John Ford (essay date 1634)

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SOURCE: Ford, John. “Prologue to Perkin Warbeck.” In The Dramatic Works of John Ford, Vol. II, edited by W. Gifford, p. 1. London: John Murray, 1831.

[In the following prologue to Perkin Warbeck, first published in 1634, Ford states his reasons for attempting to revive the unfashionable history play genre.]

Studies have, of this nature, been of late,
So out of fashion, so unfollowed, that
It is become more justice, to revive
The antic follies of the times, than strive
To countenance wise industry: no want
Of art doth render wit, or lame, or scant,
Or slothful, in the purchase of fresh bays;
But want of truth in them, who give the praise
To their self-love, presuming to out-do
The writer, or (for need) the actors too.
But such the author's silence best befits,
Who bids them be in love with their own wits.
From him, to clearer judgments, we can say
He shows a History, couch'd in a play:
A history of noble mention, known,
Famous, and true; most noble, 'cause our own:
Not forged from Italy, from France, from Spain,
But chronicled at home; as rich in strain
Of brave attempts, as ever fertile rage,
In action, could beget to grace the stage.
We cannot limit scenes, for the whole land
Itself appear'd too narrow to withstand
Competitors for kingdoms: nor is here
Unnecessary mirth forced, to endear
A multitude: on these two rests the fate
Of worthy expectation, Truth and State.


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John Ford 1586?-1640?

English playwright, poet, and pamphlet writer.

Producing most of his dramas in the early Caroline period, Ford is something of a literary anachronism. His mentors and early collaborators included such renowned Jacobean playwrights as John Fletcher, Thomas Dekker, and John Webster, all of whom were profoundly influenced by William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Even as other Caroline dramatists were turning away from worn-out Elizabethan dramatic techniques in an effort to attract audiences to their theaters, Ford strove to resuscitate that aging tradition through a combination of skill as a tragic dramatist and through the theatrical representation of taboo themes and shocking violence. Through the centuries, literary scholars have fiercely debated the issue of Ford's interest in such sensational subjects. While many have argued that Ford willingly appealed to the increasingly decadent tastes of Caroline audiences, others have maintained that the playwright's use of the medium of tragedy suggests that there is an underlying didactic moral philosophy at work in his plays. Still others have asserted that Ford remains intentionally ambivalent about the morality of his tragic characters, instead transferring the responsibility of judging or sympathizing with his characters to the spectator.

Biographical Information

Little is known about Ford's life and career. There is record that the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Ford was baptized on April 17, 1586. 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 one of the Inns of Court, the Middle Temple; 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 uninspired, his contributions to the London...

(This entire section contains 1124 words.)

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theater scene proved to hold more promise. During this time and throughout his career, Ford worked with the King's Majesties Servants, who were made famous by Shakespeare, and with Christopher Beeston's acting companies at Drury Lane; he also collaborated with Fletcher, Dekker, and Webster. Ford's dramatic career spanned from about 1612-13, whenAn Ill Beginning Has a Good End, attributed to Ford, was staged at London's Court Theater, until 1639, when The Lady's Trial, the last work bearing his name, was printed. It is not known when Ford died.

Major Works

Before embarking on his career as a dramatist, Ford tried his hand at several other literary forms, including non-dramatic works, 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 (1621), written by Ford, 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 (1628), probably Ford's first individual effort, he experiments with the theme of jealousy in the context of tragicomedy. Ford achieved a masterful depiction of this theme and its tragic consequences in two of his greatest dramas, first staged between 1630 and 1633: 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 (c. 1632-33). While the siblings' relationship in The Broken Heart is not as overtly incestuous as that in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, nevertheless there 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 comprise 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 relationship and the shocking theatrical effect of Giovanni taking stage in the final act 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 tragedy, Perkin Warbeck (c. 1633-34), as evidence that the dramatist ultimately matured beyond the decadence of his earlier dramas. In this play, Ford dramatizes the political conflict between 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.

Critical Reception

In the centuries that followed the Caroline era, critics either dismissed or disdained Ford's works 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. These commentators have generally separated into two critical camps: the first group believes that a skeptical Ford placed his dramatization of aberrant sexual behavior and shocking blood spectacle within the tragic model as a didactic tool to instruct his audience about the dire consequences of such degenerate behavior; the other group proposes that Ford intentionally displays an ambivalent attitude toward an ethical conflict between traditional Christian morality and progressive early seventeenth-century theories about scientific physiology and extreme individualism. From an aesthetic standpoint, critics have generally commended Ford for his brilliant depiction of intensely passionate tragic emotion in his plays, arguing that this achievement holds the audience in suspense where his low comedy and characterization often fail. In the words of Adolphus William Ward: “The intensity of [Ford's] imagination enables him to reproduce situations of the most harrowing kind, and to reveal, with a vividness and suddenness wholly peculiar to himself, the depths of passion, sorrow, and despair which lie hidden in the hearts of men and women.”

Samuel Pepys (essay date 1669)

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SOURCE: Pepys, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol. IX, edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews, p. 465. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1976.

[In the following diary entry dated March 3, 1669, Pepys recounts seeing The Lady's Trial, deeming it a “sorry play.”]

So to Unthankes and there took up my wife and carried her to the Duke of York's playhouse and there saw an old play, the first time acted these 40 years, called The Lady's tryall, acted only by the young people of the House, but the House very full. But it is but a sorry play, and the worse by how much my head is out of humour by being a little sleepy and my legs weary since last night.

Principal Works

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Fames Memoriall, 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

An Ill Beginning Has a Good End [attributed to Ford] (play) 1612-13

Christes Bloodie Sweat. Or the Sonne of God in His Agonie [attributed to Ford] (poetry) 1613

The Golden Meane [attributed to Ford] (prose pamphlet) 1613

A Line of Life. Pointing at the Immortalitie of a Vertuous Name (prose pamphlet) 1620

The Witch of Edmonton [with Thomas Dekker and William Rowley] (play) 1621

The Bristow Merchant [with Dekker] (play) 1624

The Fairy Knight [with Dekker] (play) 1624

The Late Murder of the Son upon the Mother [with Dekker, Rowley, and John Webster] (play) 1624

The Sun's Darling [with Dekker] (play) 1624

The Lover's Melancholy (play) 1628

Beauty in a Trance (play) 1630

The Broken Heart (play) c. 1630-33

'Tis Pity She's a Whore (play) c. 1630-33

Love's Sacrifice (play) c. 1632-33

Perkin Warbeck (play) c. 1633-34

The Fancies Chaste and Noble (play) c. 1635-36

The Lady's Trial (play) 1638

The Queen, or The Excellency of Her Sex (play) 1653

Gerard Langbaine (essay date 1691)

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SOURCE: Langbaine, Gerard. “John Ford.” In An Account of the English Dramatick Poets, pp. 219-22. Oxford: George West and Henry Clements, 1691.

[In the following essay, Langbaine provides a brief overview of Ford's dramatic works, singling out for censure Ford's treatment of incest in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.]

A Gentleman of the Middle-Temple, who liv'd in the Reign of King Charles the First: Who was a Well-wisher to the Muses, and a Friend and Acquaintance of most of the Poets of his Time. He was not only a Partner with Rowly, and Decker in the Witch of Edmonton, … and with Decker, in The Sun's Darling, but writ like-wise himself seven Plays; most of which were acted at the Phœnix, and the Black-Friars: and may be known by an Anagram instead of his Name, generally printed in the Title-page, viz.


He was more addicted to Tragedy, than Comedy; which occasion'd an Old Poet to write thus of him.

Deep in a Dump John Ford was alone got
With folded Arms, and melancholy Hat.

I shall give an Account of his Plays Alphabetically, and place The Sun's Darling in its order, because the greatest part of it was writ by our Author.

Broken Heart, a Tragedy acted by the Kings Majesties Servants, at the private House in Black-Fryars, printed 40 Lond. 1633. and dedicated to the most Worthy Deserver of the Noblest Titles in Honour, William Lord Craven, Baron of Hamstead-Marshal. The Speakers Names are fitted to their Qualities; and most of them are deriv'd from Greek Etimologies.

Fancies Chast and Noble, a Tragi-comedy, presented by the Queen Majesties Servants, at the Phœnix in Drury Lane; printed 40 Lond. 1638. and dedicated to the Right Noble Lord, the Lord Randell Macdonell, Earl of Antrim in the Kingdom of Ireland. This Play is usher'd into the World by a Copy of Verses, written by Mr. Edward Greenfield.

Ladies Tryal, a Tragi-comedy acted by both their Majesties Servants, at the private House in Drury Lane; printed 40 Lond. 1639. and dedicated to his Deservingly Honoured John Wyrley Esq; and to the Virtuous and Right worthy Gentlewoman Mrs. Mary Wyrley his Wife.

