea, suffering from Bassanes' jealousy and from her reciprocated love for Orgilus; Orgilus, with malice towards none but with a sense of compulsion to kill Ithocles for his responsibility for Penthea's death; Bassanes, absurdly, pathologically jealous, but pathetically so, and at the end of the play rousing his strength so that jealousy may be overcome, sorrow endured, and respects rightly paid; Calantha, ever the Princess yet a woman in love with Ithocles and a devoted subject of death when her lover has entered its dominion. These characters win our sympathy, not for what they do, but for their readiness to suffer their fate with a measure of dignity. It is not surprising, there-fore, that the dialogue of the play is full of references to fate. Tecnicus, the tutor of Orgilus, thus teaches resignation to his pupil:
Tempt not the stars; young man, thou canst not play With the severity of fate.
So Prophilus, the lover of Orgilus's sister, says: 'Fate instructs me' (I, ii), and Calantha is described as 'cross'd by fate' (IV, iii). Ithocles thus submits himself:
Leave to the powers
Above us the effects of their decrees;
My burthen lies within me: servile fears
Prevent no great effects.
And Nearchus, the Prince of Argos who succeeds to the kingship of Sparta on Calantha's death, asserts man's ignorance of heaven's decree:
The counsels of the gods are never known
Till men can call th' effects of them their own.
This contrast between the ordaining gods and their puppets men is expressed too by Orgilus:
Creeps on the dung of earth, and cannot reach
The riddles which are purpos'd by the gods.
And by Tecnicus when he says:
But let the gods be moderators still;
No human power can prevent their will.
In Jacobean tragedy there was a simple opposition implied between the vigour and daring of human beings and the fixed character of divine decree. Here the characters are not vigorous: certainly Ithocles has been the successful commander of an army, and Orgilus has the degree of resolution requisite for the killing of his friend, but it is not their daring but their courtly dignity that makes itself most apparent to us. Penthea, Ithocles, Orgilus, Calantha do not protest against the manner or the early coming of their deaths. They are far more preoccupied with the need to go out well. Ithocles dreams of a heaven awaiting him:
Thoughts of ambition, or delicious banquet
With beauty, youth, and love, together perish
In my last breath, which on the sacred altar
Of a long-look'd-for peace—now—moves—to
But the other characters have their minds elsewhere, on love and deprivation and the need to leave a kingdom in good order, a sovereign's name in good repair. Perhaps Ford considered that Ithocles, sympathetic character as he was, had done most wrong in frustrating the love of Penthea and Orgilus: consequently he needed a thought of heaven to make quiet the anguish of his remorse, while the others, even the murderer Orgilus, could go into darkness with only a need for 'resolution'. With all, however, there is a sense that they are most supremely themselves in the moment of death, that this moment definitively marks their characters, makes them proof against mutability.
As usually with Ford, there are clumsinesses in the contrivance of the action. He seems to forget details that he had at first meant to seem important. Thus in I, iii, Orgilus is disguised, and his sister Euphranea and her lover Prophilus plan to use him as a means of writing to each other. This is ironic, for Orgilus is jealously opposed to the match. But the whole device is quickly forgotten and Orgilus abandons his disguise and returns to court. So in IV, iii, Ithocles tells Orgilus of his still hopeless love for Calantha, though the King's consent to the marriage had been made public shortly before. And, though the effect in V, ii, is admirable, when a series of messengers brings to the dancing Calantha the news that her father and Penthea and Ithocles are dead, we may well feel incredulous that she should be informed in this stylized way: the dramatic method employed in the scene does not quite cohere with the general manner of the play. As ever, we feel that Ford is not to be bothered with matters of detail. There are, of course, other things that stand in a modern reader's way when he would enter sympathetically into the world of The Broken Heart. He may find Penthea morbid in her cult of virginity, when she will not consider offering to Orgilus the blown flower of her widowhood, and he may resent the snobbishness of Calantha as, at the moment of her death, she contrasts herself to 'mere women' who may outlive their sorrows. It is even possible that Ford's preoccupation with sexual love may seem too exclusive.
Nevertheless, the play presents an imaginable world consistently peopled, and its inhabitants speak in fittingly noble accents. And our admiration for them is made sharper because we feel that some effort has gone into the act of imagining. Ford is not at every moment sure that this aristocratic world is wholly firm or admirable: he makes Orgilus protest against the King's arbitrary order for the marriage of Euphranea and Prophilus; he makes Ithocles behave churlishly to the Prince of Argos when he thinks that Calantha will accept the Prince's alliance; and the near-madness of the jealous Bassanes, the suspicion of incest that comes to him, and the over-possessive attitude of Orgilus to his sister, are forces that could disrupt this well-conducted school of suffering. So, in imagining the 'Sparta' that is this play's nominal scene, Ford is expressing a wish for a proud and yet affectionate courtliness which he cannot fully credit. It is this hint of an ultimate uncertainty, a fragility in the structure of his palace of art, that makes us doubtful of Professor Ellis-Fermor's view of his plays [in The Jacobean Drama]: she sees Ford as approaching suffering and abnormality 'with a grave and unfaltering faith in the ultimate prevalence of underlying virtue in the universe of mind', and in his plays, she suggests, 'we assist… at the conversion of the seven deadly sins, not at their overthrow'. It would certainly be difficult to see this as true of 'Tis Pity, where Giovanni's defiance and guilt remain with him to the end. And in The Broken Heart the assertion of human nobility has the hint of precariousness that strengthens our aspiration, that makes us strive towards belief. For the dream, however nearly at times the poet comes to the point of waking, is superbly managed. It is not 'life' as we know it: yet it is an aspiration that we certainly know, a condition in which human beings might behave as Ithocles and Calantha and Penthea do. It is, if one likes to phrase it so, a kind of sainthood that the poet here formulates and loves. And the saints have respect and affection for one another. Ithocles mourns for the loss of Penthea's happiness and worships her in her death; Orgilus kills Ithocles with words of deep admiration on his lips; Calantha condemns Orgilus to death, but, though he has killed her love, with a tender sorrow; Bassanes, recovered at last from his fears of cuckoldom, pays a deep respect to his wife, her brother, her lover and the Princess Calantha who dies last of all. Bassanes, indeed, was earlier in the play so full of jealous anger that, as we have seen, he sounded a dangerous note in the quiet sadness of this dramatic world. But at its end he too is quiet, he has come over to the quietisi ideal: he has learned the dignity of not coveting, of being ready to lose all, of a nobleness which is self-conscious and ultimately sufficient.
It is natural that to-day these figures should associate themselves in our minds with the joint protagonists of Villiers de l'lsle-Adam's Axël. … But Axël and Sara not only challenge the worlds from which they have come but of their own will choose to give up a life that is beneath their regard: 'Vivre? les serviteurs feront cela pour nous.' It is this challenge and this contempt for mere being that differentiate them from Ford's characters. Penthea and Orgilus, Calantha and Ithocles, do not revolt against their Sparta and its ways, they do not seek destruction: they merely and grandly submit when nature or the law or emotional exhaustion demands their ending. As symbols they have not the power to startle that belongs securely to Axël and Sara. It is in a gentler fashion that they make their claims on us; it is a more orthodox cosmology that they inhabit; it is, ultimately, a less 'romantic' impulse that has gone to their making.
To-day we could not expect The Broken Heart to be a popular tragedy. We have to make an effort of the historical imagination to come to terms with it. Yet, when we have done so, we not merely understand more of the special nature of English drama in Charles I's reign: we are more deeply aware of a special kind of human aspiration, the desire not merely to 'get on', to win applause for achievement, to satisfy one's sensual or other material longings, but to accept the inevitable with calm and authority. And that, after all, is not the most contemptible of aspirations.
In Perkin Warbeck Ford turns from the nobility to an impostor. Professor Lawrence Babb has pointed out [in 'Abnormal Psychology in John Ford's Perkin Warbeck', Modern Language Notes, li (April 1936), 234-7] that, although the chroniclers presented him 'as an impudent rascal who is under no illusions regarding his base origin', Ford never questions his sincerity. In the play he is a melancholic who has come to believe in his own royalty. To us his pretensions are exposed by means of the tag-rag company who are his only persistent followers, and through the blunt scepticism of the Earl of Huntley. But it was doubtless Warbeck's final refusal to come to terms with Henry, knowing that his refusal meant death, that attracted Ford to his story. Warbeck becomes a Fordian aristocrat, dignified by his own steadfastness in delusion. Moreover, though Professor Babb's diagnosis compels itself on us through Warbeck's dramatic situation, Ford never exposes him to the pity which we may give to the sick. That he speaks like one sure of himself, not like one deranged, has made Professor Davril refuse to see him as afflicted, and we may say that Ford has here achieved probability in character and action by a most discreet employment of the knowledge he derived from Burton. To act as he does, Warbeck must be afflicted, yet nothing in his own words or in the attitude of the other characters confirms this necessary view of his condition. For a time he can win the support of the King of Scotland, and more abidingly the love of Lady Katherine Gordon. Indeed Ford departs from his sources when he tells us that Katherine will 'die a faithful widow', over-looking her historically subsequent marriages in order to make her a more zealously Fordian heroine and to make of Warbeck a man more clearly distinguished in the love he could inspire.
The play is very different from the chronicle histories of thirty or forty years earlier. Here we have little in the way of fighting or pageantry. The interest is on Warbeck and Lady Katherine and her true, respectful lover Lord Dalyell, and to some extent on Henry VII, a man crafty in the political struggle yet truly perturbed by the malignancy of those about him. When, at the beginning of the play, Henry is told that his friend Sir William Stanley is plotting against him, the King's grief is extreme. He has not the controlled indignation that Shakespeare made Henry V show at Southampton: he is wounded deeply, and laments the loss of a good man. Certainly Ford remembers the earlier histories a little, and perhaps because of that he makes reference to kingship's divinity:
But kings are earthly gods, there is no meddling
With their anointed bodies; for their actions
They only are accountable to heaven.
Warbeck, ever secure in his own delusion, makes a similar assertion:
Herein stand the odds,
Subjects are men on earth, kings men and gods.
But what emerges as of most importance here is not kingly birth or position but the belief, however won, in one's own aristocracy, in the unwavering acceptance of the role of greatness. In this play modern readers may feel that Ford's notion of aristocracy has been modified. Perhaps indeed it has, yet it is still based on a qualitative discrimination between high and low. Warbeck, in aspiring to recognition as a king, has assumed and accepted the responsibilities that belong to the high: it is to his honour that his conduct befits his claim, but it is the aspiration to high rank that brings a chance of distinction to him. Early in the play Sir Robert Clifford has betrayed Sir William Stanley's share in a plot against the King: Stanley asks to see Clifford before he dies: when he comes, Stanley marks his cheeks with a cross, as a badge of infamy:
I wet upon your cheeks a holy sign,—
The cross, the Christian's badge, the traitor's infamy:
Wear, Clifford, to thy grave this painted emblem;
Water shall never wash it off; all eyes
That gaze upon thy face shall read there written
A state-informer's character; more ugly
Stamp'd on a noble name than on a base.
The aristocratic touch is obvious enough here: the informer's mark is 'more ugly Stamp'd on a noble name than on a base': Sir Robert Clifford, playing the political opportunist, has betrayed the rank in which he was born. This play is not about a struggle for power, as for the most part the histories of the 1590s had been. It is, like The Broken Heart and to some extent Love's Sacrifice, a demonstration of how nobility can be rightly worn. Thus Warbeck's disreputable companions, though their comedy is ineptly written, have a dramatic function in their contrast to their leader; and there is an occasional hint of a contrast between the capable and crafty king, Henry VII, and the noble and unpractical impostor, Warbeck.
The play is as full of references to fate as the other tragedies of Ford, and once again we are made more fully aware of human powers as their limitations are exposed. Frion, Warbeck's secretary and the only man of intelligence among his followers, sees that the issue of the strife with King Henry is determined in advance:
yet our tide
Runs smoothly, without adverse winds: run on!
Flow to a full sea! time alone debates
Quarrels forewritten in the book of fates.
So Katherine exhorts her husband to accept whatever is bound to come:
What our destinies
Have rul'd-out in their books we must not search,
But kneel to.
But Warbeck needs little urging to this, as he proclaims his readiness to follow the line of event that he does not claim to control:
Be men, my friends, and let our cousin-king
See how we follow fate as willingly
As malice follows us.
When disaster comes, Katherine can find a value in the immutability of fate, which can test her ability to meet it:
It is decreed; and we must yield to fate,
Whose angry justice, though it threaten ruin,
Contempt, and poverty, is all but trial
Of a weak woman's constancy in suffering.
Here Ford is close to Webster, whose choric character Delio in The Duchess of Malfi exclaims:
Though in our miseries Fortune have a part,
Yet in our noble suff rings she hath none.
Contempt of pain, that we may call our own.
But neither in Perkin Warbeck nor in his other tragedies does Ford give us the impression that his characters are stretched and tormented as Webster's are. Rather, it is of the nature of Ford's elect that they endure their trials (which are poignant but never savage) with a calm readiness. Webster's, on the other hand, have no natural inclination to passivity: they are full of passion and initiative, achieving a final acceptance at the cost of a supreme effort, and the brutality of their sufferings frequently appals us. While, moreover, there is a hint of strain in Ford's imagining of Calantha and her court, there is a touch of the facile in his presentation of Warbeck's resolution. This perhaps makes Perkin Warbeck a lesser play than The Broken Heart, just as Ford's work as a whole has not the broad humanity and unchecked vision that characterize the major plays of Webster.
It is probable that Perkin Warbeck was Ford's last tragedy. Certainly it was his most difficult dramatic task, to enrol among his personal aristocracy the impostor of low birth, followed by a rout of the greedy, the craven and the base. Though the play lacks the intensity and the hint of subtlety that can be found in The Broken Heart, it is in some ways the work that leads us most easily to an under-standing of Ford's characteristic attitude. Its difference from Shakespeare's histories is due partly to the development of the 'private' theatre in the years following Shakespeare's retirement, and partly to the general change in the seventeenth-century dramatic temper. But the difference arises also from a special peculiarity of Ford. His was a simpler dramatic world than Shakespeare's, a simpler attitude to human conduct. Shakespeare found his examples of tragic greatness in a murderer like Macbeth, a great-hearted child like Othello, a man who loved, as Lear did, both ease and ceremony: he saw their imperfections along with their greatness: he saw, in a sense, the justice of each man's fate, and also its dreadful lack of mercy. In Shakespeare's tragedy, as we have seen, there is something of protest, something of regret. For Ford there is no protestation to be made: the march of events is of course irresistible, it is not to be regretted: the characters who win his praise are those who do not attempt resistance but step grandly on to the scaffold. In 'Tis Pity he could be in two minds about Giovanni. He is not in two minds about Bianca or Calantha or Warbeck or the other leading characters of these plays: they are all securely among his 'elect'. If he ever doubts the possible existence of Calantha and her court, he never allows their inherent goodness to be sharply questioned. If indeed there is ever a latent uncertainty in his view of this, it is something that the characters themselves do not share. I have already spoken of his simplicity of language. It is a telling simplicity that fits the characters' assurance. Because they are confident of their values, as Shakespeare's often were not, they can go to their deaths with an aristocratic lack of dread. If the end comes quickly or gently, it is their last but not their gravest trial. So Orgilus shakes hands with time, so Warbeck dismisses the small fact of his ending:
Death? pish, 'tis but a sound; a name of air;
A minute's storm, or not so much: to tumble
From bed to bed, be massacred alive
By some physicians, for a month or two,
In hope of freedom from a fever's torments,
Might stagger manhood; here the pain is past
Ere sensibly 'tis felt.
Ford's general indifference to event and process lead to an effect of dislocation in his work. The writers of the first rank can convince us on every level: in them, the movement of the current of time, the interpolated moment of stillness, and the totality within which the movement and the stillness are subsumed, have a like validity, and we can appreciate King Lear, for example, on any level of consciousness. But in Ford we must be dissatisfied with the surface-effect. We must look beyond it—though to do so involves an effort. If that can be managed, we may get from these three of his tragedies a kind of experience similar to that offered to us by Dostoievsky in The Devils, where events tumble haphazardly from life's sleeve, but where uniform principles of being and virtue are strenuously affirmed. Ford's seems a small talent when we mention it along with Dostoievsky's, but these men are alike in the kind of barrier that separates them from the casual reader and in their power to suggest the insignificance of event.
R. J. Kaufmann (essay date 1960)
SOURCE: "Ford's Tragic Perspective," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. I, Winter, 1960, pp. 522-37.
[In the essay below, Kaufmann identifies jealousy as a tragic motif in The Queene, Love's Sacrifice, and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, commenting on how this theme manifests itself through the devices of misalliance, the "psychology of vows, " and counterfeiting.]
Ford has not been altogether fortunate in his critics. They have been attentive, but perhaps Ford, like children, would have fared the better for a little healthy neglect. His reputation has been refracted into a grotesque pattern of distorted and partial images, largely, one supposes, because there is much distracting foreign matter in his canon, many invitations to irrelevancy in his historical position. As the last of the great Elizabethan tragic writers on the one hand and as the somewhat bookish exploiter of these great predecessors' visions on the other, he is set either too high or too low by standards quite external to his manifest performance. It is time we accord Ford his proper status as a minor classic writer on the scale of Emily Brontë, E. M. Forster, Hawthorne, and Scott Fitzgerald—writers typically obsessive in theme, deeply constrained personally, and nervously unresponsive to all save their main concerns. Such writers share in consequence a tendency to self-parody which is the underside of their splendid local intensities. The critic of great minor writing is obliged to enjoin his readers to observe decorum, not to ask too much of these writers, lest in so doing they miss the exquisite psychological disclosures which are the hallmark of such art.
It is one's initial sensitivity to the obsessive quality of Ford's art which provokes resistance to T. S. Eliot's accusation that Ford's plays are marred by "the absence of purpose" and that, more particularly, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore "may be called meaningless" since the "characters of the greatest intensity" are not seriously related to "an action or a struggle for harmony in the soul of the poet" [Essays in Elizabethan Drama, 1956]. In this essay I am attempting to show the insufficiency of this judgment. Ford struggles purposively with humanity's genius for self-deprivation, with its puzzling aspiration to be the architect of its own unhappiness. He does this with the kind of persistence that argues "an action of the soul."
Recent years have been fruitful in the kind of cruel experience which makes Ford's anxious world imaginatively accessible—specifically, our acquaintance with the plays of the modern French theater has taught us to read him better. The sophisticated fairy tales of Anouilh, the geometry of neat but not portentous spiritual encounter in Giraudoux, the studies in the lonely and gifted man's search for a sufficient identity as we find it in Sartre's Flies and Camus' Caligula—all variously can instruct us in the tonal qualities and special intellectual mode of Ford's plays. Ford, too, is the type of intellectual who is humanly restive under the tyranny of mind and yet artistically dependent upon its more rigid formulations. Hence the neatly logical surface and the sense of inchoate emotion in these plays. All such playwrights share an insight into the self-defining quality of individual human action. If the root of existential thought is the conviction that each man "makes himself through a qualifying series of choices, then Ford is as surely and as interestingly an existentialist as Sartre.
But there is, I think, a more direct route to the analysis of Ford's tragic perspective.
In this essay I follow a set of interrelated themes through three plays: The Queene, Love's Sacrifice, and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. My narrower aim is to show Ford discovering more and more adequate means to project and analyze the central psychological motive which animates his protagonists. It will be initially sufficient to call this quality jealousy, though thereby we merely apply a label of convenience to a complex set of mental actions which Ford gradually explores. More broadly, I hope to reveal the special meaning of tragic jealousy for Ford, through examination of his key obsessive themes. These themes of misalliance, of the psychology of vows, of counterfeiting, all relate to Ford's heightened awareness of the arbitrary in human life. In fact it is as a student of the arbitrary that I see Ford and will seek to present him.
The core situation in Ford is one of misalliance, of natures subtly mismatched and progressively at odds with themselves and with received social sanctions. This central situation applies to external misalliance, as to marriages of persons of different social derivation in Love's Sacrifice, to unnatural extensions of social bonds, as in the incestuous love of 'Tis Pity, and to the sad mismatching of youth and age in The Broken Heart. It can also apply without distention to the misalliance of the inner and the outer self in a single character. It is the most special quality of the Fordian hero that he "calls" himself to a role that his residual nature (conscience and shaping habits) will not permit him to fulfill. The protagonist misidentifies himself through a too arbitrary choice, disregards too much in himself, and tragedy results. It is this troubled contest between overt resolve and inner need, between what we demand and what we are free to accept, that makes for the tension of tragic experience.
Ford does not write simply about "problems," as his critics seem to wish; he slowly learns to write about irreducible situations in which the qualities of the participants necessarily harden into tragic contours through their relations with each other. It is just this concession that Ford implicitly exacts of us as his readers: that the human entanglements he writes about are precisely not problems, and the minute we literal-mindedly seek solutions, we collapse the delicately achieved balance of his plays. Ford is like Henry James in this. As a writer of terminal tragedy, he starts with the assumption of the good breeding and dignity of defeat. He denies us any vulgar "escape" from disaster (which is, after all, what a solution is). This preference for the noble identity secured in defeat Ford shares with the late Stoics and with the modern existentialist writers of the literature of extreme situations. The Sartre of The Flies would recognize a brother in the Ford of 'Tis Pity.
Once this combined necessity for dignity in defeat and for triumph over misalliance in the self through the costly beauty of the kept vow is accepted, there is a marvellous, subdued consistency to Ford's plays. Only through constructive exertions of the protagonist's will is tragedy then possible. In effect, we watch Ford's heroes counterfeit an adequate heroic stature through equating of the self with an arbitrary vow, and, since these choices are never prudent or circumspect, rich opportunities are thereby earned for a death of dramatic intensity. The key phrase to Ford could well be Juliet's "If aught else fails myself have power to die." A powerful and personally organized death is the resolution of the soul's misalliance in Ford. But such deaths are no more perfect in their isolation than are the people who contrive them—there is the costly imperfection of jealousy which guarantees that the most stoical tragedy is still a social experience. We can watch Ford's insight and technical mastery grow together as he learns to organize adequately complex dramatic statements of these themes from the unformed but promising The Queene, through the halfway house of Love's Sacrifice to proper fullness in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.
The Queene is an imaginatively amphibious play, for if in its language it is halfway onto the cool strand of Ford's detached and attentive mature manner, it is also washed by the billowing falsities of Fletcher's tragicomic trickery. It bears no date. It seems to me clearly the sort of work a dramatist writes who is just discovering his proper personal themes but has yet to work free of the prevailing "correct" way to dramatize them. It is the test of Caroline originality to be able to transcend the facilities of Fletcher.
The Queene is a sort of sophisticated, theatrical fairy tale that does not quite maintain itself. Ford, whose interest in the type of gifted man still ludicrously open to flattery (and hence a candidate for Ate is lifelong) has here in the central masculine role, Alphonso, an imperfectly convincing combination of Chapman's Byron and Shakespeare's King Ferdinand of Navarre, with a special vice of jealous misogyny. It is this seemingly paradoxical latter quality that will interest us, for I agree with Oliver that the play is a kind of preliminary attempt at the central action of Love's Sacrifice, "each of the plays treating a husband's baseless suspicion of the chastity of his wife" [H. J. Oliver, The Problem of John Ford, 1955]. Ford being of analytical mind, he only slowly learned to do what a more spontaneously gifted writer does directly. He did not seem to work from a central core of fable. His plays have the quality always of being built up from separately conceived parts. This fact is useful to us in The Queene, for here we find in disjunction elements that mature reflection will fuse. I hardly want to do more than enumerate them, for Ford barely does more than that with them himself.
We will need the bones of the plot. It is double and rests, typically for Ford, on the Queen's unqualified love for the vain, intolerant, woman-hater and political revolutionary, Alphonso, whom she repeals from execution at the outset in order to place him on the throne as King. This is paralleled by the equally unreasoning love of Velasco, the heroic military commander, for a widow. Both infatuated characters are made violently unhappy by their passion. Both are laid under the most arbitrary injunctions by their loved ones. The Queen is asked, immediately after the wedding, to establish separate households and to forego the privileges of marital love until Alphonso is satisfied of her purity and fidelity. Velasco is ordered to surrender his valiancy and to earn the title of coward, before his love will be acceptable. These could be dismissed as the rather arch postulates of sophisticated theater from Euripides to Anouilh, but such generic leveling obscures the peculiar tone of this play. We can see that Ford, the young man from the provinces, the puritan of Christes Bloodie Sweat, will always be an imperfect recruit to this sort of unanchored moral world. He will not be able to forget that the capricious love-game rests on an ennui which "is a meta-physical emotion" stemming from an unappeasable sense of inner emptiness. This emptiness provokes a sense of unworthiness which is the seedbed for jealousy and sterile manipulation of others whose regard or love must always seem ulterior to one who cannot value himself. An analytical anthology of key assertions in the play will make this clearer.
Critics have made the sense of honor a key emotion in Ford. Perhaps—but as Velasco says, "Ide rather loose my honor then my faith," and later, "passions at their best are but sly traytors / To ruin honour." (2728-30) It can be put almost syllogistically, this basic logic of Ford's world: Passion is able to dominate all men; Honor (reputation) is a frequent casualty of such passion; therefore, to cling to honor alone is unavailing. However, the logic of extreme situations is to join forces with the passions you cannot overcome. If you have an undeniable attraction, the intelligent recourse, then, is to place not only your love but your converted virtue there. This means narrowing your sense of honor or self-esteem deliberately, for the pleasing of the loved object. Hence the arrogant indifference to the rest of the world of a Giovanni, an Orgilus, even a Perkin Warbeck. I am as certain as one can be of anything conjectural that Ford thrilled to Othello's "My life upon her faith," and that slowly he learned that this statement contains one of the most profound ironies in Shakespeare's masterpiece of irony, for it can be better read "Her life upon my faith." The faith being defective in a Giovanni as it is in an Othello, desperate tragedy results.
The main action of The Queene is the unconvincing homeopathic cure of Alphonso, who is "most addicted to this pestilence of jealousy," (3593) but not before Alphonso has mindlessly conjured up visions of adultery and has sent his Queen towards the scaffold to answer for it. He even praises her beauty as she is being prepared for execution, till one of the lesser characters anticipates the reader: "Heer's a medley love / That kills in Curtesie." (3425-26) His real reason for having his Queen killed (as opposed to his public reasons) forms one of those psychic outcroppings which are the real basis for our insights in literature as well as in life:
… had she bin still
As she was, mine, we might have liv'd too happily
For eithers comfort
This Calvinistic sentiment is, I think, a revealing one. Ford's characters are terrified by the threat of happiness which saps identity. They are forever controlling themselves, narrowing their characters down to monomaniacal attachments and pursuits which in turn they find more demanding than they can sustain. When we return to what we started from—Alphonso as a violent misogynist whose jealousy is stifling—we can see the full curve of the key theme. The Fordian hero fears women too much to have the faith in them which alone can save him. In The Queene we are far from the rarely subtilized jealousy and imperfect faith of a Giovanni, but the very inchoate quality of this earlier play provides a family of critical clues.
In Love's Sacrifice, we ask at once whether the title speaks of the sacrifices made to love or the very sacrifice of love itself through needless entertainment of passions destructively incompatible with it. It is this richer meaning that Ford pursued here, and only realized in later works. The grounds for believing the former are readily indicated. Clear cases can be made for all three characters in the triangle: the wronged husband Caraffa, the Duke, who has condescended to marry beneath him; his superficially errant Duchess, Bianca; and the troubled true lover, true friend, Fernando. Bianca is carried past herself into a real desire for Fernando, a desire which his courtly scruple and loyalty to the bonds of friendship will not permit him to gratify. Trapped in a relationship which cannot mature, she eagerly incites her shocked husband to murder her when he discovers and misinterprets this unperfected liaison. She asks to be and succeeds in becoming a sacrifice to her awakened sense of a love she is unable to obtain. Her problem is routine. Ford's handling of her development is sketchy, but promising. What in effect he shows us is that her character is decent but thin, lacking in the deeper compunctions we call nobility, and hence her undernourished sense of abstract honor would not alone have been sufficient to prevent adultery once she had put herself regularly in the way of temptation. It is one of Ford's distinctions that he understands the emotional process of the essentially feminine mind—the sluggish but impressive logic of radical emotion. We can say then at the outset that Bianca is a somewhat conventional self-elected martyr for love—her sacrifice is the standard romantic one of a now useless life to an unobtainable ideal of love.
Fernando, her lover, is at once passionate and scrupulous. His finer self is aroused by Bianca's confession of helplessness against her need for his love; he voluntarily imposes upon himself a restraint whereby he renounces ready physical gratification in the interests of her supposed welfare. We could say that he is able to sublimate his passion through the agency of his excited sense of honor. What he turns to in this renunciation is the rather melo-dramatic compensatory pleasure of a grand death, in which he can speak scornful words of the Duke's failure to have trust in the perfection of Fernando's talent for friendship. There is something priggish about Fernando, and a good bit of as yet undeveloped Fordian hybris. Or, better, there is something close to Ate—to tragic infatuation with one's own sufficiency. There is a nice distinction here: the man fraught with hybris believes himself invulnerable to the gods; the man seized with Ate thinks he already possesses a full vision of himself and of the consequent interpretation that must be put on his actions by all observers. Hybris teaches one to say, "Nothing can happen to me." Ate persuades one to think, "Since I know what I am doing, no one else can misunderstand." Ford understood what confers significance in the world of events. Others do shape notions; we are misunderstood. His tragedies are mainly ones of Ate, of misguided and passionate attempts to deny not only the right of the world to judge (the tenet of romantic individualism), but the very ability of the world to assign values where the ego of the protagonist has established prior claims. The strange silences which attend the movements of Ford's heroes have been remarked by critics. They are silent because their private reasons are sufficient; the world's claims are thus not opposed and equal, but negligible and incommensurate. Fernando courts martyrdom in his own gently contemptuous fashion, refusing the moral canons of "life-hugging slaves." He is a sacrifice to a somewhat abstracted notion of love, one not perfectly separable from chillier Stoic notions of self-consistency.
The Duke sacrifices himself at the end of the play, largely because he must preserve his precarious dignity. He cuts a poor figure throughout, and his final theatrical self-execution before the dead "lovers'" tomb (in which he then assigns himself a place—a troublesome ménage à trois in perpetuity) is self-described as performed
… for Bianca's love
Caraffa, in revenge of wrongs to her,
Thus on her altar sacrificed his life.
Were it not for the fact that, as Robert Ornstein has most interestingly pointed out, we tend to accept as true the self-evaluations spoken by stage characters not manifestly villainous and hypocritical, we would not find much in this remark at all ["Historical Criticism and the Interpretation of Shakespeare," Shakespeare Quarterly, X (1959)]. The simple, sub-theatrical fact is that the Duke has thoroughly botched everything, has displayed no hint of understanding or love or character. We find his final act gratuitous, his joining the dead lovers (whose relationship possesses at least a shred of validity) an intrusion.
Why does the play seem so centerless? Why do its well-phrased passions seem so stagey and false? I think the answer lies not in putative ethical confusion in the play which "preserves in the separate fates of the main protagonists a consistent ethical scheme" [Peter Ure, "Cult and Initiate in Ford's Love's Sacrifice," Modern Language Quarterly, XI (1951)]. Rather, it lies in the disastrously wrong point of view from which Ford chooses to "narrate" or project his play. It has been noted by earlier critics that the play resembles Othello. I point out now that it is a very oblique Othello, and that the uselessly novel obliquity of Ford's vision is what subtracts from tragic concentration and spoils his dramatic scheme. Let me briefly indicate how this off-center view of the action affects the play.
What Ford omits in imitating Shakespeare's great play on the theme of misalliance is precisely the indispensable feature—the massive centrality of Othello himself. Shakespeare puts us squarely behind Othello, whose mighty figure steadily gains control over our imagination. By something very close to expressionist techniques, the latter part of the play becomes for us more and more a vision of the world as Othello mistakenly sees it; we are swept up and hurried to his dreadful, misconceived, and yet inevitable destiny. We are very precisely with Othello as he chooses and acts. Anyone who doubts this must not have felt the shocked recall to reality that Emilia's knock at the death-chamber door constitutes, nor noted how strange the intrusion of commonplace language seems, after the rhythms of Othello's spacious and noble misconception. It almost makes one weep to read prim critical reductions of this terrible error which we are never asked to approve, only to understand in process. The precise poetic quality of this tragic fantasy as it usurps the world is what we are asked to see—what we do see. Jealousy is what we call it before Shakespeare has brought us within it; afterwards we know how a violent "purity" of faith in Othello has been used by Shakespeare to raise an otherwise uncomprehended indignity of life to the level of tragedy. The tragedy is made out of the patient contemplation of one man's re-actions to torment, his consequent re-editing of reality, and his subsequent conduct.
In Ford's hands the theme of misalliance is apparently abstracted, and the Duke is given a set speech or two early in the play to let us know that he dotes on his wife's beauty and that he realizes that he has gone against custom in marrying beneath his rank:
Though my gray-headed senate …
Would tie the limits of our free affects
Like superstitious Jews,—to match with none
But in a tribe of princes like ourselves …
But why should princes do so, that command
The storehouse of the earth's rich minerals?
As superficially similar as this is to the standard plot-postulates of Fletcherian tragicomedy, I think we would be wrong to follow the current fashion and reduce the play to mechanical, problem-play exploration of the consequences of the Duke's foolish disregard of custom in making this wilful misalliance. The truth seems to be rather that Ford is troubled by the Duke's presence and can supply him with no real interior function. Now and then he is recalled to the stage, to watch from a position of bemused detachment the apish deformations of behavior visible, as usual, in Ford's minor characters. Ford makes a gesture at the theme of "authority," which orders Shakespeare's play, when he has the Duke exclaim,
Who sway the manage of authority
May be abused by smooth officious agents!
The critical significance of Ford's quandary is detectable right here. If one's authority is to be abused with tragic (rather than comic or merely didactic) consequences, then the authority must be conveyed, not merely assumed as an artistic convenience. Ford's Duke appears on the stage only spasmodically, and merely to be manipulated by his embittered sister and the purportedly fiendish servant, D'Avolos, who together perform Iago's dark functions. The effect is of a goodly catalogue of officious agents, of much intended malice and much cause for suffering of which we see little convincing evidence. One senses a deeply insufficient engagement of Ford's imagination. What he really wanted to write about here, I think, is how the fineness of the lovers was a product of the Duke's jealousy. The Duke's presence as a lens for conventionally evaluating their acts, however, is a technical embarrassment not to be overcome. Either the Duke is right, in which case the lovers are morally swamped; or he is as irrelevant as Soranzo in 'Tis Pity, a person whose claims are negligible and whose sufferings have no dramatic assertion whatsoever. Ford, by borrowing the half-remembered authority of Othello's compelling figure, has deepened his artistic predicament. It makes it harder to ignore the Duke, a thing we must do if we are to feel the effect of what is viable in the play. What he has yet to learn is that the noble lover and the jealous lover must be one and the same. Ford, the student of misalliance, has misallied themes in this play. As a result, the whole play has a dreamlike quality, and an uninvited irony of tone playing over its surface.
There is much to interest us in the crisscross pattern of true and counterfeit loves, of true and counterfeit reports, of true honor and its deceptive likeness, of false sacrifice as a self-relieving act and true sacrifice as giving up what you want most for reasons of Conradian delicacy. There is a real dignity in the lovers' acceptance of the roles they wish to play and then act out to their logical and terrible conclusion. The Duchess, when accused by her husband before he sacrifices her, makes no excuses, asks no mercy, but rather, accepts her role gladly; she only demands the right to define it as it really is, not as it seems to be. She has no wish to be a real martyr for counterfeit reasons. Fernando's attraction was physical, a fact she faces without illusion. She will not falsify her own nature to buy life. The heroic self in Ford is one free of illusions about what one intends to be. Fordian heroes can read their own motives, however conventionally base.
The entire play, Love's Sacrifice, centers to one side of the issues that characterize a normal adultery-revenge play. Ford's interest is not in what people think happens, what is said to happen, or even in the possibilities for physical action, but in what happens to the sensibilities of the people involved—how those who are apparently wrong achieve dignity and how the one apparently right (the Duke), sacrifices everything, always too late and always without comprehension. The unmodulated descent into terrible self-knowledge, which makes Othello the most searing of Shakespeare's plays, is totally lacking here, not because the Duke does not repent of his error, but because he has no artistically achieved character, through empathy with which we can know the quality of this change. The Duke's only recourse at the end is a cold, self-destructive fury, whereby to make a meaningless sacrifice of himself. The Duke has never had the existentialist opportunity that confers privilege in Ford's world; he has had no chance to choose a role, to counterfeit a true self. Ford does not make the same mistake with Giovanni in 'Tis Pity.
'Tis Pity She's a Whore has all the assurance Love's Sacrifice lacks. The first act has such a heat economy of attack, such a rare directness, that it argues Ford's confident impatience to give body to a world he sees rising before him. The writing blooms with certitude. It is worth the trouble to state how Ford builds the telling structure of his first act. It has four parts: Giovanni's incestuous compulsion is presented through an argument, entered in medias res, between the Friar and Giovanni. This stands apart like Euripides' prologue to Hippolytus, where the causal agency is announced, so that we are free to concentrate on the human consequences.
Next we see Annabella beleaguered by suitors whose characteristics are venality, cowardice, and corrupt worldliness. By their defects of quality these suitors create a predisposition in favor of the girl's need for love; we grow sensitive to her isolation and learn to justify her despair of beauty and dignity in her life. Ford's strategy throughout is here prefigured. The carefully contrived world of the play is one in which marriage is debased, sacraments are violated, vows are disregarded, churchly and secular sanctions are loosened and enfeebled. Without being baroquely overdrawn, the world of the play is made to act (in its negations of beauty) as a foil to the desperate choices of Giovanni and his sister. This is not, of course, because Ford approves of incest, but it is done to put the unthinkable within access of thought. Not the least of the functions of tragedy is to enlarge our imagi-native tolerance.
This necessary climate being indicated, Ford brings the lovers together. They declare their loves, and, in a fashion obligatory in Ford's world, cement a pact, a mutual vow. Vows are important in Ford's world where an aestheticism of morality prevails, with its accompanying distaste for an ignoble and pointlessly frivolous existence distracted by too much meaningless privilege. By a solemn vow, one circumscribes his choices and hence gains a predictable future. Vows are at once the expression of taste and the most arbitrary and compelling form of self-definition—a vow can confer identity. We should pay attention to vows in Ford's plays. The one exchanged between Giovanni and Annabella is like a bethrothal, and each repeats the same formula on their "mother's dust":
I charge you,
Do not betray me to your mirth or hate:
Love me or kill me.
(I, iii. Italics mine)
Contrary to conventional opinion, this is precisely what Giovanni does; his love being corrupted, he kills his sister. Once we credit the literal and sanctified binding force of this vow, much of Giovanni's frenetic behavior in the latter part of the play, his "mirth or hate," becomes intelligible. More of that later.
With great rapidity, Ford has shown us the isolation of both Giovanni and Anabella and then brought them together with a resolution quiet and fiercely pure. They now will have significance only in relation to this arbitrary vow whereby they have separated themselves from any hope of conventional felicity. This counterfeit marriage represents a radical misalliance which is made narrowly sacred by an arbitrary vow. It is the perfect concentrate of Ford. It is also typical of Ford that this scene should be counterpointed immediately with Bergetto's fatuous trivialities, as his prejudicially cheerful inanities are permitted to speak for the world the lovers are denying. But Ford is not content, even with this marvellously compressed total, as his accomplishment in the first act. He makes one other point which invites careful reflection. The uncle of Bergetto, a straightforward sort of man without any illusions but still hopeful, watches the idiotic ineptitude of his nephew (whose suit to Annabella he is trying to forward) and factually observes, "Ah, Sirrah, then I see there is no changing of nature. Well, Bergetto, I fear though wilt be a very ass still" (I, iv). There are useful implications in this comical assertion of our fixed natures.
One of the commonest criticisms of Ford as an artist concerns the evident unsuccess of his comic subplots. This is possibly unjustified, since we are beginning to see how funny is the ardent status-seeking of the stupid and un-qualified now that we are again socially swamped by it. But by the use of comic characters (required to express unchangeable qualities), Ford can slyly forestall any hesitation we might feel in accepting the inflexible, self-defeating commitments which are the hallmark of his tragic protagonists. Ford's world, in consequence, must often be solemn and pompous, lest its close alliance with the world of comedy—the arbitrary quality of his characters—be too distractingly apparent.
We are led directly from this to the special dilemma of dramatists like Ford (and Euripides, whom he resembles in many ways). Ford centers his dramatic world on fixed and irrevocable commitments which the characters them-selves contract. Fernando, Giovanni, Penthea in The Broken Heart, Perkin Warbeck—all hold sacred their own declarations of purpose, and their tragedy relates to these openly stated dramatic vows and is displaced from any external agency which can operate only as a secondary cause. Ford's characters are self-defining and nonpolitical. They do not so much defy society as deny its relevance to their lives.
Observing this, we find in Ford's non-dramatic prose the source of a moral contradiction which is latent in the stoical as it is in the extreme protestant ethic. In A Line of Life we find him saying, "where the actors of mischief are a nation, there and amongst them to live well is a crown of immortal commendation." The difficulty comes in determining what it means "to live well" when a community standard of intelligible virtue is lacking. One must be his own light. Elsewhere in the same work, Ford opines, "Let no man rely too much on his own judgment; the wisest are deceived." Without the guidance of a community whose approbation one seeks and by whose judgments one abides, how is one to avoid the deceptions which lurk even in the choices of the wisest? The Stoic notion of Reason is troublingly like this Humean consensus of the approbation of the best people. The unearned confidence of modern theologues aside, the difficulty in reconciling these two contradictions—that one can no more live by the lights of a corrupt community than he can be the sole sponsor of his own morality—creates the very area in which tragedy is to be found. Ford found it there and Giovanni gives expression to it; he is a martyr to the tragic limitations of the Stoic vision. It is priggish to suppose that, in times of extreme social dislocation, there is always a better vision than the stoical one available. If a little of this is conceded, then Giovanni is a legitimate tragic figure. Let me conclude my discussion of 'Tis Pity by indicating precisely in what I think his tragedy consists.
While watching the play, one grows strangely tolerant of the unaccommodated Giovanni, to whom the mindless frivolity of a Bergetto, the casual immorality of a Soranzo, the slack conventional optimism of his father, and the angular traditional arguments of the Friar are alike irrelevant to the passionate central truth of his life—that his sister is good and beautiful. Since he has been educated to prefer the good and the beautiful, he prefers her with a kind of exclusive purity of vision which has at once the narrowness of madness and the cultivated clarity of a splendid sanity. But Ford knows that a vow, a reasoned choice made in the stillness of a moment of seeming truth, must then suffer the tests of a world which impinges on one's acts. A miscalculation of one's purposes, a misalliance of purpose and capacity, can spell corruption. Ford saw, and makes us see, that for Giovanni and for Annabella what has happened is a deeply working denial that others have a reality commensurate to the sense of their own being.