Lovers Melancholy, a Tragi-comedy acted at the private House in the Black-Fryars, and publickly at the Globe by the Kings Majesties Servants; printed 40 Lond.1629. and dedicated to his most worthily Respected Friends, Nathaniel Finch, John Ford, Esquires; Mr. Henry Blunt, Mr. Robert Ellice, and all the rest of the Noble Society of Grays-Inn. This Play is commended by four of the Author's Friends; one of which … writ the following Tetrastick.

'Tis not the Language nor the fore-plac'd Rimes Of Friends, that shall commend to after-times The Lovers Melancholy: Its own Worth, Without a borrow'd Praise, shall set it forth.

The Author has Embellisht this Play with several Francies from other Writers, which he has appositely brought in; as the Story of the Contention between the Musician and the Nightingale; describ'd in Strada's Academical Prolusions, Lib.2. Prol.6. which begins,

Jam Sol è medio pronus defluxerat Orbe, &c.

A Definition and Description of Melancholy, copied from the Ingenious Mr. Rob. Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, &c.

Love's Sacrifice, a Tragedy, receiv'd generally well; acted by the Queens Majesties Servants, at the Phœnix in Drury Lane; printed 40 Lond. 1633. and dedicated to his truest Friend, his worthiest Kinsman, John Ford of Gray's-Inn Esquire. There is a Copy of Verses printed before this Play, written by that Dramatick Writer Mr. James Shirley.

Perkin Warbeck, a Chronicle History, and a Strange Truth, acted (sometimes) by the Queens Majesties Servants in Drury Lane; printed 40 Lond. 1634. and dedicated to the Rightly Honourable William Cavendish Earl of Newcastle. This Play as several of the former, is attended with Verses written by Four of the Author's Friends; one of which is his Kinsman abovementioned. The Plot is founded on Truth, and may be read in most of the Chronicles that have writ of the Reign of King Henry the VII. See Caxton, Polidore Virgil, Holling shead, Speed, Stow, Salmonet, Du Chesne, Martyn, Baker, Gaynsford's History of Perkin Warbeck, &c.

Sun's Darling, a Moral Mask, often presented by their Majesties Servants, at the Cock-pit in Drury Lane, with great applause; printed 40Lond. 1657. and dedicated to the Right Honourable Thomas Wriathesley, Earl of Southampton. This Play was written (as I have said) by our Author and Decker, but not publisht till after their Decease. A Copy of Verses written by Mr. John Tateham, is the Introduction to the Masque; at the Entry whereof, the Reader will find an Explanation of the Design, alluding to the Four Seasons of the Year.

'Tis pity she's a whore, a Tragedy printed 40 I can give no further Account of the Title-page, or Dedication, mine being lost. All that I can say is, that it equalls any of our Author's Plays; and were to be commended, did not the Author paint the incestuous Love between Giovanni, and his Sister Annabella, in too beautiful Colours.

Mr. Winstanly says, that this Author was very beneficial to the Red-Bull, and Fortune Play-Houses; as may appear by the Plays which he wrote; tho' the Reader may see by the foregoing Account that he takes his Information upon trust, or else the Plays he has seen are of different Editions from those I have by me: but I rather believe the former, since I have found him subject to several Mistakes of this Nature.

David Erskine Baker (essay date 1764)

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SOURCE: Baker, David Erskine. Biographia Dramatica; Or, A Companion to the Playhouse Containing Historical and Critical Memoirs and Original Anecdotes of British and Irish Dramatic Writers, Vols. II and III, pp. 391-92 and p. 340. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1812.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1764, Baker comments on Ford's The Lover's Melancholy and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, noting that the former was warmly received when first acted while the subject matter of the latter is simply too shocking for audiences.]

[The Lover's Melancholy] is highly commended in four copies of verses by friends of the author; and he has himself greatly embellished it by an apt introduction of several fancies from other writers, particularly the story of the contention between the musician and the nightingale, from Strada's Prolusions, and the description and definition of melancholy, from Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. This play was acted in the same week, and by the same company, as Ben Jonson's comedy of The New Inn. The success of them, however, was totally opposite to each other: Ford's play was received with great applause, while Ben's met with general disapprobation. Whoever will recollect the spleen which the latter is acknowledged to have possessed, will not be surprised to find that he resented the fate of his performance in very warm terms; and, to be revenged on Ford, who headed the supporters of Shakespeare's fame, against Jonson's invectives, he charged him with having stolen The Lovers' Melancholy from Shakspeare's papers, with the connivance of Heminge and Condel, who, with Ford, had the revisal of them. In this dispute the poets of the times took part with either party, as passion or interest directed them; and, among other pieces which the contest produced, was a pamphlet, entitled “Old Ben's Light Heart made heavy, by young John's Melancholy Lover;” a performance once in the possession of Mr. Macklin the player, but now lost.

We cannot help considering this play ['Tis Pity She's a Whore] as the masterpiece of this great author's works. There are some particulars in it, both with respect to conduct, character, spirit, and poetry, that would have done honour to the pen of the immortal Shakspeare himself. Langbaine has, however, pointed out a fault, which we must, though unwillingly, subscribe to, and which relates to a very essential point, viz. the morals of the play; which is, his having painted the incestuous love between Giovanni and his sister Annabella in much too beautiful colours; and, indeed, the author himself seems by his title to have been aware of this objection, and conscious that he has rendered the last-mentioned character, notwithstanding all her faults, so very lovely, that every auditor would naturally cry out to himself, 'T is Pity She's a Whore. In consequence of this incestuous passion also, on which the whole plot of the play turns, the catastrophe of it is too shocking for an audience to bear, notwithstanding every recollection of its being no more than fiction.

Further Reading

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Anderson, Jr., Donald K. “John Ford.” In The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists, edited by Terence P. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, pp. 120-51. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

In-depth bibliographical survey of Ford's life and works.

Tannenbaum, Samuel A. and Dorothy R. Tannenbaum. “John Ford.” In their Elizabethan Bibliographies, vol. II. 1941. Reprint. Port Washington, N. Y.: Kennikat Press, 1967.

Includes a brief introduction to Ford and a 26-page primary and secondary bibliography of his life and major works.


Anderson, Jr., Donald K. John Ford. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972, 160 p.

Monograph covering Ford's life, literary career, and critical reception.

Leech, Clifford. John Ford. Writers and Their Work 170. Edited by Geoffrey Bullough. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1964, 40 p.

General overview of Ford's life and literary career, emphasizing his discipleship to John Fletcher.


Ali, Florence. Opposing Absolutes: Conviction and Convention in John Ford's Plays. Jacobean Drama Studies 44. Edited by James Hogg. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1974, 109 p.

Posits that rather than committing to such opposing absolutes as Christian morality or scientific physiology, Ford intentionally maintains an ambivalence toward the characters and themes in his plays.

Amtower, Laurel. “‘This Idol Thou Ador'st’: The Iconography of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.Papers on Language and Literature 34, No. 2 (Spring 1998): 179-206.

Argues that Ford created an ambivalent iconography in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore which is analogous to England's religious and political stance toward Catholicism in the early seventeenth century.

Anderson, Jr., Donald K. “The Heart and the Banquet: Imagery in Ford's 'Tis Pity and The Broken Heart.Studies in English Literature 2, No. 1 (Winter 1962): 209-17.

Examines Ford's sophisticated use of heart and banquet imagery in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and The Broken Heart.

———, ed. “Concord in Discord”: The Plays of John Ford, 1586-1986. New York: AMS Press, 1986, 298 p.

Collection of scholarly essays addressing various topics related to Ford's plays.

Babb, Lawrence. “Abnormal Psychology in John Ford's Perkin Warbeck.Modern Language Notes 51, No. 4 (April 1936): 234-37.

Posits that Ford conceived of Perkin Warbeck as “a melancholic with the delusion of grandeur.”

Barish, Jonas A. “Perkin Warbeck as Anti-History.” Essays in Criticism XX, No. 2 (1970): 151-71.

Contends that Perkin Warbeck represents Ford's idealized concept of a monarch who, while he cannot succeed in the face of the “politics of pragmatism,” “wrings from defeat a triumph peculiar to his virtues, and it is a royal one.”

Barton, Anne. “He That Plays the King: Ford's Perkin Warbeck and the Stuart History Play.” In English Drama: Forms and Development, edited by Marie Axton and Raymond Williams, pp. 69-93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Analyzes Perkin Warbeck in the context of the precarious political conditions during the Jacobean and Caroline eras.

———. “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.”

Boas, Frederick S. “John Ford.” In his An Introduction to Stuart Drama, pp. 337-51. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946.

Survey of Ford's life and literary canon.

Bradbrook, Muriel C. “The Decadence.” In Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy, pp. 241-67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952.

Discusses Ford's dramatic works within the context of the decadent literary tradition following the Elizabethan age.

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.”

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.”

Clark, Ira. “Ford's Tragedy of Ritual Suffering.” In his Professional Playwrights: Massinger, Ford, Shirley, & Brome, pp. 73-111. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

Examines Ford's plays as social dramas in which the characters represent unexamined social and moral roles that usually lead to tragedy.

Edwards, Philip. “The Royal Pretenders: Ford's Perkin Warbeck and Massinger's Believe As You List.” In his Threshold of a Nation: A Study in English and Irish Drama, pp. 174-190. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Analyzes the historical significance of Ford's sympathetic treatment toward the royal pretender in Perkin Warbeck.

Eliot, T. S. “John Ford.” In Selected Essays, pp. 193-204. London: Faber and Faber, 1934.

Argues that Ford holds a unique position among Shakespeare's successors for his distinctive manipulation of blank verse poetry.

Ellis-Fermor, Una. “Ford.” In her The Jacobean Drama: An Interpretation, pp. 227-46. 1936. Reprint. London: Metheun, 1961.

Maintains that Ford's art signifies the conclusion of the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatic ages.

Ewing, S. Blaine. “The Significance of Melancholy.” In Burtonian Melancholy in the Plays of John Ford, pp. 92-116. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940.

Examines the influence of Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy on Ford's dramatic works.

Farr, Dorothy M. John Ford and the Caroline Theatre. London: Macmillan, 1979, 184 p.

Asserts that a more complete understanding of Ford's plays can be realized when the works are analyzed in relation to the Caroline theaters for which they were written and performed.

Gifford, W. “Introduction.” In The Dramatic Works of John Ford, pp. v-cxci. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1831.

Comprehensive overview of Ford's life and literary career.

Harbage, Alfred. “The Mystery of Perkin Warbeck.” In Studies in the English Renaissance Drama: In Memory of Karl Julius Holznecht, edited by Josephine W. Bennett, Oscar Cargill, and Vernon Hall, Jr., pp. 125-41. New York: New York University Press, 1959.

Proposes that the reason why Perkin Warbeck is so distinct in the Ford literary canon is because Ford may have collaborated with Thomas Dekker on the history play.

Hogan, A. P. “'Tis Pity She's a Whore: The Overall Design.” Studies in English Literature 1500-190017 (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.”

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.

———. “Speaking Sweat: Emblems in the Plays of John Ford.” Comparative Drama 29, No. 1 (Spring 1995): 133-46.

Examines how the emblematic literary tradition influenced Ford's oeuvre.

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.

Huebert, Ronald. John Ford: Baroque English Dramatist. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1977, 248 p.

Maintains that intensely emotional characters, an open dramatic style, and an unconventional rhetorical practice all identify Ford as a baroque playwright.

Jeffrey, Francis. Review of The Dramatic Works of John Ford. In Contributions to the Edinburgh Review, vol. II, pp. 284-314. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844.

Offers a review, originally published in 1811, in which Ford's plays are relegated to the status of unremarkable works produced in an inferior dramatic age.

Kaufmann, R. J. “Ford's Tragic Perspective.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 1, No. 4 (Winter 1960): 522-37.

Examines Ford's dramatic treatment of tragic jealousy, focusing on how such themes as misalliance, vows, and counterfeiting relate to “Ford's heightened awareness of the arbitrary in human life.”

———. “Ford's ‘Waste Land’: The Broken Heart.Renaissance Drama n.s. 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.

Kirsch, Arthur. “Ford.” In his Jacobean Dramatic Perspectives, pp. 112-26. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 1972.

Challenges the Romantic bias that Ford was a distinctive tragedian, positing instead that his dramaturgy and themes were borrowed from Beaumont and Fletcher.

Lee, Vernon. “The Italy of the Elizabethan Dramatists.” In her Euphorion: Being Studies of the Antique and the Medieval in the Renaissance, pp. 57-108. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1885.

Maintains that Ford was a master of dramatizing intense tragic passion, but he nevertheless lacked moral fiber.

McMaster, Juliet. “Love, Lust, and Sham: Structural Pattern in the Plays of John Ford.” Renaissance Drama n.s. 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. “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.

———, 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. “Ford's Achievement.” In The Problem of John Ford, pp. 122-30. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1955.

Asserts that Ford's achievement as a dramatist lies in his ability to explore the depths of human passion and to dramatize the resulting states of mind within his characters.

Orbison, Tucker. The Tragic Vision of John Ford. Jacobean Drama Studies 21. Edited by James Hogg. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1974. 192 p.

Traces the evolution of Ford's tragic vision in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Love's Sacrifice, The Broken Heart, and Perkin Warbeck.

Powell, Raymond. “The Adaptation of a Shakespearean Genre: Othello and Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.Renaissance Quarterly 48, No. 3 (Autumn 1995): 582-92.

Discusses how Ford appropriated key Shakespearean themes for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.

Randall, Dale B. J.“Theatres of Greatness”: A Revisionary View of Ford's Perkin Warbeck. Victoria, B. C.: English Literary Studies, University of Victoria, 1986, 80 p.

Argues that Perkin Warbeck was written in the 1620s rather than the 1630s and concludes that such a revision significantly alters the political undertones of the play.

Ribner, Irving. “John Ford.” In his Jacobean Tragedy: The Quest for Moral Order, pp. 153-75. London: Metheun, 1962.

Asserts that while Ford's pessimistic treatment of morality creates the potential for tragedy, his plays are often marred by an “inability to lead his audience to a full resolution of the moral problems which he proposes.”

Robson, Ian. The Moral World of John Ford's Drama. Jacobean Drama Studies 90. Edited by James Hogg. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1983, 284 p.

Observes that since Ford “refuses to act as a moral judge”on the characters in his plays, it is not possible for the audience to make an “unequivocal judgement” about their actions.

Sherman, Stuart P. “Stella and The Broken Heart.Publications of the Modern Language Association of America XXIV, No 2 (1909): 274-85.

Contends that The Broken Heart is based on an actual love affair involving Lady Penelope Devereux, Countess of Devonshire.

Struble, Mildred Clara. A Critical Edition of Ford's Perkin Warbeck. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1926, 214 p.

Influential early twentieth-century study of Perkin Warbeck.

Ure, Peter. “Cult and Initiates in Ford's Love's Sacrifice.Modern Language Quarterly XI (1950): 298-306.

Discerns evidence of the Platonic cult theme in Love's Sacrifice but concludes that it is not as clearly developed in this play as it is in later courtly dramas.

Waith, Eugene M. “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, pp. 155-68. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1976.

Explores the dramatic effect of the characters' attempts to remain composed in The Broken Heart, concluding that “the strange pattern of violence avoided can be seen to constitute the chief meaning of the tragedy.”

Weber, Henry. “Introduction.” In The Dramatic Works of John Ford, pp. vii-xlviii. 2 vols. Edinburgh: George Ramsey, 1811.

Provides one of the first in-depth assessments of Ford's life and literary career.

Winstanley, William. “John Ford.” In The Lives of the Most Famous English Poets, p. 114. 1687. Reprint. London: H. Clark, 1963.

Brief notice of Ford, mentioning that his plays proved to be financially successful for his theater.

Additional coverage of Ford's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography Before 1660; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 58; Discovering Authors Modules: Dramatists; and Drama Criticism, Vol. 8.

Charles Lamb (essay date 1811)

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SOURCE: Lamb, Charles. “The Broken Heart.” In Charles Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare, Vol. II, edited by Israel Gollancz, pp. 188-99. 1893. Reprint. London: J. M. Dent, 1970.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1811, Lamb rhapsodizes about Ford's profound ability to dramatize tragic passion in The Broken Heart.]

I do not know where to find in any Play a catastrophe so grand, so solemn, and so surprising as this [in The Broken Heart]. This is indeed, according to Milton, to “describe high passions and high actions.” The fortitude of the Spartan Boy who let a beast gnaw out his bowels till he died without expressing a groan, is a faint bodily image of this dilaceration of the spirit, and exenteration of the inmost mind, which Calantha with a holy violence against her nature keeps closely covered, till the last duties of a Wife and a Queen are fulfilled. Stories of martyrdom are but of chains and the stake; a little bodily suffering; these torments

On the purest spirits prey
As on entrails, joints, and limbs,
With answerable pains, but more intense.

What a noble thing is the soul in its strengths and in its weaknesses! who would be less weak than Calantha? who can be so strong? the expression of this transcendent scene almost bears me in imagination to Calvary and the Cross; and I seem to perceive some analogy between the scenical sufferings which I am here contemplating, and the real agonies of that final completion to which I dare no more than hint a reference.

Ford was of the first order of Poets. He sought for sublimity not by parcels in metaphors or visible images, but directly where she has her full residence in the heart of man; in the actions and sufferings of the greatest minds. There is a grandeur of the soul above mountains, seas, and the elements. Even in the poor perverted reason of Giovanni and Annabella … we discern traces of that fiery particle, which in the irregular starting from out of the road of beaten action, discovers something of a right line even in obliquity, and shows hints of an improveable greatness in the lowest descents and degradations of our nature.