In their ignorance, they overrate themselves. They become coarsened by the necessity they are under to engage in pretenses to preserve the "utopia for two." From the moment Giovanni wants more to preserve his rights in his sister than her sense of her own dignity and freedom, he begins to deteriorate morally. We can mark the stages: an embarrassing, callow bravura when speaking of his sexual privileges which (solipsistically) he supposes even the Friar must envy; (II, v) a possessive edginess; (II, vi) an hysterical inflation of language which mounts as he grows less and less capable of crediting any other feelings but his own (V, ii) In the final murder we can see very clearly that Giovanni is no longer with his sister. He acts unilaterally. He no longer possesses the love to share even his plans for a Liebestod with her. His selfishness has grown perfect, his love become an abstract and self-oriented thing. He is true only to the negative sanction of their "marriage" vow,
Do not betray me to your mirth or hate:
Love me or kill me.
We watch the monomaniacal workings of his mind as he does betray her to "mirth and hate" and, having done so, having killed all but the gorgeous verbal residue of their love, he kills her.
Giovanni's tragedy is deep and it does provoke terror and pity, for like Othello's, it rests on the most terrible sacrifice of love—not of the object of love only, but of one's ability to give and receive love. 'Tis Pity is a tragedy of the attrition of dignity and humanity of a man in the pos-session of Ate. The tragic moral is not readily abstractable, and has nothing to do with incest as such. It is rooted in Ford's profound grasp of the psychological autointoxication which can result from too arbitrary a dedication of one's mysterious humanity. Like Othello, Giovanni is so obviously the dreadfully suffering victim of his own tragic infatuation with phantoms that we are moved closer to the core of our own humanity. The judgment is in the situation; we need not impose one.
Ford's choice of incest as a theme around which to build his greatest play was not itself arbitrary. From it he obtained an intensification of his grasp of the spiritual roots of jealousy that nothing else could have given him. A good complementary text for 'Tis Pity is D. H. Lawrence's study of Edgar Allan Poe, from which I quote two passages:
The trouble with man is that he insists on being master of his own fate, and he insists on oneness … having discovered the ecstasy of spiritual love, he insists that he shall have this all the time … He does not want to return to his own isolation.
It is easy to see why each man kills the thing he loves. To know a living thing is to kill. You have to kill a thing to know it satisfactorily. For this reason, the desirous consciousness, the spirit, is a vampire … Keep KNOWLEDGE for the world of matter, force, and function. It has got nothing to do with being.
[Studies in Classical American Literature, 1953]
Ford raised a conventional theme of stage jealousy to a level of comprehension at which I think he would have understood exactly these urgent words of Lawrence's, so instinct with our own aroused sense of the sanctity of being. In brilliantly literalizing the metaphor that the truth of love is written in the heart of the beloved, he has made Giovanni's desperate gouging-out of Annabella's heart more than a piece of sensationalism. It is an act exactly appropriate to Giovanni's austerely curious, intellectual, character; it is also the perfect correlative of the frenzied, higher jealousy to which Ford is giving tragic expression.
To speak one last time in conjunction with Lawrence,
… the love is between brother and sister. When the self is broken, and the mystery of the recognition of otherness fails, then the longing for identification becomes lust … it is this longing for identification, utter merging, which is at the base of the incest problem.
Listen to the triumphant words of Giovanni as he shows the heart of Annabella,
'tis a heart,
A heart, my lords, in which is mine entombed.
Ford has traced this tragic confusion to its very source. He has answered for himself a question asked by Bianca, importuning Fernando to make love to her in Love's Sacrifice, "what's a vow? a vow? Can there be sin in unity?" This is the radical misalliance—this uncomprehended urge to a unity life does not permit. Aristophanes' comic parable to explain love in Plato's Symposium can here be seen as the deep source of human tragedy as well. Giovanni, like Othello, asks for a quality of certitude life does not afford, and hence he "violates the delicacy" of things. Incest is a model of this—the vehicle of his tragedy; the failure in mutual faith is at once its moral and its cause. After thus tracing Ford's patient exploration of the jealousy that tragically undermines essential faith, it is hard to see in him the purposeless and soulless opportunist of T. S. Eliot's caricature.
Kenneth Muir (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: "The Case of John Ford," in Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 4, October-December, 1976, pp. 614-29.
[In the following essay, Muir maintains that despite the overt, sensational presence of aberrant sexual passion in Ford's major plays, the tragic events and outcomes of the dramas indicate the operation of a conservative underlying moral and religious philosophy.]
In spite of the many books written on John Ford during the last forty years and some notable essays by T. S. Eliot, Peter Ure, and Robert Ornstein, his standing is still inse-cure. He is contrasted, very much to his disadvantage, with Middleton, Webster, and Tourneur; he is branded as a "decadent"—whatever moral or aesthetic decline that label implies; and we have had little opportunity of seeing his work where it belongs—in the theater. It is unfortunate that some of the best, and most influential, critics of our time regard the playhouse as a house of vulgarity where poetic conceptions, appreciated in the study, are coarsened and perverted and where the second-rate sometimes seems more effective than the undeniably excellent. Yet there have been some interesting revivals of several of Ford's plays. In 1975 the production of Perkin Warbeck at Stratford-upon-Avon—though not in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre—redeemed an otherwise undistinguished season. Some years ago there was an open-air performance, also at Stratford, by students of the Queen's University, Belfast, of The Broken Heart and another one of the same play at the Chichester Festival in 1962, in which Laurence Oliver played Bassanes and Rosemary Harris, Penthea. There have been numerous revivals of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, at one of which Siegfried Sassoon, distressed by the behavior of the audience, commented that "Mermaid Dramatists were out of fashion." Best of all there was a production of The Witch of Edmonton at the Old Vic in 1936. This was superbly directed by Michel St. Denis, with Edith Evans and Beatrix Lehmann in the cast. It was a memorable and haunting experience which set a standard for the production of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, seldom equalled since, and never excelled. It was splendidly poetic and at the same time convincingly real. Some of the best scenes in that collaborative work, it is generally agreed, were written by Ford.
Ford has doubtless suffered from Lamb's excessive praise, mingling blasphemy and bardolatry, of the scene in the last act of The Broken Heart and from the disappointment with the whole plays which one is likely to feel after reading Lamb's Specimens. He has suffered too from a belief that he indulges in gratuitous horrors, such as Giovanni's macabre entrance with Annabella's heart. His heroes seem to belong to a psychopathologist's casebook, and the influence on him by Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy has been charted by Sensabaugh and Ewing. To such complaints one could retort that Lamb's excessive praise has not permanently damaged Webster's reputation, that there are gratuitous horrors in Tourneur and Middleton, and that many of the principal characters of all three dramatists could be dismissed as psychopaths—Ferdinand, Vindice, and Beatrice, for example.
It is a favorite, if futile, critical exercise to compare plays by Shakespeare's forerunners and successors with his own masterpieces. It is not difficult to demonstrate triumphantly that Macbeth, written when Shakespeare was over forty, is superior to Doctor Faustus, written when Marlowe was in his twenties and written before Shakespeare, who was of the same age, had done anything as good. It is even easier to show that 'Tis Pity She's a Whore is inferior to the play on which it is modeled, Romeo and Juliet. Putana corresponds to Juliet's Nurse and Friar Bonaventura to Friar Lawrence; in place of the family feud which prevents the happiness of Shakespeare's lovers, Ford introduces the taboo of incest; and in place of Friar Lawrence's plan to avert Juliet's marriage to Paris, or the exposure of her secret marriage to Romeo, Ford substitutes Friar Bonaventura's hope that Annabella will be cured of her incestuous passion by her marriage to Soranzo. There is a literary Gresham's law under which the more sensational drives out the less. Fictional lovers today apparently have to behave in ways which would have shocked Lady Chatterley and her lover. So, we are told, Caroline dramatists were compelled to appeal to the sophisticated and jaded tastes of their audience by ever-increasing sensationalism; and the more the theaters were attacked by the Puritans as sinks of iniquity the more audiences displayed the Tightness of their political views by their applause at what most shocked their opponents. Whereas only one of Shakespeare's heroines breaks the seventh commandment, and the rape of Lavinia is condemned by the poet as severely as the incestuous relationship of Antiochus with his daughter, Ford's attitude to his guilty pair appears at first sight to be ambivalent, if not condoning. The lines which have been a particular stumbling-block are spoken by Giovanni just before his murder of his sister:
If ever after-times should hear
Of our fast-knit affections, though perhaps
The laws of conscience and of civil use
May justly blame us, yet when they but know
Our loves, that love will wipe away that rigour,
Which would in other incests be abhorr'd.
Ford is not arguing, as has sometimes been suggested, that the sin of incest is redeemed by the mutual love of Giovanni and Annabella. He does not even make his hero put forward any such defense. Giovanni admits that conscience as well as custom will justly condemn them, but he hopes nevertheless that their love will arouse pity and mitigate the severity of their condemnation. Unlike Shelley, whose Laon and Cythna are depicted as superior to the society which condemns them, Ford merely implies that our moral disapproval should be mixed with pity. Giovanni is a brilliant student, commended by the friar; he struggles at first, like Phèdre, against his obsession; and he is led into free-thinking, by a kind of defense mechanism, after he and Annabella have become lovers. The friar, although he is not entirely a spokesman for the author, is an eloquent defender of moral orthodoxy. He persuades Annabella to repent, and his dubious advice to her about marriage can be explained if not excused, as a plot-device.
Ford's own detachment from the moral attitudes of his hero is apparent in the final scene. Giovanni's murder of Annabella is a natural conclusion to their death-marked relationship: but his entrance with her heart spitted on his dagger is not so much the dramatist's concession to the perverted taste of the audience as an indication that Giovanni has crossed the borders of madness. The play is not marred, as most of Ford's are, by feeble comic scenes. Soranzo's guilt with regard to Hippolita undercuts his moral indignation with Annabella, and his death at Giovanni's hands is acceptable to most members of an audience.
The best scenes of the play are deservedly famous, worthy to rank with any written after Shakespeare's retirement. I am thinking of the scene in which Giovanni unexpectedly finds that his passion is returned:
Anna. For every sigh that thou has spent for me
I have sigh'd ten; for every tear shed twenty:
And not so much for that I lov'd, as that
I durst not say I lov'd, nor scarcely think it.
Giov. Let not this music be a dream, ye gods,
For pity's sake, I beg'ee!
Anna On my knees,
Brother, even by our mother's dust, I charge you,
Do not betray me to your mirth or hate,
Love me or kill me, brother.
Equally famous is the scene in which Annabella is murdered, with Giovanni denying, and his sister affirming, the existence of heaven and hell. But there are other scenes which are equally brilliant, notably the one in which Giovanni defends his conduct to the friar and the spine-chilling episode in which the loyal villain, Vasques, extracts the name of Annabella's lover from Putana and then has her gagged and blinded. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore is Ford's most effective stageplay, although there are scenes in other plays which show his poetical quality to better advantage.
The Lover's Melancholy is a case in point. The play as a whole is a comparative failure. It is flawed by the boringly comic scenes concerned with Cuculus; and, even if these were regarded as detachable excrescences, by the slowness of the earlier acts, which is hardly alleviated by the momentary jealousy of Menaphon. The play moreover is filled with echoes of Shakespeare. Thamasta falls in love with Parthenophil, the disguised Eroclea, in much the same way that Olivia falls in love with Cesario. Both disguised girls make eloquent appeals for the men who love Thamasta and Olivia, but both Menaphon and Orsino accuse mem of treachery. (Ford confuses matters here since Menaphon has watched unseen Parthenophil's rejection of Thamasta's advances.) The madness of Meleander distinctly recalls Lear's, and Cleophila, his dutiful daughter, is reminiscent of Cordelia. As Clifford Leech observes, when Meleander is arrayed in fresh garments while asleep, there seems to be an echo of the scene in which Lear recovers.
The cause of Meleander's madness, however, is not in-gratitude, but the attempted rape of his other daughter, Eroclea, by the king, and her flight into exile.
The other apparent imitation of Shakespeare is in act 4, in which the gradual recognition of Eroclea by Palador owes a great deal to the plays of Shakespeare's last period, in particular to the recognition of Marina by Pericles. There are however significant differences. Pericles believes that Marina is dead, and she is not aware of his identity: the gradualness of the recognition is therefore plausible. In Ford's play, on the other hand, Eroclea is fully aware of Palador's identity, and Palador, despite broad hints, is slow to recognize that Parthenophil is Eroclea. Even when she appears in female garments he supposes her to be an impostor. We are meant to understand that Palador's "melancholy"—the neurosis caused by his separation from the woman he loves—makes him unable to believe what he wishes to believe, since he feels it is too good to be true. This recognition scene contains some of Ford's finest poetry.
Eliot, who called attention to the influence of the plays of Shakespeare's final period, complained that although "Ford is struck by the dramatic and poetic effectiveness of the situation, [he] uses it on a level hardly higher than that of the device of twins in comedy." Eliot allowed that this scene and the recognition by Meleander in act 5 were "well planned and well written, and [were] even moving"; but, he argued, compared with Shakespeare's the scenes failed. Ford and Beaumont and Fletcher "had no conception of what he was trying to do; they speak another and cruder language. In their poetry there is no symbolic value … it is poetry and drama of the surface." These comments seem to me to be true of Beaumont and Fletcher, but quite unjust to Ford. David L. Frost is nearer the truth when he says that in this play Ford "shows signs of having found in Shakespeare inspiration as well as exploitable material." For in these two scenes he displayed a realization of what Shakespeare was doing in Pericles and Cymbeline. The ritual of restoration and recognition in the last acts of those two plays is repeated in The Lover's Melancholy, but without any slavish imitation of Shakespeare. It could indeed be said that Shakespeare had to wait for three centuries before the critics caught up with Ford's insight. Eliot was constrained to admit that Ford, "though intermittently, was able to manipulate sequences of words in blank verse in a manner which is quite his own." One is tempted to echo a line in Four Quartets: "That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory." Unsatisfactory, because the ability to write blank verse which is unlike that of any other poet is not primarily a matter of technique. The cadences of Ford's blank verse are a reflection of his imaginative perception of reality. We need not deny that he had absorbed The Anatomy of Melancholy (as modern poets have absorbed Freud), but it is fairly certain that he found in Burton's attitude to his case-histories a confirmation of his previously formed attitudes toward love and life.
The reunion of Palador and Eroclea, foreseen by the audience from the first act of the play, and delayed mainly by Palador's depressive illness, as well as by the business of Thamasta's infatuation which enables us to know Eraclea better, does not depend for its effect on the element of surprise. (No audience is surprised by the score of "surprises" in the last scene of Cymbeline.) The early part of the reunion scene is slow and meditative, introduced by Palador's wish to see the lost Parthenophil: "For he is like to something I remember / A great while since, a long, long time ago." His soliloquy is continued by Eraclea, who enters in the middle of it; and this has the effect of showing their compatibility, as when Mirabel continues Millamant's quotation from Waller. Palador's assumption that Parthenophil is disguised as Eraclea, and not the other way around, and his tardiness in acknowledging the truth may be ascribed to his feeling that man is "fortune's exercise," and as I have suggested, to his inability to believe in happiness. In the end he is brought to accept it:
We are but fools
To trifle in disputes, or vainly struggle
With that eternal mercy which protects us.
Come home, home to my heart, thou banished
The peace is, of course, embodied in Eraclea.
The last act, which is almost as impressive, contains a sequence of happy events. Cleophila reconciles Thamasta and Menaphon; Thamasta reciprocates by bringing Amethus and Cleophila together; and Eraclea is reunited with her sister. There follows the "cordial" administered to Meleander—first, as in King Lear and Pericles, music; then Aretus with a patent restoring the old man to his former honors, together with additional ones; then Sophronos with a portrait of Eraclea; then Eraclea herself; and lastly Palador, who claims Eroclea as his bride.
The Lover's Melancholy was Ford's first unaided play; but already it displays his ability to absorb the work of his predecessors while introducing an original and distinctive note into the drama of the period.
Another play which was partly inspired by Shakespeare is Love's Sacrifice, and in this case Ford's model was Othello. The villain, Roderico d'Avalos, blurts out remarks which are calculated to arouse the duke's suspicions (such as Iago's "I like not that") and then he accuses Bianca with an Iago-like show of reluctance. The duke's accusations of Bianca and the struggle in his mind between jealousy and trust contain verbal echoes of Shakespeare's play. But Ford appears to have wished to "improve" on Othello by removing such supposed deficiencies as later critics found in the play—that Iago is a demidevil or a stage villain or a mere dramatic mechanism; that the handker-chief is flimsy evidence of adultery; that Desdemona could not have committed the "act of shame" a thousand times in the time at her disposal; and that Othello would not have accused Desdemona to her face. D'Avalos is not a mere dramatic mechanism and he has an understandable motive. He wishes to gain advancement by pleasing Fiormonda, who hates Fernando for repulsing her advances and hates Bianca for being her successful rival. D'Avalos, in spite of his corrupt motive, does honestly believe that Fernando and Bianca have committed adultery: their behavior is enough to arouse anyone's suspicions and provides apparent ocular proof. D'Avalos, therefore, does not have to rely on a purloined handkerchief, a fabricated dream, or the timely arrival of Cassio's mistress—who shares a name with Ford's heroine. Indeed D'Avalos's guilt is so much minimized that the reader may feel inclined to protest at the severity of the sentence which is passed upon him:
Convey him to the prison's top; in chains
Hang him alive; whosoe'er lends a bit
Of bread to feed him, dies.
The duke's jealousy is made plausible and, despite Ford's intention, even justified, by the extraordinary behavior of Bianca and Fernando. Fernando gives himself away to D'Avalos by his reactions to Bianca's portrait. He confesses his love to her on several occasions until she threatens to tell her husband. He promises never to mention the subject again; but the very same night she comes in a nightgown to his bedroom, confesses that she returns his love, exchanges passionate kisses, and swears to commit suicide if he proceeds to seduce her. Later, when other people are present, she proposes to steal a kiss. She invites Fernando to her bedchamber and they are caught (as it appears) in flagrante delicto by the duke, D'Avalos, and Fiormonda. Fernando is led away, and Bianca, in an attempt to save his life and (as Clifford Leech thinks) in order to provoke the duke to kill her, declares that she had tried unsuccessfully to seduce him. We can see however that the platonic relationship to which she had restricted him was not as innocent as she imagines and that she deserves neither the tribute of Fernando nor that of the duke. She is not "as free of lust / As any terms of art can deify," nor can her tomb be properly described as a "shrine of fairest purity." Ford's own attitude is ambiguous. On the one hand he seems to have believed that there was an absolute moral difference between Bianca's platonic passion and adultery; on the other hand he revealed, perhaps inadvertently, that she was playing with fire, that she was a sexual tease, and that she was a self-deceiver. In spite of the contemporary cult of platonic love, Donne and the Cavalier poets were all aware of the "right true end of love" and of the ease with which followers of this cult might end up in bed. The critics, not unnaturally, have disagreed about how the play should be interpreted. Peter Ure argued that Bianca was "not a true initiate of the Platonic cult," whereas Fernando was. Clifford Leech denies the possibility of this interpretation. Neither critic, I think, appreciates the element of self-deception in Bianca's character, and one sympathizes with Robert Ornstein's comment on Bianca's speeches to the duke in act 5, scene 1: "We cannot decide whether she is an innocent posing as a wanton, or a wanton posing as an innocent acting the part of a wanton."
There is a curious underplot in which three women, seduced and made pregnant by Ferentes, conspire to murder him during a dance. They apparently escape punishment, and the abbot comments: "'fis just / He dies by murder that hath lived in lust." Presumably the unplatonic behavior of the three women is meant to contrast with that of the lovers of the main plot, and to show that Bianca's technical chastity deserves our admiration. But Ford fumbles as much in the underplot as in the main plot.
The Broken Heart contains some of Ford's finest dramatic poetry and his most moving scenes, but it is structurally unsatisfactory. Two points will illustrate this. In act 2 Ithocles asks Prophilus to conduct Penthea to the palace gar-dens as he wishes to talk with her. Penthea is duly conducted to the rendezvous and then Prophilus leaves her with the disguised Orgilus, with the request: "Do thy best / To make this lady merry for an hour." Ithocles, we are told later, has been carried to his closet after he has had a sudden fit. Ford makes Prophilus behave in this absurd way and introduces Ithocles' illness as a clumsy device to enable Penthea and Orgilus to meet. The other structural flaw is more significant. The broken heart of the title is Calantha, whose death in the last scene exemplifies her words—a variation on a famous line of Seneca's: "They are the silent griefs which cut the heart-strings." In the previous scene she had been informed, during a formal dance, of the deaths of her father and Penthea and of the murder of the man she loves. She continues the dance, apparently unmoved; and, although this scene is superb in itself, it is not quite as effective in its place in the play. The difficulty facing a director is that until act 5 Calantha has not been a central character and, apart from the scene in which Penthea pleads her brother's cause, she has not made much impression. During the first four acts our interest has been focused on Penthea, whose heart too is broken, though in her case the process is prolonged. Her feeling that her marriage to Bassanes is prostitution, since she had been betrothed to Orgilus, leads eventually to madness and what is virtually suicide. We see her in relation to her jealous husband, to her lover, and to the brother who has forced her to marry a man whom she does not love. Although her name means "complaint" she does not complain of her treatment by Bassanes. What she does complain of throughout the play, to both Orgilus and Ithocles, is her unwilling "adultery." She forgives her brother in the end and ensures that Calantha will return his love. All through the first four acts, therefore, our interest is concentrated on Penthea and on the three men with whom she is involved: Orgilus, who is anxious to avenge himself on Ithocles, but who is ready to commit almost the same sin by claiming the right to veto his own sister's marriage; Ithocles, who is now a national hero and repents his interference with Penthea's happiness, even though his love for Calantha is mixed with ambition; and Bassanes, whose jealousy is exacerbated by his realization that his love is not returned. All three men are deeply flawed but not ignoble: Orgilus, even in the act of revenge to which he is driven more by Penthea's suffering than by his own wrongs, pays tribute to his enemy; and Ithocles magnanimously forgives him.
Penthea's laments could easily have become monotonous: they are saved from that by variations of tone (resignation, anger, indignation, shame), by the way they modu-late into madness, and by the use of music and ritual. The offstage dirge to mark Penthea's passing and her veiled corpse seated between Orgilus and Ithocles are two of Ford's finest inventions. He avoids, if narrowly, the sentimentality with which Fletcher decorates Aspatia in The Maid's Tragedy and the jailor's daughter in The Two Noble Kinsmen; and one has only to compare Penthea's madness with Belvidera's—both of them more stylized than Ophelia's—to see Ford's enormous superiority in tact, taste, and poetic quality. What is particularly notable is the subtle mingling of sense and delusion, which both reflect her sense of outrage:
Equals a broken faith; there's not a hair
Sticks on my head but, like a leaden plummet,
It sinks me to the grave: I must creep thither;
The journey is not long.
In her next speech Penthea begins by regretting her childlessness:
I might have been
Mother to many pretty prattling babes;
They would have smil'd when I smil'd, and for
I should have cried when they cried.
A few lines later she forgets the existence of her husband and that she is still young: '"Tis too late for me to marry now, /I am past child-bearing." She takes Orgilus's hand and kisses it, and then speaks the most haunting lines in the play:
When we last gather'd roses in the garden,
I found my wits; but truly you lost yours.
Before the end of the scene Penthea recovers sufficiently to say that her honor has been ruined by
A cruel brother and a desperate dotage!
There is no peace left for a ravish'd wife
Widow'd by lawless marriage.
She resolves—and in this resolution she is depicted as sane—to starve herself to death. Every scene in which Penthea appears—her martyrdom with Bassanes, her heart-rending scene with Orgilus, her forgiveness of Ithocles, her bequest to Calantha—exhibits Ford at his best.
Ford's other plays, with one exception, are disappointing. The Lady's Trial and The Fancies Chaste and Noble are inferior to the plays already discussed. The exception, Perkin Warbeck, is a remarkable play, quite unlike Ford's other work and unlike any plays written at this time. It is a well-plotted tragic history which keeps generally close to the known facts. Where Ford deviates from his sources it is to increase our sympathy for the hero. The historical Warbeck confessed before his death that he was an impostor, and the historical Katherine married again three times. Ford's Warbeck does not confess, and his Katherine swears "to die a faithful widow" to his bed.
The play is notable for its sympathetic portraits of the kings of Scotland and England. James IV supports War-beck as long as he can and refuses to buy peace with his blood. Henry VII, who has been lenient to an earlier impostor, Lambert Simnel, is shown as deeply shocked by Stanley's treason and is afraid to see him after the discovery lest he should pardon him. He puts down the rebellion with the minimum of bloodshed, and he pities the misguided rebels:
Alas, poor souls! let such as are escaped
Steal to the country back without pursuit;
There's not a drop of blood spilt, but hath drawn
As much of mine.
He would even have pardoned Warbeck if he had admitted that he was an impostor. Another example of Ford's even-handed justice is the impressive scene between the traitor Stanley and the informer Clifford.
Despite this ability to see events from both sides, it would seem that Ford's imagination was most engaged in the scenes in which the pretender appears. Inspired, perhaps, by the loyalty and devotion of Katherine (who nevertheless does not say whether she believes in his claim) or by the psychological problem of the self-deceiver, Ford's style is noticeably finer in these scenes. It has been argued by Mark Stavig in John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order that "since the imagery throughout the play has stressed the association of Perkin with witchcraft and the devil and of Henry with heaven and the forces of good, it does not seem improper to accept Urswick's analysis of Perkin's madness." But Warbeck's opponents naturally ascribe his persuasiveness to witchcraft, as Brabantio accused Othello of winning Desdemona in this way; and the total impression left by the play is quite different. Warbeck is continually shielded by the poetry Ford puts into his mouth. He speaks and behaves as a prince and dies like a hero:
Heaven be obeyed!
Impoverish time of its amazement, friends,
And we will prove as trusty in our payments,
As prodigal to nature in our debts.
Death? pish! 'tis but a sound; a name of air;
A minute's storm, or not so much; to tumble
From bed to bed, be massacred alive
By some physicians, for a month or two,
In hope of freedom from a fever's torments,
Might stagger manhood; here the pain is past
Ere sensibly 'tis felt. Be men of spirit!
Spurn coward passion! so illustrious mention
Shall blaze our names, and style us kings o'er
Ford avoided an easy contrast of noble impostor with ignoble ruler. Henry VII is depicted more sympathetically than by most historians. Nevertheless we are posed with the question—is not a man who behaves like a prince and dies heroically a hero and a "prince"? Like a character in a Pirandello play, or like Argia in Betti's The Queen and the Rebels, Warbeck becomes the prince he imagines him-self to be. Although the play stands outside the main line of Ford's dramas, it is in some ways the most modern in spirit of all his writings.
All Ford's plays are seriously flawed: but that Perkin Warbeck has fewest defects does not make it his master-piece, as Eliot perversely argued. His more characteristic plays are concerned with the aberrations of sexual passion; and this forms a link with the dreary didactic poem Christ's Bloody Sweat, in which poets are blamed for disguising lust as love, and thereby drawing "whole troopes of soules to hell." Critics have expressed surprise that the author of that poem should afterward write the plays for which he is famous; but the plays exemplify in their different ways what happens when passion dominates reason. Ford did not agree with Antony that the nobleness of life was to do thus. The desperate ends of Giovanni, Bianca, Orgilus, and Ithocles, no less than the undeserved suffering of Penthea and Calantha, illustrate his moral position. The religious tone of the early poem has been modified by the lessons of psychology, many of his characters being diseased rather than wicked; and the Christian ideas have been modified too, as in so many tragic writers, by stoicism. The virtuous characters may meet with misfortune and tragedy through the faults of others, their hearts may break, but they retain their integrity. Ford contrasts the good and the great, as Stavig and Oliver have shown; and in a passage salvaged by Oliver from the manuscript of The Line of Life we may be tempted to find the center of Ford's dramatic persona. He is showing how the true glory of a virtuous man survives the accidents and disasters of life:
Howsoever he live, sequestered from commerce by the injustice of a prevailing enemy; or shut up in prison by the suggestion of nimble information; or disgraced by the credulous confidence of misinformed majesty; or despised by the many-tongued malice of the abused multitude; or impoverished by the oppression of an ever-begging, but a never satisfied, flattery; or defamed by the graceless rumour of scandal; or traduced by the puzzling deceit and snare of smooth imposture; or—which is the finishing of mischiefs and miseries—put to death by the importunity of the faulty.
John Ford was perhaps more certain of the accidents and disasters than he was of "the richest chain wherewith a good man can be adorned," namely the "via lactea of immortality in his name on earth"; but this was the core of his philosophy of life.
David M. Bergeron (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "Brother-Sister Relationships in Ford's 1633 Plays," in "Concord in Discord": The Plays of John Ford, 1586-1986, edited by Donald K. Anderson, Jr., AMS Press, Inc., 1986, pp. 195-218.
[In the essay below, Bergeron explores brother-sister relationships in Love's Sacrifice, The Broken Heart, and "Tis Pity She's a Whore, arguing that Ford logically and consciously developed the theme of incest in the course of writing the three plays.]
John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore contains the most compelling dramatization of brother-sister incest in the canon of English Renaissance drama. This incest has at various times shocked and titillated readers and spectators; at moments it has afforded seemingly irrefutable proof of the "decadence" of Caroline drama. The shock derives in part from the initially attractive nature of Giovanni and Annabella's relationship: Ford clearly seems to approve their incestuous bond. I will argue that 'Tis Pity represents the culmination of Ford's investigation of brother-sister relationships in his plays of 1633. Despite uncertainty about the precise order of composition, I think that the incest theme of 'Tis Pity constitutes a logical development from Love's Sacrifice and The Broken Heart. (All three plays were published in 1633—hence my focus on this group.) Exact chronology does not affect my argument, though it would of course serve my purposes if I could prove 'Tis Pity the last of these three plays; but I cannot.
One can only speculate about why Ford in these three plays increasingly emphasizes brother-sister bonds. Such relationships seem of relatively little importance in earlier drama. In his study of family structure and life in England during the Renaissance and beyond, Lawrence Stone focuses mainly on parent-child links. He does mention, how-ever, the often intense rivalry between brothers, a problem exacerbated by the primogeniture system. We recall examples from literature, such as Orlando/Oliver as As You Like It, Edgar/Edmund in King Lear, and Philip/William/ John in Heywood's Fortune by Land and Sea. By contrast, Stone notes: "Between brother and sister, however, this embittered sense of envy did not exist, and there is evidence of the frequent development of very close ties indeed [The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, 1979]. The historical example of King James's children, Prince Henry and Princess Elizabeth, confirms the strong bond of love that might develop between brother and sister. Ford heightens such interest in his three plays of 1633.
In order to place 'Tis Pity in its dramatic context, I will look backward, starting some forty years earlier, to assess how other English Renaissance dramatists confronted the issue of incest, the most startling dimension of brother-sister bonds. I begin with George Peele's David and Bethsabe (ca. 1593-94) in which Ammon's incestuous love for Thamar counterpoints David's adulterous love for Bethsabe. Ammon confesses his passion to Jonad, who gives Ammon a strategy for seducing Thamar: pretend to be sick and desire that "Thamar may be sent / To dresse some deinties for thy maladie: / Then when thou hast her solely with thy selfe, / Enforce some favour to thy manly love" (269-272). Innocently, Thamar comes, falling into the trap. In a choric speech Jonad comments on what happens offstage: "Poore Thamar, little did thy lovely hands / Foretell an action of such violence, / As to contend with Ammons lusty armes, / Sinnewd with vigor of his kindlesse love" (292-295). Having raped his sister, Ammon thrusts her from his bed: "Hence from my bed, whose sight offends my soule / As doth the parbreake of disgorged beares" (307-308). Poignantly, Thamar responds: "Unkind, unprincely, and unmanly Ammon, / To force, and then refuse thy sisters love" (309-310).
Shamed and disgraced, Thamar seeks help. In despair she contemplates suicide, a deed that might compensate for her rape: "Rend haire and garments as thy heart is rent, / … To figure Ammons resting crueltie, / And Tragicke spoile of Thamars chastitie" (336-340). Implicitly, Thamar's speech reminds us of the root meaning of the word incest: not chaste. Absolon enters and completes the triangular pattern common in incest stories: he becomes the brother-avenger to counter the brother-seducer, Ammon violating their sister and Absolon seeking to avenge the shame. Absolon explains to his father David what has happened, saying that Ammon's dishonor has "sprung from root of heinous lust" (376). Though David instructs Absolon, "Then Absolon revenge not thou this sin, / Leave it to me, and I will chasten him" (394-395), Absolon sets out for revenge anyway.
He accomplishes revenge for the sin of incest by luring Ammon to a feast. The twin issues of incest and revenge that will fascinate Ford forty years later function in Peele's play to set brother against brother. Amidst feasting, dancing, and music, Absolon slays Ammon: "Die for the villany to Thamar done, / Unworthy thou to be King Davids sonne" (758-759). How often Ford will use a banquet or an entertainment to achieve revenge. Murder now compounds incest. Adonia, another of David's sons, reports to his father of Ammon's death; and David cries out: "How long shall Juda and Jerusalem / Complaine and water Syon with their teares?" (870-871). Unpunished, Absolon begins to pursue his own political ambition of unseating his father. This Oedipal struggle reinforces familial strife in the play, leading eventually to Absolon's death. The Ammon/Thamar incestuous bond has lacked a genuine sense of love, especially on Ammon's part; for him it has grown out of brutal sexual desire.
In contrast, the relationship between Antiochus and his daughter in Shakespeare's Pericles seems mutually genuine and loving. Shakespeare, who pays relatively little attention to brother-sister bonds in his drama, focuses in this play on parent-child incest, one of the rare cases of such in Renaissance drama. Pericles has come to Antioch seeking a wife so that he might eventually have heirs. From the opening Chorus by Gower, Shakespeare makes clear the play's judgment on Antiochus. Gower says that Antiochus took a liking to his daughter, "And her to incest did provoke. / Bad child, worse father, to entice his own / To evil should be done by none" (I. Cho. 26-28).
Irony emerges from Antiochus' instruction: "Bring in our daughter, clothed like a bride …" (I.i.7)—only "clothed like a bride" since she in fact is not available. The countless heads of former suitors that hang on the walls give mute but grim testimony to Antiochus' determination to keep his daughter to himself. Here we see what Ford will develop in 'Tis Pity: incest as the ultimate expression of jealousy. Those, like Pericles, who seek to develop a traingular relationship of parent-child-spouse constitute a threat to Antiochus. Though inflamed with desire "To taste the fruit of yon celestrial tree" (22), Pericles will discover that the alluring beauty of the nameless daughter hides an awful reality, that she is forbidden, unattainable fruit. Pericles gives support to Northrop Frye's observation [In his The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance, 1976] that incest forms part of the romance tradition.
To pass Antiochus' test, Pericles must read and interpret the riddle, a riddle told from the daughter's perspective: "I sought a husband, in which labour / I found that kindness in a father. / He's father, son, and husband mild; / I mother, wife, and yet his child" (67-70). The triangular identity outlined here forms in fact a circle, implying the way in which incest coils back on itself. Made pale by what he has read, Pericles understands his precarious position. In his closing soliloquy, he confronts the incest that he has discovered: Antiochus' "uncomely claspings" with his daughter and she "an eater of her mother's flesh, / By the defiling of her parent's bed …" (131-132). Pericles flees Antioch; and he explains to Helicanus, once safely back in Tyre, that instead of a "glorious beauty" he found "The rest … as black as incest …" (I.ii.72, 76).
We learn later in the play of the deaths of Antiochus and his daughter: as they sat in a chariot, "A fire from heaven came and shrivell'd up / Their bodies, even to loathing …" (II.iv.9-10). Pericles survives the threatening experience at Antioch and eventually gains a wholesome bride at Pentapolis; indeed, Simonides and his daughter Thaisa deliberately counter Antiochus and his daughter. Incest becomes but the first of several threats to family life in Pericles. In some ways more graphic and blatant than the incest found in Hamlet, incest in this later play documents the dangers to all who would disrupt the arrangement. Here in Pericles the father-seducer becomes also the father-avenger.
Beaumont and Fletcher's A King and No King (1611) contains an exceptionally full development of potential brother-sister incest. Curiously, Jacobean satiric comedy generally does not explore the incest issue among its un-relenting examination of sexual vagaries. The tone of A King and No King remains serious throughout, even if we may find the dramatists' solution to the problem disappointing. In a sense their play demonstrates the tragic potential of incest, a potential unfulfilled in this play. Questions of family identity permeate the play, incest being but one. Arbaces, King of Iberia, has been away at battle where he has succeeded in capturing Tigranes, King of Armenia. Arbaces awards his sister Panthaea to Tigranes, who resists the offer. Arbaces exercises his prerogative as king and as brother to make such choices for Panthaea, whom he has in fact not seen for years. Ithocles in The Broken Heart will use his rights as brother to give his sister Penthea to Bassanes, instead of to Orgilus.
Though we hear much separately from Arbaces and Panthaea about their love for one another, Beaumont and Fletcher delay their meeting until III.i. Gobrius, Arbaces' counselor, who has been busily singing Panthaea's praises, says to Arbaces: "You will be loath to part with such a Jewell." Arbaces registers shock: "To part with her, why Gobrius art thou mad? /Shee is my sister" (III.i.10, 11-12). Ironically, in this first encounter between brother and sister, Arbaces' sexual desire for her will emerge. He recognizes the strange feeling almost immediately; and he perplexes onlookers by his distracted and irrational behavior, saying at one point, "Shee is no kinne to me, nor shall shee be …" (161)—the play's ultimate irony, as things turn out. In an aside, Arbaces acknowledges the moral danger of his feelings, what he calls "an ungodly sicknesse" (192). Kissing Panthaea three times, Arbaces finds "Paradice" (299). Trying to control his feelings, he orders Panthaea imprisoned in her own chambers. By the end of the scene he calls his passion by its correct term: "Incest is in me / Dwelling alreadie …" (330-331). Later he confesses his sinful passion to Mardonius: "I would desire her love / Lasciviouslie, leudlie, incestuouslie, / To doe a sinne that needs must damne us both …" (III.iii.76-78).
When Arbaces confronts Panthaea alone, he tells her of his sexual love for her, promising to set her free if she will give in to his desires. Even Arbaces acknowledges, however, that that would put his sister "in worse bondage" (IV.iv.61). Her resistance and her desire for innocence provoke Arbaces' outburst against the limitations of their brother-sister bond. He cries out: "Is there no stoppe / To our full happinesse, but these mere sounds, / Brother and Sister?" (112-114). And he notes the irony: "I have liv'd / To conquer men, and now am overthrowne / Onely by words, Brother and Sister" (116-118). Giovanni and Annabella will express a similar frustration. Though Panthaea resists Arbaces, she suggests that they may lawfully kiss (153), which they do; and she says: "I feele a sinne growing upon my bloud, / Worse then all these, hotter I feare then yours" (159-160). To avoid sin, they separate.
But the dramatists have got to decide how to resolve the problem that has gained increasing force in the play. They have created a tension that requires release. Arbaces com-pounds the difficulty when he enters in V.iv with his sword drawn:
I must beginne
With murder of my friend, and so goe on
To an incestuous ravishing, and end
My life and sinnes with a forbidden blow
Upon my self.
The brother-seducer would become the brother-avenger on himself. He would also kill Gobrius, the faithful counselor who has consistently praised Panthaea. Gobrius breaks the dramatic tension and opens the path to resolution by saying to Arbaces' threat: "Know / You kill your Father" (116-117). The tangled web of family relationships starts to unravel. Arbaces discovers that Gobrius is his father, Arane is not his mother, and therefore Panthaea is not his sister. Freed from the threat of incest, Arbaces and Panthaea joyfully agree to marry. Beaumont and Fletcher solve their dramatic problem by the improbabilities of romance, but such a solution does not square well with the serious tone and intensity that they have created. Everything in the play points to a tragic direction. I think that Ford will understand how to deal with incest and make of it great tragedy; Beaumont and Fletcher bring us only to the brink of such dramatic realization.
Turning to Ford, I will examine Love's Sacrifice, The Broken Heart, and 'Tis Pity in light of issues of family, sex, and marriage with eventual focus on brother-sister relationships. Writing about Love's Sacrifice, R. J. Kauf-mann asks [in "Ford's Tragic Perspective," in Elizabethan Drama: Modern Essays in Criticism, 1961] "whether the title speaks of the sacrifices made to love or the very sacrifice of love itself through needless entertainment of passions destructively incompatible with it. It is this richer meaning that Ford pursued here, and only realized in later works." I agree, and add that all three 1633 plays could be entitled "love's sacrifice." Love itself loses, sacrificed on the altar of custom, moral tradition, familial prerogative, and, of course, jealousy. Sterility of various kinds characterizes love relationships in these plays: no single love bond offers much in the way of a future. These situations derive in part from what Kaufmann has defined as Ford's theme of "misalliance." He writes: "The core situation in Ford is one of misalliance, of natures subtly mismatched and progressively at odds with themselves and with received social sanctions." Such an assessment clearly pertains to Love's Sacrifice.
Family, marital, and love relationships endure constant battering in this play; the idea of misalliance forms only part of the problem. I begin my consideration with two minor characters who are nevertheless symptomatic of the sacrifice of love. Mauruccio, an old buffoon, desires the love of Fiormonda, a widow and sister of the Duke. At the beginning of Act II, he preens himself in anticipation of pursuing Fiormonda. Constantly admiring himself in a mirror, he tells his companion Giacopo that he will have his portrait painted. Meanwhile, the Duke, Fiormonda, Bianca (the Duke's wife), and Fernando (the Duke's friend) have entered and watch from above. Mauruccio describes the intended painting: "In my bosom, on my left side, I will have a leaf of blood-red crimson velvet—as it were part of my doublet—open; which being opened, … I will have a clear and most transparent crystal in the form of a heart" [II.i]. By such means, Mauruccio says, Fiormonda may "behold the excellence of her excellency's beauty in the prospective and mirror, as it were, in my heart." Those gathered above greet such a conceit with laughter. Crystal hearts, as Ford makes clear in this play and the others, eventually break. No alliance between Mauruccio and Fiormonda will occur. Even later when he marries Morona, he suffers banishment from the court (IV.i).
Like Mauruccio, many of the characters pursue unattainable love: Fernando seeks Bianca's love; Fiormonda, Fernando's; and Roseilli, Fiormonda's. Ferentes, a courtier and minor character epitomizes a cynical attitude toward love and marriage, countering Mauruccio's initially romantic notions. With actual contempt for women, Ferentes nevertheless promises marriage to three different women, whom he also impregnates. The three confront him in III.i, two of them with their fathers in tow. Julia claims: "He [Ferentes] has protested marriage, pledged his faith; / If vows have any force, I am his wife" (III.i). But there's the rub: vows have little force in this play. Ferentes intends to marry no one. Having outlined the "defects" of the women, he says: "Now, everyone knowing her proper defect, thank me that I ever vouchsafed you the honour of my bed once in your lives." But the women meet such cynicism with murderous passion in III.iv, where in a masque entertainment they "join hands and dance round Ferentes with divers complimentai offers of courtship; at length they suddenly fall upon him and stab him.. …" Ferentes becomes quite literally love's sacrifice.
Mauruccio and Ferentes underscore the theme of misalliance; the Duke embodies it. First, the Duke has married beneath his station, thereby creating a political/familial problem. In answer to Fernando's question of who was the agent for this marriage, Petruchio replies: "His roving eye and her enchanting face …" (I.i). The Duke acknowledges the resistance by the "gray-headed senate" who would limit "our free affects, / … to match with none / But in a tribe of princes, like ourselves…" "But," the Duke asks rhetorically, "why should princes do so, that command / The storehouse of the earth's hid minerals?" Those that disapprove of his marriage "shall be strangers to my heart. …" Though Ford does not pursue this political issue, it exists in the play nevertheless, raising doubts about the Duke's judgments and implying something just slightly unnatural in the relationship of the Duke and Bianca.
The Duke strikes a second potentially discordant note by including Fernando, his "perfect friend," into the marital bond, thereby creating a triangle. The Duke's action re-calls the anonymous Second Maiden's Tragedy in which Anselmus-Votarius-Wife constitute such a triangle with tragic results, or the more frivolous Beaumont and Fletcher play The Coxcomb (1609) in which Antonio-Maria-Mercury form another trio, the husband Antonio constantly insisting that Mercury should have Maria. The Duke greets Fernando warmly: "Fernando! O, thou half myself! no joy / Could make my pleasure full without thy presence" (I.i). A few lines later he calls Fernando "My but divided self. …" Again, "Philippo and Fernando / Shall be without distinction." Even allowing for rhetorical excess, where do such comments leave Bianca, the wife? If Fernando constitutes half of the Duke, where does Bianca fit in? In fact, the Duke instructs Bianca: "… in all respects to him [Fernando] / Be as to me: only the name of husband, / And reverent observance of our bed, / Shall differ us in person. …" "We are," the Duke insists, in soul "all one." In such a concept resides the potential tragedy of this play. To bring Fernando so closely into the marital bond inherently raises the issue of misalliance.
Trying to dampen Fiormonda's passion for him, Fernando asserts: "… but know / Long since I vowed to live a single life" (I.ii). Avoiding possible misalliance with Fiormonda with a statement both unnatural and untrue, Fernando begins to seek a sexual alliance with Bianca. He understands the moral problems: "Traitor to friendship, whither shall I run. …" Totally smitten with Bianca, he cries: "O, had I India's gold, I'd give it all / T'exchange one private word, one minute's breath, / With this heart-wounding beauty!" When he confesses his love to her, Bianca re-buffs and rebukes him. But Fernando says: "she is all icy to my fires, / Yet even that ice inflames in me desires" (II.i). At such moments he resembles Arbaces in A King and No King. When confronted by D'Avolos with two pictures, one of Fiormonda and the other of Bianca, Fernando clearly reveals his passion for the latter by his distracted responses (II.ii). Like the painting that Mauruccio only imagined, Fernando displays here his crystal heart, transparent for all the world to see his passion for Bianca. But such fragile hearts break.
Graphically, Fernando tells Bianca that he lays at her feet his "bleeding heart" (II.iii); and he adds:
… when I am dead, you rip
This coffin of my heart, there shall you read
With constant eyes, what now my tongue defines,
Bianca's name carved out in bloody lines.
In Ford's drama, crystal hearts become bleeding coffins, sacrifices of love. Despite severely rebuking him, Bianca nevertheless later comes to Fernando's bedchamber and offers herself to him (II.iv). Confessing her love to him, she imposes a condition: "If thou dost spoil me of this robe of shame, / … I'll kill myself!" Bianca's vow of fidelity to the Duke prevents the consummation of her love for Fernando—another variation of misalliance. With help from Fiormonda and D'Avolos, the Duke's emerging obsessive jealousy counterpoints the lovers' frustration. The stage direction in V.i reveals the natural development of this unnatural situation: "Whilst they [Bianca and Fernando] are kissing, the Duke and D'Avolos with their swords drawn, appear at the door.. …" At the insistence of his sister, the Duke kills Bianca, saying, "Here's blood for lust, and sacrifice for wrong." He might have said, "sacrifice of love."
Fernando insists on Bianca's innocence, arguing:
If ever I unshrined
The altar of her purity, or tasted
More of her love than what without control
Or blame a brother from a sister might,
Rack me to atomies.
If the brother and sister are Arbaces and Panthaea or later Giovanni and Annabella, then we have a better moral perspective on what Fernando means. He and Bianca re-main innocent only in a narrow, technical sense. The Duke repents his rash judgment and action and sets out to deify Bianca, thereby making her a different kind of love's sacrifice. In the play's final scene the Duke discovers Fernando in Bianca's tomb, Fernando drinks poison, and the Duke stabs himself. The Duke makes a request: "Lodge me, my wife, and this unequalled friend, / All in one monument" (V.iii). The triangle reconstitutes itself, echoing the Duke's words early in the play, "We are all one." But the alliance of the Duke-Bianca-Fernando can only be seen as misalliance; their relationship becomes as fragile as crystal hearts.
Ford does not devote much effort to developing the brother-sister bond in this play. The Duke and Fiormonda have separate agendas. He does caution Fiormonda, however, in the opening scene about mourning excessively for her dead husband (I.i). But her main function becomes to persuade her brother that he has been made a cuckold by Fernando; Fiormonda does this because of her unrequited love for Fernando and her contempt for Bianca. Her opening argument in IV.i rests on recollection of family pride: "… is there in thy veins / One drop of blood that issued from the loins / Of Pavy's ancient dukes?" (IV.i). Yielding to pressure, the Duke nevertheless warns his sister that if she has misled him, "I would unrip / That womb of bloody mischief with these nails. …" The Duke, Fiormonda, and D'Avolos kneel together in purpose, echoing, as the play often does, Othello and Iago's kneeling together in determining to kill Desdemona. For the moment the Duke has created another triangle, one held together by the desire for blood. When the Duke cannot summon his strength to kill Bianca, Fiormonda chides him: "Dost thou halt? faint coward, dost thou wish / To blemish all thy glorious ancestors? / Is this thy courage?" (V.i.). With that he plunges the dagger into Bianca's heart.
Malevolence characterizes Fiormonda's dealings with her brother—nothing here of incestuous passion. When the Duke stabs himself, Fiormonda cries out, "Save my brother, save him!" (V. iii); but one cannot be certain of any genuine feeling in that cry. Indeed, Fiormonda turns quickly and accepts Roseilli's love for her and gives him the kingdom. Roseilli proposes to create a tomb to the unhappy lovers; and then he speaks to Fiormonda: "henceforth I here dismiss / The mutual comforts of our marriage-bed: / Learn to new-live, my vows unmoved shall stand. …." Failing with Fernando, Fiormonda has forged an alliance with Roseilli. But the play's final irony denies any possible marital love to Fiormonda. Love relationships and familial bonds come to naught in a tragic world in which tombs testify to such sacrifices to love.
The image of the shattered crystal heart in Love's Sacrifice achieves literal meaning in The Broken Heart in which Calantha dies of a broken heart at the end. Several images in this later play offer a definition of love and familial relationships. The jealous husband Bassanes asks his wife: "… what thinks my Penthea / Of the delightful island we command?" (II.i.). An island serves as a perfect image for the isolation and possessiveness of jealousy, characters trying to make themselves insulated from and impervious to the rest of the world. When Calantha asks why Penthea offers so many "moral texts" to her, Penthea responds: "To place before 'ee / A perfect mirror, wherein you may see / How weary I am of lingering life …" (III.v.26-28). Like the paintings to which Fernando reacted, Penthea provides a reflection in which and through which Calantha might see herself. Penthea's life becomes a "moral text" in which all may read of love's sacrifice. Orgilus also serves as a different kind of mirror; Penthea observes of him: '"A looked not like the ruins of his youth, / But like the ruins of those ruins" (II.iii.129-130). How is it possible, the play keeps asking, to sustain love among the ruins of relationships? An overbearing brother, Ithocles, has ruined the potential love of Penthea and Orgilus by awarding his sister to Bassanes. Orgilus becomes the ruin of ruins when he kills himself. The image that he uses sums up the predicament of Sparta: "Welcome, thou ice, that sittest about my heart; / No heat can ever thaw thee" (V.ii.154-155). The ice of frustration and rejection has banked the fires of passionate love. Despite several examples of passionate action in the play, the world of Sparta seems best characterized by starvation, deprivation, freezing, and broken hearts.
Several family patterns exist in the play: husband-wife, father-child, and brother-sister. Bassanes' irrational jealousy about Penthea compounds the problem, namely that she actually loves Orgilus, indeed was betrothed to him before her brother intervened. When Bassanes waxes rhapsodic about marriage, we cannot resist the irony, nor can Ford:
The joys of marriage are the heaven on earth,
Life's paradise, great princess, the soul's quiet,
Sinews of concord, earthly immortality,
Eternity of pleasures;—no restoratives
Like to a constant woman. [Aside] But where is
This paradisal vision belies the hell of their household. Even as he enumerates the joys of marriage, Bassanes asks the revealing question, "But where is she?" His pos-session cannot be let out of his sight. For Bassanes and certainly for Penthea the concept of marital bliss is oxymoronic.
When Ithocles returns triumphantly from battle, his uncle Armostes greets him: "Proud of the blood I claim an interest in, / As brother to thy mother, I embrace thee / Right noble nephew" (I.ii.54-56). Armostes takes the place of Ithocles' dead father. Another father in this same scene, Amyclas, the ruler, calls attention to his beautiful Calantha: "She is in all our daughter" (69). Because she is a royal child, the father takes special care about her possible marriage since such a marriage would affect not only the family but also the state. Amyclas explains to prince Nearchus, a suitor, that Calantha continues his succession. He adds:
As you are
In title next, being grandchild to our aunt,
So we in heart desire you may sit nearest
Calantha's love; since we have ever vowed
Not to enforce affection by our will,
But by her own choice to confirm it gladly.
Nearchus responds: "You speak the nature of a right just father" (13). Amyclas is also an unusual father if he in-tends to let his daughter exercise her own judgment about a possible husband. Indeed, as the play shows, Calantha becomes enamored of Ithocles, eventually spurning her father's choice of Nearchus.
Crotolon has a son and a daughter, Orgilus and Euphranea. The play's opening scene focuses on this family, beginning thereby the exploration of brother-sister relationships. Orgilus explains to his father his reasons for leaving Sparta: "To free Penthea from a hell on earth; / Lastly, to lose the memory of something / Her presence makes to live in me afresh" (I.i.80-82). And he exacts from his sister a promise that she will not marry until "with our father's leave, / I give a free consent" (94-95). Orgilus assures his sister that he will see her matched "As may become thy choice and our contents" (109). Being himself the victim of a brother's intervention in love, Orgilus risks duplicating that role, though he swears love for his sister. But when he encounters Euphranea and Prophilus, Ithocles' friend, together, he bristles at the possibility of their love. But Euphranea tells Prophilus: "Death shall sooner / Divorce life and the joys I have in living / Than my chaste vows from truth" (I.iii.87-89). We know, however, from Love's Sacrifice the precarious nature of vows, as we know also from the Player-King in Hamlet: "… what we do determine oft we break" (III.ii.179). Ironically, by the end of the scene Orgilus has become their go-between, all for the promise of books.
In a puzzling soliloquy (I.iii. 175-178) Orgilus apparently sees a way of getting even with Ithocles by blocking the marriage to Euphranea. But by III.iv, Orgilus' passion has been tempered by his father's moral force. Crotolon warns his son of the danger of his intended resistance, which "Threatens the desolation of our family" (III.iv.45). Orgilus relents and gives to Prophilus and Euphranea his blessing: "Live long a happy man and wife …" (67). His "bridal song" urges blessing on them (70-81). This couple becomes a rarity in Ford's drama: a genuine alliance of love. Orgilus, meanwhile, offers a mirror of how a brother ought to regard his sister in the question of love and marriage. Through his example we clearly see the fault of Ithocles.
Ithocles and Penthea form the tragic version of brother-sister bond. Bassanes even suspects them of incest, though this is but a figment of his warped imagination. By Ithocles' control of his sister's life before the play opens, he has determined her destiny: a hellish life spent with Bassanes and devoid of Orgilus' love. Crotolon reminds Ithocles that had he not intervened "My Orgilus had not been now unwived, / Nor your lost sister buried in a bride-bed" (II.ii.37-38). Penthea in conversation with Orgilus refers to her situation as "A rape done on my truth" (II.iii.79).
When Ithocles proposes that he and his sister meet alone, Bassanes troubles over the word "alone" and fears the worst: "… he's her brother. / Brothers and sisters are but flesh and blood" susceptible to temptation (II.ii.116-117).
The interview scene (III.ii) Between Ithocles and Penthea fills with recrimination and attempts at reconciliation. We learn also that the two are apparently twins; Ithocles says: we "Were brought up twins together …" (III.ii.35), and Penthea notes that they are "two branches / Of one stock …" (112-113). Being twins intensifies the familial bond. Ithocles, in an image that anticipates 'Tis Pity, describes what he has done to his sister: "my rash spleen / Hath with a violent hand plucked from thy bosom / A love-blest heart, to grind it into dust…" (43-45). Penthea refers to Ithocles as "unnatural brother" (52), and asks him to kill her now so that she might be freed from the "known adultery with Bassanes …" (74). Bassanes interrupts their conversation with charges of "bestial incest" (150), prompting Ithocles to take control of Penthea's welfare until Bassanes can overcome his passion with reason.
On the road to certain death by starvation, Penthea appears in IV.ii, where Ithocles cries out to her. But Penthea turns from him and from all others, lamenting what might have been: "But 'tis too late for me to marry now, / I am past child-bearing; 'tis not my fault" (IV.ii.93-94). Despite Ithocles' plea, "Be not, my sister, / A murtheress to thyself (158-159), Penthea starves herself to death—a sharp contrast to Ithocles' delight in his relationship with Calantha, which he characterizes as "to banquet with the gods" (IV.iii.129). This image Ithocles uses again when in IV.iv Orgilus tricks him and kills him, thereby fulfilling revenge. Ithocles says:
Penthea, by thy side thy brother bleeds;
The earnest of his wrongs to thy forced faith.
Thoughts of ambition, or delicious banquet,
With beauty, youth, and love, together perish
In my last breath. …
And Orgilus adds: "Sweet twins, shine stars for ever" (74). If the circumstances were different, the stage image here would resemble that of the Ammon/Thamar/Absolon triangle in Peele's play. But here there is no incest; instead, Orgilus is the lover-avenger. To strike at Ithocles means. also a blow against Penthea because they are twins, a special case of doubling. Their deaths therefore closely follow one another and link explicitly to one another. With the several broken hearts, the sterility and corruption of Sparta, the jealous husband, and the disastrous brother-sister relationship, Ford anticipates the culmination of these ideas in 'Tis Pity.
From a sister who viciously urges her brother to revenge in Love's Sacrifice and a brother who has destroyed the hopes of his sister in The Broken Heart, we arrive at a brother-sister bond that centers on their mutual sexual love for one another in 'Tis Pity. Giovanni the brother-seducer becomes the brother-avenger against Annabella's husband, Soranzo, and eventually against Annabella herself. As in the case of Antiochus and his daughter in Pericles, so here Giovanni resists forming a triangular relationship in which he must share his sister. Threads of jealousy, so prominent in the previous two plays, form a fabric in 'Tis Pity; indeed, as I suggest, incest is one of the ultimate expressions of jealousy. The incestuous bond of Giovanni-Annabella constitutes a dramatically logical sequel to the other 1633 plays. Though Beaumont and Fletcher flirted with such incest in A King and No King, Ford meets the problem head-on, paradoxically approving and condemning the lovers.
Like Amyclas or Crotolon in The Broken Heart, Florio, the father of Giovanni and Annabella, spends much of his efforts trying to line up a suitable match for his daughter. Several suitors vie for Annabella: Soranzo, Grimaldi, and, the least likely, Bergetto, whose uncle Donado actually carries on the pursuit. Florio tells Soranzo after an early skirmish with Grimaldi: "Why you should storm, having my word engaged: / Owing her heart, what need you doubt her ear?" (I.ii.53-54). Despite seeming to assure Soranzo, Florio negotiates with Donado, insisting: "I will not force my daughter 'gainst her will" (I.iii.3). His hopes rest with Annabella: "My care is how to match her to her liking: / I would not have her marry wealth, but love …" (10-11). Donado says that Florio speaks "Like a true father" (14) and then proceeds to spell out the financial arrangements for his nephew, should he marry Annabella. That done, Florio offers Bergetto "free passage to commence his suit" (20).
When confronted with the choice of Bergetto, Annabella respectfully declines (II.vi.48-53). Immediately preceding this decision, Florio asks Annabella about a ring that her mother bequeathed her "And charged you on her blessing not to give't / To any but your husband" (38-39). Annabella says that she does not have it: "My brother in the morning took it from me, / Said he would wear't today" (41-42). Florio attaches no significance to this report. Instead, he says simply: "Soranzo is the man I only like—" (123). Florio makes good this determination at the opening of III.ii, indicating the basis for Soranzo's success: "… yet the hope / Of your still rising honours have prevailed / Above all other jointures. Here she is …" (3-5). Left alone with Soranzo, Annabella mocks and ridicules him as Giovanni watches above.
With Annabella's sudden sickness and the suspicion that it raises, Florio grows increasingly determined to marry off Annabella: "… She shall be married ere she know the time" (III.iv.ll). His wish is simple: "I have a father's dear impression, / And wish, before I fall into my grave, / That I might see her married …" (35-37). Florio's dream becomes a nightmare. Annabella indeed marries Soranzo because she is pregnant; their marital life resembles a living hell, not unlike that that Penthea experiences with Bassanes. In the play's final scene, Florio learns the terrible truth of the incestuous relationship of his son and daughter. First trying to deny what Giovanni says, Florio finally understands; he cries out in his final words: "Have I lived to—" (V.vi.62). The Cardinal blames Giovanni: "Monster of children, see what thou hast done, / Broke thy old father's heart" (63-64). His is not the only heart that breaks.
The lines that Soranzo quotes from the poet Sannazaro constitute a motto for Giovanni and Annabella: '"Love's measure is extreme, the comfort, pain, / The life unrest, and the reward disdain'" (II.ii.1-2). This defines what happens to this brother-sister bond and delineates for Ford yet again love's sacrifice. The excessive nature of Giovanni and Annabella's love culminates in their incest, a thought that Giovanni has from the beginning of the play. In a sense, Ford begins the play at about Act III of many other tragedies, by which I mean that the brother and sister make the tragic decision very early; we watch the consequences and eventual disintegration. The first movement of their love through Act II depicts recognition and indulgence, a total delight in their mutual sexual love. I think that Giovanni and Annabella try, and succeed for a while, to create their own world—their "new heaven, new earth" as Antony calls it in Antony and Cleopatra. One recalls Bassanes' image of an island—an appropriate image to suggest the ultimate familial possessiveness: incest. One can imagine Giovanni's quoting the last two lines of Donne's "The Sunne Rising": "Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere; / This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere." Such a world might be proof against change, leaving the lovers insulated from the demands and realities of the larger world. But such matters as pregnancy and marriage do in fact intrude, drawing the lovers back into the corrupt world of Parma where no healing takes place.
As Annabella taunts Soranzo, she says to him: "You are no looking glass; or if you were, / I'd dress my language by you" (III.ii.40-41). Giovanni, on the other hand, is a mirror by which and through which she perceives her love for him: each reflects the other. By such a mirror the lovers "dress" their language. Their language resonates with many conventional Petrarchan conceits; it also adopts religious terms to characterize their love. Clearly Giovanni and Annabella would like to be canonized for love. In the initial meeting of brother and sister, in which they reveal their love, Giovanni would like to "make our love a god, and worship it" (I.ii.146). Annabella's "immortal beauty" (213) would "tempt a saint" (196), "make an anchorite lascivious" (197). When they kneel together and kiss, Giovanni defines the moment as "Elysium" (260). Later Annabella tells Soranzo that her lover had been "angel-like" (IV.iii.37); many would "have kneeled to him, and have begged for love" (39), evoking "true worship" (41). In their last scene together Giovanni refers to Annabella's love as "sacred" (V.v.57).
After they have consummated their love, Annabella describes the experience to Putana: "O guardian, what a paradise of joy / Have I passed over!" (II.i.39-40). Not to be taken in by such religious language and knowing a hawk from a handsaw, Putana responds:
Nay, what a paradise of joy have you passed under! Why, now I commend thee, charge; fear nothing, sweet-heart; what though he be your brother? Your brother's a man, … and I say still, if a young wench feel the fit upon her, let her take anybody, father or brother, all is one.
This breathtakingly immoral yet honest statement defines the nature of raw sexual energy. Though tricked out in religious language, Giovanni and Annabella's love remains incestuous. They may have found a new earth but certainly not a new heaven. Somewhat ominous words from Donne's "The Canonization" pertain to Ford's lovers: "We die and rise the same, and prove / Mysterious by this love. / We can die by it, if not live by love …" (p. 6). Hymns that might be sung for Giovanni and Annabella at the play's end do not exalt them and cause them to be a pattern from above; rather, such songs would descant on love's sacrifice.
Other clothing of language tries to divert attention from incest. In conversation with the Friar, Giovanni complains against the "peevish sound" of the terms "brother" and "sister"—a complaint we recall from Arbaces in the Beau-mont and Fletcher play. How can such terms, Giovanni asks, "be a bar / 'Twixt my perpetual happiness and me?" (I .i .26-27). One detects an early note of selfishness in Giovanni's question. Not heeding the warning of the Friar or his counsel of repentance, Giovanni confesses his love to Annabella in I. ii, and she responds in kind. She does point out the obvious: "You are my brother Giovanni" (228). Assuring her that the holy church "tells me I may love you," Giovanni adds: "Wise nature first in your creation meant / To make you mine: else't had been sin and foul / To share one beauty to a double soul" (238, 232-234). Equivocation best characterizes Giovanni's technique; he attempts to sanitize and legitimize their relationship. As the two kneel together, they repeat the same rhetorical formula (249-255), as if they indeed possess one double soul. Annabella's last line poses an "either/or" situation that ironically and tragically becomes "both/and" in the play: "Love me, or kill me, brother" (252).
By the opening of Act II, Giovanni has even changed the terms of their familial relationship: "Come Annabella: no more sister now, / But love, a name more gracious …" (1-2). But such dressing of language by the mirror of their love only beguiles. Ford compels us as readers or spectators to read between or through the lines to keep in perspective the issue of incest. When Giovanni sets out to prove to the Friar that what he has done is "both fit and good" (II.v.13), we are understandably wary of such sophistry. The Friar's assessment may be our own: "O ignorance in knowledge" (27). Despite having himself earlier broached the issue of marriage for Annabella, Giovanni now resists the Friar's suggestion. This first movement in Giovanni and Annabella's love closes with the Friar's sorrowful condemnation: "… a pair of souls … lost" (69).
The central development becomes Annabella's marriage to Soranzo, a relationship that mocks traditional ideas about marital bonds—as a number of marriages do in Ford's drama. Giovanni's increasing jealousy counterpoints Annabella's living lie of a marriage. Even the jewel that Annabella has received from Donado prompts Giovanni's outburst: "But you shall not wear it" (II.vi. 129). Annabella asks somewhat incredulously: "What, you are jealous?" (130). Giovanni cannot accept the intrusion of a third party into their relationship: he wants Annabella totally, exclusively. His jealousy has already manifested itself in incest. Ironically, he can never possess enough of her the more that he has. He remains insecure. As Annabella toys with Soranzo in their interview, Giovanni must listen from above; and he concludes: "Why, now I see she loves me" (III.ii.56). Surely there has been ample evidence of this during the several months of their incestuous love.
Soranzo in some ways constitutes only a minor threat to Giovanni's triumphant position. Despite being browbeaten by Soranzo, Annabella steadfastly refuses to reveal who is the father of her child (IV.iii); indeed, she taunts Soranzo with her pregnancy. Annabella's determination to repent, however, threatens Giovanni. Her first attempt at confession and repentance comes in III.vi. She appears "kneeling and whispering " to the Friar. She listens to his lecture, his graphic description of hell, and his prescription for penance. In fact, during the fifty lines of their conversation, Annabella speaks a scant six lines—no more dressing of language to hide her sin. Giovanni has met an unconquerable enemy: Annabella's moral conscience. She wavers in her determination; but by the opening of V.i, she genuinely repents: "My conscience now stands up against my lust / With depositions characterized in guilt …" (9-10). She adds: "Beauty that clothes the outside of the face / Is cursed if it be not clothed with grace" (12-13). Throwing down a letter to her brother that urges him to repent also, Annabella readies to face death.
The relationship that had seemed both stable and beautiful disintegrates, and the play's final movement leads inevitably to the deaths of Giovanni and Annabella. oasting that Annabella 'lis still one to me …" (V.iii.8), Giovanni encounters the Friar for the last time. Through Annabella's letter he learns that the truth has been revealed about their love. Incredulous, Giovanni asks: "…is't possible? / Are we grown traitors to our own delights?" (37-38). The play answers "yes." They have betrayed themselves by the illusion of a seemingly secure love; but their incest coils back on itself: the fire of their passion has been consumed by that which nourished it. Giovanni determines to avenge himself on his sister as well as on others.
As R. J. Kaufmann rightly observes: Giovanni's "selfishness has grown perfect, his love become an abstract and self-oriented thing." Full of blame for Annabella, Giovanni confronts her in their final scene, accusing her of being a "faithless sister" (V.v.9). Claiming, as he has throughout the play, that he holds fate in his fists, Giovanni says that he "could command the course / Of time's eternal motion, hadst thou [Annabella] been / One thought more steady than an ebbing sea" (12-14). The great search for permanence through incest has come to naught; Giovanni's grand illusion founders on the shores of human nature and change. Their love endures a breach, not an expansion. Like Faustus, Giovanni denies the reality of hell. He tries one last time valiantly, if vainly, to establish the sanctity of their love:
The laws of conscience and of civil use
May justly blame us, yet when they but know
Our loves, that love will wipe away that rigour
Which would in other incests be abhorred.
How desperately Giovanni would have them canonized for love, thereby justifying their incest. Of course they have loved one another, but so presumably did Antiochus and his daughter. Though asking forgiveness, Giovanni kills Annabella: "Thus die, and die by me, and by my hand. / Revenge is mine; honour doth love command" (85-86). His action speaks loudly of his self-centeredness.
In what may seem a gratuitous action, Giovanni rips out Annabella's heart and appears in the last scene with it on a dagger. To the startled spectators, he claims that he has with his hands "from her bosom ripped this heart" (V.vi.60). Why? In one sense, he completes a metaphor used earlier in I.ii. Offering Annabella a dagger, Giovanni says: "And here's my breast, strike home. / Rip up my bosom, there thou shalt behold / A heart in which is writ the truth I speak" (I.ii.205-207). Soranzo later, trying to learn Annabella's secret, threatens: "I'll rip up thy heart, / And find it [the name] there" (IV.iii.52-53). Both recall a similar image used by Fernando to Bianca in Love's Sacrifice. In Giovanni's warped view, possessing Annabella's heart gains her essential and whole self, her life. Perhaps he also expects to find his name written on her heart. All of Ford's frequent images of hearts now coalesce in this last violent action, a violence born more of selfish revenge than of love. Annabella's heart graphically illustrates the sacrifice of love.
To kill Annabella assures Giovanni's death as well. Partly the result of the plot and its final judgment on incest, this development also underscores the connection between doubling and death. John Irwin [in his Doubling and Incest / Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner, 1975], writing about Faulkner and citing the work of Otto Rank, notes that in myth and literature the "appearance of the double is often a harbinger of death and that just as often the ego attempts to protect itself by killing the double, only to find that this is 'really a suicidal act.'" The images of "mirror" and the "double soul," noted above, confirm that Annabella is Giovanni's double, a point reinforced obviously by their brother-sister bond. To have engaged in incest with his double, often in fact the sexual desire of such relationships, compounds the certainty of Giovanni's death.
Though bandits attack him at Soranzo's banquet and inflict mortal wounds, Giovanni truly dies at his own hands. As he looks at the dead body of Annabella and senses triumph, he instructs himself: "Shrink not, courageous hand, stand up, my heart, / And boldly act my last and greater part" (V.v.105-106). He refers, I think, not so much to intended revenge on Soranzo but to his own suicidal death. When he enters the banquet with Annabella's heart, he refers to that deed both as "the rape of life and beauty" (V.vi.20) and as having a "glory" that "Darkened the midday sun, made noon as night" (23). Displaying the heart, Giovanni says of it: "… 'tis a heart, / A heart, my lords, in which is mine entombed" (27-28). The death of his incestuous double means his own death as well. When Vasques claims to have given Giovanni the first wound, Giovanni thanks him: "… thou hast done for me but what / I would have else done on myself (98-99). Like an Antony or Cleopatra, Giovanni welcomes death: "Death, thou art a guest long looked for; I embrace / Thee and thy wounds …" (105-106).
Nowhere do I find a more compelling link between incest and death than in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. The teenage Quentin Compson, full of unfulfilled sexual desire for his sister Caddy, tortured by her recent marriage, and unable to comprehend his own sexuality, takes his life by drowning. On the last psychologically tortuous day of his life, Quentin contemplates his death:
I could not see the bottom, but I could see a long way into the motion of the water before the eye gave out, and then I saw a shadow hanging like a fat arrow stemming into the current. … If it could just be a hell beyond that: the clean flame the two of us more than dead. Then you will have only me then only me then the two of us amid the pointing and the horror beyond the clean flame … Only you and me then amid the pointing and the horror walled by the clean flame.
Quentin hopes that incest will lead to an outcast hell but where he and Caddy may be together, living somehow beyond the "clean flame" that separates them from this world and grants them a purity for their deed. Giovanni would understand such a sentiment perfectly.
From the strife and tension of brother-sister relationships in Love's Sacrifice and The Broken Heart, Ford brings us to a loving relationship that for a fitful moment looks promising. But from such sexual and familial misalliance, disaster comes, incest leading inevitably to death. No clean flame can separate Giovanni and Annabella from the corrupt world of Parma; no such flame can purge away their sin. Instead, they become love's sacrifice, possessors of fragile hearts that are not proof against challenge and change.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 21762
'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE
Alastair Macaulay (review date 8 May 1992)
SOURCE: Review of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, in Financial Times, 8 May 1992, p. 15.
[In the review below, Macaulay questions the viability of David Leveaux's interpretation of Giovanni and Annabella's incestuous relationship in his 1992 staging of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore at London's Pit Theatre.]
The strange thing about David Leveaux's staging of 'Tis Pity for the Royal Shakespeare Company is that the central brother and sister are played as the least polished people in this Italian society. Even the ninny Bergetto has a certain public-school edge to him. But not so Giovanni and Annabella. Jonathan Cullen, first seen in a coat whose sleeves are too long for him, underplays Giovanni's academic flair and gives him, unlike anybody else, a York-shire accent. He (especially) and Saskia Reeves's Anna-bella have the worst posture onstage.
But all of this adds up to a kind of artlessness in them. Their hot incest (the axis of the plot) becomes not the depths of privileged decadence but a helpless continuation of nursery delights, a retreat from the demands of the sophisticated adult world. I cannot say that this is the correct reading of the play, but it is here propounded with considerable urgency. Since Leveaux and his original designer, Kenny Miller, have transposed the play, with minimal glamour, into the mid-twentieth century, it also gains new immediacy.
Which is heightened by the production's transfer from the Swan in Stratford to the Pit. Much is lost, since the Pit has not the Swan's recesses or over-stage balconies, of which this production made excellent use. But Rick Fisher's lighting gives certain scenes fresh force, and the production builds powerfully to the final horrid banquet. Not since the 1988-89 Deborah Warner Titus Andronicus has the Pit audience so shuddered.
The staging has several gems of playing—above all, Jonathan Hyde's grave and impressive Vasques. Richard Bonneville plays the fool Bergetto with model simplicity, and Guy Henry is memorable—dry, loyal and finally anguished—as his servant Poggio. Sheila Reid wittily makes Annabella's duenna Putana a salacious townmouse. Tim Mclnnerny, whom I find a wildly variable actor, is here at his best as Annabella's husband Soranzo, his nobility and passion wracking and then kindling him. The great scene between him, his new wife and Vasques is the highlight of the performance.
Saskia Reeves is as natural an Annabella as we are likely to see; almost an Annabella-next-door. The plain sincerity of her playing becomes more and more touching. As Giovanni, Cullen is an odd amalgam. He can seem a forlorn wimp, and then be lusty and intense. His voice wilts or whines and then finds a sterling firmness that drives all before it. I prefer my Jacobean tragedy to be in the high grand manner. But this account sticks in the mind.
Paul Taylor (review date 9 May 1992)
SOURCE: Review of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, in Independent, 9 May 1992. Reprinted in Theatre Record, Vol. XII, No. 10, 1992, p. 576. [In the following review, Taylor commends David Leveaux's "penetrating and pulse-quickening account" of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore at The Pit Theatre.]
Three weeks ago at the Public Theatre in New York, I saw a production of Ford's incest tragedy, 'Tis Pity She's A Whore, which for breathtaking ineptitude could scarcely be improved on. Having made a kebab of his sister's heart, the Giovanni in this version went one step further and daubed the word "Cunt", in giant letters in her blood over their bed of love and death.
While it provided a shocking final image, this gory graffito also made nonsense of the play, cancelling that crucial sense you should get that—however warped and extreme his outlook or actions become—Giovanni still sincerely believes he loves his sister when he murders her.
It's a relief and a delight, therefore, to be able to welcome to London David Leveaux's penetrating and pulse-quickening account of the play, just transferred from Stratford to The Pit. Set in 1930's Italy, it begins with a naked lightbulb picking out a set of rosary beads which lies on the bare stage. Rosary beads feature at the end too. As the last remaining survivor surveys the heap of slaughtered bodies at the aborted banquet, disgusted by the venal Cardinal who has wasted no time in confiscating all the corpses' property for the Church, he drops his rosary beads, with icy contempt, into a glass of wine.
Between those two moments, Leveaux's production vividly underscores how the play, without condoning the incestuous pair, sets the perverse and feted idealism of their love against the flattering background of Italian society's routine cruelties, vowbreaking and hypocrisy.
"Her own brother! Oh horrible!" breathes the manservant, Vasques, a lethal cross in Jonathan Hyde's excellent performance between a Spanish Jeeves and a Mafia member (he kills with the discreet efficiency of a butler uncorking a bottle). But while Vasques is shaking his head piously over the siblings' sin, the piteous shrieks of his female informer, whom he is having blinded offstage, rend the air.
Jonathan Cullen strikingly communicates the weird pathology of Giovanni's love, tracing with deft precision how (once it cuts itself off from all conventional values) the young man's mind starts to become unmoored from reality. It's a production full of sudden surprises and shocks (scenes start with a shiver-inducing abruptness; characters meet precipitiously as though hurled together by a hidden force). One of these swift, unexpected touches nicely illuminates Giovanni's gentle decline.
When Sheila Reid's worldly nurse informs him that his sister is pregnant, he springs back and starts jerking about on the floor with his hands over his face. But then he springs forward to give the nurse a happy kiss. He's de-lighted, not devastated by the news—which indicates the increasing untrustworthiness of his judgement.
Having given a splendid performance as an incestuous sister in Stephen Poliakoff's film, Close my Eyes, Saskia Reeves turns in another one here. In the eerie scene played by the light of one candle, in which the Friar terrorises her with the prospect of hell, she shows you a woman rent apart between conventional fears and continued love of her brother. The general level of the acting is excellent. The New York version turned Bergetto, Annabella's dimwitted suitor and his servant, Poggio, into a resoundingly laugh-free vaudeville duo. Playing the former as a shy, owlish innocent with the emotional age of an none-too-bright child, Richard Bonneville is not only very funny but also surprisngly touching when this character cops the death meant for another.
The bloodbath at the end is not for the squeamish. But it's not just gore galore: the violations get to you on a deeper level than sensation. "That'll teach 'em to behave, huh?" joked the man behind me on the way out. He didn't mean it, though; he just wished, like the rest of us, he could have laughed it off.
Harry Eyres (review date 9 May 1992)
SOURCE: "In the Grip of Unnatural Forces," in The Times, London, 9 May 1992.
[In the following review, Eyres offers a favorable review of David Leveaux's 1992 presentation of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore at London's Pit Theatre, particularly praising the cast's performances.]
David Leveaux's striking production of John Ford's incest play looks rather more sombre than it did in the Swan at Stratford: the ambience is more confined and Ford's sickly tableaux of perverted weddings and death-feasts are reduced in scale as we look down at them, rather than gazing up at a platform. But the intensity is greater and in Rob Howell's redesign there are visual details I did not notice before.
The main performances have lost nothing in electricity and the support, always sound, seems to have tightened. Saskia Reeves's achievement is that she makes the supposedly unnatural (Annabella's carnal love for her brother) seem the most natural thing in the world.
The single love scene builds up a steamy eroticism way beyond most contemporary cinema. Treating her brother both like a sister and a lover, Reeves conveys ardent sensuality in every gesture and especially in the softening of those fierce dark eyes.
Jonathan Cullen's Giovanni has a panting, darting energy which is mesmeric in a different way. When told that Annabella is pregnant he jumps backwards like toast ejecting from an overenthusiastic toaster. But the lupine glint in his eye and the sliding-out-of-control smile give a chilling foretaste of vengeful mayhem from the start.
One performance which has deepened most remarkably is Tim Mclnnerny's love-sick Soranzo. Volcanic heavings of pent-up passion give way to moments of quiet poetic intensity, and now Giovanni's jealousy appears slightly less in-sane. Sheila Reid's reptilian Putana and Jonathan Hyde's apparently blunt but obsessive Vasques remain excellent.
Ford's dark vision can seldom have seemed more contemporary. This is not just a matter of style, though Leveaux cleverly evokes echoes of The Godfather and Prizzi's Honor. No, we feel uncomfortably close to a world in which beliefs have evaporated and moral ties loosened, while repressive voices call on the flames of hell with less conviction than desperation. But, as Florio says, "Justice has fled to heaven and comes no nearer."
Irving Ribner (essay date 1960)
SOURCE: "By Nature's Light: The Morality of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore," in Tulane Studies in English, Vol. 10, 1960, pp. 39-50.
[In the following essay, Ribner asserts that Ford's dramatization of the moral dilemma surrounding incest in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore reveals his larger preoccupation with humankind's universal conflict between natural and divine law.]
To the influence of John Ford more than to that of any of his contemporaries has been attributed that "decadence" by which the Caroline drama is so often characterized, and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore has usually been called the most "decadent" of Ford's plays. The concept of "decadence" in drama, like so many literary clichés, probably will not stand the test of close analysis, and I believe that the classic statement of Ford's supposed "decadence" by Stuart P. Sherman [in "Forde's Contribution to the Decadence of the Drama," in John Fordes Dramatische Werke, ed. W. Bang, Materialen zur Kunde des alteren Englis-chen Dramas XXIII, 1908.] is based upon an inadequate estimate of Ford's achievement. For Sherman John Ford stood for moral anarchy. He was the romantic apostle of illicit love who could glorify even incest for the delight of an effete upper class audience, and who by ennobling sin created a kind of problem play which implicitly denied all moral order.
Literary judgments are slow to change, and Sherman's view of Ford after half a century is still widely current, although in recent years it has been subject to some questioning. Ford does not hold up incest or illicit love for the admiration of his audience; he is not a champion of moral anarchy; but it is nevertheless true that he arouses a sympathy for the incestuous lovers of 'Tis Pity such as Middleton never does for those of Women Beware Women; this is implicit in the words of Giovanni before he kills Annabella:
Kisse mee; if euer after times should heare
Of our fast-knit affections, though perhaps
The Lawes of Conscience and of Ciuill vse
May iustly blame vs, yet when they but know
Our loues, That loue will wipe away that rigour
Which would in other Incests bee ahborr'd.
This is not a defence of incest, but it is a plea of sympathy for the lovers on the basis of a natural human feeling with which we can identify. Ford's moral position is far more subtle and complex than his critics generally have been willing to allow. It is the product of a skeptical age which can no longer accept without question the doctrine of a human law reflecting the will of God in a perfectly reasonable and harmonious universe, such as Richard Hooker had expounded some half century before. We cannot find in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore the moral certainly we look for in Shakespeare.
Giovanni and Annabella are transgessors; their sins are destructive both of society and human life. The bleeding heart on Giovanni's dagger is a poignant symbol of the desecration of life to which their conduct must lead. For their sins they suffer and they die, but while Ford shows us the fruits of such transgression, he does not defend the moral order against which they transgress. By the use of his carefully linked sub-plots Ford shows the woeful inadequacy of the very human and divine institutions by which Giovanni and Annabella are condemned and destroyed. The peculiar tension of this play springs from Ford's inability to offer an alternative to sin which we can embrace as fully as we can the way of Shakespeare's Edgar or Cordelia. The final statement of the play is that man must conform to a moral order whose inadequacy he always knows, for the only escape from moral uncertainty lies in desecration and death. That such uncertainty is the necessary condition of man is established in the opening lines of the play:
Dispute no more in this, for know (young man)
These are no Schoole-points; nice Philosophy
May tolerate vnlikely arguments,
But Heauen admits no jest; wits that presum'd
On wit too much, by striuing how to proue
There was no God; with foolish grounds of Art,
Discouer'd first the neerest way to Hell;
And fild the world with deuelish Atheisme:
Such questions youth are fond; For better 'tis
To blesse the Sunne, then reason why it shines.
Accept without question, the Friar urges, while the action displays the insufficiency of what must be accepted. The tragedy of Giovanni is that he cannot accept blindly, and in the quest for certainty lies inevitable destruction. Giovanni is the philosopher,
that miracle of Wit,
Who once within these three Moneths wert esteem'd
A wonder of thine age, throughout Bononia?
How did the Vniuersity applaud
Thy Gouerment, Behauiour, Learning, Speech,
Sweetnesse, and all that could make vp a man?
He is man in his highest state of excellence, reflected in the beauty of his physical form, man the seeker after truth, and it is his very need to know which is his destruction. "Tis not I know, / My lust; but tis my fate that leads me on" (308-309), he says in an important soliloquy. This fate which leads him to destruction is his very nature as a sentient and intelligent man.