William Hazlitt (essay date 1820)

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SOURCE: Hazlitt, William. “Lecture IV.” In Lectures on the Literature of the Age of Elizabeth and Characters of Shakespear's Plays, pp. 107-43. London: Bell & Daldy, 1870.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1820, Hazlitt describes Ford's dramatic technique as artificial and lacking imagination, but notes that such deficiencies are often overlooked due to the sensational nature of his plays.]

Ford is not so great a favourite with me as with some others, from whose judgment I dissent with diffidence. It has been lamented that the play of his which has been most admired ('Tis Pity She's a Whore) had not a less exceptionable subject. I do not know, but I suspect that the exceptionableness of the subject is that which constitutes the chief merit of the play. The repulsiveness of the story is what gives it its critical interest; for it is a studiously prosaic statement of facts, and naked declaration of passions. It was not the least of Shakspeare's praise, that he never tampered with unfair subjects. His genius was above it; his taste kept aloof from it. I do not deny the power of simple painting and polished style in this tragedy in general, and of a great deal more in some few of the scenes, particularly in the quarrel between Annabella and her husband, which is wrought up to a pitch of demoniac scorn and phrensy with consummate art and knowledge; but I do not find much other power in the author (generally speaking) than that of playing with edged tools, and knowing the use of poisoned weapons. And what confirms me in this opinion is the comparative inefficiency of his other plays. Except the last scene of the Broken Heart (which I think extravagant—others may think it sublime, and be right) they are merely exercises of style and effusions of wire-drawn sentiment. Where they have not the sting of illicit passion, they are quite pointless, and seem painted on gauze, or spun of cobwebs. The affected brevity and division of some of the lines into hemistichs, &c., so as to make in one case a mathematical staircase of the words and answers given to different speakers,1 is an instance of frigid and ridiculous pedantry. An artificial elaborateness is the general characteristic of Ford's style. In this respect his plays resemble Miss Baillie's more than any others I am acquainted with, and are quite distinct from the exuberance and unstudied force which characterised his immediate predecessors. There is too much of scholastic subtlety, an innate perversity of understanding or predominance of will, which either seeks the irritation of inadmissible subjects, or to stimulate its own faculties by taking the most barren, and making something out of nothing, in a spirit of contradiction. He does not draw along with the reader: he does not work upon our sympathy, but on our antipathy or our indifference; and there is as little of the social or gregarious principle in his productions as there appears to have been in his personal habits, if we are to believe Sir John Suckling, who says of him in the Sessions of the Poets:

In the dumps John Ford alone by himself sat
With folded arms and melancholy hat.

I do not remember without considerable effort the plot or persons of most of his plays: Perkin Warbeck,The Lover's Melancholy,Love's Sacrifice, and the rest. There is little character, except of the most evanescent or extravagant kind (to which last class we may refer that of the sister of Calantha in the Broken Heart)—little imagery or fancy, and no action.


  1. Ithocles. Soft peace enrich this room.
    Orgilus.                                                            How fares the lady?
    Philema. Dead!
    Christalla.                    Dead!
    Philema.                                        Starv'd!
    Christalla.                                                                      Starv'd!
    Ithocles.                                                                                                    Me miserable!

    [This is not so printed in the original 4to of 1633; the modern editors are responsible for the “mathematical staircase.”—ed.]

James Russell Lowell (essay date 1845)

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SOURCE: Lowell, James Russell. “Fourth Conversation.” In Conversations on Some of the Old Poets, pp. 112-242. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1845 and written as a fictional dialogue between the characters of Philip and John, Lowell acknowledges Ford as a talented playwright but not one of the first rank of English dramatists.]


Ford's dramatic abilities have, I think, been rated too highly. He has a great deal of tragic excitability and enthusiasm, and a good knowledge of stage-effect; but these are the predominant qualities of his nature. In the strong mind they are always subservient. Ford can see the proprieties and beauties of a fine situation; but he has not that dignity in him which can create them out of its own substance. His poetic faculty leans upon the tragic element in his stories for support, instead of being the foundation of it. Tender and graceful he always is, almost to excess; never great and daring. He does not seem to me to deserve the high praise which, if I remember rightly, Lamb bestows upon him, and which other less judicious critics have repeated.


The sweet lovingness of Lamb's nature fitted him for a good critic; but there were knotty quirks in the grain of his mind, which seemed, indeed, when polished by refined studies, little less than beauties, and which we cannot help loving, but which led him to the worship of strange gods, and with the more scrupulous punctuality that the mass were of another persuasion. No field is so small or so barren but there will be grazing enough in it to keep a hobby in excellent case. Lamb's love was of too rambling and wide-spreading a kind to be limited by the narrow trellises which satisfy a common nature. It stretched out its feelers and twined them around everything within its reach, clipping with its tender and delicate green the fair tree and unsightly stump alike. Everything that he loved was, for the time, his ideal of loveliness. Even tobacco, when he was taking leave of it, became the very “crown of perfumes,” and he affirmed

Roses and violets but toys
For the greener sort of boys
Or for greener damsels meant.


In this, and in the finer glimpses of his humor, and in the antique richness of his style in the best parts, he reminds me of Emerson; but he had not the divine eye of our American poet, nor his deep transparency and majestic simpleness of language, full of images that seem like remembrance-flowers dropped from between the pages of Bacon, or Montaigne, or Browne, or Herbert; reminding us of all felicitous seasons in our own lives, and yet infused with a congenial virtue from the magic leaves between which they had been stored.

John Ford, though he cannot rank with the first order of minds, yet claims an instinctive deference, as one of that glorious brotherhood who so illustrated and dignified our English tongue at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Set beside almost any of our modern dramatists, there is certainly something grand and free about him; and though he has not that “large utterance” which belonged to Shakespeare, and perhaps one or two others of his contemporaries, he sometimes rises into a fiery earnestness which falls little short of sublimity, and proves that he had in him, as Drayton said of Marlowe,

Those brave translunary things
That our first poets had.

It is this abandoned earnestness and willingness and simplicity which so much elevate the writers of that age above nearly all succeeding ones. In their companionship, a certain pardoning and compromising restraint, which hampers us in the society of less unconscious writers, seems to be thrown off the mind. Here, at last, we find frankness, contempt of consequences, dignity that finds graceful sustenance in the smallest and most ordinary events of to-day, as well as in the greatest, or in prophecies of a nobler tomorrow. They laid the deep-set bases of their works and thoughts in the cheap but eternal rock of nature, not idly writing their names upon the shifting and unstable sands of a taste or a prejudice, to be washed out by the next wave, or blurred and overdrifted by the first stronger breeze. Pegasus is the most unsafe of hobby-horses. The poet whose pen is governed by any self-built theory (even if he persuade men to believe in it) will be read only so long as that theory is not driven out by another. …

[Ford's] dramatic power consists mainly in the choice of his plots. His characters, as is often the case with those of retired students, are rather certain turns of mind or eccentricities put into a body, than real men and women.


He does not carry matters quite so far as some later writers, who go to the expense of a whole human frame for the mere sake of bringing a single humorous phrase upon the stage,—the sole use of the legs being to carry about the body, that of the body to sustain the head, and that of the head to utter the said humorous phrase at proper intervals. Friar Bacon's head, or one of those “airy tongues” which Milton borrowed of Marco Polo, would save these gentry a great waste of flesh and bone, if it could be induced to go upon the stage.


No; Ford is not quite so spendthrift in human beings as that. Guardians should be appointed for such authors, as for those who cannot take care of their estates.—His plots raise him and carry him along with them whither they please, and it is generally only at their culminating points that he shows much strength; and then it is the strength of passion, not of reason. Indeed, I do not know but it should rather be called weakness. He puts his characters in situations where the heart that has a drop of hot blood in it finds it easier to be strong than weak. His heroes show that fitful strength which grows out of intense excitement, rather than healthy muscular action; it does not rise with the difficulty or danger they are in, and, looking down on it, assert calmly the unusurpable sovereignty of the soul, even after the flesh is overcome, but springs forward in an exulting gush of glorious despair to grapple with death and fate. In a truly noble bravery of soul, the interest is wholly the fruit of immortality; here, it is the Sodom-apple of mortality. In the one case, we exult to see the infinite overshadow and dwarf the finite; in the other, we cannot restrain a kind of romantic enthusiasm and admiration at seeing the weak clay so gallantly defy the overwhelming power which it well knows must crush it. High genius may be fiery and impetuous, but it can never bully and look big; it does not defy death and futurity, for a doubt of its monarchy over them never overflushed its serene countenance.


Shakespeare's characters seem to modify his plots as much as they are modified by them in turn. This may be the result of his unapproachable art; for art in him is but the tracing of nature to her primordial laws,—is but nature precipitated, as it were, by the infallible test of philosophy. In his plays, as in life, there is a perpetual seesaw of character and circumstance, now one uppermost, now the other. Nature is never afraid to reason in a circle; we must let her assume her premises, and make our deductions logical accordingly. The actors in Shakespeare's dramas are only overcome by so much as they fall below their ideal and are wanting in some attribute of true manhood. Wherever we go with him, the absence of a virtue always suggests its presence, the want of any nobleness makes us feel its beauty the more keenly.