The sub-plots are related to one another and controlled by the governing theme of the play in that each one is de-signed to make clear some aspect of the moral order which Giovanni cannot blindly accept. The Cardinal is needed to pass religion's judgment upon Giovanni at the end, but the corruption of this very religion is at the same time made apparent:
And all the Gold and Iewells, or whatsoueuer,
Confiscate by the Canons of the Church,
Wee ceaze vpon to the Popes proper vse.
just as it has been made clear already by his protection of the murderer Grimaldi and by the moral equivocation of Friar Bonaventura. The institutions of courtship and marriage and society's code of honor are represented by Soranzo, with the Hippolita subplot to throw them into relief. Two aspects of justice are displayed: the corruption of divine law in the exoneration of Grimaldi, and the painful futility of earthly vengeance in the intrigues of Richardetto. The ideals of true service and loyalty are rendered sordid by Vasques and Putana. The fool, Bergetto and his man are used to throw these themes into sharper focus. His courtship of Annabella makes ludicrous the role of Florio in the disposition of his daughter according to the customs of the age. The pathos of Bergetto's death makes more poignant the injustice of the Cardinal, and the simple fidelity of Poggio mourning over the body of his master throws the brutal fidelity of Vasques into clearer light. Only the fool, Bergetto, incapable of questioning the moral order, can live with it and escape moral censure. If we admire Giovanni it is not because Ford would glorify incest, but because of the sordidness of the established moral order to which he stands opposed.
The Friar's opening words, as we have seen, affirm the inscrutability of divine law: "For better 'tis / To blesse the Sunne, then reason why it shines." This is the staple of his religion, and when Giovanni asserts the normal condition of nature (82-92) as justification for incest, the Friar cannot answer his argument; he can only counsel an unquestioning subjection of the ritual of the church:
then fall downe
On both thy knees, and grouell on the ground:
Cry to thy heart, wash euery word thou vtter'st
In tears, (and if't be possible) of blood:
Begge Heauen to cleanse the leprosie of Lust
That rots thy Soule, acknowledge what thou art,
A wretch, a worme, a nothing: weepe, sigh, pray
Three times a day, and three times euvery night:
For seuen dayes space doe this.
The Friar's religion involves a debasement of man, a denial of his intellectual capacity, and even this Giovanni accepts:
All this I'le doe, to free mee from the rod
Of vengeance, else I'le sweare, my Fate's my God.
He goes through all of the formal ritual of religion, but it offers him no release, for he cannot deny his own nature as a thinking man as such religion demands; he must have answers to his questions which the Friar and his religion cannot give.
Ford creates an antithesis between a blind acceptance of the existing religious and moral order on the one hand, and on the other an acceptance of fate as man's controlling principle. For Giovanni to acknowledge the primacy of fate rather than divine law is for him to see himself as governed not by God but by those forces which are inherent in his nature as a man. In the very lines with which he recounts the futility of his attempt to follow the Friar's advice, Giovanni avows his acceptance of fate, which is to acknowledge his nature as questioning man with all its inevitable consequences:
Lost, I am lost: my fates haue doom'd my death:
The more I striue, I loue, the more I loue,
The lesse I hope: I see my ruine, certaine.
What Iudgement, or endeuors could apply
To my incurable and restlesse wounds,
I thoroughly haue examin'd, but in vaine:
O that it were not in Religion sinne,
To make our loue a God, and worship it.
I haue euen wearied heauen with prayers, dryed vp
The spring of my continuali teares, euen steru'd
My veines with dayly fasts: what wit or Art
Could Counsaile, I haue practiz'd; but alas
I find all these but dreames, and old mens tales
To fright vnsteedy youth; I'me still the same,
Or I must speake, or burst; tis not I know,
My lust; but tis my fate that leads me on.
When he says to Annabella, "I haue askt Counsell of the holy Church, / Who tells mee I may loue you" (403-404), Giovanni is not practicing a cheap duplicity. He is saying to the audience that although he has followed the ritual of the church it has offered him no help; in the inability of religion to convince him of the evil of incest he finds a justification for incest.
The Friar's religion can offer no answer to the defense of incest which Giovanni constructs out of the very moral postulates of his teacher:
What I haue done, I'le proue both fit and good.
It is a principali (which you haue taught
When I was yet your scholler) that the Fame
And Composition of the Minde doth follow
The Frame and Composition of the Body:
So where the Bodies furniture is Beauty,
The Mindes must needs be Vertue: which allowed,
Vertue it selfe is Reason but refin'd,
And Loue the Quintesence of that, this proues
My Sisters Beauty being rarely Faire,
Is rarely Vertuous; chiefely in her loue,
And chiefely in that Loue, her loue to me.
If hers to me, then so is mine to her;
Since in like Causes are effects alike.
In reply the Friar can only again assert the moral argument of the play, that religion must prevail in spite of human reason:
O ignorance in knowledge, long agoe,
How often haue I warn'd thee this before?
Indeede if we were sure there were no Deity,
Nor Heauen nor Hell, then to be lead alone,
By Natures light (as were Philosophers
Of elder times) might instance some defence.
But 'tis not so; then Madman, thou wilt finde,
That Nature is in Heauens positions blind.
When the Friar urges Giovanni to "Perswade thy sister to some marriage" (945), his reply is an indictment of the moral system from which this suggestion springs: "Marriage? why that's to dambe her; that's to proue / Her greedy of variety of lust" (946-7). The retort is shocking, but it states the logical corollary to the Friar's position, and its truth is borne out by the consequence of Annabella's acceptance of the Friar's religion in a later scene designed probably to contrast with her brother's rejection of it.
When Annabella comes before him wringing her hands and weeping in her abject penitence, the Friar draws for her a picture of hell in conventional terms:
there is a place
(List daughter) in a blacke and hollow Vault,
Where day is neuer seene; there shines no Sunne,
But flaming horrour of consuming Fires;
A lightlesse Suphure, chokt with smoaky foggs
Of an infected darknesse; in this place
Dwell many thousand, thousand sundry sorts
Of neuer dying deaths; there damned soules
Roare without pitty; there are Gluttons fedd
With Toades and Addars; there is burning Oyle
Powr'd downe the Drunkards throate, the Vsurer
Is forc't to supp whole draughts of molten Gold;
There is the Murtherer for-euer stab'd,
Yet can he neuer dye; there lies the wanton
On Racks of burning Steele, whiles in his soule
He feeles the torment of his raging lust.
Annabella in her terror calls "Mercy, oh mercy" (1422), and when she asks, "Is there no way left to redeeme my miseries?" (1432), the Friar offers the best his religion can afford:
There is, despaire not; Heauen is mercifull,
And offers grace euen now; 'tis thus agreed,
First, for your Honours safety that you marry
The Lord Soranzo, next, to saue your soule,
Leaue off this life, and henceforth liue to him.
To earn the grace of heaven she must cheat Soranzo; to save her honor she must commit the greatest crime against Soranzo's honor of which society could conceive. The Friar's counsel is, as Giovanni had suggested, that she heap sin upon sin, and we know that when she follows it her tragedy will only be hastened and intensified. The Friar's religion only offers moral equivocation whose shal-lowness is immediately apparent. Giovanni scorns religion while Annabella seeks it; to him it can afford only an intellectual impasse, to her an ethical one.
Ford takes special pains to depict the society which condemns the incestuous lovers, with its code of honor and its standards of nobility, as sordid and self-destructive. "I am a Romane, and a Gentleman, one that haue got / Mine honour with expense of blood" (159-160), cries Grimaldi when first he appears upon the scene. "You are a lying Coward, and a foole" (161), replies Vasques as he beats him down, and in this is Ford's commentary upon the social values for which Grimaldi stands. He is never mentioned without some reference to his high connections and his noble blood, but his nobility can only express itself in the sordid plot of Richardetto, and his sole accomplishment is to stab a pathetic fool. Yet Grimaldi's is the kind of honor which the world respects and which merits the special protection of Cardinal and Pope.
The shallowness of worldly honor and of the moral sanctions of marriage is made even more clear in the meeting between Soranzo and Hippolita. He has seduced her with promises of marriage and has been instrumental in the supposed death of her husband, but now he rejects her claims upon him with a moral sophistry blatant in its hypocrisy:
The vowes I made, (if you remember well)
Were wicked and vnlawfull, 'twere more sinne
To keepe them, then to breake them; as for mee
I cannot maske my penitence, thinke thou
How much thou hast digrest from honest shame,
In bringing of a gentleman to death
Who was thy husband.
Even Vasques is moved to comment, "This part has been scuruily playd" (719), but Soranzo's moral position is that of the very world which condemns Giovanni and Annabella, for Soranzo's past relation to Hippolita is no secret, and he is accepted by all as the image of nobility and honor most fit to be Annabella's husband.
The tragedy which falls upon Soranzo is a product of the very moral code for which he stands, for as Annabella tells him, "'twas not for loue / I chose you, but honour" (179-92). The fruits of the very honor which moved her to betray him are made evident as Soranzo drags his wife by the hair across the stage, crying in his torment only for vengeance. His kind of love, with all of the sanctions of honor, religion, and social custom, can only express itself in the tormented fury of the cuckold. We see the evil of Giovanni's violation of moral law, but we see also the evil implicit in Soranzo's conformity to it.
In the harmonious cosmological order so dear to the Elizabethans, carried over from the middle ages and codified in Hooker's Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the true servant had an honored place. In his loyalty to his master he reflected his master's loyalty to his king and his king's loyalty to God. A chain of trust and obedience extended from highest to lowest, cemented by the love of God for man which was reflected in the king's concern for the welfare of his people and the master's care of his servant, who repaid him with true service, loyalty and devotion. Upon this system Ford's Vasques is an ironic commentary. Of his absolute loyalty to Soranzo there is never any question, but this very loyalty is a destructive force in the social order. It fosters the plot of Hippolita and her consequent death, as it is to destroy Giovanni and Annabella and even Soranzo himself. This carnage is the fruit of his loyalty, for as Vasques proudly proclaims: "I haue paid the Duty to the Sonne, which I haue vowed to the Father" (2551-52). There is no place for remorse in the value system he represents: "what I haue done was duty, and I repent nothing, but that the losse of my life had not ransom'd his" (2559-60).
The very loyalty of Vasques is a sordid commentary upon a social order and a moral system dear to the Elizabethans, but which Ford could not accept in the same un-questioning spirit. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore is a product of Caroline skepticism. It opposes to accepted standards of religion and morality the crime of incest, not because Ford approves of this, but because it is the most shocking challenge to traditional values of which he can conceive. It is a dramatic symbol of the moral uncertainty which is the theme of the play. But Ford is saying that this moral un-certainty which is the fate of thinking man may also be the source of his destruction. Man has no alternative but to accept, difficult as such acceptance may be. The way of Giovanni is evil, but that of Soranzo is not good. Man cannot fully embrace the one position or the other, and in this dilemma is the essence of his tragedy.
Giovanni when he first encounters Annabella in the play is a "blessed shape / Of some caelestiall Creature" (27-78), and Annabella is the paragon of female beauty, the perfection of their bodies reflecting that of their souls. Ford uses all of his poetic powers to display them as superior in mind and body to the sordid world which must condemn and destroy them. By their very magnificence their tragedy is heightened; the Friar laments that "one so excellent should giue those parts / All to a second Death" (965-966). As they defy the moral order which they cannot bring themselves to accept, they both disintegrate and become hardened in vice. They have often been compared to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The crucial difference is that while Shakespeare's young lovers grow to maturity through pain and suffering, Ford's lovers decline from an initial magnificence to the sordid desecration of life implicit in Giovanni's entrance with the bleeding heart upon his sword. But Ford's lovers merit no less of pity and admiration than Shakespeare's, for their tragedy is an heroic opposition of their own humanity to a sordid moral order which they cannot accept. The price of such opposition must be sin and death, but such self destruction is not without its heroic quality.
That Giovanni's love for his sister is an assertion of primitive nature in opposition to human and divine law is made clear at the beginning:
Shall a peeuish sound,
A customary forme, from man to man,
Of brother and of sister, be a barre
Twixt my perpetuali happinesse and mee?
Say that we had one father, say one wombe,
(Curse to my ioyes) gaue both vs life, and birth;
Are wee not therefore each to other bound
So much the more by Nature; by the links
Of blood, of reason; Nay if you will hau't,
Euen of Religion, to be euer one,
One soule, one flesh, one loue, one heart, one All?
Religion, he is arguing, must have no validity where it runs counter to the claims of nature. He is led, as the Friar exclaims, "By Natures light (as were Philosophers / Of elder times)" (936-937).
But the irony is that human reason guided only by the light of nature can lead only to self-deception and error. This is evident in the smug sense of victory with which Giovanni in the final act congratulates himself upon his triumph over worldly morality:
Busie opinion is an idle Foole
That as a School-rod keepes a child in awe,
Frights the vnexperienc't temper of the mind:
So did it mee; who ere My precious Sister
Was married, thought all tast of loue would dye
In such a Contract; but I finde no change
Of pleasure in this formali law of sports.
Shee is still one to mee, and euery kisse
As sweet, and as delicious as the first
I reap't; when yet the priuiledge of youth
Intitled her a Virgine; O the glory
Of two vnited hearts like hers and mine!
Let Poaring booke-men dreame of other worlds,
My world, and all of happiness is here,
And I'de not change it for the best to come,
A life of pleasure is Elyzeum.
This is the height of his delusion, rudely to be shattered by the Friar who enters with the news that his incest has been discovered. He has not, after all, been master of the world, but entirely subject to it. His felicity has rested upon a crude deception and subterfuge, subject to destruction by the weak foolishness of a Putana and the perverted loyalty of a Vasques. It can only issue now in his degeneration into beast as he murders Annabella, the madness of the act punctuated by her dying words: "Brother vn-kind, vnkind—mercy great Heauen" (2410).
Living by the light of nature alone, Giovanni has become the destroyer of life and of all human value. Of this the heart upon his sword is symbol:
Be not amaz'd; if your misgiuing hearts
Shrinke at an idle sight; what bloodlesse Feare
Of Coward passion would haue ceaz'd your sences,
Had you beheld the Rape of Life and Beauty
Which I haue acted?
He boasts of this final desecration, while he tells the audience in the imagery of his lines that it has been a perversion of nature: "The Glory of my Deed / Darkned the mid-day Sunne, made Noone as Night" (2450-51). He who would live by nature comes at last to be the destroyer of nature, as he has destroyed his family, "guilt in the blood / Of a Fayre sister and a Haplesse Father" (2504-05). As he courts his own destruction, he acknowledges in dying the feebleness of the human condition: "Feeble armes / Haue you so soone lost strength" (2521-22).
Ford sees mankind as poised, like a morality play hero, between divine law and a nature which seems in opposition to it; but unlike the morality hero he is incapable of choice. If human reason will not allow him easily to accept divine law and if the moral order is full of a manifest corruption, it is equally true that to live by nature's light as Giovanni does is to become the destroyer of life. Upon this dilemma rests the moral vision of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and it gives meaning to the title. Annabella is a whore, but her very human attributes have led her to be one, and in our pity for her we lament the moral dilemma implicit in the human condition. "The Grauity of the Subject may easily excuse the leightnesse of the Title: otherwise, I had been a seuere Iudge against mine owne guilt," Ford wrote in his dedicatory Epistle to the Earl of Peterborough, with an obvious pun upon lightness. The title is more meaningful and more appropriate to the gravity of the subject than one might immediately suppose.
In man's inability to escape moral uncertainty lies his tragedy. If he would live in the world he has no alternative but conformity. If Ford offers any answer to the problem he poses it may be in Richardetto's speech to Philotis:
My counsell is, that you should free your yeeres
From hazard of these woes; by flying hence
To faire Cremona, there to vow your soule
To holinesse a holy Votaresse,
Leaue me to see the end of these extreames
All humane worldly courses are vneuen,
No life is blessed but the way to Heauen.
Man may escape from the world and place his hope in a more perfect heaven. If he would live in the world he has no alternative but a blind acceptance of the moral order which runs counter to his highest human attribute, his searching, rational spirit. This is a tragic view of life, and it is not an immoral one.
Mark Stavig (essay date 1968)
SOURCE: "'Tis Pity She's a Whore," in John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order, University of Wisconsin Press, 1968, pp. 95-121.
[In the essay below, Stavig contends that Ford wrote 'Tis Pity She's a Whore as a burlesque of the traditional morality play, intentionally adding absurd melodramatic and satiric elements to the play in an effort to minimize his audience's reaction to the theme of incest and the closing spectacle of violence.]
After hearing a brief summary of the plot, a Caroline playgoer might expect Tis Pity She's a Whore to be a sensational melodrama with Giovanni portrayed as an all-black villain who outrageously violates all standards of decency. As an atheist, an incestuous lover, a revenger, and a murderer, Giovanni has many of the characteristics of a stage villain; but Ford chooses to develop him in a quite different way. Instead of stressing the villainy, Ford portrays Giovanni as a talented, virtuous, and noble man who is overcome by a tumultuous passion that brings about his destruction. Most modern readers, steeped in the literature of romantic love, are so impressed by the noble side of Giovanni that they respond to the play as the tragic story of two courageous lovers trapped by a transcendent passion that an inflexible society cannot hope to comprehend. According to this view, Giovanni and Annabella are victims of a situation that is largely beyond their control. When the play is read historically, this interpretation of the lovers must be seen as inadequate. If one tries to interpret the play as celebrating a Giovanni who remains throughout his troubles more noble, more courageous, and more sensitive than those in the corrupt society around him, he is forced to qualify that judgment until it has little meaning. From a traditional point of view an incestuous love would by its very nature deteriorate and end in destruction. When we see Giovanni steadily becoming more blasphemous, jealous, irrational, and vengeful, we must recognize that the traditional formula for tragedy is operating. Scholars, however, after admitting or implying that some reservations about the love may be necessary, still maintain that Giovanni's glorification of passionate love and his heroic stance in accepting his destruction make him a worthy figure, even in degradation. No doubt there is some truth in this view in that Giovanni retains his courage, his pride, and his eloquence; but my analysis of Ford's presentation of Giovanni's arguments for love and fatalism suggests to me that there is more satiric undercutting of Giovanni's position than has been realized.
According to my classification of types of character … , Giovanni is a combination of the passionate sinner and the rationalizing fool. In so far as he is ruined by his inability to control his unruly passions, we can pity him, since all men after the Fall are susceptible to beauty, quick to justify their actions, and insufficiently rational in overcoming their weaknesses. In so far as he justifies himself through twisted logic and pseudo-heroic posturing, he transforms himself into a grotesque and almost ludicrous figure who elicits our shock and at times amusement at his arguments. The exact nature of the fusion of the two types would depend in part on the way Giovanni is presented; also some in the audience would no doubt be more inclined to pity him and others to scorn him. But Giovanni never becomes a noble victim. The structure and tone of the play make clear that the pressures on him are the usual temptations of a world corrupted by the Fall and that Giovanni's moral collapse is an example of how passion can corrupt and degrade even the worthiest individual. Annabella falls too, but, in contrast to Giovanni, repents and becomes at the end of the play an example of the noble victim; unfortunately she has learned too late what proper values are and must die as a consequence of the tragic events initiated by the earlier sin.
While this traditional moral framework operates in 'Tis Pity, it would be wrong to put all of the stress there. Giovanni is a sinning and foolish everyman who must be evaluated by traditional Christian humanist assumptions, but he is also a vehicle for sophisticated, satiric comment on issues of the day. In his arguments in defense of love and fatalism, Giovanni twists various contemporary theories of love, ethics, and psychology. A Caroline audience aware of the topicality of his arguments could be expected to see that satirizing Giovanni also means satirizing the perverted arguments that he uses. In achieving such a response to Giovanni, Ford is aided by the air of melodramatic unreality that pervades the play. Giovanni is no ordinary sinner. In making him an incestuous lover, a blasphemous atheist, and a sensational murderer, Ford makes his problems so extreme that an audience would inevitably feel less emotionally involved. Ford's intention seems to have been to write an exciting entertainment that would add melodramatic and satiric elements to his basically morality-play structure. The result is a witty, ironic, often cynical appraisal of man's capacity for evil and for absurdity, all made delightfully, at times scandalously, sensational by the very outrageousness of the deeds. If we are to appreciate 'Tis Pity, we must take it on its own terms and avoid the temptation to fit it into any preconceived notion of what a play on this subject should be.
The brilliant opening scene in which Giovanni boldly but illogically defends atheism and incest to the shocked but understanding Friar Bonaventura does much to shape our reaction to Giovanni's love. Scholars who view the friar as a muddled, narrow-minded moralist should notice that Ford carefully associates him with the virtues of Giovanni's former life. It is the friar who as Giovanni's tutor over a long period shaped him into "that miracle of Wit, / Who once within these three Moneths wert esteem'd / A wonder of thine age, throughout Bononia" (B1v;I, i). It is the friar to whom Giovanni naturally turns in his trouble, and the references to him as "Gentle Father" (B1; I, i) and "deare Confessor" (B1v; I, i) seem to indicate that he does so with great respect. Giovanni, far from regarding his advice as narrowly dogmatic, twice refers to his counsel as life-giving; he also notes the "pitty and compassion" (B1v; I, i) in the friar's eyes. But the friar, despite his sympathy for Giovanni's plight, is completely opposed to Giovanni's clever but perverted arguments. He insists that the course Giovanni is following can only lead to death and destruction: "hast thou left the Schooles / Of Knowledge, to converse with Lust and Death?" (B1v; I, i). His life-giving counsel is that Giovanni's only hope is to "Begge Heaven to cleanse the leprosie of Lust / That rots thy Soule" (B2; I, i). In his simple refutation of Giovanni's involved arguments the friar states that Giovanni is forgetting or ignoring that in the Christian scheme the order of nature and the order of grace are fused. Certainly man should reason (and we should remember that it was the friar who taught Giovanni his philosophy), but man's reason, according to the friar, is misguided unless it is directed by God. If you depend upon reason alone, you are apt to fall into perversions of right reason:
wits that presum'd
On wit too much, by striving how to prove
There was no God; with foolish grounds of Art,
Discover'd first the neerest way to Hell.
(B1; I, i)
The friar, by implication here and explicitly later (E1; II, v), goes so far as to admit that incest could be defended according to the natural law, but he is emphatic in stressing that that proves only that the opposition to incest is based on the divine law.
Ford's contemporaries, aware of the Platonic fashions of the time, would recognize Giovanni and the friar as studies of Platonists of different types. They would understand the logic of the friar's suspicion that it is Giovanni's perverted love that has twisted his reasoning on religion as well. Instead of worshiping God, he has substituted an earthly "Idoli" (B2; I, i), his sister. Giovanni has learned his lessons on Platonic love imperfectly; instead of proceeding from the admiration of earthly beauty to the worship of God, Giovanni inverts this natural order and even suggests that the gods would bow down to Annabella if they had the chance:
Must I not praise
That beauty, which if fram'd a new, the gods
Would make a god of, if they had it there;
And kneele to it, as I doe kneele to them?
(Bl; I, i)
Although the friar does not go into a long explanation, his attitude is clear. Proper love is always beneficial, but Giovanni's passion can never find fruition in marriage and will lead him inevitably into mortal sin.
The friar remains sympathetic to Giovanni's plight because he recognizes that Giovanni is suffering from what Burton calls love-melancholy and that Giovanni's illogical rationalizations are indications of a mind twisted by passion. The indications of passion are unmistakable. When Annabella first sees Giovanni cross the stage her description of him stresses his unhealthy appearance:
This is some woefull thinge
Wrapt up in griefe, some shaddow of a man.
Alas hee beats his brest, and wipes his eyes
Drown'd all in teares: me thinkes I heare him sigh.
(B4; I, ii)
Giovanni's later description of his love reveals the symptoms of heroical love:
I have too long supprest the hidden flames
That almost have consum'd me: I have spent
Many a silent night in sighes and groanes.
(C1v; I, iii)
The friar has been criticized for his practical approach to solving Giovanni's problem, but his dual remedy of prayer and practical cure is exactly what is recommended by Burton to cure love-melancholy. The friar tells Giovanni to pray but that if prayer is unsuccessful "I'le thinke on remedy" (B2; I, i). Burton says: "we must first begin with prayer, and then use physick; not one without the other, but both together" (AM [Anatomy of melancholy], II, 9; 2, 1, 2). The friar's advice throughout the play is invariably that of a wise Burtonian spiritual counselor who realizes that Giovanni's love is a passion that is corrupting him morally and physically and that demands immediate cure if disaster is to be avoided. One possible criticism of the friar in this first scene is that his advice to Giovanni to satisfy his passion with another woman is immoral. But the friar does not defend such a course as right: "Leave her, and take thy choyce, 'tis much lesse sinne, / Though in such games as those, they lose that winne" (B2; I, i). His point is the practical one that it is far better to put down his concupiscence with any woman of the streets than to involve his whole being in a serious affair that is justifiable only through open revolt against God's moral law. The difference is the same as that in the Catholic distinction between venial and mortal sin, and the charge that the friar is being legalistic overlooks an important Renaissance theological distinction. Another charge is that the friar advocates a kind of divine magic in prescribing Giovanni's regimen of prayer. But what the friar suggests is a program of disciplined meditation that follows a general pattern widely accepted in the Renaissance.
Even though Giovanni's love might be described as a kind of disease, a Caroline audience would have been suspicious of his fatalistic defenses of his actions since a common view of the time was that prayer and planning can effect cures even in the most difficult cases. As Burton says: "It may be hard to cure, but not impossible, for him that is most grievously affected, if he be but willing to be helped" (AM, II, 5; 2, 1, 1, 1). But Giovanni glorifies his condition instead of trying to overcome it. His fatalistic speech at the end of the first scene is not a legitimate defense but an abdication of his moral responsibility:
All this I'le doe, to free mee from the rod
Of vengeance, else I'le sweare, my Fate's my God.
(B2; I, i)
He has told the friar that he realizes the need for moral striving, but he appears to have given up hope; he is going to pray only to satisfy God that he has tried but is incapable of conquering his desire. This rationalizing fatalism is to be Giovanni's excuse throughout the play. Some have argued that the fatalistic arguments of Giovanni and of various other characters in the tragedies are an indication of Ford's sympathy for the stoical argument that adversity is the common lot of man and that man can do nothing but accept and endure whatever befalls him. Ford in The Golden Mean states in direct opposition that man should endure if he is guiltless but repent and reform if he is guilty. Burton, as we have seen, also opposes Giovanni's view. More important, in the play itself, Giovanni's fatalism is presented in a way that stresses his lack of logic and his submission to passion.
A good example is his soliloquy just before he reveals his love to Annabella. When the speech is studied carefully the contradictions become apparent. He has attempted to repent, but his description suggests that reason and sincere sorrow for sin were perhaps less apparent during the period of prayer and fasting than his passionate assurance that his case was hopeless and that fate controlled his destiny. He still wants to make love his God:
O that it were not in Religion sinne,
To make our love a God, and worship it.
(B4-B4V; I, iii)
Giovanni is aware of his sin and seems to realize that the inevitable result will be his destruction; but instead of continuing to struggle he capitulates. Recognizing that he must choose between God and Annabella, he argues illogically that since God has not cured him Christianity has no validity; hence he is free to love Annabella and blame fate for what he seems to realize will be a tragic end: "tis not I know, / My lust; but tis my fate that leads me on" (B4V; I, iii). Atheism and the belief that man cannot control his actions go together in Giovanni, and we see that his atheism and his fatalism are the result, not of a dispassionate search after truth, but of passionate lust which has over-come his reason. Giovanni is a sick, confused, and irrational sinner rather than a rational rebel.
In these first scenes Ford seems to be striving to get the full shock effect of Giovanni's outspoken but troubled immorality. In the courtship scene with Annabella, we see a new Giovanni—a courtly lover who has cast aside all his uncertainty and has determined to act courageously even if it leads to the destruction he expects. Now the troubled melancholic appears as the exultant lover, and the Platonic theories, stated in the first interview with the friar, are translated into the glowing full-blown language of romantic courtship. Giovanni is not to be an ordinary melancholic lover. In this scene we see that Ford is going to combine his Burtonian analysis with a treatment of the same Platonic themes found in the Cavalier drama. Although there is a connection between melancholy and Platonism in that the victim of love-melancholy is apt to launch into effusive praise of his loved one, Ford in this scene seems more interested in the contemporary fashion of Platonic love than in illustrating Burtonian theories. Professor Sensabaugh in his book on Ford [The Tragic Muse of John Ford] is right in showing that Giovanni's case must be seen in light of the current furor over Platonic love, but … he is wrong in his conclusion that arguments like Giovanni's would be approved by the love cult. At one time or another during the play, Giovanni does base his arguments on all of the theorems that Sensabaugh describes as the coterie's system of love: "Fate rules all lovers. … Beauty and goodness are one and the same. … Beautiful women are saints to be worshiped. … True love is of equal hearts and divine. … Love is all-important and all-powerful. … True love is more important than marriage. … True love is the sole guide to virtue. … True love allows any liberty of action and thought. " But the audience would be apt to criticize such positions just as they probably did the arguments of the perverted Platonists. … As the friar and presumably the audience realize, Giovanni is simply not a good Platonist. In his theories of love he has forgotten the most important point—that love must be rational and moral.
The atmosphere of the proposal scene is shrewdly designed to reveal the absurd quality of Giovanni's courtship. Using a series of formulistic images and phrases, Giovanni eulogistically praises Annabella's beauty. At the start he seems to be only half serious; but, although he instinctively falls back upon an ironic tone when speaking in this exaggerated way, he is unable to direct this sense of the ridiculous to the arguments themselves. Baffled by his uneasy self-consciousness, Annabella is unsure as to whether he is joking. If we are to judge by her reaction to Soranzo's similar courtship later, she is not used to taking such extravagance seriously, and it is probably even more surprising to her to have these praises come from her virtuous brother, Giovanni. This is not the way a brother should talk to his sister. But is soon becomes apparent that Giovanni is serious, and Annabella's own passionate love for Giovanni prompts her to respond in the same way. The result is an extended celebration of their mutual love that culminates in the pseudoreligious ritual of their exchange of vows at the end of the scene. In their worship of each other and of their love both have forgotten the basis of moral order. Earlier in the scene Giovanni went so far as to lie in claiming that the friar has approved their love:
I have askt Counsell of the holy Church,
Who tells mee I may love you, and 'tis just,
That since I may, I should; and will, yes will.
(CIV; I, iii)
At the end of the scene the ultimately physical basis of their love is stressed by their passionate kiss and their nottoo-subtle declaration that they are off to an incestuous bed.
One device Ford uses to accentuate the perversion of their love is to have the amoral Putana comment on what is happening. When Giovanni in the proposal scene asks Putana to leave, the idea of an affair between them is unthinkable even to her depraved mind: "If this were any other Company for her, I should thinke my absence an office of some credit" (B4V; I, iii). In their next appearance at the beginning of Act II, Giovanni and Annabella are the honeymooners fresh from bed, jesting bawdily about their love and feeling no guilt. To accentuate the perversion that the lovers are forgetting Ford brings in Putana to comment crudely on the inconsequence of kinship when love is involved: "and I say still, if a young Wench feele the fitt upon her, let her take any body, Father or Brother, all is one" (C4; II, i).
In his next scene with the friar, Giovanni seems to be flaunting his immorality. It can be argued that his irrational logic is the product of his disordered mind, but he is too flippant in his manner and too deliberately outrageous in his arguments to justify the claim that he expects his arguments to be taken seriously. Rather his passion has made him so reckless that philosophy itself seems like so much useless casuistry that may be true but is inconsequential when compared with the overpowering transcendence of his love. The arguments he does use are filled with twisted Platonic jargon:
It is a principali (which you have taught
When I was yet your Scholler) that the F[r]ame
And Composition of the Minde doth follow
The Frame and Composition of [the] Body:
So where the Bodies furniture is Beauty,
The Mindes must needs be Vertue: which allowed,
Vertue it selfe is Reason but refin'd,
And Love the Quintesence of that, this proves
My Sisters Beauty being rarely Faire,
Is rarely Vertuous; chiefely in her love,
And chiefely in that Love, her love to me.
If hers to me, then so is mine to her; Since in like Causes are effects alike.
(D4v-EI; II, v)
Giovanni's reasoning in this speech is a good example of the perversion of sound doctrine that Ford parodied in Honor Triumphant. The third position of Honor Triumphant is that "Faire Ladie was never false, " and it opens with the same argument that Giovanni cites: "The temperature of the mind follows the temperature of the bodie. Which certaine axiome (sayes that sage Prince of Philosophers Aristotle) is ever more infallible" (HT [Honor Triumphant], DIV). Ford shows ironically that this position is absurd. Giovanni's sophistical argument, like the logic of Honor Triumphant, is patently false, and we must agree with the friar when he describes Giovanni's reasoning as "O ignorance in knowledge" (EI; II, v).
Nevertheless we should beware of putting their love in an oversimplified context. At this point in the play Giovanni and Annabella themselves still regard their love as some-thing pure and lovely and believe that they can make it lasting and ennobling. Any audience would have to grant that Annabella's virtues make her worthy of idealization, if not of worship, and that Giovanni is attracted not only by physical longing but also by admiration of these real virtues. If there were no moral barrier one could imagine a happy and lasting marriage, and Giovanni and Annabella are indeed unfortunate to love where the natural fruition of marriage is impossible. But without that fruition corruption is inevitable, as they would have realized if they could have been more rational. One of the major interests of the play is in showing the progressive degeneration of Annabella and Giovanni as they become more and more inextricably trapped by events initiated by their passionate love. We have already seen that Giovanni's love for Annabella has led him to atheism, blasphemy, incest, fatalism, deceit, and a complete abrogation of his former power of reason. As the drama proceeds these faults are intensified and others—jealousy, adultery, and finally murder—are added. Giovanni, the paragon of reason, is turned into a foolish madman by his love. Annabella re-covers her moral sense before the play's end, but she too is for a time consumed by passion. When she first appears, she is on the balcony observing with apparent detachment and superiority the chaos of the scene following the duel between Grimaldi and Vasques. But when Giovanni crosses the stage she breaks into lyric praise of his noble qualities, and we are made to see that her silence has been a reflection, not of her detachment from the immoral world about her, but of her preoccupation with her love for her brother. When she goes down to meet Giovanni, her literal descent may be taken as a visual image of the moral descent that is to follow. …
Although the corruption in the society around them makes the attraction of Giovanni and Annabella to each other more understandable, it must be emphasized that they are not absolved from blame simply because their situation was difficult. The initial contrast of their nobility with the degradation around them does not lead to a defense of their immoral relationship as something purer and more ideal. Rather it reveals their weakness in betraying their earlier values and descending to the level of the society around them. Ford skillfully depicts the deterioration that results from their abandonment of reason and virtue. As the play progresses, we see that a steady decline in the spiritual quality of their relationship accompanies their continuing revolt against the moral order.
The deterioration of Giovanni's love is perhaps best indicated by his compulsive jealousy. Instead of trusting the person with whom he has established this supposedly idealized spiritual relationship Giovanni repeatedly suspects that she will desert him for another lover. In the first scene after the consummation of their love he first brings up the subject of her marriage, and it is clear that he is unalterably opposed. At this point his concern seems quite natural but it soon develops into an obsession. Before Annabella's conference with Soranzo he warns her: "Sister be not all woeman, thinke on me" (E4; III, ii). This cynical comment on woman's fidelity does not sound at all like his earlier praise, but we should remember that Burton has a long section in The Anatomy of Melancholy which stresses that jealousy frequently accompanies heroical love (AM, III, 295-357; 3, 3). It is likely that Ford included Giovanni's jealousy as an indication of the steady decline of his moral character. Even after Annabella becomes pregnant and desperate measures are necessary. Giovanni is violently opposed to any marriage not only because he does not want to degrade their relationship by sharing her with another man, but also because he does not trust Annabella's love for him. The physical relation-ship has become such an important part of their love that he fears that another man might easily replace him in her favor. Thus when Annabella repents in the last act, Giovanni's first response is to suspect her motive:
What chang'd so soone? hath your new sprightly
Found out a tricke in night-games more then wee
Could know in our simplicity?
(14; V, v)
Giovanni's jealousy and his preoccupation with the physical are connected, and both indicate that he is a victim of heroical love.
Friar Bonaventura has received unjustified criticism for his part in persuading Annabella to marry Soranzo. Throughout the play the friar does everything in his power to stop the incestuous relationship, and his support of the marriage should be seen as another practical attempt to stop the affair. Certainly the friar does not counsel a marriage simply to preserve appearances; his continued demands for repentance prove that he sees Annabella's marriage as a means of ending rather than hiding the af-fair. Nor is the friar to be blamed for supporting a marriage that is almost certain to end in disaster because of Annabella's pregnancy. For he knows nothing or at least appears to know nothing of the pregnancy. If, as the friar assumes, Annabella is truly repentant and is ready to end her affair with Giovanni, there is no reason why the marriage to Soranzo will not work. Admittedly there is no evidence of love for Soranzo in Annabella, but a common Renaissance view was that love came as a result of marriage. From the audience's point of view Soranzo will hardly make an ideal husband, but it should be noted that neither the friar nor Annabella has much choice as to the groom. Earlier Florio had talked about letting Annabella choose her own husband, but at this point Florio has decided that the marriage will go through, and Annabella would have to rebel openly to prevent it. There is no indication of the friar's attitude toward Soranzo, but presumably he would support any plausible marriage that would stop the affair.
Another charge made against the friar is that his lecture on hell is an "exercise in terror" that Ford does not approve [Robert Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy]. But the passage is apparently lifted directly from the passage on hell in Christ's Bloody Sweat, since the correspondence of details is very close. If Ford's author-ship of Christ's Bloody Sweat is accepted, the debt suggests Ford's approval of the friar's stand since it is unlikely, though admittedly possible, that an author would lift a passage from his earlier work that he no longer approved. More important is that the speech is a standard exposition of the Christian view of hell and is designed to encourage Annabella's repentance. Only after Annabella has convinced him that she is truly penitent does the friar come forward with his practical suggestions as to what can be done:
'tis thus agreed,
First, for your Honours safety that you marry
The Lord Soranzo, next, to save your soule,
Leave off this life, and henceforth live to him.
(F4; III, vi)
The progression is chronological and does not imply that the friar is less concerned about her soul than about getting her married. His repeated insistence on her repentance refutes such a view. As for the reference to "your Honours safety," the friar probably does not mean "for the safety of your reputation" but rather "for the safety of your true honor—that is, your moral integrity and virtue." As the friar has maintained throughout the play, the safest and surest way for Annabella to forget Giovanni and insure her virtue and honor is to marry someone else and and then stay true to him. We must distinguish between the friar's sense of honor and the concern for worldly honor that motivates Annabella when she later tells Soranzo "'twas not for love / I chose you, but for honour" (H1; IV, iii).
The question of whether Annabella's repentance in this scene is sincere is troublesome but is not crucial to the play's interpretation. The best answer seems to be that she is so deeply disturbed that she lets circumstances control her responses, but it may be that she feigns repentance so that the friar will consent to the marriage. An actual stage production could easily clarify the nature of her attitude. Certainly she is unfair to Soranzo to marry him without revealing that she is pregnant. Also it is clear that even if she does feel some penitence in this scene she quickly resumes the affair with her brother. Giovanni himself describes loving her after the marriage (I2; V, iii). Also Putana apparently does not think she is sincerely penitent for she tells Vasques that Giovanni "will not be long from her" (H4; IV, iii).
Nor does Annabella seem very repentant in the scene in which Soranzo discovers her pregnancy. There her rebellious behavior parallels Giovanni's in insolence and moral confusion. Soranzo justifiably demands some explanations, but Annabella argues only that she is faultless since fate is beyond her control: "Beastly man, why 'tis thy fate: / I sued not to thee" (H1; IV, iii). Even though her defiance may be calculated to get Soranzo to kill her, it should be apparent that she believes what she says. If you cannot justify an action, do it anyway and blame fate: that would seem to be Giovanni and Annabella's moral code. Her fault is the same as his; she has elevated her lover to a position of dominance and worships him:
This Noble Creature was in every part
So angell-like, so glorious, that a woeman,
Who had not beene but human as was I,
Would have kneel'd to him, and have beg'd for
You, why you are not worthy once to name
His name without true worship, or indeede,
Unlesse you kneel'd, to heare another name him.
(H1; IV, iii)
They both treat other human beings as means of achieving their lustful ends. Thus she can tell Soranzo to feel happy that he has had a part in such an affair:
Let it suffice, that you shall have the glory,
To Father what so Brave a Father got.
(H1v; IV, iii)
She can meet his threats of death with blasphemous exclamations:
Che morte [piu] dolce che morire per amore?
(H1v; IV, iii)
In Christian terms death for love of the celestial Venus would be sweet, but Annabella would be dying for love of the earthly Venus. Her inversion is blasphemous, as is her next phrase:
Morendo in gratia [dee] morire senza dolore.
(H1v; IV, iii)
Her grace is not the grace of God but the grace of Giovanni.
The atmosphere of approaching tragedy is clearly mirrored earlier in the scene describing Annabella's wedding feast, for none of the characters closely involved approaches the celebration in the right spirit. The scene opens with the friar commenting on the ritual significance of the feast as a celebration of the joy and plenitude of marriage; he suggests that the saints of the church are there in spirit and urges that the feast may be an emblem of their future happiness. Unfortunately this proper wedding spirit is perverted at every turn. Soranzo is still preoccupied with his recent escape from murder and self-righteously pro-claims that God has protected him and rewarded him with Annabella. Donado is reluctant to drink because of his grief for his dead nephew, Bergetto. The brother-lover, Giovanni, rudely refuses to drink the ceremonial toast. Even the wedding masque, ostensibly performed by lovely virgins honoring the marriage, is in reality Hippolyta's device for exposing and murdering her former lover. In-stead of toasting their happiness, she reminds everyone of Soranzo's affair with her; then after realizing that she herself has been poisoned with the wine intended for Soranzo, she curses the marriage in terms that are particularly ominous since the audience knows of Annabella's incestuous pregnancy:
Take here my curse amongst you; may thy bed
Of marriage be a racke unto thy heart,
… maist thou live
To father Bastards, may her wombe bring forth
Monsters, and dye together in your sinnes
Hated, scorn'd and unpittied.
(G4; IV, i)
Although the appearance of order is reestablished at the end of the scene, we must agree with the friar who closes the scene with a choral comment on the bad omen of a bloody marriage feast and a warning to Giovanni to "take heed" (G4; IV, i). Unfortunately Giovanni does not take heed, and the second banquet, a birthday feast, supposedly a celebration of life, also becomes a feast of death. After Hippolyta's death Richardetto comments: "Here's the end / Of lust and pride" (G4; IV, i). After the second banquet, he makes a similar comment; he has disguised himself "To see the effect of Pride and Lust at once / Brought both to shamefull ends" (K4; V, vi). Richardetto, perceiving what Soranzo and Giovanni do not, that tragedy results from revenge, determines to change his life and give up his revenge: "there is one / Above begins to worke" (G4; IV, ii). The implication that he would still act if God does not makes it questionable whether Ford regards the reformed Richardetto as a norm; but certainly his decision to quit seeking revenge and his evaluations of the deaths of the four principal characters are sound. Lust was the initial cause of the tragedies, and pride, expressed in a compelling desire to assert greatness of spirit, is a strong motivating force behind the revenges of Hippolyta, Soranzo, and Giovanni. The moral attitude suggested by the handling of the revenges in the play is important for establishing the moral context of the ending. As Fredson Bowers has shown in his study of revenge tragedy, Ford, like most of the dramatists of the 1620's, disapproves of revenge and treats it as "a cruel, mistaken, or useless motive." All of the revenges in the play end in tragedy. Two misfire completely: Grimaldi and Richardetto's plot to kill Soranzo results in the death of Bergetto, ironically the means by which Richardetto had hoped to get some wealth; Hippolyta's plot to kill Soranzo results in her own death. Also the innocent suffer: in addition to the innocent Bergetto, Florio dies of grief at his children's actions. Nor in the cases in which the revenge is carried out successfully is there justice, unless one judges by the same code of values that prompted the revenges in the first place. The motivation of each of the revenges is the reassertion of one's nobility in the face of an action which has questioned it. But the concern with only the appearances of grandeur and honor is shown to be empty and misguided. The revenger takes justice into his own hands and invari-ably produces tragedy for all concerned. A thinking person of Ford's own time would be more concerned with living a truly honorable life under God's moral law.
Annabella in Act V finally does see the folly of her sinful ways. In a long soliloquy which the friar overhears she reveals what her mistake has been:
My Conscience now stands up against my lust
With dispositions charectred in guilt,
And tells mee I am lost: Now I confesse,
Beauty that cloathes the out-side of the face,
Is cursed if it be not cloath'd with grace.
(H4v; V, i)
Annabella in this complete recantation admits that her former love was lust and that beauty without the grace of God is "cursed. " She also makes clear that she no longer believes in the fatalistic argument that man cannot be blamed for his fate since all is predetermined:
But they who sleepe in Lethargies of Lust
Hugge their confusion, making Heaven unjust,
And so did I.
(II; V, i)
The sincerity of this repentance after the falseness or at least shallowness of her repentance in Act III is certain because she is alone, and the friar discovers her penitence only by overhearing. From this point on all that Annabella does is nobly conceived; because of her repentance she will, as the friar suggests, "dye more blessed" (Ilv; V, i). Incidentally the friar's genuine surprise and happiness at the change in her are further rebukes to those who claim that the friar himself has been somewhat Machiavellian in his methods. Also the repentant Annabella's wholehearted praise of the former advice of "that Blessed Fryar" (I1; V, i) implies that he never deviated from sound morality.
In contrast to Annabella's repentance, Giovanni rises to even greater defiance. Although he maintains the pretense of lofty Platonism, it has become clear that the motivation of his love is primarily physical pleasure and that Anna-bella has become an idolatrous heaven on earth for him:
Let Poaring booke-men dreame of other worlds,
My world, and all of happinesse is here,
And I'de not change it for the best to come,
A life of pleasure is Elyzeum.
(I2; V, iii)
To incest is added adultery, but Giovanni finds "no change / Of pleasure in this formali law of sports" (I2). His attitude to the friar and religion has now become flippant and condescending:
Father, you enter on the Jubile
Of my retyr'd delights; Now I can tell you,
The hell you oft have prompted, is nought else
But slavish and fond superstitious feare;
And I could prove it too—.
(I2; V, iii)
When the friar gives Giovanni the letter from Annabella telling of the discovery of their affair and apparently also imploring him to repent, Giovanni refuses to take the letter seriously and goes so far as to call it a forgery. When in spite of the warning Giovanni accepts an invitation to dinner with Soranzo, the friar realizes that Giovanni's state of mind is desperate and beyond control.
In the final act Soranzo and Giovanni, parallel earlier in their techniques of courtship and their valuation of love, are shown to have similar ideas about revenge and honor as well. The moral code of both is based on worldly rather than spiritual values: both feel that the self is more important than any moral law. Since both of them are more concerned with outward appearances man with inner truth, they react to any trivial assault upon their honor, not with reason and common sense, but with the self-aggrandizing act of revenge.
Soranzo, a more practical and less reflective person than Giovanni, is so hardened in his villainy that he never faces the contradiction between his noble appearance and his corrupt actions and manages to convince himself, with the help of Vasques, that even his most treacherous actions are honorable. Thus the proposed murder of Giovanni and Annabella is seen as a ritual punishment that not only purges corruption but also proves Soranzo's nobility. When Vasques recites the long list of Annabella's misdeeds, Soranzo replies by stressing his resolution and nobility:
I am resolv'd; urge not another word,
My thoughts are great, and all as resolute
(I1; V, ii)
When later Vasques again tells him to be resolute and not to pity Annabella, Soranzo says firmly that "Revenge is all the Ambition I aspire" (I1v; V, ii). Later he tells the banditti: "what you do is noble, and an act of brave revenge" (I3; V, iv), and Vasques tells him "nothing is unready to this Great worke, but a great mind in you" (I3V; V, iv); In planning the banquet Soranzo and Vasques have been attentive to every detail, and we can probably assume that they would have succeeded if Giovanni had not acted first. Soranzo would dramatically reveal the incest and the pregnancy and would pose as a champion of moral order; probably his power-conscious friend, the hypocritical Cardinal, would agree, and if the Cardinal agreed, the rest would follow.
When Giovanni's actions in the last act are compared with Soranzo's it can be seen that he is struggling to accept the moral code of his corrupt society so that he can justify his depraved actions as glorious and courageous. He wants to prove his greatness by a final gesture of heroic nobility, but beneath the eloquent rhetoric is a depraved and troubled sinner now approaching madness. When Annabella tells him of her repentance he jealously suspects that Soranzo has replaced him in her favor and launches into a grand assertion of his ability to overcome fate if only Annabella had been true:
why I hold Fate
Clasp't in my fist, and could Command the Course
Of times eternali motion; hadst thou beene
One thought more steddy then an ebbing Sea.
(14; V, v)
In his irrationality, Giovanni does not notice that this contradicts his previous position that man is helpless in the power of a malevolent universe.
Not surprisingly the passionate Giovanni himself seems unsure of his rebellion. He shifts from rebellion to conventional speeches about life, death, and immortality and even urges Annabella to pray so that she will go to heaven. Underneath his defiance is a deep consciousness of sin. Giovanni is not a study of a man in intellectual revolt against God but of a sinner who desperately tries to justify what even he himself subconsciously knows is wrong. His naive hope that the strength of their love "will wipe away that rigour" (Kl; V, v) of the just condemnation of the laws of morality is both a recognition that a moral law does exist and a repetition of his old fault of elevating their love above that moral law. Ford would probably expect the audience of "after times" to see the mitigating circumstances in their situation, but he has revealed far too much of the weakness in their passion to permit anyone to accept Giovanni's romanticized view of their love.
Our final attitude toward Giovanni should probably be close to that of Annabella in their last interview. She now sees their affair as deadly sin, is unimpressed by his heroic rhetoric, and insists on breaking off their relationship. Nevertheless she is sympathetic to him: she sees him as tormented by "Distraction and a troubled Countenance" (14V; V, v), and she without reservation forgives him, some-what ironically in light of what happens, "With my heart" (K1; V, v). But significantly there is no romanticizing of their love and no thought in her mind of a counterrevenge against Soranzo. She wants to find a way of avoiding the catastrophe that she knows is being planned for them, but she is insistent that the most important factor is their relationship to God. She dies while imploring mercy for both Giovanni and herself.
Irony is heavily operative throughout the murder scene. Giovanni speaks of saving Annabella's fame, but it is difficult to see how killing her can save her reputation, particularly since in the next scene in the banquet hall Giovanni flaunts their immorality. Giovanni also speaks of the honor of his revenge: "Revenge is mine; Honour doth love Command" (K1v; V, v). The revenge can only be on Annabella herself for her defection from him and to a lesser extent on Soranzo for his treatment of Annabella. Such revenge is hardly honorable, and yet Giovanni refers to honor as commanding love. Perhaps he refers to their vows when they first made their pledge of love; each vowed: "Love mee, or kill mee …" (C2; I, iii). Even though the vow itself was sinful and Annabella no longer approves, there is a perverted kind of honor in Giovanni's carrying out the letter of the terms they had agreed on. Giovanni himself seems to see the weakness of his abstractions, for he then tells Annabella that he will explain later:
When thou art dead
I'le give my reasons for't; for to dispute
With thy (even in thy death) most lovely beauty,
Would make mee stagger to perforine this act
Which I most glory in.
(K1v; V, v)
Giovanni's final melodramatic entry into the hall with Annabella's heart on his sword is the ultimate depravity of a man approaching madness. In his deluded concern with dying a glorious death, Giovanni sacrifices all decency. First he breaks the heart of his father and shames the memory of Annabella by revealing his incestuous love; men he is much more impressed by the appropriateness of his father's death than he is with his own guilt in causing it; finally he glories in his "brave revenge" on Soranzo even though what Soranzo has actually done hardly justifies such gloating language. In his final welcome of death Giovanni is concerned only with seeing Annabella again; the romantic grandeur of his death is more important to him than the state of his own soul. If we allow ourselves to be impressed by passionate but vacuous rhetoric we can perhaps see even these final actions as noble, but to do so we must ignore Giovanni's twisted logic, self-conscious role-playing, and lack of con-cern for others. We should pity the lovers since their situation was difficult and since passions are hard to control, but I can find no historical justification for romanticizing their love as something noble and transcendent.
The moral chaos of the last scenes is symbolized by the friar's departure after his final warning to Giovanni. The friar has stood for religion's promise of repentance and regeneration. When he departs after being rejected by Giovanni, all hope of a new life for Giovanni is gone and the tragic ending is inevitable. Evil has assumed control of the society of Parma, and the result must be a bloody conclusion. A criticism made of the friar is that his flight indicates his lack of sincere concern about Giovanni's problem. Such an argument fails to account for the friar's repeated warnings of impending tragedy and his obviously sincere pleasure when Annabella repents. He leaves Giovanni only when he sees that there is no chance of getting him to reconsider. His physical departure serves a double function: it prepares us for the tragedy of the final act and it suggests that the entire society of Parma has been corrupted beyond hope of restoration.
After the friar, the symbol of true religion, leaves the city, corruption and hypocrisy go unchallenged, and the powerful Cardinal is made a kind of symbol of the society's venality. His perverted sense of justice was revealed in the earlier scene in which he protected Grimaldi after the murder of Bergetto. The justice that he dispenses at the end is similarly corrupt. He orders Putana put to death even though she was only indirectly connected with the incest, whereas the villainous Vasques is only banished since he is able to appear virtuous through eloquent but hypocritical speeches about the duty of servants to masters and the glories of revenge. If any doubt remains about the Cardinal's moral values it is dispelled when he confiscates the gold and jewels from the bodies for the church. His final speech about Annabella should probably be viewed ironically as well. The Cardinal thinks in worldly terms, and his glib, clever summary is consistent with his character: "Of one so young, so rich in Natures store, / Who could not say, 'Tis pitty shee's a Whoore?" (K4; V, vi). Although the Cardinal's summary of Annabella's position has a superficial truth that all would grant, it is a view which fails to account for the deeper truth of Annabella's guilt and sincere repentance. Ford's use of the final phrase for his title may be taken as an indication of the extent of the irony that pervades Ford's view of the entire play, particularly this last scene. In his dedicatory letter Ford himself calls attention to the difference between the lightness of the title and the gravity of the play: "The Gravity of the Subject may easily excuse the leightnesse of the Title: otherwise, I had beene a severe Judge against mine owne guilt" (A2V). The effect of the ironic ending is to suggest the danger of falling back on moral platitudes without examining the realities they represent. Reason and faith should be allies, but if the faith is hypocritical the situation is made worse rather than better. A society in which the friar can find no place is in a deplorable state, and Ford suggests no easy solution. No doubt this cynicism, witty but at bottom traditionally moral, would appeal to an audience aware of the hypocrisies in their own society. The extent of Ford's detachment from moralizing tragedy is indicated by this ironic handling of the conclusion. If we are to understand the nature of Ford's achievement we must distinguish the melodramatic, satiric, and tragic elements. The play is at once an exciting entertainment, a witty but serious analysis of important ideas of the time, and a study of two human beings caught in a situation that they cannot handle.
Susan J. Wiseman (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: '"Tis Pity She's a Whore: Representing the Incestuous Body," in Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture, c. 1540-1660, edited by Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn, Reaktion Books, 1990, pp. 180-97.
[In the following essay, Wiseman discusses Ford's treatment of the incestuous body in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore as a context from which modern readers can examine seventeenth-century cultural attitudes towards sex, incest, and the human body.]
Soranzo. Tell me his name!
Annabella. Alas, alas, there's all.
Will you believe?
Annabella. You shall
Annabella. Never; if you do, let me be
Soranzo. Not know it strumpet! I'll rip up thy
heart and find it there.
Annabella. DO, do.
In this speech from Ford's mid-seventeenth-century play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore there are a number of gaps between what is presented on stage and what might be called the 'meanings' of what is happening in relation to cultural contexts. The story so far is that Soranzo is one of Annabella's suitors. She agrees to marry him because she is pregnant with her brother's child. Soranzo has discovered Annabella's pregnancy, but he does not know that the father is Giovanni. This exchange, therefore, draws our attention to several aspects of the play. Firstly, Soranzo's questioning dramatises the impossibility of knowing about incest from the evidence of the pregnant body; for the body does not of itself disclose the identity of the child's father, let alone the nature of the relationship between the two parents. Secondly, the conversation alerts us to the marital and legal structures governing the body, especially the female body, as the reference to a curse suggests the religious strictures which regulated sexual behaviour. Thirdly, and more generally, Annabella's body is subject to violent handling. The dialogue calls attention to the physical body, and its sexual significance is displayed to the theatre audience. Additionally, the idea of ripping up Annabella's heart to discover the name of the child's father there reminds the audience of the earlier incestuous exchange of vows between Annabella and her lover/brother Giovanni, while simultaneously echoing the rhetoric used in a lovers' exchange of hearts. The audience are in possession of these facts, but they also watch scene after scene in which the knowledge of incest is denied, concealed or re-read through the linguistic and dramatic structures of the text.
'Tis Pity She's a Whore was written for the theatre, but the relationship between the making of meaning in the theatre and its cultural context is problematic. Meaning in the theatre is itself destabilised by the complexity of theatrical representation and its use of a written or spoken text in combination with other sign systems (gesture, staging, etc.), which may support or contradict the linguistic text (obviously these contradictions are sometimes inscribed within the script itself). One way of formulating this is to separate linguistic and other signifiers. As the theatre semiotician Veltrusky put it [Jiri Veltrusky, 'Dramatic Text as a Component of Theatre,' in Semiotics of Art: Prague School Contribution, ed. Ladislav Matejka and Irwin R. Titinuk, 1976], 'In theatre, the linguistic sign system, which intervenes through the dramatic text, always combines and conflicts with acting, which belongs to an entirely different sign system'. An example of this is the way in which, in Act I, Scene i, we see Annabella make a choice of Giovanni after a sequence of lovers have appeared and either been discussed or themselves paid suit. We, the audience, know that the 'truth' of any liaison between sister and brother must be an incestuous one, but as Kathleen McLuskie says [in Renaissance Dramatists, 1989], the script's 'structure of the lovers rejected and a lover chosen leads the audience to accept Annabella's choice in spite of the startling danger of incest'. However, this pattern of theatrical structure which makes Giovanni into a lover (and Giovanni's later use of language which makes their love into a platonic union) operates throughout in tension with the audience's knowledge of the confounding of nature and culture, self and other, which takes place in the incestuous act. It could be argued that the theatre, because of its specific representational status, offers a case study in the containing and naturalising function of sexual discourse. All the way through 'Tis Pity She's a Whore the audience hear words and see actions on stage which do not correspond to what they 'know' in terms of culture. Although the experience of an audience depends on specific historical circumstances, for both a contemporary and an early modern audience, this play would present a contradiction or paradox between a script (using or gesturing towards legal, religious, platonic or civil language to misdescribe incest) and the problem of assignable cultural meanings attached to a body on stage.
'Tis Pity She's a Whore offers a reworking of the familiar family drama of Renaissance tragedy. It extends the complex triangles of desire and specifically the sister-brother relations found in plays including Measure For Measure, The Duchess of Malfi (published in 1623 with a commendatory verse by Ford), James Shirley's The Traitor and Ford's own The Broken Heart. This essay uses 'Tis Pity She's a Whore to examine the relationship between the body and the languages (of, for example, love, law and sin) used to describe it in the English Renaissance. A central question is: what was the significance of incest and the incestuous body in the mid-seventeenth century? Moreover, what relationship can be seen between incest in a theatrical text and in other kinds of writing about sexuality, such as legal and religious discourse, or conduct manuals? Although the play is set in Parma, it is used here to raise questions about English theatre and the regulation of sexuality.
During the Renaissance, a range of (masculine) discourses and institutions claimed to give the body symbolic meaning. Peter Burke's definition of 'culture' as 'a system of shared meanings, attitudes and values, and the symbolic forms (performances, artefacts) in which they are expressed or embodied' offers some scope for the discussion of dramatic and particularly theatrical representation in relation to other 'symbolic forms' [Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, 1978]. Access to the past, however, is notoriously problematic, and different sign systems cannot easily be read as equivalent or arbitrarily connected. There must inevitably be important differences in the ways in which legal documents and dramatic and theatrical texts treat and utilise the symbolic representations of incest.
It has been argued by both historians and cultural historians that during the seventeenth century privacy became an issue for the individual, while at the same time it also became evident that the body of the individual was claimed not only by the individual her-or-himself and by the church, but also by the state. Michel Foucault and Robert Muchem-bled have argued that the period 1500-1700 saw a cultural change which produced a nexus of new ideas about family life and licit and illicit sexual behaviour. More cautiously, Martin Ingram concludes that 'these changes add up to a significant adjustment in popular marriage practices and attitudes to pre-marital sexuality' ['The Reformation of Popular Culture? Sex and Marriage an Early Modern England,' in Popular Culture in Seventeenth Century England, ed. Barry Reay, 1985]. What the historians do not address is the relationship between these societal shifts and Burke's 'performances'. Incest is often represented in early-modern cultural production (theatrical examples include Hamlet, Women Beware Women, The Revenger's Tragedy), and incestuous scenarios seem to have been part of the theatre's appeal to public interest. This crime is mentioned in sacred, legal and other secular official dis-courses, but such discourses differ in the ways in which they consider incest, and therefore, the meanings assigned to incest differ between legal documents and dramatic or theatrical texts.
Writers including Stephen Greenblatt, Natalie Zemon Davis and Lisa Jardine have tried, in different ways, to negotiate the relationships between different kinds of texts within a field of discourse. Stephen Greenblatt writes of sexual discourse as 'a field which in the early modern period includes marriage manuals, medical, theological and legal texts, sermons, indictments and defenses of women; and literary fictions' ['Fiction or Friction, Shakespearean Negotiations, 1988]. Granted that most texts in this field at-tempt to keep the meanings of sexuality stable and ordered, are all diese different writings on sexuality equivalent? Can the semiological systems of a theatrical text 'read' in the theatre be equated with a marriage manual?
One of the most obvious discourses about sexuality is found in conduct books by writers such as Gouge and Tilney which describe and prescribe marital arrangements and the proper ordering of sexuality within the domestic sphere [William Gouge, Of Domesticali Duties, 1622; Edmund Tilney, A Brief and Pleasant Discourse of the Duties in Marriage, 1568]. The discussion of incest in Bullinger's Christian State of Matrimony (1541) mediates between Biblical meanings of incest and the implications of the incestuous body in Christian civil society:
he that hath not a shameless and beastly heart doth sure abhorre and detest the copulations in the said forbidden degrees. Honesty, shamefastness, & nurture of it self teacheth us not to meddle in such: therefore sayeth god evidently and playnly in the often repeated chap. Levi. xviii Defile not your selves in any of these things, for with all these are the heathen defiled, who I will cast out before you. The land also is defiled therethrowe: & I will visit their wickedness upon them, so that the land shall spew out the inhabitours thereof.
Here both nature and 'nurture' are outraged by incest and associate it with both the heathen and with the rebellion of the land itself, which casts out those who commit it. For the literate these words would echo the commonplace interdictions of Leviticus and the tables of consanguinity and affinity found on church walls. It is a helpful passage in that, like 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, it discusses copulation rather than attempted marriage, as tends to be the focus of legal documentation, which concentrates on relationships of affinity rather than consanguinity. The connections between texts like this one, prescribing the regulation of the body, with legal records and theatrical representation constitute the complex formation through which ideas of sexuality circulate in language.
In a seventeenth-century context, incest became known through the religious language of confession, as it does in Ford's play through Giovanni's and Annabella's confessions to the friar, and Putana's secular confession to Vasques (IV. iii). Confession is needed for the church and law to assign meaning to an individual body in its social context, as the mere body in front of an audience is not self-explanatory. Even a pregnant body does not tell all its own secrets, and incest is undiscoverable from external evidence. Nevertheless, contemporaries did link sexual irregularity to external signs: in the early-modern period what was perceived as sexual laxity or deviance was associated with monstrous births. According to manuals of sexual conduct, such as the later Aristotle's Masterpiece, these births indicated indulgence in sexual extravagance or misbehaviour, for example intercourse at an 'inappropriate' time in a woman's menstrual cycle. Manuals such as the Masterpiece did not link incest explicitly to monstrous birth, but their illustrations do mythologise the dangers of forbidden liaisons, picturing, for instance, the offspring of a woman and a dog.
Incest was of two types: affinity (sexual relations or inter-marriage with non-blood relatives with whom there was a problem because of inheritance) and consanguinity. Lawrence Stone concludes [in The Family, Sex, and Marriage, 1979] that incest 'must have been common in those over-crowded houses where the adolescent children were still at home'. He also writes that 'all known societies have incest taboos, and the peculiarity of them in England was the restriction of their number at the Reformation to the Levitical degrees'. Moreover, he suggests that the fact that the punishment for incest was 'surprisingly lenient' indicates that sodomy and bestiality were accounted crimes of greater seriousness. Incest was not declared a felony until 1650, before which—like adultery and fornication—it was investigated, tried and punished by ecclesiastical authori-ties. Furthermore, incest tends to appear in the records only when people were caught or accidentally married within prohibited degrees, for which latter offences pardons were granted. In 1636 Sir Ralph Ashton in Lancashire was punished for having adulterous sex with a woman and her niece. In the same year Elizabeth Sleath and her father, by whom she had had a second child, received 'severe chastisement' at the house of correction before being sent for further punishment.
As Stone reminds us, information about 'sexual conventions' is hard to find. However, the law does offer certain insights into the possible fate of sexual offenders and particularly the female body. Bastardy provides a paler analogue for it in that the single woman's pregnant body partly confesses her crime; fornication and bastardy were meanings attendant upon her pregnancy, but the body of a woman would not reveal the father to whom the parish might turn to require economic support for the child. If a woman had committed fornication, she might be declared a common whore and punished with banishment by some church authorities. She might be put on good behaviour for a year, fined, whipped, put in the stocks and required to confess, wearing a white sheet in front of the church. Such punishments appear to reflect the economic, familial, physical, social and symbolic values associated with cases of women contravening the imperative to be chaste. The nature and sites of the punishment indicate the issues at stake.
In cases of bastardy where children were actually born rather than merely conceived outside wedlock, paternity was investigated by two Justices of the Peace. In 1624 a statute was passed whereby women who gave birth to an illegitimate child that would be dependant on the parish might be sentenced to one year's hard labour. Collective dishonour and financial burden seem to have been the crux of the matter for the parish, and the Justices were entitled to find ways of keeping the child off parish relief. As the body of the woman did not reveal the child's father, pregnant women could be subjected to mental and physical torture to elicit a confession of paternity. The Justices were also entitled to punish the parents by whipping, which could be done in the marketplace or in the street where the offender lived, as well as in the house of correction. In cases of fornication and bastardy, illegal sexual conduct is revealed physically in the pregnancy of the woman. The symbolic meaning of bastardy, however, like incest, was only made evident by the woman's confession and in the demonstration of her body and her physical punishment at church and market, sites of central importance in civil and religious society. For example, in 1613 one Joan Lea was to be 'openly whipped at a cart's tail in St John Street… until her body be all bloody', and in 1644 Jennett Hawkes was ordered to be 'stripped naked from the middle upwards, and presently be soundly whipped through the town of Wetherby'.
Incest, however, is a much more extreme and confused crime, in which the woman must confess paternity in order that the crime be known. Her body does not reveal the implications of its condition. Without confession the meaning of incestuous sexuality remains hidden. Without confession the sin cannot be identified and confirmed by the religious, financial, civil and familial discourses which converge to declare the (female) body sinful and which look for signs of its crime in the way Soranzo does in the speech quoted at the beginning of this essay. When incest is confessed, however, it merely exposes further and greater confusions surrounding the means of reproduction. Unlike the confession of paternity in the case of bastardy when the naming of the father clarifies a situation and enables the child to be socially placed, the naming of the father in the case of incest multiplies familial and social connections in incompatible ways. Incest and the child of an incestuous relationship have too many, contradictory meanings.
One theorisation of the meanings of incest is offered by Jacques Derrida, who takes incest as the example of a sign which confuses the oppositional status of 'nature' and 'culture'. Incest troubled Lévi-Strauss because it fitted the categories of both nature and culture, and Derrida comments, 'It could be perhaps said that the whole of philosophical conceptualisation, which is systematic with the nature/culture opposition, is designed to leave in the domain of the unthinkable the very thing that makes this conceptualisation possible: the origin of the prehistory of incest. ['Structure, Sign, and Play,' in his Writing & Difference, trans. alan Boss, 1978]. One of Derrida's aims here is to attack the truth value of philosophical concepts, which he sees as created by the pre-conditions which govern how any given discourse produces knowledge. We might see this remark as offering a way to read incest in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, where different discourses converge to make meanings around Annabella's and Giovanni's sexual relationship which actually serve to conceal the 'truth' of their incest.
For example, Giovanni's language in the early part of the play has two results. It confuses the categories of nature and culture and erases the confusions caused by incest through an appeal to 'beauty' as a 'natural' producer of desire and therefore as an endorsement of that desire. Where other signifiers such as 'heart' are expanded in the play to operate at a complex and ambiguous level of meaning, the idea of incest constitutes what we might call the absent centre in Giovanni's discourse, the hidden precondition of his platonic language.
In 'Tis Pity She's a Whore the female body is represented as an ethical, financial, spiritual, amatory and psychological territory. Annabella's body, the procreative feminine corpus, is located and relocated within these competing ways of looking at the body. The poetic language of love and service used by Soranzo and Giovanni serves to conceal or blur the illicit nature of the physical love that they describe, and to misrepresent the social and economic position of the women courted. It is the relationship of women to sex, money and language that actually deter-mines the outcome of the sexual relationships presented in the play.
This is made evident in Act II when Soranzo in his study considers adapting an encomium to Venice for Annabella.
Soranzo. Had Annabella lived when Sannazar
Did in his brief encomium celebrate
Venice, that queen of cities, he had left
That verse which gained him such a sum of gold,
And for one only look from Annabell
Had writ of her, and her diviner cheeks.
(II. ii. 12-17)
Economic exchange is here implicit in the rhetoric of praise. Part of the project of courtly love is to redefine transgressive, physical acts of love and to transform what is, say, adultery in the discourse of civil society, into platonic union in the language of patronage. This language operates within an economy of patronage in which 'service' and 'duty' are rewarded. We might think of the contract of the luckless Pedringano in The Spanish Tragedy, or Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling. In 'Tis Pity She's a Whore this ends with literary language made literal in the ripping up of Annabella's heart.
The play indicates the duplicitous implications of the language of courtly love in the words of Soranzo and Giovanni. Soranzo appeals to Annabella in terms of courtly love (e.g. III. ii and the scene with Hippolita in II. ii). Giovanni similarly employs the comparative language of courtly love, notably in a scene of courtship (I. ii). It is here that two important metaphors are first encountered, that of the power of the gaze and the trope of the heart on which truth is written. The power of the gaze is attributed, in the terms of courtly love, to the mistress/sister (although, of course, the agent of attribution is Giovanni). Moreover, the scene suggests the legend of Prometheus, another myth of origins, crime and death:
Giovanni. … The poets feign, I read,
That Juno for her forehead did exceed
All other goddesses: but I durst swear
Your forehead exceeds hers, as hers did theirs.
Annabella. Troth, this is pretty!
Giovanni. Such a pair of stars
As thine eyes would, like Promethean fire,
If gently glanced, give life to senseless stones.
(II. ii. 192-8)
This culminates in Giovanni bearing his breast:
Giovanni. And here's my breast, strike home!
Rip up my bosom, there thou shalt behold
A heart in which is writ the truth I speak.
(II. ii. 209-11)
It is, however, Annabella's body rather than Giovanni's which comes to bear the meaning of their transgression. In this text the word 'heart', and her heart in particular, is a nexus of several different discourses. Moreover, the significance of Annabella's body is repeatedly transformed during the play by the powerful discourses which are here beginning to define it. This process locates the meaning of the female body within the dominant discourses of religion and courtly love, and her act of will in committing incest with her brother is ultimately subsumed into the civil discourse of whoredom.
If the language of courtly love serves as a structure to conceal, by reinterpreting, Giovanni's and Annabella's incest, where does the act of incest appear in the discourses of the body which permeate 'Tis Pity She's a Whore? Perhaps it is closest to being openly articulated in Act I. This introduces the 'uncanny' disclosure of hidden desire in Annabella's recognition of her sexual attraction to her brother (her platonic 'mirror' as he later notes) when she sees his 'shape' momentarily as an object of her desire without recognising it as her brother.
Annabella. But see, Putana, see; what blessed shape
Of some celestial creature now appears?
What man is he, that with such sad aspect
Walks careless of himself?
(I. ii. 131-4)
When Putana looks and tells Annabella that it is her brother, she exclaims 'ha!' Quite the reverse of Giovanni's confessional disquisition on his incestuous passion, this exclamation marks textually the recognition of desire but also the danger attendant upon it. This moment of recognition of 'something secretly familiar' is reminiscent of the repeated moments of recognition in the story of the Sand-man retold by Freud in his essay on the uncanny.
Also, like Oedipus's self-blinding, it suggests the dangerous closeness of the double, more fully articulated at a linguistic level in the scene of the vows (I. ii. 253-60). The association between sight and desire is made explicit here but receives fuller elaboration later in the play when it is Putana who is blinded. For she has both 'seen' (metaphorically) Annabella's and Giovanni's act of love and has spoken of it. For Freud, blindness and damage to the eyes is a metaphor for castration. Putana, in seeing, sanctioning and speaking about the sexual union of Giovanni and Annabella, appropriates the rights of the law, the father and the Church. She takes over the role of the receiver of confessions and maker of meanings in relation to the incestuous union. However, she also recognises that the meanings she offers for incest (in which fe-male desire is of paramount importance) cannot be spoken in the public sphere. Putana's language is that of the individual acting pragmatically in civil society, but out-side the law, as at II. i where she joins with Annabella in concealing the incest, saying, 'fear nothing, sweetheart; what though he be your brother? Your brother's a man, I hope, and I say still, if a young wench feel the fit upon her, let her take anybody, father or brother, all is one' (II. i. 46-9).
Thus during most of the play the languages of courtly love, platonism and pragmatism are substituted for that of incest. Simultaneously, in a series of episodes, blame and punishment are transferred from the central figures of higher social class on to the bodies of those of lower or more marginal status. These threads in the plot act almost as substitute punishments: lesser transgressions receive harsh punishment while incest remains at the centre of the play, invisible and unspoken.
An example of such a replacement can be found in the figure of Hippolita and the language associated with her. Hippolita, the 'lusty widow', has been drawn by Soranzo's seduction into adultery and attempted murder. She has previously entered into a relationship with Soranzo, and in the play we watch and hear Soranzo redefine their relations, not in the codes of courtly love but in the sacred (and civil, or pragmatic) vocabulary of adultery, sin and repentance. She appears in Soranzo's study when he is composing the courtly encomium we saw earlier:
Hippolita 'Tis I:
Do you know me now? Look, perjured man, on her
Whom thou and thy distracted lust have
Thine eyes did plead in tears, thy tongue in oaths
Such and so many, that a heart of steel
Would have been wrought to pity, as was mine:
(II. ii. 26-38)
In this first interview with her Soranzo exchanges the language of courtly love, used to compose the poem to Anna-bella, for that of Christian repentance, used to justify giving up Hippolita:
Soranzo. The vows I made, if you remember well,
Were wicked and unlawful: 'twere more sin
To keep them than to break them.
(II. ii. 86-88)
He appropriates whichever code serves his purpose, and the abandoned mistress of the language of courtly love becomes the 'whore' (a term which might signal a casual partner) and an adulteress in that of Christian repentance. The language of service and courtship reappears strangely distorted when Soranzo says, 'Ere I'll be servile to so black a sin, / I'll be a corse' (II. ii. 97). The dramatic irony implicit in this speech reminds us that Hippolita's crime and punishment contrast with the greater, central significance accorded culturally to incest. Soranzo's service to adultery is substituted by his service to incest. Once more what we see and hear is in tension with what we know.
The scene demonstrates masculine control over the discourses which produce the meanings of female sexuality. This example of femininity defined and redefined by masculine control of the languages of religion and law is repeated at IV. i. Momentarily, Hippolita appears to have taken control of the meaning of the masque for her own vengeful intentions. She and the audience discover at the same moment that she has been betrayed by the language of revenge, through the agency of Vasques, the manipulator. Her attempt to control the codes of masque and revenge for her own ends causes her to be, in Vasques's words, a 'mistress she-devil', whose 'own mischievous treachery hath killed you' (IV. i. 68-9). Although she is defeated, the language of her final curse on Soranzo is prophetic: 'Mayst thou live / To father bastards, may her womb bring forth / Monsters' (II. i. 97-9). Yet again a substitution occurs in the dramatic irony of the prophecy. The audience recognises the displacement of the central issue, incest, by the peripheral and structurable issue of bastardy, and the reference to 'monsters' reminds us of other criminal expressions of sexuality.
The replacement of incest by other language in the play as a whole is indicated most obviously by the fact that the word is rarely enunciated. Just before the play opens Giovanni has confessed incestuous desire to the Friar and made himself 'poor of secrets', though he remains rich in desire. During his post-confessional conversation with the Friar, Giovanni begins to elaborate the secular theory of beauty, fate and desire which is soon to find its elaborate ritual expression in the vows he and Annabella take by their mother's 'dust'.
The lovers themselves do not name their incest, though the Friar finally names it to Annabella in III. vi. Annabella does not utter a description of her own actions until she repents in Act V, and then she speaks of Giovanni: 'O would the scourge due to my black offence / Might pass from thee, that I alone might feel / The torments of an uncontroll'ed flame' (V. i. 21-3). The language describing Annabella's body and interpreting the incestuous desires and actions of the siblings (for actors and audience) has for most of the play been that of courtly love, Neoplatonism and the pragmatic discourse of Putana. Annabella here confesses her actions:
Annabella. My conscience now stands up against
With depositions charactered in guilt, [Enter Friar]
And tells me I am lost: now I confess,
Beauty that clothes the outside of the face
Is cursed if it be not clothed with grace.
(V. i. 9-13)
This moment not only offers us access to Annabella's subjectivity, in which lust and conscience are coterminous, but refers us to signifiers which also existed cultur-ally during the Renaissance; the pun on guilt/gilt points to the interpretation of incest in society by returning us to the tables of consanguinity figured in the the prayer book and on church walls. Annabella's confession fuses for a moment the problematic language of the play which refuses to reconcile incest and the interdiction available to any church-goer. Moreover, we find in this speech not an opposition of inner and outer, but a contrast of surfaces in which grace becomes a kind of clothing. In its concentration on surface and externals the language serves to call attention to the social and cultural construction of the sequence of sin and repentance, further underlined by the entrance of the Friar as eavesdropper/audience.
In the final act of the play the word 'incest' is used in the discourse of Parmesan society. Vasques says the word, and so does the Cardinal: its articulation by these two ambiguous figures is accompanied by the ritual punishment of offenders. Giovanni at this point makes literal the discourse of courtly love using the symbolism of the ex-change of hearts in describing his murder of Annabella. His reappearance bearing the bloody organ cannot be interpreted by the characters on stage. For on the one hand the appearance of the real heart makes literal on stage the discourse of courtly love, yet on the other hand it makes evident the inability of this discourse to contain, explain or give meaning to incest, which has a meaning so much more illicit than that of, say, adultery.
The enigmatic but mobile figure of Vasques plays a central role in exposing the faults of women, especially in the final stages of the play. It is only in Act V that we find that Vasques, who hears the confessions of both Hippolita and Putana, is acting for the Father—for Soranzo's father, thence for Soranzo, and therefore for the determination of meaning in relation to the father, law and religious discourse. When, at last, Vasques offers an 'explanation' (or confession) of himself, he says 'this strange task being ended, I have paid the duty to the son which I have vowed to the father' (V. vi. 111-12). In a short prose speech he 'explains' his conduct:
Vasques. For know, my lord, I am by birth a Spaniard, brought forth my country in my youth by Lord Soranzo's father, whom whilst he lived I served faithfully; since whose death I have been to this man, as I was to him. What I have done was duty, and I repent nothing but that the loss of my life had not ransomed his.
(V. vi. 115-21)
Vasques's manipulation of language has permitted him to act as a confessor to the women, who are lured into telling him their secrets and thence, through language, brought to their downfall. It is he who has already (at this point) ordered Oedipus's punishment to be inflicted not on Annabella or Giovanni but on Putana.
The uncanny recognitions of incestuous desire in Act I are mapped more fully here when Giovanni reveals to his father the doublings brought about by incest—'List, father, to your ears I will yield up / How much I have deserved to be called your son' (V. vi. 37-8). The Oedipal punishment for incest is transferred from the male to the female body, as well as down the social scale. Vasques names Putana as 'of counsel in this incest', and he renders up Putana, 'whose eyes, after her confession, I caused to put out' (V. vi. 127-8). In Act I Giovanni endowed the eyes of his mistress with the power to give life, linking this to Promethean fire. In Act V, the only possible reason that Putana's eyes are burnt out is because she has been witness to the incestuous passion. The importance accorded to knowledge at this point in the play suggests the power of incest to confound the boundaries of nature and culture and thus elide any clear distinctions between self and other. The maiming of Putana keeps incest hidden by removing it 'from sight'.
What follows has been disputed by critics. The Cardinal, who is both a Churchman and a powerful manipulator of the language of the city, begins his summing up:
Cardinal. Peace! First this woman, chief in these
My sentence is, that forthwith she be ta'en
Out of the city, for example's sake,
There to be burnt to ashes.
Donado. 'Tis most just.
(V. vi. 133-7)
Soon after this Vasques is banished 'with grounds of reason', but not because of his crime. It is not entirely clear who is to be burnt. Two women are on stage, the body of Annabella and the blinded (but living) figure of Putana. It seems likely that it is Putana who is the object of the Cardinal's sentence. In delivering his judgement he takes the figures in reverse order, moving from the bottom of the social scale to the top. He turns to Annabella last. Moreover, he and Vasques have just been talking of Putana, who appears to remain on stage until the end of the play. Donado—another wronged father—is given responsibility for the burning of whichever body it is, and it seems unlikely that he would be given rights over Annabella's body in preference to her father. Thus, it seems to be Putana who is pronounced 'chief in these effects'. As Hippolita is punished by civil society for sharing Soranzo's desire, so Putana is punished by a combination of church and state for seeing and knowing but, above all, telling. The Promethean fire of Act I is translated into the purgative fire of Act V.
If Putana is to be burnt, how can the body of Annabella be read in the final scene? Her brother has taken her heart and the significance of this is explored in metaphors of consumption:
Giovanni. You came to feast, my lords, with dainty
I came to feast too, but I digged for food
In a much richer mine than gold or stone
Of any value balanced; 'tis a heart,
A heart, my lords, in which mine is entombed:
Look well upon 't, d'ee know 't?
Vasques. What strange riddle's this?
Giovanni. 'Tis Annabella's heart, 'tis; why d'ee
I vow 'tis hers: this daggers point ploughed up
Her fruitful womb, and left to me the fame
Of a most glorious executioner.
(V. vi. 23-33)
We know that Giovanni and Annabella have been lovers for 'nine moons', but we do not know when she conceived. It would be possible to play Acts IV and V with her very heavily pregnant. Annabella's body is first ex-posed to violence when she becomes pregnant, and the wound by which she was murdered might run from her womb to her heart in the cut an anatomist might use to open a body. Many signifiers converge on Annabella's body. It is food, or has food buried within it. It is simultaneously a mine, an evidently vaginal image, in which Giovanni has 'digged' and found something more exotic than the minerals yielded by mining in distant places, a heart. The heart is her body, but it also signifies his heart within her breast. Her body is a rich vagina-womb-mine, but also a burial ground (ploughed up) from which Giovanni must disinter his buried heart. The uncanny doublings of the vows come to a mordant fruition here. The child is cut off and the womb invaded, not by a doctor extracting a child but by the brother-lover in search of her heart which signifies him, his identity. The vows, sworn by Annabella 'by our mother's dust', by Giovanni 'by my mother's dust', (I. iii. 254, 257), are fulfilled here as Giovanni possesses and consumes singly all those relations which have become so doubly double.
The opposition here is between inner and outer, and between surface and depth (unlike the metaphors in Annabella's speech of repentance above). The heart, now ex-posed, is endowed by Giovanni's public confession with all the private and confused meanings of incest. At one level, of course, it is a religious emblem and the emblem of the lover's heart, but like Annabella's dangerously pregnant body, the flesh itself cannot be completely interpreted without language. Giovanni stands on stage with a dripping heart, but the meaning of the murder is constructed by language. Evan Vasques, that underminer of plots and reader of signs, cannot answer this sphinx's incestuous riddle. He, however, returns to the stage to inform the feasters that Giovanni has, indeed, ripped out Annabella's heart. It is possible to read Giovanni's final confession, or explanation, of her heart as once again re-inventing the meaning of his love, and of Annabella's body, for he concentrates the illicit multiplicity of relations on her heart. If we read the end of the final act this way, it comes as no surprise to find that when the Cardinal finally mentions Annabella's sin, he does not speak of all those double meanings Giovanni had elicited from her body in that half-emblem, half-meat, her heart. The Cardinal's address trans-forms the incest once again into something containable within the single realm of culture when in the closing words of the play he pronounces, ''tis pity she's a whore'.