But Ford's heroes are strong only in their imperfections, and it is to these that whatever admiration we yield them is paid. They interest us only so far as they can make us forget our quiet, calm ideal. This is the very stamp of weakness. We should be surprised if we saw them show any natural greatness. They are morbid and unhealthy; for, in truth, what we call greatness and nobleness is but entire health; to those only who are denaturalized themselves do they seem wonderful; to the natural man they are as customary and unconscious as the beating of his heart or the motion of his lungs, and as necessary. Therefore it is that praise always surprises and humbles true genius; the shadow of earth comes then between it and its starry ideal with a cold and dark eclipse. In Ford's characters, the sublimity, if there be any, is that of a defiant despair.


The great genius may fail, but it is never thus. In him the spirit often overbalances the body, and sets its ideal too far beyond the actual. Unable to reach that, he seems to do less than many a one of less power; for the performance of anything lower than what he has marked out for himself carries with it a feeling almost of degradation, that dispirits him. His wings may be too weak to bear him to that infinite height; but, if he fail, he is an angel still, and falls not so low as the proudest pitch of talent. His failures are successful, compared with the successes of others. But not to himself do they seem so; though, at his earth-dwindling height, he show like a star to the eyes of the world, what is it to him, while he beholds the golden gates of his aspiration above him still, fast shut and barred immitigably? Yet high genius has that in it which makes that its longings can never be wholly fruitless; its utmost imperfection has some touch of the perfect in it.


The slavery of the character to the incident in Ford's plays has often reminded me of that story of the travellers who lost their way in the mummy-pits, and who were all forced to pass through the same narrow orifice, which gave ready way to the slender, but through which the stout were obliged to wriggle and squeeze with a desperate forgetfulness of bulk. It may be foolish for a philosopher, but it is wisdom in a dramatist, to follow the example of nature, who always takes care to make large holes for her large cats and small holes for her small ones.—Ford, perhaps, more than any of his contemporaries deserves the name of sentimental. He has not the stately gravity and antique majesty of Chapman, the wild imagination or even the tenderness of Webster, the precise sense of Jonson, the homeliness of Heywood, nor the delicate apprehension and silver tongue of Fletcher; but he has more sentiment than all of them put together. The names of his plays show the bent of his mind; Love's Sacrifice,The Lover's Melancholy, and The Broken Heart, are the names of three of the best; and there is another in which the doctrine of the elective affinities is laid down broadly enough to have shocked even Goethe. His personal appearance seems to have answered well enough to what I have surmised of his character. A contemporary thus graphically describes him:

Deep in a dump John Ford was alone gat,
With folded arms and melancholy hat.

A couplet which brings up the central figure on the title-page to the old edition of the Anatomy of Melancholy very vividly before our eyes. His dependence on things out of himself is shown also in his historical play of Perkin Warbeck, in which, having no very exciting plot to sustain him, he is very gentlemanly and very dull. He does not furnish so many isolated passages which are complete in themselves,—a quality remarkable in the old dramatists, among whom only Shakspeare united perfectness of the parts with strict adaptation and harmony of the whole. A play of Shakespeare's seems like one of those basaltic palaces whose roof is supported by innumerable pillars, each formed of many crystals perfect in themselves. To give you a fair idea of Ford, I will sketch out the plot of his most famous tragedy, with a few extracts.

The plot of The Broken Heart is simply this. Ithocles, the favorite of Amyclas, king of Laconia, instigated by an ancient feud with Orgilus, the betrothed of his sister Penthea, has forced her to break the match and marry Bassanes. Orgilus, full of an intent to revenge himself at the first chance, pretends a reconcilement with Ithocles, who, meanwhile, has repented of the wrong he had done, and moreover loves and is beloved by Calantha, the king's daughter. Penthea dies mad. Orgilus murders Ithocles on the eve of his marriage with Calantha, who dies of a broken heart, after naming Nearchus, a former suitor, her successor to the throne. The following scene has great purity and beauty, and withal much sentimentalism in it. Orgilus, in the disguise of a scholar (a disguise as common now as then), has gained speech of Penthea. I read only the last part of the scene:

Org. All pleasures are but mere imagination,
Feeding the hungry appetite with steam
And sight of banquet, whilst the body pines,
Not relishing the real taste of food:
Such is the leanness of a heart divided
From intercourse of troth-contracted loves;
No horror should deface that precious figure
Sealed with the lively stamp of equal souls.
Pen. Away! some fury hath bewitched thy tongue:
The breath of ignorance that flies from thence
Ripens a knowledge in me of afflictions
Above all sufferance. Thing of talk, begone,—
Begone without reply!
Org. Be just, Penthea,
In thy commands; when thou send'st forth a doom
Of banishment, know first on whom it lights.
Thus I take off the shroud in which my cares
Are folded up from view of common eyes.
                                                                                                    [Throws off his scholar's dress.
What is thy sentence next?
Pen. Rash man! thou lay'st
A blemish on mine honor, with the hazard
Of thy too desperate life; yet I profess,
By all the laws of ceremonious wedlock,
I have not given admittance to one thought
Of female change, since cruelty enforced
Divorce betwixt my body and my heart.
Why would you fall from goodness thus?
Org. O, rather
Examine me, how I could live to say
I have been much, much wronged! 'T is for thy sake
I put on this imposture; dear Penthea,
If thy soft bosom be not turned to marble,
Thou 'lt pity our calamities; my interest
Confirms me, thou art mine still.
Pen. Lend your hand;
With both of mine I clasp it thus, thus kiss it,
Thus kneel before ye.
                                                                                                    [Penthea kneels.
Org. You instruct my duty.
                                                                                                    [Orgilus kneels.
Pen. We may stand up. [They rise.] Have you aught
else to urge
Of new demand? as for the old, forget it;
'T is buried in an everlasting silence,
And shall be, shall be ever: what more would you?
Org. I would possess my wife; the equity
Of very reason bids me.
Pen. Is that all?
Org. Why, 't is the all of me, myself.
Pen. Remove
Your steps some distance from me; at this pace
A few words I dare change; but first put on
Your borrowed shape.
Org. You are obeyed; 't is done.
                                                                                                    [He resumes his disguise.
Pen. How, Orgilus, by promise, I was thine,
The heavens do witness; they can witness, too,
A rape done on my truth: how I do love thee
Yet, Orgilus, and yet, must best appear
In tendering thy freedom; for I find
The constant preservation of thy merit,
By thy not daring to attempt my fame
With injury of any loose conceit,
Which might give deeper wounds to discontents.
Continue this fair race; then, though I cannot
Add to thy comfort, yet I shall more often
Remember from what fortune I am fallen,
And pity mine own ruin. Live, live happy,
Happy in thy next choice, that thou may'st people
This barren age with virtues in thy issue!
And, O, when thou art married, think on me
With mercy, not contempt! I hope thy wife,
Hearing my story, will not scorn my fall.—
Now let us part.
Org. Part? yet advise thee better:
Penthea is the wife to Orgilus,
And ever shall be.
Pen. Never shall, nor will.
Org. How!
Pen. Hear me; in a word I'll tell thee why.
The virgin-dowry which my birth bestowed
Is ravished by another; my true love
Abhors to think that Orgilus deserved
No better favors 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 desired,
If, of all men alive, thou shouldst but touch
My lip or hand again!
Org. Penthea, now
I tell you, you grow wanton in my sufferance;
Come, sweet, thou art mine.
Pen. Uncivil Sir, forbear,
Or I can turn affection into vengeance:
Your reputation, if you value any,
Lies bleeding at my feet. Unworthy man,
If ever henceforth thou appear in language,
Message, or letter, to betray my frailty,
I'll call thy former protestations lust,
And curse my stars for forfeit of my judgment.
Go thou, fit only for disguise and walks
To hide thy shame; this once I spare thy life.
I laugh at mine own confidence; my sorrows
By thee are made inferior to my fortunes:
If ever thou didst harbor worthy love,
Dare not to answer. My good genius guide me,
That I may never see thee more!—Go from me!
Org. I'll tear my veil of politic French off,
And stand up like a man resolved to do:
Action, not words, shall show me.—O Panthea!
Pen. He sighed my name, sure, as he parted from me;
I fear I was too rough. Alas, poor gentleman!
He looked not like the ruins of his youth,
But like the ruins of those ruins. Honor,
How much we fight with weakness to preserve thee!
                                                                                                                        [Walks aside.

To my mind, Panthea's last speech is the best part of the scene. In the first part, she shows an apparently Roman virtue; but there seems to be in it a savor of prudery, and a suspicion of its own strength, which a truly courageous honor and chastity would be the last to entertain.