This phrase reconstitutes the dominant position of family, state and the church within society. Simultaneously, however, it calls attention to the failure of the secular and sacred languages used in the play to contain or reinterpret incest. The bodies of the incestuous couple have been represented by the lovers themselves (particularly Giovanni) in the languages of courtly love and Platonism. The Cardinal's words appear to be a bid for closure, marking a point at which the irreconcilable nature of the conflicting claims of church, state, family and economics on the body—particularly the reproductive body—fail to be resolvable and fail to verify and stabilise the meaning of incest.
Incest, which is the central concern of the play, disappears once more in the Cardinal's words which reinstate the social placing implicit in the designation 'whore'. The centre, for Derrida, is 'the point at which the substitution of contents, elements or terms is no longer possible', and incest signals the collapse of the structure of separateness between bodies and families. Instead of substitution there is doubling. In the Cardinal's closing line of the play (also the title) the waters of language return to cover incest and to substitute a crime which allows the meanings of femininity to remain stable. Annabella is returned from incest to the dangerous (but less dangerous) general category for the desirous female. As a 'whore' Annabella once again signifies within the problematic of endless female desire.
However, the Cardinal's closing words leave unresolved the theatre of competing demands which the play has articulated. The tension between what we hear ('whore') and the incest which we 'know' to have taken place re-mains. His words present another riddle which, by asserting one of the meanings of Annabella's dead body, throws into relief all the others which remain unspoken.
The competing discourses of the play are interwoven with its context, but are not reducible to 'sources': they are re-invested with new meanings in the 'symbolic performance' of theatre. The body alone has no meaning. But the question of what happens to the body in a play such as 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and what gives that body meaning is complex. How is a critic to interpret the body in a play? For an anatomist, meanings exist within the body, but in the theatre only the combination of script and other codes makes the meaning of the theatrical figure. Obviously, much depends on production decisions, but the relation-ship between text and context is important, if fraught. As Roger Chartier says [in Cultural History, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane, 1988]:
To understand a culture … is above all to retrace the significations invested in the symbolic forms culture makes use of. There is only one way to do this: to go back and forth between texts and contexts; compare each specific and localized use of one symbol or another to the world of significance that lends it meaning.
Put this way, the relationship of text to context is very complicated for symbolic bodies in the theatre, with all their precarious and slippery meanings. The context can only be other texts, other bodies in texts and the field of discourse within which these textual bodies exist.
Of course, it is not possible to talk with the dead, or to fully re-animate a field of discourse of which literary language is only a part. Nor is it possible to work out exactly how the seventeenth-century theatre audience for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore made the leap from their own experience of sexual crimes in the community to an analysis of a symbolic performance. According to Derek Hirst [in Authority and Conflict, 1987], policing of 'the proper order of personal relationships' in early modern England was part of the role of neighbours, and this included regular denunciations for sexual deviance. Hirst suggests that as many as one person in seven might have been denounced by neighbours for sexual deviance. This might lead us to ask how we can begin to imagine the relationship between an audience who participated in such a very active neighbourhood policing and the incestuous bodies in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.
One answer must be to compare the play with other texts in a similar field (what, for instance, might a theatrical text share with legal texts, conduct books, etc.?). Another might be to attempt to identify the specific purposes and investments of a particular discourse, which might not be shared with other texts in the field. For example, Michael MacDonald's recent study of suicide suggests that the significance of self-murder changed with the rise of the newspaper. He suggests that eighteenth-century newspapers 'altered the reader's relationship to events: attitudes to crime, like suicide, were increasingly determined by reading, rather than by direct experience and by rumor' ['The Secularisation of Suicide in England 1660-1800,' Past and Present CXI, May 1986]. The newspaper, with its pretensions to forensic veracity, might fix and report 'facts' for private consumption; the theatre, with its reputation for tempting fictions, might endow the body with an ephemeral plethora of meanings. Thus, evidence from texts in a similar field help to illuminate the script of the play, and we can to some extent move between text and context to map a loose set of relationships between punishments in the ecclesiastical courts and the significance of the body in the theatre. Yet, in both the theatre and the church court the body on display does not reveal its own significance. Without explanation from script, set and costume the body of a pregnant woman cannot be fully 'read' either by the figures on the stage or by the audience. Veltrusky, quoted at the beginning of this essay, suggested that script and the actions of the body on stage were parts of independent discourses. He went as far as to say that the body on stage and the dramatic text (language) belong to completely different sign systems; as he sees it, the dramatic text, where it exists, can control everything except the actor. This makes it possible to regard the incestuous body in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, with the attendant gaps and misrepresentations in the script, as being constituted by the cultural understandings of the audience in relation to the interdependent contexts of analogous texts and theatre practice.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12675
Nicholas de Jongh (review date 6 June 1995)
SOURCE: Review of The Broken Heart, in Evening Standard, 6 June 1995. Reprinted in Theatre Record, Vol. XV, No. 12, 10 July 1995, p. 736.
[In the review below, De Jongh applauds Michael Boyd's 1995 staging of The Broken Heart at London's Barbican Theatre as "a spectacular but truthful performance, brimming with sardonic humour and emotional dynamism. "]
Three hundred and sixty-two years after its London premiere, John Ford's revenge drama of arranged marriages and refined cruelty, with women at the mercy of male power, still speaks with rare immediacy.
And Michael Boyd's enthralling Royal Shakespeare Company production, greatly admired at Stratford last autumn, reaches London further improved. The memorable acting of Iain Glen and Emma Fielding as the lovers doomed never to have their fill of each other, or indeed to have each other at all, ought to wring even metal-plated hearts. The excitement of Boyd's production depends upon the way it represses and controls high emotion through dance and ritual ceremonies.
Tom Piper's pillared, curtained stage, with horizontal aluminium shutters, reveals frozen tableaux—from orderly court life to the spectacle of Ithocles (Robert Bowman) and his veiled sister Penthea (Emma Fielding) frozen in death. And these directorial touches are true to the play's shock tactics. A quartet of lovers come to grief in The Broken Heart and inspire its complex, dangerous action. The scene is ostensibly ancient Sparta, though Boyd suitably stages it in late Elizabethan costumes, where marriages are fixed: Ithocles has put politics and money before love and instead of allowing his sister Penthea to marry the noble, Orgilus—her betrothed—has given her over to the old Lord Bassanes. But similar treatment is meted out to him when his own love, Princess Calantha, finds herself set up in marriage for a neighbouring prince.
Emma Fielding's magnificent, anorexic Penthea is a searing portrayal of female desperation. With pallid face, and in virgin-white dress, hair severely scraped back, she has the air of the determinedly hopeless.
In the presence of her jealous husband Bassanes whom Philip Voss, with his slightly Donald Sinden-ish voice makes a maestro of camp melodramatics, she displays weary contempt. But though she spits in the face of Robert Bowman's wracked Ithocles, the brother who has ruined her life, she accepts his passionate kiss on the lips. It is as though incestuous desire explains Ithocles's need to wreck Penthea's love-life.
Iain Glen as the object of Penthea's desire astutely identifies Orgilus as a man deranged, nursing his murderous schemes under a velvet cover of smiling affability. But there's no missing his rage and pain either—as his voice quavers, shakes and breaks under the strain. In fatal revenge he ranges from violence to gentleness, and ends up slithering in his own blood-bath.
It is a spectacular but truthful performance, brimming with sardonic humour and emotional dynamism. And these same qualities are apparent in the sinister finale when the marriage ceremony for Calantha (Olivia Williams) shades into the dance of death, which concludes this shockingly powerful production.
David Murray (review date 7 June 1995)
SOURCE: Review of The Broken Heart, in Financial Times, 7 June 1995, p. 19.
[In the following review, Murray commends Michael Boyd's production of The Broken Heart, asserting that "the serious work has all gone into the characters and the elaborate, darkly ironical verse which has to establish them and make the play. "]
Seen last year at the RSC's Swan Theatre in Stratford. John Ford's The Broken Heart comes to the Barbican trailing gore and glory. Not that it is a play about war—on the contrary, its concerns are marital and familial; but its emotions are as grim and destructive as anywhere in Racine.
Ford's only half-familiar play is 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (which used never to be played on account of its title, but is nowadays played partly because of it); the National Theatre botched it a few years ago, with a puppy actor as the incestuously driven brother. With Iain Glen as the hero of The Broken Heart, Michael Boyd's production gives us the real Ford. It looks simple; the serious work has all gone into the characters and the elaborate, darkly ironical verse which has to establish them and make the play.
More like Racine than Shakespeare, The Broken Heart begins with a disastrous situation already fixed, and what we are to see are the workings-out. Ithocles, the young Spartan Prince, has already married off his sister to Lord Bassanes, though she and Orgilus (Glen) had made a love match; Orgilus is already steaming with fury and despair, and needs only the springs of other people's romantic attachments to wind them up and bring them all down. The blood is saved up for the last act, when suddenly there is a lot of it (that typical Jacobean device, a horridly cunning mechanism, figures prominently).Glen has matured fast, and is superb with Orgilus's unstaunchable bitterness. Fully equal to the verse, which demands searching intelligence, he is vocally a model of eloquent variety—passion, sarcasm, obsequiousness and cold murderous glee. His lost Penthea is Emma Fielding, whose fine, ruined energy is so impressive that one hesitates to mention the one thing she loses: she puts her all into every moment, whereas in the later stages of the play a part of her ought to be somewhere else, remote and unreachable. We could believe bloody revenge from her, but not quite wilful self-starvation.
Among the other players, all boasting as much vivid expertise, Robert Bowman's Ithocles grows saintly in his eventual martyrdom, and William Houston is sturdily touching as his lieutenant. Philip Voss's madly jealous Bassanes has an interesting campy edge, and the other principal women, Elaine Pike and Olivia Williams, play up beautifully. There is a good, unscrupulous Scottish chaperone from Doreen Hepburn, almost the only rude, downto-earth character here among the extravagant plotting and the agonised laments.
Melancholy, period-coloured music by Craig Armstrong sets the grievous tone with perfect tact. In timing and blocking, Boyd finds a lucid shape for the play (no mean task). We discover that The Broken Heart is actually a minor national treasure; an opportunity to find that out is so rare that this one should not be missed.
Benedict Nightingale (review date 8 June 1995)
SOURCE: "Duty-Bound in Sparta," in The Times, London, 8 June 1995, p. 37.
[In the review below, Nightingale praises Michael Boyd's 1995 staging of The Broken Heart, arguing that the di-rector made a taut production out of a generally diffuse play.]
Many people know the story of the Spartan boy who let a fox gnaw at his stomach rather than reveal that he was surreptitiously holding it. In his Broken Heart, just transferred from Stratford's Swan to London's Pit, John Ford played subtler, more elaborate variations on the same legend. Several of his leading Spartans are putting a brave face on being devoured: but the creatures that are performing that job have taken up residence in their heads, hearts and bowels. Their foxes are inner, not outer, and, as the final body-count shows, more destructive than ever.
The plot is more diffuse than that of Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, and Michael Boyd, who directs, does well to ensure that we don't miss the body for the tentacles. It all derives from the rather big error that has been made by the heroic young Spartan general, Ithocles. Instead of allowing his sister Penthea to wed her betrothed, Orgilus, he has given her in marriage to the ageing nobleman Bassanes. The result is that from the moment the play begins, several members of the cast are looking worryingly like the characters in the last act of Othello.
Penthea (Emma Fielding) is sucumbing to a killer-blend of anorexia and insomnia, accelerated by the paranoia of Bassanes (Philip Voss), who is behaving more and more like one of the violently jealous old husbands created by a later 17th-century playwright, Molière, Meanwhile, Orgilus (Iain Glen) is becoming that familiar Jacobean or Carolean figure, the malcontent revenger. That is bad news for the Princess of Sparta (Olivia Williams). She is enamoured of Ithocles (Robert Bowman), who is clearly at the top of Orgilus's hit-list.
There is more to the plot, but that should be enough for most people, especially as it is strongly played by Boyd's performers in their Van Dyck costumes. Glen's bony jaw-line twitches with suppressed outrage, and Voss catches the mixture of weakness and obsessive disquiet his role needs. But the pick of the cast is Fielding, a pale, still Penthea who gives you the feeling she only need pull a tiny pin to activate the grenade she has become. Blast off she does, too, in a splendid mad scene: but her finest moments come when she is sitting beside her brother and refusing so much as to look at him. What is he to do? "Pray kill me," she quietly answers, and means it.
Does Ford's handling of Penthea make The Broken Heart a better play than his incest-drama, 'Tis Pity, as T.S. Eliot thought? For all its distractions and perplexities, it is certainly a powerful and intense treatment of the same theme, which is the battle of desire and impulse with honour, duty and other such 17th-century imperatives. There is a daring scene in which the Spartan princess keeps calmly dancing while she is successively given news of the deaths of her father, friend and lover. "Must have been very effective in the theatre," wrote Eliot, who never saw the play performed. He was right. it is.
Boyd gratuitously introduces the same motif elsewhere, combining charged dialogue with slow, sedate counterparts of Scottish reels or American square dances. That is to labour the idea of Spartan self-discipline a bit; but there are not many other weaknesses in his production. Apart from anything else. Ford's odd, colourful verse is lucidly and pointedly delivered, down to the rude lines directed at Bassanes's ancient maidservant: "hold your chops, night-mare", "old lady, hold up thy reverent snout and trot be-hind me". They don't write insults like that any more.
Donald K. Anderson, Jr. (essay date 1972)
SOURCE: "The Decorum of Dying: The Broken Heart," in John Ford, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1972, pp. 61-76.
[In the essay below, Anderson offers a detailed survey of The Broken Heart, focusing on the play's major themes, dramatic structure, and sources.]
I The Story and Its Sources
Although the order in which Ford's plays were written or performed is not known, The Broken Heart (first printed in 1633) and The Lover's Melancholy have more than enough in common to warrant sequential treatment. First of all, they are the only two of Ford's seven extant plays that belonged to the King's men (the company for which Shakespeare had written), and were performed by them at the Blackfriars playhouse. The other five dramas were printed for Christopher Beeston's companies at the Phoenix. This fact, together with the 1628 licensing date for The Lover's Melancholy, has led Bentley to suggest that Ford wrote first for the King's Men, then for Beeston [Gerald E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, vol. III, 1941-1956]; if so, the two works are relatively close together in time.
Besides this external evidence, the plays themselves have some interesting likenesses. In each, for instance, the main story has a two-part pattern: in The Lover's Melancholy, Palador is cured, then Meleander; in The Broken Heart, Penthea dies of grief, then Calantha. Again, parts of both bear a striking resemblance in structure: three bearers of sad news who, in a masquelike sequence, interrupt a dance to speak to Princess Calantha remind us of the bearers of good news who visit Meleander; Ford handles the two incidents in much the same way. Another type of similarity, more subtle but probably more significant, is found in the attitude and language of Penthea, the central persona of The Broken Heart. Her most poignant speeches express a lassitude and a weariness with life that recall lines spoken by Meleander and by Eroclea. One of many parallels must suffice. Penthea, having lost her mind, is waiting for death:
There's not a hair
Sticks on my head but like a leaden plummet
It sinks me to the grave. I must creep thither;
The journey is not long.
Eroclea, speaking to Prince Palador in the tone of his own melancholy, says:
Minutes are number'd by the fall of sands,
As by an hourglass; the span of time
Doth waste us to our graves.
Here, quite possibly, is the most important source for The Broken Heart.
Before considering the play more closely, we may find a summary of its story useful. Orgilus tells his father that he is leaving Sparta (for Athens) because of what has happened to Penthea, the woman he loves. Though betrothed to Orgilus, she has been forced by her brother, Ithocles, to marry the older Bassanes. This marriage, explains Orgilus, has resulted in her misery, not only because of the broken betrothal, but because Bassanes, who has proven to be inordinately jealous, keeps his innocent wife under constant surveillance and fears the rivalry of Orgilus. By going to Athens, says Orgilus, he will lessen Bassanes's anxiety and hence make life more bearable for Penthea. Instead of leaving, however, Orgilus remains in Sparta disguised as a scholar studying under the philosopher Tecnicus. In the palace gardens he manages to find the unsuspecting Penthea, identifies himself, and claims her as his own. But Penthea, though admitting that she still loves him, vows fidelity to her husband and commands Orgilus never again to speak to her of love.
Meanwhile, Penthea's brother, Ithocles, returns to Sparta from Messene as a victorious general and receives a hero's welcome both from King Amyclas and from Princess Calantha, who crowns him with a garland. Ithocles soon visits his sister and, perceiving Penthea's hopelessness, is remorseful for having ended her betrothal to Orgilus; she bitterly replies that, since she is not married to the man she loves, she finds herself "a faith-breaker" and "a spotted whore." Though most contrite, Ithocles in turn confides to her his love for Princess Calantha; if Penthea wants vengeance, he says, all she need do is report his presumptuous aspiration to the king. Penthea is sympathetic, however, and offers her assistance.
Their conversation is abruptly terminated by her husband, Bassanes, who rushes in to accuse Ithocles of incest. Bassanes, who soon realizes the madness of his charges, begs his wife's forgiveness; but his marital tyranny proves too much for Penthea, who gradually loses her desire to live. In a later scene, she expresses her utter despair to Calantha, to whom she then wills, "in rites of holiest love," Ithocles; and she pleads with the princess on her brother's behalf. Penthea's effort is successful, for subsequently Calantha, though being wooed by Prince Nearchus of Argos, reveals her preference for Ithocles by dropping her ring at his feet; she then requests and receives her father's sanction to marry him. While these events have been occurring, Orgilus has abandoned his disguise as a scholar and returned to the court, where he gives his blessing to the marriage of his sister, Euphranea, to Prophilus, best friend of Ithocles, and is warmly welcomed by the latter.
But Ithocles's expectation of happiness—marriage to Calantha and friendship with Orgilus—is to prove short-lived; vague but ominous are two prophecies of the oracular philosopher Tecnicus: "The lifeless trunk shall wed the broken heart" and "Revenge proves its own executioner." The catalyst of catastrophe is Penthea, who, having lost her mind and spoken distractedly to her brother, her husband, and her beloved, starves herself to death. No sooner has she died than Orgilus, who from the very beginning has held her brother responsible for her plight, exacts vengeance by trapping Ithocles in a mechanical chair and murdering him. Calantha—now Queen of Sparta, her father having died—sentences Orgilus to die. By choosing to bleed himself to death, Orgilus fulfills one prophecy: "Revenge proves its own executioner." Next, Calantha, after calmly arranging for the disposition of her kingdom, places a wedding ring on the finger of her "neglected husband," the slain Ithocles, then dies. Thus comes to pass the second prophecy: "The lifeless trunk shall wed the broken heart."
For the main story of The Broken Heart, no known literary source exists. Sherman, who has advanced the hypothesis that Ford was influenced by the love affair of Sir Philip Sidney and Penelope Devereux, points out that, just as Penelope was forced to marry Lord Rich in spite of having been promised to Sidney, so is Penthea forced to give up Orgilus, her true love, for Bassanes. Sherman also notes that Ford must have known of the affair since his poem Fame's Memorial (1606) is dedicated to Penelope. This parallel between literature and life, while interesting, scarcely covers the entire play (Orgilus, for example, differs markedly from Sidney). Davril suggests that Ford's theme could have come from an earlier play, George Wilkins's The Miseries of Enforced Marriage (1607) [Le Drame de John Ford, 1954]; George Sensabaugh believes that the play's idealization of love (discussed below) is affected by the Platonic coterie of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I [The Tragic Muse of John Ford, 1944]; Davril disagrees, arguing that The Broken Heart was written too early and, also, that Ford's own pamphlet Honour Triumphant (1606) had already shown his interest in Platonic love.
S. Blaine Ewing, Jr., contends that the play, like The Lover's Melancholy, is influenced by Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy and cites the detailed symptoms of Bassanes's jealousy (II.i), as well as Ithocles's "passion of ambition" and the melancholy of both Penthea and Orgilus [Burtonian Melancholy in the Plays of John Ford, 1940]. Other commentators have found other possible origins for various parts of The Broken Heart. Hazlitt thinks that the interrupted dance (V.ii) was suggested by a scene in Marston's The Malcontent (1604) [Lectures on the Age of Elizabeth, 1884]; William Gifford finds analogues for Orgilus's mechanical chair in the Greek topographer Pausanias, the sixteenth-century Italian author Matteo Bandello, and Barnes [The Works of John Ford, ed. alexander Duce and John Gifford, reprint, 1965]; and Davril cites, as a probable source for Calantha's marriagein-death to Ithocles, the Spanish tragedy Doẽa Inès de Castro by La Cerda.
II Love, Revenge, and Fate
The theme of The Broken Heart is that marriage should be based upon love. Though not denying the authority of father or brother, Ford emphasizes that enforced marriage has tragic consequences. In the play are three pairs of lovers: Orgilus and Penthea, Ithocles and Calantha, and Prophilus and Euphranea. The third pair are happily wedded, and the lyrics of the song celebrating their nuptials (Ill.iv) indicate clearly that Ford is not attacking marriage; if not abused, this institution results in the greatest fulfillment of the love between man and woman. But Ithocles has abused it, since he has made his sister break her betrothal to Orgilus; and betrothals are not to be treated so casually. Because of his thoughtlessness, four people die.
Throughout The Broken Heart various characters, even minor ones, inveigh against enforced marriage. King Amyclas welcomes Prince Nearchus as a suitor of his daughter but states he will not "enforce affection by our will" (III.iii); and Nearchus later refers to Orgilus and Penthea as "injur'd / By tyranny or rigor of compulsion" (IV.ii). Of all the characters, Penthea is the most eloquent. Because her betrothal to the man she loves has been violated, she regards her marriage to Bassanes as tainted. To be sure, she will not commit, or even contemplate, adultery; at the same time, she is afflicted by a "divorce betwixt … body and … heart" (II.iii); with scathing irony, she asks her brother to kill her as "a faith-breaker, / A spotted whore"; and then she explains: "For she that's wife to Orgilus and lives / In known adultery with Bassanes / Is at best a whore" (III.ii). Later, in her madness (IV.ii), she speaks the same language: "There is no peace left for a ravish'd wife / Widow'd by lawless marriage" (IV.ii).
Love is an important element in The Broken Heart, and it is handled in various ways by Ford. He often associates love with beauty, and at times he treats each Platonically. Orgilus, describing the love between himself and Penthea, says that "an interchange / Of holy and chaste love, so fix'd our souls / In a firm growth of union, that no time / Can eat into the pledge" (I.i); and he later calls their relationship "that precious figure / Seal'd with the lively stamp of equal souls" (II.iii). Ford's Platonic idealization of beauty appears in the first of the play's four songs, which states that anything is less impossible "than by any praise [to] display / Beauty's beauty; such a glory / As beyond all fate, all story" (III.ii).
The playwright's approach is not always, however, Platonic. For both Orgilus and Ithocles, spiritual union is not enough; they desire physical consummation, and use the metaphor of a banquet to be eaten. Penthea starves to death for want of love as well as food. Furthermore, Ford seems more chivalric than Platonic in what occasionally amounts to a deification of beauty: Prince Nearchus, courting Calantha, calls himself a subject "to beauty's scepter" (III.iii); and Ithocles insists "There is more divinity / In beauty than in majesty" (IV.i). Ford's pamphlet Honour Triumphant (1606) makes the same point, its third section being entitled "Fair lady was never false. " Again, Ford often employs the language of courtly love (as he did in The Lover's Melancholy) when describing the affair between Calantha and Ithocles: when the princess casts her ring in front of Ithocles, she twice refers to herself as a "mistress" (IV.i); and, in the preceding scene, Penthea's plea to Calantha on behalf of her brother presents the traditional image of abject suitor and haughty woman:
First, his heart
Shall fall in cinders, scorch'd by your disdain,
Ere he will dare, poor man, to ope an eye
On these divine looks, but with low-bent thoughts
Accusing such presumption. As for words,
'A dares not utter any but of service;
Yet this lost creature loves 'ee. Be a princess
In sweetness as in blood; give him his doom,
Or raise him up to comfort.
In The Lover's Melancholy, Thamasta and Menaphon speak in this vein. Perhaps in both plays Ford uses it to help distinguish between his main and secondary stories. In The Broken Heart, at any rate, quite different language describes Penthea. By Orgilus, by Ithocles, and by Bassanes she is visualized not as the unattainable mistress but as the epitome of wronged innocence and purity; and Penthea frequently is depicted in religious terms: she is a "shrine" (I.i), a "deity [to be] … worshipp'd for … resolved martyrdom" (III.i), a "temple built for ad-oration" (IV.ii), and a "turtle [dove]" (IV.iv); the dirge sung at her death concludes, "Now love dies, implying / Love's martyrs must be ever, ever dying" (IV.iii). In Perkin Warbeck, similar imagery portrays Katherine Gordon, who, like Penthea, suffers nobly in the cause of love.
Love may be the principal element in The Broken Heart, but it is not the only one; for revenge and fate are of considerable importance. Ford skillfully uses them to pace his story and to achieve a denouement nicely poised between expectation and surprise. In The Lover's Melancholy, we recall, he employs disguise (Eroclea-Partheno-phil) as the device to connect his main story of Palador and Meleander to his secondary story of Thamasta and Menaphon; also, he presents a series of six scenes, swinging back and forth between the melancholy prince and the melancholy father in their gradual recoveries. In The Broken Heart, no such symmetry of structure is noticeable. Nevertheless, Ford's manipulation of his material is equally impressive, as in his use of revenge.
The avenger is, of course, Orgilus, who murders Ithocles in the last scene of Act IV, immediately after Penthea has died. Ford's timing and emphasis are masterful. Orgilus does not murder Ithocles until Penthea has gone mad and clearly is dying (IV.ii). By thus delaying Orgilus's revenge, Ford gives himself time to develop the love affair between Ithocles and Calantha, who shortly before Penthea's death receive King Amyclas's permission to marry; hence, Orgilus's vengeance is doubly sweet, for he deprives Ithocles not only of life but of the marital bliss Ithocles once took from him. Yet from the very beginning of the play Ford manages, by means of clever emphasis, to present Orgilus as a sinister figure. True, in retrospect and analysis we realize he cannot murder until Penthea dies; but, if we were witnessing the drama for the first time, we could not know this fact. Ford repeatedly reminds us that Orgilus is up to no good—precisely what, we do not know, until the trap is sprung. Orgilus himself keeps us worried: he disguises himself as a scholar, then returns undisguised to the court, where he is arranging some sort of entertainment and where he responds cryptically to Ithocles's proffered friendship. Other characters are suspicious: the philosopher Tecnicus twice warns him (I.iii and III.i), concluding with a lecture that defines and praises honor while damning, among several things, revenge and murder; his father Crotolon chastises him (III.iv) for the "wolf of hatred snarling in [his] breast."
As an avenger, Orgilus could be said to represent free will; for he decides how, where, and when he will consummate the murder; and he strikes like lightning. But if, in The Broken Heart, revenge provides surprise, fate provides expectation, because all has been foreseen by the gods. Here Ford's principal device is the ambiguous prophecy made by Tecnicus. When the "inspired" philosopher utters it to Ithocles and to Orgilus (IV.i), neither they nor the audience can fathom its import; it must be spelled out by subsequent events. As Prince Nearchus says, in the play's last two lines, "The counsels of the gods are never known / Till men can call th'effects of them their own" (V.iii). Thus Tecnicus's prophecy to Orgilus that "Revenge proves its own executioner" makes no sense until Orgilus is later bleeding himself to death for having slain Ithocles. Ford further develops the element of fate by frequent reference to the omniscience of the gods; as Tecnicus says to Orgilus:
Of habit, and disguise in outward view,
Hides not the secrets of thy soul within thee
From their quick-piercing eyes, which dive at all
Down to thy thoughts.
In this manner Ford adds an air of inevitability to his story without revealing its outcome; The Broken Heart offers both expectation and surprise.
III Decorum and Death
Also noteworthy in The Broken Heart is the decorum, the sense of propriety, of its characters. Most of them exhibit a restraint that often complements the thread of fate running through the play. At times, this decorum amounts simply to the good manners of aristocrats; at other times, it is not only courtly etiquette but breathtaking Stoicism, for these Spartans die well. In The Broken Heart, the higher one's rank, the more polished his manners: Princess Calantha and Prince Nearchus invariably do and say the right thing; Ithocles, Orgilus, and Penthea are sometimes censurers and sometimes the censured; Prophilus twice is socially remiss; and the soldier-courtiers Groneas and Hemophil are ludicrously inept. On three occasions Ithocles is politely reprimanded for rudeness by Nearchus, who says of him:
A gallant man at arms is here, a doctor
In feats of chivalry, blunt and rough-spoken,
Vouchsafing not the fustian of civility,
Which less rash spirits style good manners.
This constant concern, in rather ordinary situations, about proper behavior may strike some as snobbishness; but Ford is setting his stage for extraordinary decorum: the deaths of Orgilus and Calantha. Penthea and Ithocles also die, but they have little opportunity for mannerliness: Penthea, having lost her mind, speaks disjointedly and passionately; Ithocles, fatally stabbed, has time only to voice his courage. Orgilus and Calantha die with more propriety.
Orgilus, after he has admitted his murder of Ithocles and has been condemned to die by Calantha, chooses to bleed himself to death. But, since veins in both arms are to be pierced, he needs assistance; he requests such aid, politely:
Only I am a beggar to some charity
To speed me in this execution,
By lending th'other prick to th'tother arm
When this is bubbling life out.
Bassanes readily volunteering, Orgilus thanks him: "Gramercy, friendship. / Such courtesies are real which flow cheerfully / Without an expectation of requital." And, even as his blood streams forth "like a lusty wine new broached," Orgilus remains properly deferential: "On a pair-royal do I wait in death: / My sovereign, as his liegeman; on my mistress, / As a devoted servant; and on Ithocles, / As if no brave yet no unworthy enemy."
Calantha's death, though not so spectacular, is ultimately more impressive. At first her reaction to the messengers who announce the deaths of Amyclas, Penthea, and Ithocles seems mere haughtiness; she refuses to halt the dance, then censures them for rudeness:
'Tis, methinks, a rare presumption
In any who prefers our lawful pleasures
Before their own sour censure, t' interrupt
The custom of this ceremony bluntly.
But empty formalism proves to be supreme Stoicism. For, after she has calmly sentenced Orgilus and arranged for the succession to her throne, Calantha reveals her intolerable suffering:
O, my lords,
I but deceiv'd your eyes with antic gesture,
When one news straight came huddling on another
Of death, and death, and death. Still I danc'd forward;
But it struck home, and here, and in an instant.
Her duties having been performed, she kisses Ithocles, orders her dirge sung, and dies of a broken heart.
Bassanes, too, contributes significantly to the play's pattern of decorum, primarily as a foil. Whereas the dominant tone is reserved, hushed, and cadenced, his voice is coarse, raucous, and uneven. In his first appearance, he threatens his servant Phulas:
I'll tear thy throat out,
Son of a cat, ill-looking hound's-head, rip up
Thy ulcerous maw, if I but scent a paper,
A scroll, but half as big as what can cover
A wart upon thy nose, a spot, a pimple,
Directed to my lady. It may prove
A mystical preparative to lewdness.
He sounds the same when next heard (II.iii), berating another hapless servant, Grausis: "Fie on thee! Damn thee, rotten maggot, damn thee!" But his impropriety reaches its nadir when, poniard in hand, he breaks into the private conference between Ithocles and Penthea to call the brother "one that franks his lust / In swine-security of bestial incest" (III.ii). And Ithocles has just questioned the etiquette of his intrusion, saying "The meaning of this rudeness?" and "I'd say you were unmannerly." Thus Bassanes is Ford's deliberately discordant note, which by its very abnormality reminds us of the harmonious scale of decorum elsewhere.
Later in the play, the dramatist utilizes Bassanes quite differently, making him reinforce rather than clash with the Stoicism of Orgilus's death. Orgilus, soon after he has privately murdered Ithocles, tells Bassanes that he will divulge "an unmatched secret" if Bassanes will "put on … such a patience / As chronicle or history ne'er mentioned." Bassanes replies that nothing Orgilus can say will ruffle his composure:
The virgin bays shall not withstand the lightning
With a more careless danger than my constancy
The full of thy relation; could it move
Distraction in a senseless marble statue,
It should find me a rock.
Such a metamorphosis of the foul-mouthed and foulminded husband of the earlier scenes actually occurs, for Bassanes lives up to his words; during the subsequent death of Orgilus, nothing can shock him. With alacrity he assists Orgilus, supervising the filleting and pricking of his arms. Armostes, Hemophil, and Groneas are stunned as the fountains of blood jet forth; but Bassanes relishes the experience:
Appears majestical; some high-tuned poem
Hereafter shall deliver to posterity
The writer's glory and his subject's triumph.
Bassanes's enthusiasm seems callous, if not morbid; for Orgilus, not he, is dying. Yet Ford seems more interested in theatrical effect than in characterization: his addition of Bassanes's almost unnerving calm to the awesome stead-fastness of Orgilus results in an intensity that is overpowering.
IV Structure, Song, and Spectacle
Ford's dramaturgy calls for additional discussion. Some aspects of it have already been mentioned—his handling of suspense in terms of revenge and fate, his presentation of death in terms of decorum and Stoicism—but we need to examine his use of structure, song, and spectacle. Concerning structure, Ford builds The Broken Heart around two deaths: those of Penthea and Calantha. One problem he encounters is that of timing. Until Penthea dies, no one else can: Orgilus has no adequate motivation for murdering Ithocles (not to mention taking his own life); and Calantha, in turn, has no cause whatsoever for dying of a broken heart. Yet Penthea dies rather late in the play (IV.iii). One of Ford's probable reasons (already discussed) is to delay Orgilus's revenge until Ithocles is betrothed to the princess. But another, and more important reason, should be obvious: Penthea does not die any sooner be-cause she is Ford's central character. She, more than any other persona, establishes the prevailing tone of heartbreak and hopelessness; her lines are the most poignant. Between her first appearance (II.i) and her death (IV.iii), she is the major figure in four scenes, three of them private and extremely personal conversations with Orgilus (II.iii), with Ithocles (III.ii), and with Calantha (III.v). In her last appearance (IV.ii), having lost her sanity, she addresses husband, lover, and brother. Her death, coming from a broken spirit and self-imposed starvation, is slow and deliberate.
But, once Penthea has died, Ford must increase the pace of his story. He has presented one death in the first four acts; he now has to present three more in the last four scenes. At the same time, he must preserve the drama's tone of restraint and inevitability. Most readers would agree that he succeeds in doing so. Admittedly, Orgilus's murder of Ithocles is rapid, not slow; but, since this act is revenge, Ford wishes it to shock. His handling of the last two deaths re-establishes the mood shattered briefly by Orgilus; for both Orgilus and Calantha die with deliberateness and decorum. Calantha's death may be more un-expected than that of Orgilus, but with her testament and her dirge in our ears—as well as Tecnicus's prophecy that "the lifeless trunk shall wed the broken heart"—we experience her end with no great surprise.
The structure of Act I also requires attention. Here Ford carefully sets up a central situation which he then discards in Act II. In the first act, Orgilus, instead of leaving for Athens, remains in Sparta disguised as a scholar. In the palace gardens he overhears Prophilus wooing his sister, Euphranea (I.iii). When she responds with a declaration of her love, Orgilus expresses, in asides, his vexation; for earlier (I.i) he has exacted from Euphranea a promise that she will accept no suitor without his permission. At this point the disguised Orgilus, calling himself Aplotes, greets Prophilus and Euphranea and agrees to Prophilus's suggestion that he carry letters between the two lovers and that he be available for such service twice a day, at nine in the morning and at four in the afternoon. We therefore anticipate an ironic parallel. Just as Ithocles has thwarted the love between his sister Penthea and Orgilus, so will Ithocles obstruct the love between his sister Euphranea and Prophilus (who, in addition, is Ithocles's best friend).
But our expectations are not fulfilled. Letters never are delivered. Orgilus soon abandons his disguise, returns to court, and sanctions his sister's marriage to Prophilus, who after his prominent role in Act I becomes a very minor character. Orgilus eventually destroys a marriage, but it is that of Ithocles and Calantha. As to why Ford dropped his original plan we can only speculate. Perhaps he found the suffering Penthea more interesting to develop than the avenging Orgilus; perhaps he decided that sustaining Orgilus's scholar disguise would be burdensome. At any rate, a major shift in plot occurs after Act I.
Song is also important in The Broken Heart; four lyrics, more than in any other work by Ford, not only add a distinct yet harmonious voice to the play but also contribute to its unity. All deal with love; the first might be called philosophical, the second joyful, and the third and fourth mournful. Of the four songs, the first (III.ii) is the most tenuously connected to the story. Praising the ineffable nature of "Beauty's beauty," it is sung while Bassanes awaits outside Ithocles's chamber and Ithocles and Penthea confer within. The Platonic idealism of the lyric seems out of place when succeeded by Bassanes's suspicions of incest:
The floor is matted,
The bedposts sure are steel or marble. Soldiers
Should not affect, methinks, strains so effeminate. …
Are felt, not heard.
But this contrast is intentional; the playwright is utilizing a dramatic device popularized by Fletcher and employed by other Elizabethan and Stuart dramatists. Many of Fletcher's plays contain love scenes introduced by erotic lyrics sung offstage; in Ford's The Lady's Trial, such a song begins the incident (II.iv) in which Adurni, banqueting with Spinella in his chamber, attempts to seduce her. The song in The Broken Heart is similar to these in its context, since man and woman are in a private chamber, but dissimilar in its lyrics, which are not erotic. Hence it has a double function: to the inordinately jealous Bassanes, its context signifies sexual love; to the audience, its chaste words refute such a suspicion.
Of the play's other songs, the second one is sung, presumably by Orgilus, to bless the forthcoming marriage of his sister, Euphranea, and Prophilus. As a prothalamum, it prays for "Comforts lasting, loves increasing, /. … Plenty's pleasure, peace complying" (III.iv). These lyrics, not to mention the well-matched couple themselves, should give pause to commentators who view The Broken Heart as simply an attack upon marriage. The third and fourth songs are dirges, the former for Penthea's death (IV.ii) and the latter for Calantha's (V.iii); and music connects thereby the play's two climactic scenes. Calantha dies much more quickly than Penthea, but Ford creates, by means of dirge (as well as Calantha's decorum), an effect of equal slowness. In addition, the lyrics for Calantha are associated with two of Penthea's earlier speeches; the song's first four lines are quite similar to Penthea's lament to the princess (III.v):
Glories, pleasures, pomps, delight, and ease
Can but please
Th'outward senses when the mind
Is not untroubled or by peace refin 'd.
And the entire dirge, since it is sung by three voices, becomes a fulfillment of Penthea's pathetic madness: "Sure if we were all sirens we should sing pitifully, / And 'twere a comely music when in parts / One sung another's knell" (IV.ii).
The Broken Heart was written to be seen as well as heard. Ford makes effective use of spectacle; gesture, posture, and grouping assume unusual significance, especially in the portrayal of love and of death. For example, we have the love of Orgilus and Penthea. When they meet in the grove (II.iii), Penthea clasps his hand, kisses it, and kneels before him; then Orgilus kneels. Later (IV.ii) Penthea, now mad, again clasps his hand and kisses it; then he kisses hers. Such actions make their love seem ceremonial and give it an air of sanctity. Furthermore, the clasping of hands associates the lovers visually with the two happily betrothed couples, who make the same gesture: Euphranea and Prophilus are so united by Orgilus (III.iv) and Calantha and Ithocles by King Amyclas (IV.iii).
Ford also utilizes spectacle for death. A good example is the sedentary pose of Penthea and Ithocles. In their interview (III.ii), brother and sister sit close together; later, Penthea dies in a chair (IV.iii) and is joined in this attitude of death by Ithocles (IV.iv), who is murdered in a chair next to hers. This grouping is paralleled in the final scene, when Calantha is united with Ithocles in death. Ford's stage directions are both detailed and ambiguous: "Enter four bearing Ithocles on a hearse, or in a chair … place him on one side of the altar. " Is Ithocles to lie on a hearse, or sit in a chair? And, when Calantha later kisses him, then dies, what is her posture of death? We wish that Ford had left no choice other than the sedentary posture; but, even without it, the concluding tableau would bring to mind the earlier one.
Finally, something should be said about the language of The Broken Heart, particularly its depiction of character and its linking of scenes. To portray character, Ford in some cases employs throughout the drama similar imagery, the cumulative effect of which is considerable. Ithocles, for instance, time and again is described in terms of rising and falling—the rise is usually presumptuous, and the fall is usually precipitous. Soliloquizing, he likens his ambition to a blinded dove that mounts to clouds only to tumble "headlong down" (II.ii) and to fireworks that "fly into the air" only to "vanish / In stench and smoke" (II.ii). Armostes compares Ithocles to Ixion, who, "aiming / To embrace Juno, bosom'd but a cloud / And begat centaurs" (IV.i); Orgilus compares him to Phaeton (IV.iv), who drove the sun chariot until blasted from the heavens by Zeus; and Nearchus likens him to "low mushrooms" (IV.i) and refers to him as "lord ascendant" (IV.ii). Together, all these images clearly picture Ithocles as an upstart and prefigure his sudden downfall. Ford portrays Bassanes in a similar manner; for animal imagery repeatedly connotes the bestial, degrading attitudes of the jealous husband.
Ford also uses language to link scenes (the similar function of song and of spectacle has been noted above), establishing connections where, logically, none should exist. Two examples may be given. King Amyclas, joyfully anticipating the return of the victorious general Ithocles, says: "I shall shake off / This silver badge of age, and change this snow / For hairs as gay as are Apollo's locks" (I.ii). In the first scene of Act II, when Bassanes asks his servant Phulas for news, the latter replies:
Forsooth, they say the king has mew'd
All his gray beard, instead of which is budded
Another of pure carnation color,
Speckled with green and russet.
As characterization, Phulas's speech is worthless; but its repetition of hair imagery reminds the audience of the king's earlier comment about Ithocles. Another illustration involves Ford's two principal death scenes. Orgilus, as he leaves the dead Penthea and Ithocles, addresses them: "Sweet twins, shine stars forever" (IV.iv); King Amyclas, in the preceding scene (IV.iii), has employed the same epithet for Calantha and Ithocles: "Sweet twins of my life's solace." Once more Ford makes an association solely by repeated words. And this connection is an important one, for if, before the final death (V.iii), the audience has al-ready associated the two couples verbally, it cannot fail to associate them visually when Calantha joins Ithocles in death.
Eugene M. Waith (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: "Struggle for Calm: The Dramatic Structure of The Broken Heart, in English Renaissance Drama: Essays in Honor of Madeleine Doran & Mark Eccles, edited by Standish Henning, Robert Kimbrough, and Richard Knowles, Southern Illinois University Press, 1976, pp. 155-66.
[In the following essay, Waith examines the thematic device of struggling to remain calm on the part of the major characters in The Broken Heart as a key to understanding the play's dramatic structure.]
At the opening of the fifth act of John Ford's tragicomedy, The Lover's Melancholy, Corax, the physician who is working to end the epidemic of melancholy in Cyprus, announces imminent success to Cleophila:
Tis well, tis well, the houre is at hand,
Which must conclude the busines, that no Art
Coo'd al this while make ripe for wisht content.
O Lady, in the turmoyles of our liues,
Men are like politike States, or troubled Seas,
Tost vp and downe with seuerall stormes and
Change, and varietie of wracks, and fortunes,
Till labouring to the Hauens of our homes,
We struggle for the Calme that crownes our ends.
"A happy end Heauen blesse vs with," Cleophila replies, and her prayer is answered. A struggle for calm is discernible in a number of Ford's characters, both those who succeed and those who do not succeed in imposing this calm on their turbulent natures. The Broken Heart, which may have been written shortly after The Lover's Melancholy, has particularly striking examples of such characters. One thinks first of Calantha continuing a state wedding celebration with no outward sign of disturbance when she hears in quick succession of the deaths of her father, her prospective sister-in-law, and her husband-tobe. But Nearchus, Calantha's princely suitor, also masters his feelings in another scene, renouncing her when he sees that she loves Ithocles; Ithocles attempts to re-dress the wrong he committed earlier by breaking the engagement of his sister Penthea to Orgilus; and these two lovers, in their different ways and with varying success, struggle to control the resentment they feel at their cruel treatment.
In the reassuring speech by Corax the struggle apparently leads toward a happy ending, but the overtones of his metaphor (how characteristic of Ford!) are decidedly pessimistic. The end of the voyage, the final haven, "Calme that crownes our ends," inevitably suggest death, even though that is not what Corax means. It is what Penthea means in The Broken Heart when she says, in somewhat similar terms, "In vain we labor in this course of life / To piece our journey out at length, or crave / Respite of breath. Our home is in the grave." And a movement toward the calm of death, often hinted at in The Broken Heart, seems to be the result of Penthea's, as of Calantha's, effort to suppress her feelings. If the struggle for calm restores health in The Lover's Melancholy, it contributes to the tragedy of The Broken Heart.
The portrayal of this struggle on the part of several major characters results in an unusual structure. Ford was obviously familiar with many earlier tragedies in which the final violence was succeeded by a lofty serenity, as in the closing speeches of Horatio and Fortinbras in Hamlet, but The Broken Heart is strange in that violence is avoided except in one instance, where it is severely qualified. In other cases the tensions between characters are dissipated, largely through their own efforts, before the expected outbreak, substituting order for agon. This pattern of violence avoided gives the play its distinctive tone and a large share of its meaning. Since the pattern can only be apprehended as a temporal sequence, it will be necessary to give up the broad, spatial view of the literary analyst for the more limited immediate view of a playgoer, experiencing the play in the theater. Only in retrospect will it be possible to see the successive ups and downs of this experience as features of a single landscape, as if one left the road one had been traveling and took off in a plane, from which the preceding hours of the trip could be seen in an instant.
Leonard Meyer's approach to musical meaning in Emotion and Meaning in Music suggests a useful way of thinking about dramatic experience. Drawing on the psycho-logical theory that "Emotion or affect is aroused when a tendency to respond is arrested or inhibited," Meyer explores the process by which music arouses certain expectations, and concludes that "Affect or emotionfelt is aroused when an expectation—a tendency to respond—activated by the musical stimulus situation, is temporarily inhibited or permanently blocked." If the experience is to be pleasing, however, a sense of completion must follow: "a dissonance or an ambiguous progression which might be unpleasant when heard in isolation may be beautiful within a piece of music where its relationship to past events and impending resolutions is understandable." The pattern must finally be perceived. Because he finds that the same musical processes which give rise to affect also arouse the intellectual responses of the listener with a technical understanding of music, Meyer is able to treat the intellectually formulated meaning of music as part of the experience which may be emotionally felt.
Different as verbal communication is from music, the processes by which poetic form makes itself felt are analogous to the processes of music, and the dramatist, in particular, creates many of his effects by the arousal of expectations and the manipulation of response. If the expectations aroused by the first part of a familiar cadence differ in many ways from those aroused by the development of a familiar situation, they are sufficiently similar to warrant consideration of the effects the dramatist may achieve by temporarily or permanently refusing to resolve the situation in the expected way. In drama emotion is not generated solely by the formal means which are the chief ones available to the musical composer, but it seems likely mat the spectator's experiences of suspense, for example, or frustration or surprise, when his expectations are not immediately fulfilled, correspond to those of the musical listener. It may be said in anticipation of the results of the following analysis, that The Broken Heart repeatedly creates a certain uneasiness, if not bewilderment, by the postponement or cancellation of the consequences of what we see and hear. Not until several of these moments of frustrated expectation have been experienced can they be seen to constitute a pattern.
In the expository opening scene, in which Orgilus tells his father, Crotolon, why he wants to leave Sparta, the important motif of trouble followed by calm is briefly sketched. Referring to the feud between his family and Penthea's, Orgilus says,
After so many quarrels as dissension,
Fury, and rage had broach'd in blood …
Our present king, Amyclas, reconcil'd
Your eager swords and seal'd a gentle peace.
The pledge of this peace had been the engagement of Orgilus and Penthea, soon broken by her brother Ithocles, in order to make a more socially advantageous match for her. In Orgilus's account Ithocles appears to be a type familiar in Jacobean drama, a proud malcontent, who nourished his sense of injury "to glory in revenge" (42). But now Orgilus is the one injured, and his "griefs are violent" (71). Obviously, he might be expected to seek revenge, but instead, he seems to seek escape from his griefs by going where he will not be reminded of his loss by the sight of Penthea. In the latter part of the scene he appears to be a fond, protective brother to Euphranea, whom he promises to see well matched, after she agrees not to marry without his consent. In the course of this rather short scene Ford prepares carefully for the ensuing action without giving any clear indications of what it will be. The history of injury outlasting reconciliation is ominous, but the present is represented by an apparently harmonious family. The most disquieting notes are the description of Ithocles and the slight oddity of Orgilus's behavior, puzzling to both his father and sister.
The second scene shifts our attention to Ithocles, who is now described by the king as Sparta's great warrior hero and by his friend Prophilus as one who accepts his success with "moderation, / Calmness of nature, measure, bounds, and limits / Of thankfulness and joy" (35-37). Crotolon says, "You describe / A miracle of man" (47-48). This is not the Ithocles we might have expected from Orgilus's comments—the vengeful and cruel brother, made to be the villain of a tragedy. To the extent that such an Ithocles exists he is part of the past, a discarded self which lingers only in embittered memories—his own and those of Orgilus and Penthea. The character who appears on stage in this scene seems altogether admirable. As Mark Stavig says [in John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order, 1968], "We naturally wonder which account of Ithocles is correct." The sense (partly erroneous, as it turns out) that Ithocles' disturbing ambition has given way to "moderation" and "calmness of nature" tends to dissipate tragic expectation.
The last scene of the first act, one of the longest in the play, goes much further than the opening scene to suggest that Orgilus will, after all, take some sort of counteraction to assuage his violent griefs. The opening of the scene presents an emblem of concealment as Orgilus, now supposed to have left for Athens, appears in the disguise of a scholar. Tecnicus, the artist-philosopher, encourages him to order his life by accepting his fate, and even tells him that it is dangerous to deny himself the usual pleasures of youth, but Orgilus insists that he is undertaking no more than a brief retreat to settle his mind. Only when he is alone does he admit that his real purpose is to watch over Penthea and to test his sister's faith. Thus the emblem has two sides: it represents the moral cloak which Orgilus throws over his feelings, or even to smother them; but it is also the disguise of a revenger, and as such a possible means to a violent end. When Orgilus sees Euphranea walking with Ithocles' friend Prophilus in the palace garden, he leaps to the conclusion that "There is no faith in woman" (90), and is soon agreeing, in the manner of a Vindice, to act as a messenger between them. When he ends the act with a Machiavellian soliloquy, calling for darkness and deceit, it seems clearly indicated that he will prevent his sister's marriage to Prophilus as at least a partial revenge for what has happened to him.
Ford's strategy in these early scenes depends to an unusual degree upon the familiarity of his audience with earlier plays. It is the strategy of one who made a late "entrance" (to adopt George Kubler's useful term [in The Shape of Time, 1962]) in the tradition of English Renaissance drama, when many of the possible options had already been exercised. But if the moment of his entrance did not allow him to be original in the ways available to Marlowe or Shakespeare, it opened up other possibilities. In The Broken Heart he uses the work of his predecessors as a kind of shorthand to give his spectators a false assurance that they know what is to follow. The tradition enables him to be brilliantly misleading and, in this way, original.
Juxtaposed with Orgilus's craving for revenge is the grotesque jealousy of Bassanes, the old man to whom Ithocles has married Penthea. In the first scene of act II he is torn between his compulsion to isolate her from the world and his desire to please her even by taking her to court. He is a comic stereotype whose presence in the play is surprising but not so incongruous as it may seem. His emotional instability is not altogether different from that of Orgilus, the man his marriage has wronged, and the similarity is suggested by their names, which Ford translates as "vexation" and "angry." The tantrums inspired by his jealous infatuation for Penthea, monstrous as they are made to appear, are perhaps no more irrational than Orgilus's determination to keep Euphranea from Prophilus.
What may be even more important for the experience of mis scene in the theater is the increased sense of movement it conveys. The first two scenes of the play consist mainly in conversations, relieved only by the pageantry accompanying Ithocles' return in the second. The third scene is again mostly talk, though the sight of Orgilus spying on his sister provides two centers of interest on stage, and both his asides and his soliloquy foreshadow action to come. But the scene with Bassanes translates his vexatious spirit into stage movement in a series of en-counters. First Bassanes instructs a servant about guarding Penthea, displaying his absurd and tragic obsession in speeches which any actor would render with the fussy, extravagant mannerisms traditionally associated with the jealous old husband. Bassanes is a basically uneasy, and hence fidgety, sort of person. When Penthea, all melancholy docility, enters with the old woman who looks after her, Bassanes tries to ingratiate himself by seeming to offer his young bride more worldly pleasures while at the same time angrily rebuking old Grausis for not being more strict. Between his infatuation and his anxiety he bounces himself back and forth like a ping-pong ball. Then "a herd of lords," as the servant says, and "a flock of ladies" (128) arrive to pay a visit. Despite his hope of pleasing Penthea, the last thing Bassanes wants is much public attention paid to her. His distraction is intensified as he sees all these people hovering about his wife: "How they flutter, / Wagtails and jays together!" (135-36). The incursion is brief, but since the visitors take Penthea with them to see Ithocles, Bassanes is left, more uneasy than ever, to come to terms with Penthea's "overseer." Physical movement in this scene and the emotional turmoil it reflects augment the anticipations of critical action raised by Orgilus's behavior in the preceding scene.
Now, just when the machinery of the play seems to have been set in motion, come three scenes which unexpectedly put on the brakes. In act II, scene ii Ithocles soliloquizes on the evils of ambition, which are compared to "squibs and crackers," flying into the air, exploding, and then vanishing "in stench and smoke" (6-8). He is fully aware of the way to prevent such futile explosions:
To timely practice keeps the soul in tune,
At whose sweet music all our actions dance.
Both the ideal and the metaphor in which it is expressed are centrally important in The Broken Heart, but it is not immediately clear what Ithocles is talking about. We are apt to assume that he is regretting his ambitious plans for Penthea, and he soon reveals that this matter is not far from the surface of his mind. The conclusion of his speech, however, points to some other, unexplained, primary concern: whatever books may teach us about morality, "It physics not the sickness of a mind / Broken with griefs" (12-13). Only "means, speedy means" will do. From the vantage-point of later events we can see that he is thinking of his ambitious love for the Princess Calantha.
Despite this strong hint that Ithocles may once again be a disordering force, his behavior in the remainder of the scene is exemplary, as it was at his first appearance. He urges Crotolon to allow Euphranea to marry Prophilus by way of strengthening his own ties with Crotolon's family, and when he is forcefully reminded that he disrupted the marriage of his sister to Orgilus, he blames his conduct on the folly of youth. The discussion of Euphranea's love is continued when she arrives with the princess, Penthea, Bassanes, and others. Orgilus is to be sent for so that, with his consent, the marriage may take place.
Good manners prevail even when the sensitive topic of Ithocles' treatment of Penthea is brought up, as if the various characters were headed toward reconciliation. Ithocles addresses his accuser as "gentle sir"; Crotolon gives way gracefully; Bassanes extols "The joys of marriage" and the constant woman (though, in an aside, wondering if she exists). The subordination of doubts to apparent harmony, as in this speech by Bassanes, is the pattern of the scene. On the surface are the plans for the wedding of Prophilus and Euphranea; below are Bassanes' jealousy, Ithocles' ambitions, and the likelihood that Orgilus will refuse his consent.
In the following scene (II.iii), Orgilus is restrained by Penthea when he finds her waiting for her brother in the garden. Removing his disguise, he urges the consummation of their love, only to meet a stern rebuke. Again a possible complication is avoided, emotion suppressed, action inhibited. When Bassanes comes into the garden, prey to his usual anxieties, he too is calmed by Penthea. It is in this scene that she expounds her despairing philosophy of life as a journey to the grave. According to the psychological theory on which Meyer bases his explanation of response to music, it is just such blocking of instinctive reaction which results in affect. For the characters in the play restraint may lead, as Tecnicus has warned, to a dangerous intensification of feeling. For the audience the suddenly reduced likelihood of an outbreak may also be frustrating—a letdown but also the occasion of increased concernment.
The brief first scene of act III presents the avoidance of "giddy rashness" and "some violent design" (2, 6) in the form of a homily on the nature of true honor by Tecnicus to Orgilus. In this same scene the king sends to Tecnicus for an interpretation of the Delphic oracle. Thus to the order of philosophy is added the suggestion of a fatal design which may mysteriously order the lives of everyone at the Spartan court.
In act III, scene ii, a crucial scene, placed close to the center of the play, Ford contrives two surprises, which almost resolve the major tensions built up in the first act and then slightly relaxed in the preceding three scenes. As if to herald this development, music opens the scene—a song in praise of indescribable beauty. As it is being sung Penthea, who has been summoned to her brother's chamber, is led across the stage by Prophilus to enter what is imagined to be an inner part of the room. Bassanes and Grausis follow them, but reenter so that both may listen at a curtain for the creaking of the bed. Before Bassanes can indulge his suspicions further Prophilus brings word that everyone is to leave, whereupon the curtain is drawn, revealing Ithocles and Penthea seated next to each other in chairs. He speaks to her affectionately, while she at first is bitter and accusatory, insisting that because of him she is living in spiritual adultery with Bassanes. As his apologies are followed by professions of despair, however, she suddenly relents, extracts the secret of his love for Calantha, and promises help. Brother and sister are reconciled.
Disturbing the calm of this scene, Bassanes bursts in again like a madman, poniard in hand, his mind bursting with thoughts of incest. Penthea says.
My lord, what slackness
In my obedience hath deserv'd this rage?
Except humility and silent duty
Have drawn on your unquiet, my simplicity
Ne'er studied your vexation
and suddenly his rage is at an end—not only the crazed suspicions of this moment but the jealous humor that has possessed him from the first. In the musical idiom already heard several times he says, "O, my senses / Are charm'd with sounds celestial" (173-74). Again calm triumphs over violence.
In its place in the sequence this scene goes a step beyond any that precede it in canceling out the threats to order and stability, while containing within itself striking instances of those threats in Penthea's bitter chiding of her brother and in the ravings of Bassanes. The tableau of Ithocles and Penthea seated together is a visual equivalent of the calm brought about by the end of the scene.
Up to this midpoint in the play Penthea is responsible for the most striking instances of violence avoided. She dissuades Orgilus from adulterous love, overcomes her own rancor toward her brother, and makes Bassanes see reason. Yet the calm she represents is the melancholy calm of resignation if not of death. If the expectations of tragic conflict are materially reduced by her actions, the tone of the play is confirmed as anything but happy. Hope of reconciliation is tempered by the sadness of irreparable injury.
The focus of attention now shifts somewhat toward Orgilus, who reappears in his own garb. In act III, scene iii Ithocles presents him to the king, the princess, and the Prince of Argos, of whom Ithocles is jealous, since he is a suitor to Calantha. Ithocles' sudden cordiality, now that he wants to arrange his friend's marriage to Euphranea, annoys Orgilus, as he reveals to his father in the following scene, and he seems ready to refuse his consent. His father cautions him about the dangers of the "wolf of hatred snarling in [his] breast" (III.iv.33), and urges him to go along with the wishes of all the court, lest he ruin the fortunes of the family. Once again we see the sudden collapse of hostility as Orgilus gives his consent, bringing to nothing his entire stratagem of disguise and surveillance. But if his maneuvers seem to have been futile, Ford's have been most successful, for by this time it can be seen that the contrivance of a revenge which is not taken fits perfectly into the characteristic pattern of the play's action.
In the fifth scene of the act Penthea, suppressing her resentment, pleads with Calantha to look with favor on Ithocles, and the opening scene of act IV rapidly develops his rivalry with Nearchus, the Prince of Argos. Though there is an important piece of action when Ithocles picks up Calantha's ring, which Nearchus has begged of her, the main emphasis of this scene is not on what happens but on what may happen. Ithocles' uncle is alarmed by his daring to be a rival to the prince. Orgilus, with how much sincerity it is difficult to tell, defends Ithocles to Nearchus and later to his uncle, saying, "Griefs will have their vent" (116). The irony of his applying this observation to Ithocles is striking. The scene ends ominously as Tecnicus brings a sealed interpretation of the oracle for the king, prophesies to Ithocles, "The lifeless trunk shall wed the broken heart" (134), and to Orgilus, "Let craft with courtesy a while confer, / Revenge proves its own executioner" (138-39). Then, like the Friar in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, he leaves the city, as if unable to bear any more.
Despite the reconciliations of act III, trouble, if not disaster, again threatens.
Act IV, scene ii, the longest in the play, presents the first tragic occurrence, the madness of Penthea, which revives Orgilus's resentment of Ithocles and his thoughts of revenge. When he bursts out against Bassanes, now contrite and controlled, it is Ithocles, of all people, who counsels forbearance. The scene does not end with the threat of violence, however. Nearchus, having decided not to force himself on Calantha, abandons his quarrel with Ithocles and brings him a message from the princess. Thus the scene arouses two very different expectations: one that Orgilus will seek revenge, and the other that Ithocles' love for Calantha may no longer be opposed.
Between this important scene and the climactic one which ends the act occurs the quiet episode of Calantha's engagement to Ithocles, where hopes are again balanced with premonitions of trouble: the long-awaited oracle prophesies the king's death and seems to relate the continued life of the kingdom to a neighboring prince; Orgilus, amidst congratulations to Ithocles, reveals his jealousy; and "sad music" from Penthea's lodging hints that she is dying. With this musical signal the scene ends.
The act of revenge seemingly called for at the opening of the play, then made to seem less likely in the third act, only to become more so in the fourth, finally occurs in the last scene of the act. The body of Penthea is borne onstage in a chair and is set down between two other chairs as Orgilus and Ithocles enter. A servant whispers to Orgilus about one of the chairs. A few moments later, when the two men have been left with the body, Orgilus induces Ithocles to sit in a mechanical chair, a machine infernale, so to speak, where the proud hero is trapped and then killed by his enemy. It is a piece of stage horror bizarre enough to be dismissed as Ford's effort to outdo his predecessors in revenge tragedy, but we may be kept from this sort of judgment by the striking appropriateness of the device. From the beginning of the play Ithocles, Orgilus, and Penthea have been trapped in a situation from which no repentance, no courage, no goodwill can extricate them. And the visual emphasis on immobility here, as in the scene with Ithocles and Penthea, is clearly fitting in a play where calm is a major ideal. Even this one violent act is so carried out that violence is not its chief effect. Not only is Ithocles immobile, but he accepts death with a quiet resolution which inspires Orgilus's admiration. Their two last speeches, filled with compliment and forgiveness, suggest the parting of friends more than the triumph of a revenger. Orgilus's words, "I will be gentle even in blood" (IV.iv.61) set the tone of this ritual killing.
A series of avoided crises in the first three acts is followed in the fourth act by the madness and death of Penthea and the murder of Ithocles, as if no effort could indefinitely postpone the tragic consequences of a past error. Penthea's tragedy permits the speculation that they may sometimes be hastened by the struggle to accept misfortune and impose a stoical order. But whether the outcome is a sort of self-destruction, due to rigorous repression, or murder, due to the release of long-contained impulses, it occurs in this play in an atmosphere of surprising calm. The effect is comparable to the unexpected resolution of a false cadence.
Though the murder of Ithocles ends one cycle of injury and suffering, it begins another. Orgilus, in repaying Ithocles for a gratuitous blow, injures the innocent Calantha in precisely the way that he and Penthea were injured. Thus, at the opening of the fifth act, Orgilus has moved into the position of Ithocles, as one against whom we may expect retributive action, while Calantha's response to the offense becomes the major unknown quantity. In the brief first scene of the act Orgilus at last offers friendship to Bassanes as he prepares to reveal to him the deaths of Penthea and Ithocles. Here jealousy is replaced by a "league of amity" (23), but the facts of the murder are not yet known.
The second scene, thanks largely to Lamb's commentary, is the best known in the play. Calantha amazes the guests at the celebration of Euphranea's wedding by her seemingly unruffled bearing as she orders the dance to continue after hearing the news of her father's death. She repeats her performance when Bassanes announces Penthea's death and again when Orgilus tells of the murder of Idiocies. The formal movements of the dance, resumed after each interruption, perfectly express the order to which Calantha sacrifices the expression of her loss and injury. Her conduct is the showpiece of the play, the surprise of surprises, the supreme example of feeling subordinated to the achievement of harmony. It is more spectacular than Penthea's self-denial and infinitely more effectual than Orgilus's sporadic attempts at overcoming his bitterness.
The story of Orgilus is not complete, however. In the second half of this scene, which is less often remembered than the first half, he also gives a spectacular display of self-control. Allowed to pick the means of his execution, he chooses to bleed to death. Like a perfect Stoic he opens one vein himself, persuades Bassanes to open another, and dies commenting on the prophecy of Tecnicus, "Revenge proves its own executioner." The image of order in movement given in the wedding dance is balanced here by another of the many images of order as stasis.
The final image in this series is reserved for the ceremonial scene which concludes the play. In front of an altar, beside which the body of Ithocles has been placed "on a hearse, or in a chair, " Calantha instructs Nearchus in the government of Sparta, places a wedding ring on Ithocles' finger, and dies of a broken heart. Her explanation of her behavior at the dance, "When one news straight came huddling on another / Of death, and death, and death" (V.iii.69-70), leads to the contrast between the "shrieks and outcries" produced by shallow emotion and the "silent griefs which cut the heartstrings." If her action virtually epitomizes the several "struggles for calm" in the play, her comment on it brings out the tragic cost of an effort which is also a measure of greatness.
Calantha dies to the strains of a song which she "fitted for [her] end" (81-94), furnishing one last instance of the importance of music in the play. Ithocles spoke of morality "At whose sweet music all our actions dance." In the two final scenes, to which his words apply so perfectly, it is a dance of death.
In retrospect the strange pattern of violence avoided can be seen to constitute the chief meaning of the tragedy. The play obliges its spectators to experience repeatedly the building up of tensions and then their unexpected relaxation as a revenge is abandoned or deferred, a quarrel ended, a betrayal refused, a conversion accomplished, or a murder followed by reconciliation. In each instance the frustration of a prepared response is, in a general way, comparable to the musical composer's strategy for arousing emotion and serves to interest, surprise, or puzzle the spectator. Cumulatively, these repeated examples of action arrested call attention to the blocking force—the constant effort of Ford's characters to deflect the usual consequences of certain acts through self-mastery. Admiration and pity for this struggle are the specific emotions which the dramatic structure of The Broken Heart is calculated to arouse.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11732
Donald K. Anderson, Jr. (essay date 1960)
SOURCE: "Kingship in Ford's Perkin Warbeck, in ELH, Vol. 27, No. 3, September, 1960, pp. 177-93.
[In the essay below, Anderson examines the theme of kingship in Perkin Warbeck, particularly focusing on the political interplay between Warbeck, Henry VII, and James IV.]
John Ford is not generally considered a political dramatist, but he would seem to be one in Perkin Warbeck (first printed in 1634). Illustrating the pragmatic viewpoint of such theorists as Machiavelli and Bacon, Ford portrays his ideal king in the person of the wise and eminently practical Henry VII, and so considerable is the playwright's attention to competent and incompetent governing that Perkin Warbeck might well be called a lesson in kingship.
This aspect of the play has been overlooked by most students of Ford, denied by some, and thoroughly discussed by none. Several of its probable causes have never been noted. Furthermore, some scholars who do recognize the political nature of Perkin Warbeck see the drama as a protest against Stuart absolutism and Divine Right, but there is evidence mat casts some doubt on this interpretation.
Although the romance of Warbeck and Katherine is prominent in the play, also important are the politics of Henry, James IV of Scotland, and Warbeck. Henry has become the perfect monarch, his foresight much greater than in any earlier account and his avarice, stressed in many chronicles, deftly converted into financial acumen. At the other extreme is Warbeck, who, though admirable as suitor and husband, is politically as inept as Henry is efficient. In the middle is James, who in the course of the play changes from a highhanded ruler to one who has discovered and adopted, thanks to Henry's impressive examples, a more responsible and realistic philosophy.
The dominant figure in Ford's theme of kingship is Henry VII. In the pattern imposed by Ford upon the action, Henry has priority; the scenes featuring him contain those presenting James or Warbeck. The first scene of the drama portrays Henry at length and quite favorably. Also, in the three scenes of Act I, the first and third are dominated by Henry, whereas the second scene, though set in Scotland, introduces neither James nor Warbeck, who first appear in Act II (line 17). Earlier in the play several incidents en-courage the audience to unsympathetic prejudgment of Warbeck and James. Warbeck is termed an impostor by Henry (I. 104-126), and Warbeck's counselors are ridiculed by the Scottish Countess of Crawford (II. 8-14); James's rashness is noted by one of his advisers, the Earl of Huntley (I. 247-250), and his imperiousness is mentioned by Huntley's daughter, Katherine (II. 6-8). Henry dominates the last acts as well as the early ones. James speaks his last lines in the middle of Act IV, and directly after Warbeck's final exit Huntley comments, "… 'tis sufficient in such cases / lust Lawes ought to proceede" (V. 495-497). Henry concludes the play with this maxim of statecraft: "And from hence / Wee gather this fit vse; that publicke States, / 'As our particular bodyes, taste most good' / In health, when purged of corrupted bloud" (V. 501-504).
In both the play and the chronicles, Henry's three principal problems concerning the Warbeck incident are the treason of Stanley, the rebellion of the Cornish, and the actions of Warbeck, especially those supported by James. The play, however, increases Henry's foresight in these matters. In the chronicles, the Cornish uprising occurs between two different incursions under the joint command of James and Warbeck, and the histories point out that the Cornish rebelled chiefly because of the taxes which the first incursion had occasioned and, also, that Henry's preoccupation with the Cornish encouraged James to undertake the second border raid. In the play there is only one incursion, which comes after the Cornish rebellion but is not a result of it. Ford restricts Henry's confusion to the first act, when the king learns of Stanley's treason and of the incipient rebellion. In Act II, Sc. ii, when Henry is preparing his forces to meet the Cornish, he also anticipates trouble from Scotland:
Wee haue imployment of more toyle for thee!
For our intelligence comes swiftly to vs,
That lames of Scotland, late hath entertained
Perkin the counterfeite, with more then common
Grace and respect; nay courts him with rare favours;
The Scot is young and forward, wee must looke for
A suddaine storme to England from the North:
Which to withstand, Durham shall post to
Surrey shall follow soone, with such an Armie,
As may relieue the Bishop.
Ford again rearranges history when he places before instead of after the incursion the conference between Henry and Hialas, the Spanish emissary, through whom the king initiates the subsequent treaty with Scotland. Hence, when James appears on stage leading his maranding forces (III. 373), his efforts seem doubly futile: Henry has both fore-seen the invasion and arranged for its termination. As Durham, Henry's chief counselor, comments, "Our Royall Masters wisedome is at all times / His fortunes Harbinger; for when he drawes / His sword to threaten warre, his providence / Settles on peace, the crowning of an Empire" (IV. 14-17).
Another example of Henry's foresight occurs when the captured Warbeck is brought before him. Earlier in this scene Henry, upon learning that Warbeck has escaped after his defeat at Exeter, remains supremely confident:
The Counterfeit King Perkin is escap'd,
Escape, so let him; he is heg'd too fast
Within the Circuite of our English pale,
To steale out of our Ports, or leape the walls
Which guarde our Land; the Seas are rough, and
Then his weake armes can tugge with; Surrey
Your King may raigne in quiet: turmoyles past
Like some vnquiet dreame, haue rather busied
Our fansie, then affrighted rest of State.
Having dismissed Warbeck from his mind, Henry discusses with Urswick and Surrey such matters as restitution for the incursion and thanking the "westerne Gentlemen" and young Buckingham for their assistance at Exeter (V. 124-144). Into this atmosphere of efficiency is led the captured Warbeck, apparently already forgotten by his farsighted adversary.
Also significant in the political pattern of Perkin Warbeck is Ford's characterization of James IV of Scotland. Unlike the chronicles, the play depicts in the Scottish king a gradual change from folly to wisdom. In his initial speech, which precedes Warbeck's first words, James regards as obligatory the aiding of fallen foreign princes:
The right of Kings (my Lords) estends not onely
To the safe Conservation of their owne;
But also to the ayde of such Allies
As change of time, and state, hath often times
Hurld downe from careful crownes, to vndergoe
An exercise of sufferance in both fortunes:
So English Richard surnam'd Cor-de-lyon,
So Robert Bruce our royall Ancestor,
Forc'd by the try all of the wrongs they felt,
Both fought, and found supplyes, from forraigne
To repossesse their owne: then grudge not (Lords)
A much distressed Prince, King Charles of Fraunce,
And Maximilian of Bohemia both,
Haue ratified his Credit by their Letters.
Shall wee then be distrustfull? No, Compassion
Is one rich Iewell that shines in our Crowne,
And we will haue it shine there.
James is impressed by Warbeck's eloquence (II. 102-103) and his appearance (II. 358-361). Furthermore, in offering his support to Warbeck, James ignores the de facto and relies completely on the de iure basis of sovereignty; he says to Huntley, "Kings are counterfeits / In your reput (graue Oracle) not presently / Set on their thrones, with Scepters in their fists" (II. 322-324).
After presenting in Act II an intractable autocrat, Ford in the next two acts converts James into a political realist. In a sense, the pivotal incident of the play occurs in the last scene of Act III, for there clash the two opposing concepts of kingship, carefully kept apart in England and Scotland for almost three acts until both can be fully stated. In their siege of Norham Castle James and Warbeck are confronted by Henry's most able spokesman, Foxe, Bishop of Durham. In arguing for peace, Durham, besides asserting Warbeck's imposture, points out to James such considerations as an alliance with Henry, Warbeck's lack of support in England, and James's responsibility to his subjects (III. 386-419). James pauses, "serious, / Deepe in his meditation." And, like a good and a bad angel, Durham and Warbeck exhort him to peace and to war. The situation, illustrating the design of the entire play, is empha-sized by Daliell's aside to Crawford; like most of the Scottish, Daliell opposes the raid upon England: "Lift them vp / To heaven his better genius!" After deliberation, James decides to continue the incursion. But Durham's arguments have impressed him, for a few lines later, when Warbeck weeps at the barbarities that must ensue, James rebukes him:
You foole your pietie
Ridiculously, careful of an interest
Another man possesseth! Wheres your faction?
Shrewdly the Bishipp ghest of your adherents,
When not a pettie Burgesse of some Towne,
No, not a Villager hath yet appear'd
In your assistance, that should make 'ee whine,
And not your Countryes sufferance as you tearme it.
Thereafter, with one exception, James is conspicuously practical. The one lapse is his rash challenge of Surrey to single combat. However, James is off-stage when the challenge is discussed by Durham and Surrey in a scene which serves chiefly to illustrate Henry's masterful delegation of authority. James uses the language of a realist when he accepts the peace proposals of Durham and Hialas (IV. 235-239) and when, in his final lines, he dismisses Warbeck:
Cosen, our bountie, favours, gentlenesse,
Our Benefits, the hazard of our person,
Our peoples Hues, our Land hath evidenc't,
How much wee haue engag'd on your behalfe:
How triviali, and how dangerous our hopes
Appeare, how fruitlesse our attempts in warre,
How windie rather smokie your assurance
Of partie shewes, wee might in vaine repeated!
But now obedience to the Mother Church,
A Fathers care vpon his Countryes weale,
The dignitie of State directs our wisedome:
To seale an oath of peace through Christendome.
The growth in James's political insight is noted in Act V by Henry and Surrey:
K. H.: But Surrey, why in articling a peace
With lames of Scotland, was not restitution
Of Losses, which our Subjects did sustaine
By the Scotch inrodes, questioned?
Sur: Both demanded
And vrg'd (my Lord,) to which the King reply'd
In modest merriment, but smiling earnest,
How that our Master Henrie was much abler
To beare the detriments, then he to repay them.
K. H.: The young man I beleeue spake honest
'A studies to be wise betimes.
As for Warbeck, Ford utilizes him to make the illustration of kingship in the play threefold instead of twofold. When James dismisses Warbeck, the latter might just as well be a full-blooded Plantagenet as a Flemish counterfeit; he is rejected not for lack of royal blood but for lack of faction and power. In the final scenes Warbeck continues to rely solely on Divine Right. His philosophy is like that of the earlier James:
A thousand blessings guard our lawfull Armies!
A thousand horrors pierce our enemies soules!
Pale feare vnedge their weapons sharpest poynts,
And when they draw their arrowes to the head,
Numnesse shall strike their sinewes; such advatage
Hath Majestie in its pursuite of Iustice,
That on the proppers vp, of truth olde throne,
It both enlightens corniseli, and giues heart
To execution: whiles the throates of traytors
Lye bare before our mercie. O Divinitie
Of royall birth? how it strikes dumbe the tongues
Whose prodigallitie of breath is brib'd
By traynes to greatnesse? Princes are but men,
Distinguisht in the finenesse of their frailtie.
Yet not so grosse in beautie of the minde,
For there's a fire more sacred, purifies
The dross of mixture. Herein stands the odds
"Subjects are men, on earth Kings men and gods."
On the other hand, Ford's portrayal of Warbeck is more favorable than that of the chronicles, in which Warbeck finally confesses imposture; in the play, he is an eloquent speaker, a devoted suitor and husband, and a defiant foe of Henry to the end. Thus Ford presents Warbeck as an attractive lover but ineffectual leader. Very helpful to the playwright are Warbeck's advisers, whose scatterbrained counsel makes their leader's plans seem foolish but does not impair his dignity. The remarks of Astley and Sketon on the decision to invade Cornwall are typical:
Astl: Ah sweet young Prince? Secretarie, my fellow Counsellors and I, haue consulted, and jumpe all in one opinion directly, that if this Scotch garboyles doe not fadge to our mindes, wee will pell mell ninne amongst the Cornish Chaughes presently, and in a trice.
Sket: 'Tis but going to Sea, and leaping ashore, cut tenne or twelue thousand vnnecessary throats, fire seaven or eight townes, take half a dozen Cities, get into the Market place, crowne him RICHARD THE FOURTH, and the businesse is finisht.
How is one to account for Ford's emphasis on kingship in Perkin Warbeck? A logical step is to look at the two principal sources of the play: Bacon's History of the Reign of King Henry VII (1622) and Gainsford's True and Wonderful History of Perkin Warbeck (1618). That Ford uses these two works is indicated by numerous verbal parallels between them and lines in his play. His dependence upon Bacon seems more nearly certain and more pervasive: more nearly certain because Ford very likely refers to Bacon as the "late, both learned, and honourable pen" in his dedication of Perkin Warbeck to the Earl of Newcastle, and more pervasive because Bacon's Henry VII, unlike Gainsford's, illustrates practical kingship. At the same time, Ford and Bacon differ in that the latter often is critical of the king. Two of Bacon's censures contrast markedly with Ford's ever-favorable portrayal. The first concerns avarice:
Of nature assuredly he coveted to accumulate treasure; and was a little poor in admiring riches. … This excess of his had at that time many glosses and interpretations. Some thought the continual rebellions wherewith he had been vexed had made him grow to hate his people: Some thought it was done to pull down their stomachs and to keep them low: Some, for that he would leave his son a golden fleece: Some suspected he had some high design upon foreign parts. But those perhaps shall come nearest the truth that fetch not their reasons so far off; but rather impute it to nature, age, peace, and a mind fixed upon no other ambition or pursuit.
Bacon's second censure finds Henry lacking in foresight, the cornerstone of Ford's characterization:
His wisdom, by often evading from perils, was turned rather into a dexterity to deliver himself from dangers when they pressed him, than into a providence to prevent and remove them afar off. And even in nature, the sight of his mind was like some sights of eyes; rather strong at hand than to carry afar off. For his wit increased upon the occasion; and so much the more if the occasion were sharpened by danger. Again, whether it were the shortness of his foresight, or the strength of his will, or the dazzling of his suspicions, or what it was; certain it is that the perpetual troubles of his fortunes (there being no more matter out of which they grew) could not have been without some great defects and main errors in his nature, customs, and proceedings, which he had enough to do to save and help with a thousand little industries and watches.
On the question of foresight, Ford also parts company with Gainsford. The latter's description of Henry confronted simultaneously by Scottish incursion and Cornish rebellion hardly presents a master strategist at work:
When the King was advertised of these Troubles, and exorbitant Attempts, which gathered like a Cloud, threatening a Tempest round about him, and saw into what Perplexity he was now detruded, having War on every Side, he compared himself to a Man rising in a dark Night, and going undressed into a Room, striking his Head against this Post, running against that Table, meeting with his Shins such a Stool or Form, and staggering up and down against one Block or another; and so stood, for the Time, amazed, not knowing what to say, what to do, or with whom to find fault. … Whereupon he called his Council together, and they without any great Difficulty, determined the Business (p. 196).
To explain these differences between Perkin Warbeck and its two principal sources, one finds little in earlier English drama. So far as is known today, only one play before Ford's dealt with the Warbeck episode in Henry's reign, and that play is lost. Gainsford refers to it in his True History of the Earl of Tyrone (1619):
How Perkin Warbeck, for all his exhaled vapouring, went forward assisted by the Scottish policie, Flemmish credulitie, and inueterat malice of the Duches of Burgundy, against the house of Lancaster, our stages of London, haue instructed those which cannot read.
The extant plays depicting Henry (except for Greene's romantic and largely fictitious The Scottish History of James the Fourth) present him as the young Earl of Richmond, conqueror of Richard III on the Bosworth battlefield but overshadowed by him on the stage, being a fifthact foil of righteousness to the colorful tyrant. Into this category fall Legge's Richardus Tertius (1579), the anonymous The True Tragedy of Richard III (1594), and Shakespeare's Richard III. Their characterization of Henry would have been inadequate for a drama about him and Warbeck.
More helpful to Ford would have been the chronicles. In regard to Henry's foresight and avarice, many of them are much closer to Ford than are Bacon and Gainsford. Henry's wisdom is praised without qualification by Andre (writing around 1500), Vergil (1534), Halle (1548) and Hollinshed (1577). And the historians are not alone in this respect. As for Henry's financial policies, they evoke less unanimity. Vergil accuses the king of avarice and hence is a forerunner of Bacon; Halle, apparently in rebuttal to Vergil, concludes his account of Henry with the most vigorous defense of his economy in all the chronicles. The rest of the historians, as well as other writers, are divided, some charging avarice and some admiring monetary gains.
The general reputation of Henry VII in Ford's day helps account for the playwright's deviations from Bacon and Gainsford, but it does not explain why Ford's portrayal of Henry is much more idealized than any other one. An answer is provided by Ford's own pamphlet, A Line of Life (1620). Long accepted as part of the Ford canon, this prose work shows a considerable interest in political theory and concludes with a discussion on kingship that bears noteworthy similarities to Perkin Warbeck. The pamphlet also reveals Ford's acquaintance with numerous ancient writers and refers to the Basilicon Doron of James I (p. 67), a work concerned with the proper conduct of a prince.
Taking his title from palmistry, Ford applies it metaphorically to "resolution," which he defines as a "consultation first held within … , for determining the commoditie, the convenience and commendation of all actions, as well in doing as when they are done." Resolution, according to Ford, has three branches, those of "a private man," "a publike man," and "a good man." In discussing "a private man" (pp. 49-55), Ford cites the superiority of reason over pleasure and criticizes Raleigh for being "in policie so unstedie, that his too much apprehension was the foile of his judgment" (p. 55). The section on the "publike man" (pp. 55-64) attacks those who undermine men in high positions, such as Essex, Byron, and Barnevelt. Essex "felt the miserie of greatnesse, by relying on such as flattered and envyed his greatnesse" (p. 61); Barnevelt was guilty of "enforcing his publike authoritie too much to bee seruant to his priuate ambition" (p. 61). Barnevelt also is praised by Ford for qualities much like those he later admires in Henry:
Hee was the only one that traffiqued in the counsels of foreine princes, had factors in all courts, intelligeneers amongst all Christian nations; stood as the ORACLE of the prouinces, and was even the moderator of policies of all sorts; was reputed to bee second to none on earth for soundnesse of designes (p. 61).
But most pertinent to Perkin Warbeck is the third section, concerning "a good man" (pp. 64-79). By a good man is meant "such a man as doth (beside the care he hath of himselfe in particular) attend all his drifts and actions to bee a seruant for others, for the good of others, as if it were his owne" (p. 64). Into this category Ford places kings, for—
as one king traffiques with another, another, and another, either for repressing of hostilities, inlarging a confederacie, confirming an amitie, settling a peace, supplanting an heresie, and such like, not immediately concerning his owne particular, or his peoples, but for moderating the differences betweene other princes; in this respect euen kings and priuate men, and so their actions belong wholly and onely to themselues, printing the royalty of their goodnes in an imorrtalitie of a vertuous and euerlasting name (p. 67).
Hence the ideal king is a statesman, a promoter of international peace. As his one example of such a king, Ford uses James I:
A good man that, euen with his entrance to the crowne, did not more bring peace to all Christian nations, yea, almost to all nations of the Westerne World, then since the whole course of his glorious reigne hath preserued peace amongst them. A good man who hath thus long sought, as an equal and vpright moderatour, to decide, discusse, conclude, and determine all differences between his neighbouring princes and fellowes in Europe (p. 68).
Here, as in Perkin Warbeck, the competent ruler constantly strives for and achieves peace among nations.