None of our dramatists but Shakespeare have been able to paint madness. Most of their attempts that way are failures; they grow silly and mopingly sentimental; they utter a great deal of such stuff as nobody in his senses would utter, and as nobody out of them could have the ingenious leisure to invent. Here is a specimen of Ford's mania:

Pen. Sure, if we were all sirens, we would sing pitifully;
And 't were a comely music, when in parts
One sung another's knell: the turtle sighs
When he hath lost his mate; and yet some say
He must be dead first. 'T is a fine deceit
To pass away in a dream! indeed, I've slept
With mine eyes open a great while. No falsehood
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. …
Pen. Spare your hand;
Believe me, I'll not hurt it.
Org. My heart too.
Pen. Complain not, though I wring it hard; I'll kiss it:
O, 't is a fine, soft palm!—Hark, in thine ear;
Like whom do I look, prithee?—nay, no whispering.
Goodness! we had been happy; too much happiness
Will make folk proud, they say,—but that is he,—
                                                                                                    [Pointing to Ithocles.
And yet he paid for 't home; alas! his heart
Is crept into the cabinet of the princess:
We shall have points and bride-laces. Remember,
When we last gathered roses in the garden,
I found my wits; but truly you lost yours.
That 's he, and still 't is he.
                                                                                          [Again pointing to Ithocles.

Now let us turn to the catastrophe. Calantha, after settling the succession of the kingdom, turns to the body of Ithocles.

Cal. Forgive me:—now I turn to thee, thou shadow
Of my contracted lord! Bear witness all,
I put my mother's wedding-ring upon
His finger; 't was my father's last bequest.
                                                  [Places a ring on the finger of Ithocles.
Thus I new-marry him whose wife I am;
Death shall not separate us. O my Lords,
I but deceived your eyes with antic gesture,
When one news straight came huddling on another,
Of death! and death! and death! still I danced forward;
But it struck home, and here, and in an instant.
Be such mere women, who with shrieks and outcries
Can vow a present end to all their sorrows,
Yet live to [court] new pleasures, and outlive them:
They are the silent griefs which cut the heart-strings;
Let me die smiling.
Near. 'T is a truth too ominous.
Cal. One kiss on these cold lips, my last!—[Kisses Ithocles.]—crack, crack,—
Argos now 's Sparta's king. Command the voices
Which wait at th' altar now to sing the song
I fitted for my end.

Lamb speaks of this death-scene as “carrying us back to Calvary and the cross” (or uses words to that effect); but this, it seems to me, is attributing too much importance to the mere physical fact of dying.


What one dies for, not his dying, glorifies him. The comparison is an irreverent one, as that must need be which matches a selfish love with a universal. Love's nobility is shown in this, that it strengthens us to make sacrifices for others, and not for the object of our love alone. All the good we do is a service done to that, but that is not the sole recipient. Our love for one is only therefore made pre-eminent, that it may show us the beauty and holiness of that love whose arms are wide enough for all. It is easy enough to die for one we love so fiercely; but it is a harder and nobler martyrdom to live for others. Love is only then perfected, when it can bear to outlast the body, which was but its outward expression and a prop for its infant steps, and can feel its union with the beloved spirit in a mild serenity, and an inward prompting to a thousand little unrewarded acts of every-day brotherhood. The love of one is a mean, not an end.


Another objection which I should feel inclined to bring against this scene is, that the breaking of Calantha's heart seems to be made too palpable and anatomical an event. It is too much like the mere bursting of a blood-vessel, which Smith or Brown might accomplish, though wholly incapable of rendering themselves tragically available by the breaking of their hearts. It is like that stanza of the old ballad,

She turned her back unto the wall,
          And her face unto the rock;
And there, before her mother's eyes,
          Her very heart it broke.

In the ballad, however, there is more propriety; the heroine's heart gives way suddenly, under a sudden blow. But Calantha saves up her heart-break, as it were, until it can come in with proper effect at the end of the tragedy.

Adolphus William Ward (essay date 1875)

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SOURCE: Ward, Adolphus William. “John Ford.” In A History of English Dramatic Literature to the Death of Queen Anne, Vol. III, pp. 71-89. London: Macmillan, 1889.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1875, Ward praises the harrowing intensity of Ford's tragic figures, but contends that the tragic outcome in his plays is often insufficient in that it fails to give spectators catharsis.]

In Ford it needs but little power of judgment to discern an author who by the most striking features of his genius is entitled to an entirely distinct place among our most gifted dramatists. Some of his defects, indeed, he shares with others; but even here he may almost be said to make comparison difficult. Of comic power he is on the whole signally devoid, and the gross under-plots by which he thinks it necessary to disfigure most of his works, and the utter brutality with which he is at the pains of investing the personages who figure in many of them, are unrelieved by any play of wit or humour. His low comedy is upon the whole the most contemptible of any in our pre-Restoration drama—certainly of any that was due to the invention of an author of mark; and his high comedy, or what is intended for it, must, notwithstanding his breeding, be described as deficient in grace and lightness1. … In but a single one of his dramas has he shown a certain power of comic characterisation; and from this point of view, as well as from others of more importance in his case, it is to be regretted that he should not have returned to, or sooner essayed, the historic drama, where he would have found most of his characters ready to his hand. The experience of this species would at the same time have accustomed him to a self-restraint in choice of subjects, which might have prevented him from lamentable moral and artistic aberrations. As it was, Ford in Perkin Warbeck furnishes the only example of a History fitted in some measure to supply a gap in the Shaksperean series, though not to be brought into comparison with the works of which that series consists.

In the plays more peculiarly characteristic of this author, few readers will refuse to recognise a combination of varied excellences. As to that of form, indeed, Ford is surpassed by few if any of Shakespeare's successors; for his art is always equal to its purpose, and rarely clogged or vitiated by affectation or mannerisms. His versification is distinguished by a fluency arguing no deficiency in strength; his verse is as sweet as Fletcher's, without having the same inclination towards looseness of texture and effeminacy of cadence. Though, for instance, Ford is fond of double-endings to his lines, his verse conveys no impression of excess in this or in any other particular; even ‘love's measure’ keeps the mean to which ‘the smooth licentious poet’ thought it a stranger2. … His lyrical gift, as shown above all in The Broken Heart, is very great, although its exercise is not husbanded by him with sufficient care. In the construction of the plays for whose plots he seems to have largely depended on his own invention, he is on the whole hasty and reckless; in his Broken Heart he however shows himself capable of inventing and sustaining an action as perspicuous as it is complicated. The Witch of Edmonton too is excellently constructed in its main plot; but it is of course impossible to say whether the credit is in this instance to be given to Ford.

The strength of Ford's genius lies elsewhere. The intensity of his imagination enables him to reproduce situations of the most harrowing kind, and to reveal, with a vividness and suddenness wholly peculiar to himself, the depths of passion, sorrow, and despair which lie hidden in the hearts of men and women. The dark cloud which overshadowed the creative power of Webster, had settled upon the imagination of Ford; but to him it was given to make audible in the gloom the most secret throbbings of human anguish. That he at times creates these effects by conceptions unutterably shocking to our consciousness of the immutable authority of moral laws, betrays an inherent weakness in his inventive power instead of enhancing our admiration of it. The passion of Juliet is as intense, and the sympathy excited by her fate as irresistible, as are the guilty love of Annabella and the spasm of pity which her catastrophe excites in us; and the horrible nature of the plot is therefore not of the essence of the emotions which the tragedy is intended to call forth. The character of Bianca is a subtle psychological study,—subtle as the analysis of a possible disease. Of the irresistible eloquence of pure tenderness, such as that of Penthea's dying sufferings and Eroclea's devoted affection, Ford is likewise master; yet it is not in these scenes, but in those where the ragings of passion alternate with sudden touches of thrilling sweetness, that his power is altogether exceptional.

Ford was a dramatic poet of true genius; but his imagination moved at the best in a restricted sphere; and few of our great English dramatists have more insidiously contributed to unsettle the true conception of the basis of true tragic effect. The emotions are not purified by creations

                    Sweeten'd in their mixture
But tragical in issue—

so long as the mixture remains unharmonised, and the mind continues to be perturbed by the spectacle of an unsolved conflict3. … A dramatist who falls short of this, the highest end of tragedy, cannot lay claim to its greenest laurels. The tragic power of Ford is therefore as incomplete in its total effect as it is fitful in its individual operations; and

It physics not the sickness of a mind
Broken with griefs,—

nor lends its aid to sustain that health of soul which seeks one of its truest sustenances in perfect art. It excites; it distresses; it astonishes; it entrances; but it fails to purify, and by purifying to elevate and to strengthen. Let those who may esteem these cavils futile turn from Ford to the master-tragedians of all times, and they will acknowledge that Aristotle's definition still remains a sufficient test of the supreme adequacy of a tragic drama.

As to Ford's choice of themes, it condemns itself. There cannot be any question on this head as to the shifting criteria of times, localities and manners. All these a candid use of the comparative method may be trusted to apply; but they cannot reach the root of the matter. ‘It was,’ says Hazlitt, ‘not the least of Shakespear's praise, that he never tampered with unfair subjects. His genius was above it; his taste kept aloof from it.’ Ford's genius, on the contrary, was attracted, as it were irresistibly, by the temptation to brush with wings that should have borne it aloft into the liquid air the fitful flickerings of an unholy flame. In his nature, finely endowed as it was, there must have been something unsound.