If Ford wished to write a play about kingship, where might he have found material for a model king? One plentiful source would have been the treatise of the type de regimine principum. That Ford owes much to any single political writer is doubtful; he very likely relies on his general knowledge of this oft-discussed subject. Two phases of kingship emphasized in Perkin Warbeck are economy and the use of counsel. Both of these, as well as other facets of Henry's characterization, are frequently treated by the writers de regimine principum. Most of Henry's actions in these two respects are not found in the chronicles; Ford's creation of them probably is influenced by the political theories of his day.
In the play, economy is Henry's constant concern. When the Cornish rebel because of his taxes, he says:
Wee'le not abate one pennie, what in Parliament
Hath freely beene contributed; we must not;
Money giues soule to action: Our Competitor,
The Flemish Counterfeit, with lames of Scotland,
Will proue, what courage neede, and want, can
Without the foode of fit supplyes.
After the Cornish have been defeated, Henry orders "the Collection of our Subsidies / Through all the West, and that speedily" (III. 106-107). Later, he contrasts his financial policies with those of James:
Such voluntarie favours as our people
In dutie ayde vs with, wee never scatter'd
On Cobweb Parasites, or lavish't out
In ryot, or a needlesse hospitalitie:
No vndeserving favourite doth boast
His issues from our treasury; our charge
Flowes through all Europe, prooving vs but steward
Of every contribution, which provides
Against the creeping Cankar of Disturbance.
To illustrate the use of counsel, Ford devotes three scenes to the varying reactions of Henry, James, and Warbeck to unpleasant but honest advice: Henry, despite the shock of Stanley's treason, defers to his advisers (I. 439-451); James rudely rejects Huntley's protests about Warbeck (II. 307-354); and Warbeck responds to Frion's counsel with ungoverned passion (IV. 109-137). Ford's views on money and counsel have numerous parallels among the works de regimine principum.
While indebted to any and all philosophers for his particulars, Ford's overall outlook is that of the more pragmatic ones, such as Bacon and Machiavelli. Machiavelli states his position when he says:
For many Republics and Princedoms have been imagined that were never seen or known to exist in reality. And the manner in which we live, and that in which we ought to live, are things so wide asunder, that he who quits the one to betake himself to the other is more likely to destroy than to save himself (Ch. XV).
Bacon has the same viewpoint, for he finds in Henry a practicality not seen by previous historians: Henry's use of the laws without their impeding his will, his attending battle partially from distrust of his aides, his tendency to increase fines when decreasing a punishment. Ford, although he does not follow Bacon's specific points of emphasis, uses the same general approach.
Is Perkin Warbeck affected by contemporary events? Does Ford support or oppose Charles I? Struble has considered these questions and concluded that the play sides with the lawyers, led by Coke, in a struggle against Stuart absolutism and Divine Right: "What more natural, then, than a young barrister [Ford], who was also a dramatist, should endeavour tactfully to insinuate against the pernicious dogma which the legal profession felt must lead to anarchy?" [Mildred C. Struble, A Critical Edition of Ford's "Perkin Warbeck, " 1926].
This interpretation of Perkin Warbeck is open to question. For one thing, although the play clearly criticizes excessive dependence upon Divine Right, Henry at times supports it. Not only does he believe his throne guarded by "Angells" (I. 73) but he sees as sacrilegious the rebelling Cornish, whose "disobedience, like the sonnes 'oth earth, / Throw a defiance 'gainst the face of Heaven" (III. 3-5). More than once Henry stresses not the duties but the privileges of sovereignty. Surrey speakes for his king when he states that "In affayres / 'Of Princes, Subjects cannot trafficke rights' / Inherent to the Crowne" (IV. 47-49). Henry supports the rights of sovereignty when he calls his taxes "voluntarie favours as our people / In dutie ayde vs with" (IV. 398-399) and when he states that the Cornish by rebelling "Denie vs what is ours, nay, spurne their liues / Of which they are but owners by our gift" (IV. 413-415). Hence Perkin Warbeck does not deny Divine Right. Rather, Ford accepts the theory while pointing out that it must be implemented intelligently.
Furthermore, Ford's education at and subsequent connection with the Middle Temple do not prove him hostile to the throne. In fact, at this time the Inns of Court were seeking royal favor, principally to atone for the notorious Histrio-Mastix (1633) of William Prynne, utter-barrister and pamphleteer of Lincoln's Inn, when they presented for Their Majesties a sumptuous masque, The Triumph of Peace, written by James Shirley. Also uncertain is Ford's relationship with the Middle Temple during his dramatic career; aside from several dedications and commendatory verses in his plays, nothing connects him with the legal profession. Nor as a playwright does Ford seem to have been a prominent figure in the organization; its masques during this period were written by Shirley and D'Avenant. Whitelocke, master of the revels for the Middle Temple, makes no mention of Ford in his lengthy Memorials.
The hypothesis that Perkin Warbeck criticizes Charles I also must explain Ford's dedication of the earliest edition of the play (1634) to the Earl of Newcastle. In 1633 and 1634 Newcastle was host to Their Majesties in two costly entertainments at Welbeck and Bolsover. It seems unlikely that Ford, in what appears to be a bid for patronage, would submit a play attacking Charles to a lord so openly seeking royal favor.
As for possible allusion to contemporary events, Perkin Warbeck in many ways seems closer to English foreign policy than to the Divine Right issue. As Gardiner and other modern historians of the Stuart period have stated, there were in the early 1630's two conflicting views on foreign affairs: one favored isolation, the other involvement in continental matters. A leading isolationist was the Lord Treasurer, Richard Weston, Earl of Portland. Weston discouraged English intervention in the Thirty Years' War because he believed that wars cost money and that money in turn would force Charles to call upon Parliament for aid. Charles, probably recalling the militarily and financially disastrous campaigns of the late Buckingham, as well as the recalcitrant Parliament of 1629, seems to have inclined towards Weston's views; there is evidence that in 1634 Charles was against involvement in the Palatinate dispute. Admittedly, in the play Warbeck and James exemplify highhanded sovereignty, but to confine political allusion to them is to overlook Ford's carefully developed idealization of Henry, who as a peace-seeking and financially astute ruler has aims much like those of Weston. One should also recall Ford's earlier A Line of Life, which praises James I as a peacemaker.
The question of a more specific allusion in Perkin War beck is raised by Gardiner's comments on Massinger's Believe as You List. In this drama, licensed in 1631, Gardiner sees an extended and pointed allusion to Charles and Weston which criticizes them for not giving military and financial aid to Charles's brother-in-law Frederick, the Elector Palatine. If one accepted Gardiner's interpretation of Believe as You List, one might regard Perkin Warbeck as counterpropaganda. That is, whereas Massinger would represent Frederick as the shamelessly deserted Antiochus, Ford would represent him as the presumptuous Warbeck, who involves James IV in futile fighting and expenditures. However, Perkin Warbeck does not contain the specific parallels to current affairs that Massinger's play seemingly does, and the likelihood of allusion in the latter is no argument for allusion in the former. Further-more, the topic of a fallen prince was a popular one, so presumably familiar to both playwrights.
Kingship, then, is one of Ford's main concerns in Perkin Warbeck. This intention is revealed both by the structure of his play and by his deviations from Bacon and Gains-ford. Reasons for the unique nature of his political emphasis, especially his idealization of Henry VII, are provided by Henry's general reputation, Ford's A Line of Life, and the treatises de regimine principum. The matter of Ford's supporting or attacking Charles I—and perhaps the playwright is entirely disinterested—may never be settled; at any rate, the interpretation of Perkin Warbeck as a criticism of Stuart absolutism seems doubtful.
Jonas A. Barish (essay date 1970)
SOURCE: "Perkin Warbeck as Anti-History," in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XX, No. 2, April, 1970, pp. 151-71.
[In the following essay, Barish contends that Ford intentionally departed from his historical sources when creating the character of Perkin Warbeck in an effort to enhance dramatic interest in the protagonist and to portray him as an obvious foil to the character of Henry VII.]
Justice is slowly coming to be done to Ford's achievement in Perkin Warbeck, if with the character who gives his name to the play criticism has not yet caught up with its advance guard—T. S. Eliot's essay of 1932. Eliot, after remarking on Warbeck's apparently unshakable faith that he is lawful heir to the throne of England, concludes that 'We ourselves are left almost believing that he was; in the right state of uncertainty, wondering whether his kingly and steadfast behaviour is due to his royal blood, or merely due to his passionate conviction that he is of royal blood' [Selected Essays 1917-1932, 1932]. This seems to me to describe excellently the state of suspended judgment in which Ford leaves us. But subsequent commentary has retreated from Eliot's position, largely, it would appear, through a disabling assumption that one might term the argument from authority. Fortified by their homework in such historians as Hall and Speed, and more especially Gainsford's True and Wonderful History of Perkin War-beck (1618) and Bacon's History of the Reign of Henry VII (1622), critics have assumed that Ford too was presenting the story from the point of view of the Tudor-Stuart establishment as the tale of an impostor rebelling against a legitimate monarch. They have refused to sus-pend disbelief long enough to take Perkin's claims seriously because they have assumed that Ford could not have taken them seriously. The problem is nicely stated, and (I suspect) wrongly resolved, by Clifford Leech, when he says that 'To act as he does, Warbeck must be afflicted [i.e., with delusional melancholia, or some such pathological state], yet nothing in his own words or in the attitude of the other characters confirms this necessary view of his condition' [John Ford and the Drama of His Time, 1957]. Leech, properly, can find nothing in the play that requires us to reject Perkin's claims, and yet assumes that it is 'necessary' to do so, presumably because history has settled the matter in Henry's favour. But history, as our own time has balefully shown, can suppress and distort the truth as well as investigate it, and the history to which critics appeal when they presuppose Perkin's fraudulence may merely constitute an elaborate rationalization of the status quo. According to a more recent critic, it was 'mandatory' that Ford portray Perkin as an impostor, since otherwise 'he would have been challenging the succession of the Stuarts, not to mention that of the Tudors' [Donald K. Anderson, Jr., ed., Perkin Warbeck, 1965]. But to foster an ambiguity is not necessarily to issue a challenge: Ford has sufficiently protected himself from official suspicion of subversion. More important, to imply that the creator of Giovanni and Annabella would have shrunk from pursuing a line of speculation to the danger point and beyond suggests a real incomprehension of Ford's artistic temperament, with its appetite for absolutes and extremes. The a priori argument, plainly, cannot settle the question.
One advantage of dramatic over expository narrative, at least for treating history, is that it invites a freer, less doctrinaire rumination on the issues. It can explore them as human substance rather than as patterns of abstraction, forcing us to re-experience events in something like their original disturbing density and ambiguity. Ford's play, by removing the external 'necessity' that historians impose on the story, induces us to unseat the received verdict on Perkin Warbeck. In its prologue it boldly claims that it is resurrecting the disused mode of the English chronicle play. After a hiatus of some decades, Ford is reverting to an earlier fashion with a certain sophisticated archaism; it would be strange if the resemblance went no further than the raw material. We find, in fact, that he is rephrasing some of the questions that Shakespeare had probed a generation earlier—the nature of kingship, the origins of legitimacy, the relations between de jure and defacto rule, and between the king's private and his public personality. In King John Shakespeare had insisted, over and above the requirements of recorded fact, on John's position as a usurper, so as to be able to ponder the paradox of a government under a strong usurper rightly superseding a dynastically more authentic but politically ineffective contender. Whatever the superior validity of Arthur's claim to the crown, it seems clear that John must continue to wear it, though the fact of usurpation taints his reign with perjury and civil war, and contributes to his own violent death.
Some of the same preoccupations, transposed into a Fordian key, recur in Perkin Warbeck. Critics who dismiss Perkin himself as a mere fool and madman have been taking their cue not so much from Ford as from 'history'—from the official version of events sponsored by the ruling house, which is precisely what the play may have been designed to call into question. Oddly enough, the voice of Henry VII, the one that above all others ought to be most sceptically listened to, is the one most often called in to settle arguments. Or if not Henry the also deeply suspect voice of Lambert Simnel.
One of the better early comments on the play appears in J. Le Gay Brereton's introduction to his edition of 1896. Brereton distinguishes between our dramatic sympathy for Perkin and our rejection of his political claims:
Although Ford does not for one moment allow us to doubt that Perkin is an impostor, he, and not Henry, is the hero of the play. To avoid a conflict with history, the poet has had recourse to an ingenious device. Perkin himself never, by word or deed, by want of dignity and kingly bearing, or by any confidence or soliloquy, betrays his identity with the Duke of York. … But it will be noticed that his pretensions are in no case able to impose upon any men of real worth. The King of Scotland gives no consideration at all to the value of the suppliant's claims, but adopts his cause in a lordly fashion, partly from pure obstinacy and partly from desire to win for himself the credit of aiding the weaker side—a piece of shallow chivalry that is on a level with his challenge to the leaders of the English army. … [Perkin's] followers, those who apparently do believe in his pretensions, are utterly vulgar, mean, and unintelligent; so much so that they excite the ridicule of the Scottish court. And the poet has deliberately so described them. … Critics, however, have objected to Ford's device. 'Why', they say, 'if Perkin's character is so noble, can he not get a noble following?' The answer is that 'his fair demeanour, lovely behaviour, unappalled spirit' can and do win him noble friends. But his claims are so airy, so improbable, so contrary to common knowledge that they cannot persuade an unbiassed and intelligent person.
If we ask why Perkin's claims are 'so airy, so improbable, so contrary to common knowledge', the answer, of course, is that they conflict with the received version of events as enshrined in the chronicles. In his eagerness, moreover, to reduce the facts of the play to the facts of history, Brereton makes an astonishing mis-statement. In order, he says, to avoid a conflict with history, Ford has not allowed Perkin to 'betray' (i.e., undermine or subvert) his identity as Duke of York. But history says the opposite! All of Ford's sources conclude the tale of Perkin with an account of his confession, read from the stocks at Westminster and at Cheapside, and a third time from the gallows at Tyburn prior to his execution. Hall and Gainsford re-print the confession in full, and it is remarkably circumstantial. Ford's departure from this crucial event, far from being an attempt to avoid a conflict with history, constitutes a most audacious attempt to provoke one. It serves notice on us, if notice were needed, that we are not to equate the Perkin of the play with the vulgar upstart of the historians. The fact that Perkin never for an instant in Ford surrenders his assurance of his royal destiny removes the one basis on which his claim could be swiftly and definitively rejected. This prop removed, commentators have had recourse to the testimony of Henry VII, the alleged foolishness of James of Scotland, and the seedy character of Perkin's entourage. The last circumstance may mean no more than that by the time the events of the play occur, Perkin's cause is already lost. As for King James, to say that 'he gives no consideration at all to the value of the suppliant's claims' means nothing: he gives as little and as much consideration as anyone else in the play; nor is there a single character who could properly be described as 'unbiassed'. History contains no unbiassed characters, except sometimes those writing it. To say mat James adopts Perkin's cause from 'obstinacy' is to confound his reasons for supporting Perkin with his manner of supporting him; 'obstinacy' can apply only to his persistence in his course, not to the initial choice itself of that course. As for the 'desire to win for himself the credit of aiding the weaker side', the validity of this proposition—if it is valid—would not affect the strength of Perkin's claims, nor would it be so automatically damning as Brereton implies, any more than would the quixotic challenge to Surrey later on. Is it a vice in kings to wish to succour the weak? Is James's chivalry necessarily more shallow than that of Prince Hal offering to fight Hotspur in single combat? Would it not make as much sense to describe it as mettlesome, courageous, and honourable?
In a useful article in 1960, Donald K. Anderson, Jr. demonstrated that Ford's portrayal of Henry VII improves the image of that monarch as reflected in both Gainsford and Bacon: Ford minimizes the king's least attractive trait, his avarice, construing it as prudence, and making it part of a general picture of sound statesmanship. But Anderson too finds it necessary to explain away King James's favourable reception of the pretender. Ford, he suggests, 'depicts in the Scottish king a gradual change from folly to wisdom', the shift from the 'intractable autocrat' of Act II to the 'political realist' of Act IV ['Kingship in Ford's Perkin Warbeck; ELH XXVII, 1960]. Now there is no doubt that James dismisses the opposition to Katherine's marriage peremptorily—though not so autocratically as has sometimes been claimed—and that in the course of the action he acquires a political canniness that he does not have at first. But if James abandons his espousal of Perkin on grounds of self-interest, then his withdrawal leaves Perkin's claims unaffected. Increased worldly wisdom, moreover, may not be a fact to be indiscriminately rejoiced in. What James learns and what we learn, from the whole sequence of events, is that even kings, given the way of the world, cannot always act according to their own most generous impulses. 'Your strong possession much more than your right', murmurs Queen Elinor to her son John at the outset of Shakespeare's King John (I. i. 40), and it is on the basis of strong possession much more than of right that dynastic disputes are settled here as well.
H. J. Oliver is another critic for whom Henry VII's comments on Perkin have the status of direct authorial pronouncement, but for whom it is Lambert Simnel, in the later moments of the play, who actually gives 'the facts about Warbeck'. 'Until this point of the action, there is always the theoretic possibility that Warbeck has a genuine claim to the throne; and so by not making it certain that Warbeck is an impostor, Ford preserves such conflict as the play has, as a real conflict: one claimant to the throne opposes another' [The Problem of John Ford, 1955]. Here is a distressing instance of the critic discarding his own best insight. Oliver sees that up to this moment there can be no certainty about Perkin. But trapped by the 'necessity' to find certainty at all costs, a certainty that con-curs with history, he turns, with something like desperation, to Lambert Simnel. But if the situation has fostered real doubt until this moment, what could the wretched Simnel, with his supposed 'facts', add to the picture? How could anything said by this brain-washed wreck, interested only in three meals a day and his personal safety, outweigh our own immediate, vivid experience of Perkin? The treatment of the incident—Ford's own invention—offers an illustration of the boldness with which he contradicts his sources, all of which present the Simnel episode as a kind of dress rehearsal for the more elaborate but essentially identical Warbeck escapade. Ford makes them a total contrast; no moment in his play provides more unequivocal testimony to Perkin's stature than the meeting between this broken time-server and the kingly protagonist. Henry himself has supplied the terms for our appreciation, in his amused scorn at Simnel's readiness to assume the drudge's role: 'strange example! / Which shows the difference between noble natures / And the base born' (I. i. 66-68). The difference—the gulf indeed—between the noble nature and the base born is precisely what emerges in the meeting between the two pretenders, and no moment in the play better illustrates how little Perkin's enemies understand him. For it is not Perkin himself but Lambert Simnel, in this scene, who answers to the descriptions of Perkin given by his foes, while Perkin maintains a demeanour of un-impeachable princeliness. Oliver echoes Brereton, again, in the observation that 'nobody both disinterested and intelligent ever believes Warbeck's claims' (p. 104). But who, in this play, is disinterested? Is Henry Tudor, Perkin's bitterest enemy, a more impartial witness than James of Scotland?
In short, much of what critics have seen as 'evidence' for disallowing Perkin's claim is simply an endorsement of the verdict of history, which happens to coincide with the verdict of Perkin's enemy. Ford, it would rather seem, invites us throughout, and more strongly as the play nears its end, to entertain the hypothesis that Perkin may be telling the truth. Which is not to say that that truth should be the basis of violent political action. The politics of pragmatism decree that Perkin will not succeed, and that this will promote the well-being of the kingdom. Yet like some other Elizabethan tragic heroes, Perkin wrings from defeat a triumph peculiar to his virtues, and it is a royal one.
Ford himself, dedicating the play to the Earl of Newcastle, reminds us of the difference between history and theatre: 'In other labours you may read actions of antiquity discoursed; in this abridgement, find the actors themselves discoursing' (lines 4-6). When it is the actors discoursing instead of being discoursed upon, the case is altered. Ford's sources repeatedly assert, without qualification, that Perkin was an impostor, the tool of powerful traitors operating from the continent and infiltrating the English nobility. They speak of him regularly, in a vein of scathing belittlement, as a knave, a caitiff, a varlet, a 'mischievous and dismall wretch'; a 'Mawmet'; an 'Idoli of defiance', a 'lump of deformity', a puppet, a player, a counterfeit stone, a sycophant, a juggler, and so forth. The language used to characterize Perkin resembles that used to condemn Lambert Simnel, and the judgment in both cases is the same. But when Ford multiplies the injurious epithets and transfers them to the mouths of Henry and his counsellors, when it is they who berate Perkin as a 'cub', a 'mongrel', and an 'eager whelp', a 'swabber' a 'straggler', a 'viper', and a 'vagabond', a 'wild runagate' and an 'obscure peasant', the effect is totally different. These no longer represent a dispassionate judgment on the story, but bitterly partisan words spoken by participants in the story, Perkin's deadly foes, whose safety depends on destroying him. Accordingly, a certain reserve toward their views becomes appropriate.
Parallels have been noted between the scene of Perkin's landing in England and that of Richard II landing in Wales, and there are others, both to that play and to other Shakespearean history plays. One such, I imagine, occurs in the opening lines, which seem to echo those of 1 Henry IV. Henry IV greets his court with a despondent survey of the state of the kingdom—'So shaken as we are, so wan with care'—and goes on to hope for a remission of civil strife. Henry VII greets his court in a mood of similar dejection, and with a similar rhetorical pattern—'Still to be haunted, still to be pursued, / Still to be frighted with false apparitions' (I. i. 1-2), and proceeds to outline the threats to his throne. Even if the echo is shadowy and unintended, it hints at a connection in Ford's mind. In both scenes we meet a troubled king, who has ascended the throne after killing the previous occupant of it, and who must now deal with threats to his legitimacy. Henry Tudor, though he has eliminated a universally execrated king, derives his legitimacy from possession much more than from right, as does Henry Bolingbroke. Both, finally, by virtue of clutching the sceptre firmly in their fists, become de jure monarchs, and therein lies much of the anguish and tragedy of politics.
Henry VII's first act, in the present play, is to deal with the complicity of some of his own vassals in the Warbeck uprising. He does so in what appears to be a satisfactorily statesmanlike fashion, yet the whole episode remains murky. The histories themselves leave obscure, or 'in dark memory', as Bacon puts it, the nature of Stanley's crime, 'what the case of this noble person was, for which he suffered; and what likewise was the ground and cause of his defection' (p. 151). The alleged treasonable words that bring on Stanley's disgrace are admitted to be disquietingly ambiguous by both Gainsford and Bacon, who imply that Henry seized this opportunity to rid himself of a follower whose claims on him were too great for comfort, and between whom and himself relations had been deteriorating for some time. Ford does little to dispel the mystery. He refrains from having Stanley confess his guilt in our hearing, or even allude to it except in an enigmatic manner: '"Subjects deserve their deaths whose kings are just'" (II. ii. 109). But Stanley does not state that Henry is just, nor that he, Stanley, deserves his death. The deliberately riddling utterance can be as easily construed as an indictment of the king as it can be interpreted as self-inculpation. By contrast, in a vivid moment Stanley sets the traitor's mark on the forehead of the state informer Clifford, arousing our abhorrence for the spy without in any way corroborating his accusation. The whole incident preserves a certain quality of shadow-play. It proceeds by hints, half-statements, and significant omissions, and reduces us, in consequence, to conjecture. Is Henry speaking the truth when he declines to confront his condemned chamberlain on the ground that the sight of him might cause him to relent? We cannot know, nor, in my guess, does Ford wish us to.
Perkin himself does not enter until Act II, by which time we have had much unflattering advance notice of him from the English nobles. Ford has, however, carefully avoided staging any scenes from his early life which might substantiate the charges we hear. He gives us nothing like Bacon's flat assertions concerning Perkin's origins, his education in imposture at the hands of Margaret of Burgundy, and her deliberations as to how to proceed with her plots. Nor has he dramatized the scene in which Bacon, expanding on earlier accounts, imagines her making Perkin's acquaintance in public for the first time, feigning initial scepticism as a result of the Simnel fiasco, and then breaking into transports of joy and wonder at the supposed miracle of his resurrection. The reduction of all this to a single caustic exchange between Henry and his peers means that the case against Perkin has been removed from the hands of the omniscient historian and vested entirely in the hands of his fallible foes. Ford himself studiousl refuses to declare for either party in the dispute.
The colloquies about Perkin in Act I, then, present only the view of him officially approved at the English court. Act II shows us the reality, or at least a glimpse of it. However low our expectations of Perkin may be—and in an English audience of the 1630's they would have been low indeed—they are confounded by Perkin's actual presence. Instead of a transparent sham, we are met by a figure of impressive regality. Nothing in his ceremonious opening speech arouses suspicion. Far from it: if we tried to imagine for ourselves how an unfortunate young prince with such a history might sound, we could hardly improve on what Ford has provided. We might, to be sure, feel that the emphasis on sorrow, the dwelling on past misfortune, betrayed a temperament too emotionally effusive to augur well in one aiming at political dominion. Perkin's tendency to luxuriate in persecution is Ford's most notable contribution to the speech as he found it in Bacon. But no-where does it ring false, and nothing in the context invites us to take it as deceitful, unlike its Baconian model, which forms one in a series of political orations every one of which is a masterly study in duplicity. Bacon further contrives to insinuate hypocrisy into the content of the speech by making Perkin harp piously on the role of the Almighty labouring in his behalf. Ford strips the speech of its sanctimoniousness—and of its vituperation—so that nothing remains to provoke scepticism or incredulity. The ladies of James's court, who have previously jested at Perkin's beggarly entourage, find themselves unexpectedly moved by his words, and James, who has favoured his visitor's cause from afar, starts to cement a renewed faith in him. As pledge, he bestows on Perkin the hand of his cousin Lady Katherine Gordon, whose royal blood makes her a suitable consort for a prince. He does so, we may add, not as an 'intractable autocrat', but with the lady's free consent; there is no forcing of her affections. And the forging of this link, fortuitous at first, creates an objective bond that can never be gainsaid in the remainder of the play. Whatever the status of Perkin's dynastic pretensions, his marriage to Kate possesses absolute validity, and confers on both of them a royalty independent of lineage.
Acknowledge me but sovereign of this kingdom,
Your heart, fair princess, and the hand of
Shall crown you queen of me and my best fortunes,
(II. iii. 81-3)
Perkin declares solemnly, and Katherine, shortly afterwards, replies in kind, 'You must be king of me' (III. ii. 168). Sovereignty in love is what Perkin will ultimately have to content himself with, but it will do much to offset his failure to achieve political supremacy.
Not only does love bulk large at the Scottish court—we hear nothing of it in England—but there is also ceremony and revelry, music, dancing, feasting, and masquing. James bids the hautboys 'sound sprightly music' when Perkin first approaches, and the formal meeting between the two moves with a ritual gravity proper to princes. James dispenses a bounteous hospitality. His welcome to Perkin expresses everything in the temper of his court and in himself that responds to the exile's enterprise:
Come, we will taste a while our court delights,
Dream hence afflictions past, and then proceed
To high attempts of honour.
(II. i. 111-113)
Here we have the taste for pleasure, the imaginative power to 'dream hence' ill memories, with perhaps a bit of the dreamer's tendency to wish away coarse actuality as well, and a youthful eagerness for 'high attempts of honour', which make this court more inviting than that of England, where little transpires but business and intrigue. The marriage itself between Katherine and Perkin is celebrated in many sorts of music, with healths and knacks and antic masquers.
Critics have been severe on King James, mostly in order to get round his initial endorsement of Perkin; they turn with relief to his later politic rejection of him. No doubt James does become more wily and practical. But to gloat over this process is a shallow pragmatism that ignores the human cost—that a young, high-spirited prince, fired by aspirations to honour, should be forced to leave the high road of chivalry and take refuge in the thickets of policy. It is also to miss the unmistakably sneering and disagreeable note that creeps into James's voice when he first begins to find his association with Perkin irksome. James's challenge to Surrey, an impulsive and histrionic gesture no doubt, proceeds from magnanimous impulses, and is admired by those to whom it is addressed. 'So speaks Kings James', concludes the herald who has delivered the challenge. 'So speaks King James; so like a king a' speaks', answers Surrey admiringly (IV. i. 35-36), somewhat as James himself had first answered Perkin. The challenge earns respect in some quarters at the English court as well: 'The Scottish king', says Oxford, 'showed more than common bravery / In proffer of a combat hand to hand / With Surrey' (IV. iv. 10-12). Nor is Perkin dissociated from the gesture, since at the moment it is made, he pleads to be allowed to be the one to make it. For better or for worse, he and James are two of a kind. When he must leave Scotland, obeying the despotism of national politics, he takes a courtly departure, stressing the bond between him-self and his host: 'Two empires firmly / You're lord of—Scotland and duke Richard's heart' (IV. iii. 92-93). So the kingly rhetoric continues to coin metaphorical kingdoms in its stately progress.
Ford handles the whole incident of the incursion into England so as to remove the taint of highhandedness found in the original accounts. The historians report that Perkin preceded his entry into England with a proclamation in which he called on all loyal subjects to forsake the usurper, 'Henry Tidder', and rally behind their rightful ruler, Perkin himself. The proclamation, freely transcribed and amplified in Bacon, includes much recrimination and churlish defiance of Henry, together with an express invitation to his subjects to rid themselves of him by assassination, so as to smooth the way for the true occupant of the throne. Of all this scarcely a trace remains in Ford. The proclamation is barely alluded to; its contents are never discussed; nor does Perkin, at any point in the play, descend to personal abuse of Henry. He proceeds not only like a king but like a principled and highminded one, unwilling to owe the recovery of his crown to any baseness. And perhaps one may in consequence place a favourable interpretation on his attempt to dissuade James from ravaging the English countryside, once the military attack has failed. He may simply be masking his own inability to acquire a following, as the chronicles think, and as James thinks; but he may equally well be in earnest, anxious to preserve the wellbeing of 'his' subjects. What James really objects to, at this strained moment in their relations, is that Perkin should play the king to such a pitch where he so patently lacks the king's power. But this, again, has little to do with the facts about Perkin's family stock.
Commentators have noticed how the uncoerced fidelity of Perkin's wife, the loyalty of his erstwhile rival Daliell, and the grudging respect at last accorded him by his resentful father-in-law and by Crawford, all tend to ennoble Perkin. Perkin commands in defeat, in fact, a warmer loyalty than Henry in victory, and our favour toward him increases with his steadfastness in adversity. We have already had, in the opening scene at the Scottish court, a chance to measure the unjustness of the contemptuous references to him heard previously in England. Now, when we hear him reviled as a 'slave', a 'vagabond', a 'creeping worm', and a 'rascal' (IV. iv. 33-34, 39, 95), we have experience of our own to contradict these gross terms.
The contrast between the ceremoniality and sportiveness of James's court and the relentless intriguing of Henry's does little to make the latter attractive. As for Henry himself, Ford has succeeded in making him admirable without making him lovable. Alongside the more simple, sensuous, and passionate Perkin he cuts an unappealing figure. Henry's talk runs much to metaphors of hunting and trapping, snaring and angling, and clever play at cards. 'King Ferdinand', he observes at one point, 'is not so much a fox /But that a cunning huntsman may in time / Fall on the scent' (III. iii. 39-41); while at another, more aphoristically, 'He fondly angles who will hurl his bait / Into the water 'cause the fish at first / Plays round about the line and dares not bite' (IV. iv. 29-31). The king who thinks of other men mainly as animals of prey to be trapped or hooked does not endear himself to us as a human being. The fact that Frion has been seduced away from Perkin by Durham, 'caught' in the toils of the king's diplomacy, constitutes a judgment not on Perkin but on Frion himself, and indirectly, perhaps, on the king.
By providing Perkin with a crew of such raffish hangerson, Ford has sometimes been said, as by Brereton, to be undercutting his claim to royal blood. But at the beginning of the play a faction of noblemen close to the English crown are also discovered to be his adherents. The political realities thereafter, and Perkin's waning prospects, insure that only the desperate and derelict will dare proclaim their allegiance openly. Perkin's dismissal from Scotland leaves him unarmed, but, after a single panicky moment, not a whit dismayed. Most remarkable of all, he handles himself superbly in confrontation with King Henry. Faced with his captor, Perkin boldly applies the moral of Milford Haven and Bosworth Field to himself: 'Fate, which crowned these attempts when least assured, / Might have befriended others like resolved (V. ii. 73-74). Characteristically, this is long on analogy but short on astuteness. It recognizes the role of fate in placing kings on their thrones, but leaves the matter too exclusively in fate's hands, as though human agency played only an insignificant part.
The critic who first documented Ford's debt to Gains-ford, Mildred Struble, also illustrates perfectly the tendency to read the chronicle back into the play. Henry, says Miss Struble [in A Critical Edition of Ford's "Perkin Warbeck, " 1926], is now 'treated to the spectacle of the counterfeit Duke, who, like some exotic flower once thought noxiously beautiful, proves but a curious weed. For the nonce the sovereign is interested, even amused, but in the contrast between majesty and pretence, Perkin, who up to that moment may have won the confidence of the credulous, shrivels before the searching sun—deceiving only himself by his bombast'. Here the parti pris of the critic, seeking the mysterious moment in which Perkin's falsehood can be said to disclose itself unmistakably, finds it in a scene of her own invention. In Ford's scene Perkin—noxious or not—remains beautiful. Far from shrivelling, he remains in complete possession of himself, while it is the king who loses patience, and testily orders his rival to drop his pretences, coupling the order with a threat:
Your antic pageantry, and now appear
In your own nature, or you'll taste the danger
Of fooling out of season.
(V. ii. 87-90)
There is nothing resembling bombast, or even bravado, in Perkin's answer, which calmly accepts the penalty for failure while requesting clemency for his followers. As earlier in the greeting to King James, it is hard to imagine how a 'real' king could behave more regally. The majesty of his bearing strikes an answering chord in us, and it is Henry, surely, who appears diminished in this interchange. His answer to Perkin's plea for mercy to the followers lacks resonance—'So brave! / What a bold knave is this!' (99-100). The wooden inadequacy of this as a response to the total phenomenon of Perkin stamps Henry as the smaller, drier, more prosaic personality. He can bring down his opponent by force and guile; he can score no points off him in a face-to-face encounter.
In A Line of Life, the ethical meditation published some years before the plays, Ford speaks of three crowns to which men of heroic spirit may aspire: Action, 'the Crowne of Vertue'; Perseverance, 'the Crowne of Action'; and Sufferance, 'the Crowne of perseuerance'. Each crown brings the quality in question to its sovereign perfection. It follows then that
action, perseverance in action, svfferance in perseverance are the three golden links that furnish vp the richest Chain wherwith a good man can bee adorned; They are tripartite counterpawne, wherby wee hold the possession of life …
In these sentences may be said to lie much of the meaning of Fordian tragedy, and much of the essence of Perkin Warbeck himself. Throughout the play he pursues his course of action, undaunted by setbacks, submitting finally to the extremest form of 'sufferance' rather than ceasing to persevere. We may surmise that in Ford's eye this persistence, this sufferance, earns for Perkin an ethical kingship more precious than the tangible one. It bestows on him a triple crown of virtue that makes the visible earthly one irrelevant. And in doing so it validates, in an unforeseen way, the royal identity he has claimed from the start.
'It may be said', pursues Ford, concerning the heroic lone perseverer, 'what profit can redound, what commendation, what reward, for one man to bee singular against many? O the profit is infinite, the commendation memorable, the reward immortali' (Sigs. C7V-C8). As the play nears its catastrophe, Perkin seems more and more consciously animated by the desire to reap this commendation and this reward. As the king's entourage becomes increasingly abusive, he seems increasingly exalted, increasingly tenacious of his kingly identity. The confrontation with Simnel leaves him positively thirsting for his 'martyrdom of majesty' (V. iii. 75). To Urswick and Oxford, as to Gainsford, he is a witch, diabolically inspired. 'Remember, lady, who you are', Oxford urges Katherine, 'come from / That impudent impostor' (V. iii. 111-112). Katherine replies with absolute finality:
You abuse us:
For when the holy churchman joined our hands,
Our vows were real then; the ceremony
Was not in apparition, but in act.
And Perkin joins her in exulting over the one form of sovereignty that cannot be wrested from them.
Spite of tyranny,
We reign in our affections, blessed woman! …
Even when I fell, I stood enthroned a monarch
Of one chaste wife's troth pure and uncorrupted.
Ford underscores the exemplary character of this domain of love by making Katherine take a solemn vow of life-long widowhood—in contrast to her historical self who went on to marry three more times. One final form of kingship still remains to Perkin. 'Illustrious mention', he promises his followers, 'Shall blaze our names, and style us Kings o'er Death' (V. iii. 206-207). The 1634 quarto edition of the play gives typographical prominence to the final phrase by setting it entirely in capitals. It is a claim, like the claim to the kingdom of love, that we must grant, admitting it as a form of sovereignty superior, in some ways, to the earthly power wielded by Henry.
Henry, like some of his counterparts in Shakespeare—ark Antony in Julius Caesar, Octavius in Antony and Cleopatra, Aufidius in Coriolanus—pays respectful tribute to his defeated enemy's courage, and moralizes over his defeat in terms we may or may not be willing to underwrite. What is not in doubt is that we have witnessed the passing of a human being of exceptional stature. This we can better assess if we recall the words of the historians on the same event: Gainsford, for whom Perkin was 'carried to Tiborne, and there swallowed vp by the neuer satisfied paunch of Hell, for his former abuses and intolerable wickednesse' (Sig. Q2)—a nice illustration of this author's heavyhanded moralism—and Bacon:
This was the end of this little cockatrice of a King, that was able to destroy those that did not espy him first. It was one of the longest plays of that kind that hath been in memory, and might perhaps have had another end, if he had not met with a King both wise, stout, and fortunate.
Here we find the characteristic tone of scornful belittlement from which Bacon never deviates, and the last of many references to Perkin as a 'player' and the whole incident as a 'play'. Ford has adopted this last notion, but completely changed its character, removing its pejorative implications. Perkin is indeed the player king, who dwells in an imaginative element distinct from mundane reality, and who fires our imaginations in response. Had he started with the sceptre in his grasp he might well have had it wrested from him, like Edward II or Richard II, by a more forceful rival, and for similar reasons. The king in the real world must be one who can manipulate political forces like treasuries and armies. By the time the play is over, it does not much matter whether Perkin is a true heir or a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur. In either case he has been so decisively outflanked that the debate over his antecedents has become academic. But not the continuing dialectic between two modes of sovereignty. If it is Henry who wins the political struggle, it is Perkin who continues to marshal our imaginative allegiance, somewhat as do Brutus, Antony, and other Shakespearean heroes brought low by efficient politicians of lesser spiritual status. As in Richard II, we find a contrast between the storybook monarch, the one who plays the king beautifully, and the manipulater who rules adroitly without commanding love. Tragedy lies in the fact that the very qualities which make Perkin a king of hearts disable him as a king of practical reality, while the qualities which make Henry an effective ruler chill our imaginative sympathies. More even than Marlowe's Edward II or Shakespeare's Richard II, Perkin Warbeck reminds us of how, in our dreams, we would like kings to appear, and how, in reality, it is nearly impossible that they should.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 664
OVERVIEWS AND GENERAL STUDIES
Davril, R., "Shakespeare and Ford." Shakespeare Jahrbuch 94 (1958): 121-31.
Argues that while many themes and devices in Ford's plays parallel those of Shakespeare, Ford succeeded in creating a distinct oeuvre containing substantial lyrical and psychological qualities.
Farr, Dorothy M. John Ford and the Caroline Theatre. London: The Macmillan Press, 1979, 184 p.
Examines Ford's plays in relation to the tastes and sensibilities of Caroline playgoers.
Hopkins, Lisa. John Ford's Political Theatre. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994, 196 p.
Interprets Ford's dramas and stage devices in the context of the political and religious issues of the Caroline era.
McMaster, Juliet. "Love, Lust, and Sham: Structural Pattern in the Plays of John Ford." Renaissance Drama New Series II (1969): 157-66.
Explores various kinds of sexual relationships in the main plots and subplots of Ford's plays as a key to understanding the dramatic structure of his tragedies.
Neill, Michael, ed. John Ford: Critical Revisions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, 287 p.
Collection of essays that strives to reevaluate Ford's place in the English literary canon using postmodern critical techniques.
Oliver, H. J. The Problem of John Ford. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1955, 146 p.
Comprehensive overview of Ford's life and literary career.
Sargeaunt, M. Joan. John Ford. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966, 232 p.
Influential biographical and critical survey of Ford.
Sensabaugh, G. F. The Tragic Muse of John Ford. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1944, 196 p.
Discusses Ford's plays as products of the Caroline age and attempts to reconcile them with modern sensibilities.
'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE
Champion, Larry S. "Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore' and the Jacobean Tragic Perspective." PMLA 90, No. 1 (January 1975): 78-87.
Asserts that Ford dramatizes a milieu of moral norms outside of the audience's traditional realm of experience in Tis Pity She's a Whore, enabling the playwright to create a "sustained ambivalence" that forces "the spectators simultaneously to sympathize vicariously with the lovers and to sit in judgment on their actions."
Hogan, A. P. '"Tis Pity She's a Whore: The Overall Design." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 17 (1977): 303-16.
Contends that both the main plot and subplot of Tis Pity She's a Whore provide an "integration of private and public which produces an analysis of human behavior shot through with the lurid illumination of uncompromising irony."
Hoy, Cyrus. '"Ignorance in Knowledge:' Marlowe's Faustus and Ford's Giovanni." Modern Philology LVII, No. 3 (February 1960): 145-54.
Proposes that Tis Pity She's a Whore was more likely influenced by Marlowe's Doctor Faustus than by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
THE BROKEN HEART
Barton, Anne. "Oxymoron and the Structure of Ford's 'The Broken Heart.'" Essays and Studies (1980): 70-94.
Examines Ford's use of oxymorons as a key thematic device in dramatizing the "contradictoriness of life … and something of its sense of claustrophobia and impasse."
Kaufmann, R. J. "Ford's 'Waste Land': The Broken Heart." Renaissance Drama New Series III (1970): 167-87.
Views The Broken Heart as a "tragedy of manners," in which each of the characters plays a specific role based on a predetermined set of social conditions.
Neill, Michael. "Ford's Unbroken Art: The Moral Design of 'The Broken Heart.'" Modern Language Review 75, No. 2 (April 1980): 249-68.
Asserts that Ford's adroit handling of several sophisticated social paradoxes in The Broken Heart attests to his ability as a dramatic artist.
Barton, Anne. "He That Plays the King: Ford's Perkin Warbeck and the Stuart History Play." English Drama: Forms and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977, pp. 69-93.
Analyzes Perkin Warbeck in the context of the precarious political conditions during the Jacobean and Caroline eras.
Candido, Joseph. 'The 'Strange Truth' of Perkin Warbeck." Philological Quarterly 59, No. 3 (Summer 1980): 300-15.
Interprets Ford's representation of Perkin Warbeck in the eponymous tragedy as an example of a dramatist exploring "the self-fashioning Renaissance spirit in action."
Struble, Mildred Clara. A Critical Edition of Ford's Perkin Warbeck. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1926, 214 p.
Influential early twentieth-century critical study of Ford's Perkin Warbeck.
Additional coverage of Ford's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 58.