  1. A passage in The Fancies Chaste and Noble seems epigrammatically to characterise a favourite dramatic type of which Massinger and Shirley were particularly fond:

                                            Modesty in pages
    Shows not a virtue, boy, when it exceeds
    Good manners.

    (Act iii. sc. 1.)

    But the reference is to greed rather than looseness of talk.

  2. 'Tis Pity, &c., act ii. sc. 2. Ford's plays contain a large admixture of prose; but I am not aware that the quality of the prose in itself calls for remark.

  3. So that the spectator or reader is no wiser than the fool apostrophised by Ennius (Fr. Phoenix, ap. Ribbeck, Römische Tragödie, p. 192:

    Stultus est qui [non] non cupienda cupiens cupienter cupit.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (essay date 1875)

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SOURCE: Swinburne, Algernon Charles. “John Ford.” In The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Vol. XII, edited by Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise, pp. 371-406. London: William Heinemann, 1926.

[In the following essay, originally published in Essays and Studies in 1875, Swinburne recognizes Ford's distinctive dramatic style and characterizes him as a poet worth remembering.]

Whenever the name of the poet Ford comes back to us, it comes back splendid with the light of another man's genius. The fiery panegyric of Charles Lamb is as an aureole behind it. That high-pitched note of critical and spiritual enthusiasm exalts even to disturbance our own sense of admiration; possibly, too, even to some after injustice of reaction in the rebound of mind. Certainly, on the one hand, we see that the spirit of the critic has been kindled to excess by contact and apprehension of the poet's; as certainly, on the other hand, we see the necessary excellence of that which could so affect and so attach the spirit of another man, and of such another man as Lamb. And the pure excess of admiration for things indeed admirable, of delight in things indeed delightful, is itself also a delightful and admirable thing when expressed to such purpose by such men.

And this poet is doubtless a man worthy of note and admiring remembrance. He stands apart among his fellows, without master or follower; he has learnt little from Shakespeare or Marlowe, Jonson or Fletcher. The other dramatists of the great age fall naturally into classes; thus, to take two of the greatest, Webster and Dekker both hold of Shakespeare; The Duchess of Malfy has a savour of his tragedies, Old Fortunatus of his romantic plays; not indeed so much by force of imitation as of affinity. These two poets were as gulfs or estuaries of the sea which is Shakespeare. In Dekker's best work we feel an air of the Winter's Tale or Midsummer Night's Dream; in Webster's, of Lear and Othello. Something of the April sweetness, the dew and breath of morning, which invests the pastoral and fairy world of the master, gives to the one pupil's work a not infrequent touch of delicate life and passionate grace; from the other we catch the echoes of his oceanic harmonies of terror and pity, the refractions of that lightning which strikes into sudden sight the very depths of action and suffering, the motive forces of utter love and hate. But the poetry of Ford is no branch or arm of that illimitable sea; it might rather be likened to a mountain lake shut in by solitary highlands, without visible outlet or inlet, seen fitlier by starlight than by sunlight; much such an one as the Lac de Gaube above Cauterets, steel-blue and sombre, with a strange attraction for the swimmer in its cold smooth reticence and breathless calm. For nothing is more noticeable in this poet than the passionless reason and equable tone of style with which in his greatest works he treats of the deepest and most fiery passions, the quiet eye with which he searches out the darkest issues of emotion, the quiet hand with which he notes them down. At all times his verse is even and regular, accurate and composed; never specially flexible or melodious, always admirable for precision, vigour, and purity.

The fame of Ford hangs mainly upon two great tragedies, which happily are strong enough in structure to support a durable reputation. Two others among his plays are indeed excellent, and worthy a long life of honour; but among the mighty throng of poets then at work a leading place could hardly have been granted to the author only of The Lover's Melancholy and Perkin Warbeck. To the author of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and The Broken Heart it cannot be refused.

It is somewhat unfortunate that the very title of Ford's masterpiece should sound so strangely in the ears of a generation ‘whose ears are the chastest part about them.’ For of these great twin tragedies the first-born is on the whole the greater. The subtleties and varieties of individual character do not usually lie well within the reach of Ford's handling; but in the part of Giovanni we find more of this power than elsewhere. Here the poet has put forth all his strength; the figure of his protagonist stands out complete and clear. There is more ease and life in it than in his other sculptures; though here as always Ford is rather a sculptor of character than a painter. But the completeness, the consistency of design is here all the worthier of remark, that we too often find this the most needful quality for a dramatist wanting in him as in other great writers of his time.

Giovanni is the student struck blind and mad by passion; in the uttermost depths of unimaginable crime he reflects, argues, reasons concerning the devils that possess him. In the only other tragedy of the time based on incestuous love, Massinger's Unnatural Combat, the criminal is old and hardened, a soul steeped and tempered in sin, a man of blood and iron from his youth upwards; but upon Giovanni his own crime falls like a curse, sudden as lightning; he stands before us as one plague-stricken in the prime of spiritual health, helpless under the lash of love as Canace or Myrrha, Phædra or Pasiphae. The curious interfusion of reason with passion makes him seem but the more powerless to resist, the more hopeless of recovery. His sister is perhaps less finely drawn, though her ebbs and flows of passion are given with great force, and her alternate possession by desire and terror, repentance and defiance, if we are sometimes startled by the rough rapidity of the change, does not in effect impair the unity of character, obscure the clearness of outline. She yields more readily than her brother to the curse of Venus, with a passionate pliancy which prepares us for her subsequent prostration of mind at the feet of her confessor, and again for the revival of a fearless and shameless spirit under the stroke of her husband's violence. Nothing can be finer than the touches which bring out the likeness and unlikeness of the two; her fluctuation and his steadfastness, her ultimate repentance and his final impenitence. The sin once committed, there is no more wavering or flinching possible to him, who has fought so hard against the dæmoniac possession; while she who resigned body and soul to the tempter almost at a word remains liable to the influences of religion and remorse. Of all the magnificent scenes which embody their terrible story the last is (as it should be) the most noble; it is indeed the finest scene in Ford. Even the catastrophe of The Broken Heart—that ‘transcendent scene,’ as Lamb justly called it—though more overpoweringly effective in poetic mechanism and material conception, is less profoundly and subtly impressive. In Ford's best work we are usually conscious of a studious arrangement of emotion and expression, a steady inductive process of feeling as of thought, answering to the orderly measure of the verse. That swift and fiery glance which flashes at once from all depths to all heights of the human spirit, that intuition of an indefinable and infallible instinct which at a touch makes dark things clear and brings distant things close, is not a gift of his; perhaps Webster alone of English poets can be said to share it in some measure with Shakespeare. Bosola and Flamineo, Vittoria Corombona and the Duchess of Malfy, even Romelio and Leonora in that disjointed and chaotic play The Devil's Law-case, good characters and bad alike, all have this mark upon them of their maker's swift and subtle genius; this sudden surprise of the soul in its remoter hiding-places at its most secret work. In a few words that startle as with a blow and lighten as with a flame, the naked natural spirit is revealed, bare to the roots of life. And this power Ford also has shown here at least; witness the passionate subtlety and truth of this passage, the deepest and keenest of his writing, as when taken with the context it will assuredly appear:—

Annabella.                                                  Be not deceived, my brother;
This banquet is an harbinger of death
To you and me; assure yourself it is,
And be prepared to welcome it.
Giovanni.                                                                                Well, then:
The schoolmen teach that all this globe of earth
Shall be consumed to ashes in a minute.
Ann. So I have read too.
Gio.                                        But 'twere somewhat strange
To see the waters burn; could I believe
This might be true, I could believe as well
There might be hell or heaven.
Ann.                                                                                That 's most certain.
Gio. A dream, a dream! else in this other world
We should know one another.
Ann.                                                                                So we shall.
Gio. Have you heard so?

All the horror of this wonderful scene is tempered into beauty by the grace and glow of tenderness which so suffuses it as to verify the vaunt of Giovanni—

                                        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 abhorred.
Give me your hand; how sweetly life doth run
In these well-coloured veins! how constantly
These palms do promise health! but I could chide
With nature for this cunning flattery—
Kiss me again—forgive me.

The soft and fervent colour of Ford's style, the smooth and finished measure of his verse, never fail him throughout the nobler parts of this tragedy; but here as elsewhere we sometimes find, instead of these, a certain hardness of tone peculiar to him. The ferocious nakedness of reciprocal invective in the scene where Soranzo discovers the pregnancy of Annabella has no parallel in the works of his great compeers. M. Taine has translated the opening passages of that scene in the division of his history of English literature which treats of our great dramatists. He has done full justice to the force and audacity of Ford's realism, which indeed he seems to rate higher than the depth and pathos, the sweet and subtle imagination, of other poets, if not than the more tender and gracious passages of Ford himself. He has dwelt, it appears to me, with especial care and favour upon three men of high genius, in all of whom this quality or this defect is conspicuous, of hardness too often deepening into brutality. A better and keener estimate of Ford, of Dryden, and of Swift can hardly be found than M. Taine's. Their vigorous and positive genius has an evident attraction for his critical spirit, which enjoys and understands the tangible and definable forces of mind, handles the hard outline, relishes the rough savour of the actual side of things with which strength of intellect rather than strength of imagination has to deal. As with Swift and Dryden among their fellows, so with Ford among his, the first great quality that strikes a student is the force of grasp, the precision of design, the positive and resolute touch with which all things are set down. A dramatic poet of Ford's high quality cannot of course be wanting in beauty and tenderness, in delicacy and elevation, unknown to men whose mightiest gift was that of noble satire, though the genius so applied were as deep and wide and keen, the spirit so put to service as swift and strong and splendid, as that of the two great men just mentioned. Not only the lovely lines above cited, but the very names of Calantha and Penthea, bear witness at once in our memory to the grace and charm of their poet's work at its best. The excess of tragic effect in his scenes, his delight in ‘fierce extremes’ and volcanic eruptions of character and event, have in the eyes of some critics obscured the milder side of his genius. They are not without excuse. No one who has studied Ford throughout with the care he demands and deserves can fail to feel the want of that sweet and spontaneous fluency which belongs to the men of Shakespeare's school—that birdlike note of passionate music which vibrates in their verse to every breath of joy or sorrow. There is something too much now and then of rule and line, something indeed of hard limitation and apparent rigidity of method. I say this merely by comparison; set against the dramatists of any later school, he will appear as natural and instinctive a singer as any bird of the Shakespearean choir. But of pure imagination, of absolute poetry as distinguished from intellectual force and dramatic ability, no writer of his age except Massinger has less. Yet they are both poets of a high class, dramatists of all but the highest. They both impress us with a belief in their painstaking method of work, in the care and conscience with which their scenes were wrought out. Neither Ford nor Massinger could have ventured to indulge in the slippery style and shambling license which we pardon in Dekker for the sake of his lyric note and the childlike delicacy of his pathos, his tenderness of colour and his passionate fancy; nor could they have dared the risk of letting their plays drift loose and shift for themselves at large, making the best that might be made of such rough and unhewn plots as Cyril Tourneur's, Middleton's, or Chapman's—sustained and quickened by the unquenchable and burning fire, the bitter ardour and angry beauty of Tourneur's verse, the grace and force of Middleton's fluent and exuberant invention, the weight of thought and grave resonance of Chapman's gnomic lines. They could not afford to let their work run wild; they were bound not to write after the erratic fashion of their time. All the work of Massinger, all the serious work of Ford, is the work of an artist who respects alike himself, his art, and the reader or spectator who may come to study it. There is scarcely another dramatic poet of their time for whom as much can be said. On the other hand, there is scarcely another dramatic poet of their time who had not more than they had of those ‘ruptures’ which ‘were all air and fire,’ of ‘that fine madness which rightly should possess a poet's brain.’ The just and noble eulogy of Drayton, though appropriate above all to the father of English tragedy, is applicable also more or less to the successors of Marlowe, as well as to the master of the ‘mighty line’ himself. To Ford it is less appropriate; to Massinger it is not applicable at all. This is said out of no disrespect or ingratitude to that admirable dramatist, whose graver and lighter studies are alike full of interest and liberal of enjoyment; but the highest touch of imagination, the supreme rapture and passion of poetry, he has not felt, and therefore he cannot make us feel.

The story of Giovanni and Annabella was probably based either on fact or tradition; it may perhaps yet be unearthed in some Italian collection of tales after the manner of Cinthio and Bandello (with the tale of incest in Rosset's Histoires Tragiques it has little in common); but in spite of Ford's own assertion I am inclined to conjecture that the story sculptured with such noble skill and care in the scenes of The Broken Heart was ‘all made out of the carver's brain.’ In no other play of Ford's are the subordinate figures so studiously finished. In the preceding play all the minor characters are mere outlines of ruffian or imbecile; here the poet has evidently striven to give fullness of form to all his conceptions, and fullness of life to all his forms. Ithocles, Orgilus, Bassanes, are as thoroughly wrought out as he could leave them; and in effect the triumphant and splendid ambition of the first, the sullen and subtle persistence of the second, the impure insanity and shameful agony of the third, are well relieved against each other, especially in those scenes where the brilliant youth of the hero is set side by side with the sombre youth of the man he has injured even to death. But here again the whole weight of the action hangs upon the two chief characters; Calantha and Penthea stand out alone clear in our memory for years after their story has been read. In no play or poem are two types of character more skilfully contrasted; and no poet ever showed a more singular daring than Ford in killing both heroines by the same death of moral agony. Penthea, the weaker and more womanish of the two, dies slowly, dissolves into death with tears and cries of loud and resentful grief; Calantha drops dead at the goal of suffering without a word, stabbed to the heart with a sudden silent sorrow. Of all last scenes on any stage, the last scene of this play is the most overwhelming in its unity of outward effect and inward impression. Other tragic poems have closed as grandly, with as much or more of moral and poetic force; none, I think, with such solemn power of spectacular and spiritual effect combined. As a mere stage show it is so greatly conceived and so triumphantly wrought out, that even with less intense and delicate expression, with less elaborate and stately passion in the measure and movement of the words, it would stamp itself on the memory as a durable thing to admire; deep-based as it is on solemn and calm emotion, built up with choice and majestic verse, this great scene deserves even the extreme eulogy of its greatest critic.

The tragic genius of Ford takes a softer tone and more tender colour in The Broken Heart than in any of his other plays; except now and then in the part of Bassanes, there are no traces of the ferocity and brutality which mark in the tragedy preceding it such characters as Soranzo, Vasques, and Grimaldi. But here too there is something of Ford's severity, a certain rigid and elaborate precision of work, unlike the sweet seeming instinctiveness, the noble facility of manner and apparent impulse of gracious or majestic speech, which imbues and informs the very highest dramatic style; the quality which Marlowe and Shakespeare bequeathed to their successors, which kept fresh the verse of Beaumont and Fletcher despite its overmuch easiness and exuberance of mannerism, which gave life to the roughest outlines of Webster, Dekker, Tourneur, which even Marston and Chapman, with all their faults of crudity and pedantry, showed when they had to rise to the height of any great and tragic argument. The same rigidity is noticeable to some extent in the characters: the marble majesty of Calantha is indeed noble and proper, and gives force and edge to the lofty passion of the catastrophe; but in Penthea too there is something over hard and severe; we find a vein of harshness and bitterness in her angry grief which Shakespeare or indeed Webster would have tempered and sweetened. In the faultless and most exquisite scene where she commits to the princess her legacies of ‘three poor jewels,’ this bitterness disappears, and the sentiment is as delicate and just as the expression; while the gracious gentleness of Calantha gives a fresh charm of warmth and sympathy to her stately presence and office in the story. The quality of pity here made manifest in her brings her own after suffering within reach of our pity. Again, in the previous interview of Ithocles with Penthea, and above all in her delirious dying talk, there is real and noble pathos, though hardly of the most subtle and heart-piercing kind; and in the parts of Ithocles and Orgilus there is a height and dignity which ennoble alike the slayer and the slain. None could give this quality better than Ford: this, the most complete and equal of his works, is full of it throughout.

From the ‘high-tuned poem,’ as he justly calls it, which he had here put forth in evidence of his higher and purer part of power, the fall, or collapse rather, in his next work was singular enough. I trust that I shall not be liable to any charge of Puritan prudery though I avow that this play of Love's Sacrifice is to me intolerable. In the literal and genuine sense of the word, it is utterly indecent, unseemly and unfit for handling. The conception is essentially foul because it is essentially false; and in the sight of art nothing is so foul as falsehood. The incestuous indulgence of Giovanni and Annabella is not improper for tragic treatment; the obscene abstinence of Fernando and Bianca is wholly improper. There is a coarseness of moral fibre in the whole work which is almost without parallel among our old poets. More than enough has been said of their verbal and spiritual license; but nowhere else, as far as I know, shall we find within the large limits of our early drama such a figure as Ford's Bianca set up for admiration as a pure and noble type of woman. For once, to my own wonder and regret, I find myself at one with the venomous moralist Gifford on a question of morals, when he observes of ‘that most innocent lady’ that ‘she is, in fact, a gross and profligate adulteress, and her ridiculous reservations, while they mark her lubricity, only enhance her shame.’ The worst is, that we get no moment of relief throughout from the obtrusion of the very vilest elements that go to make up nature and deform it. No height or grandeur of evil is here to glorify, no aspiration or tenderness of afterthought is here to allay, the imbecile baseness, the paltry villainies and idiocies, of the ‘treacherous, lecherous, kindless’ reptiles that crawl in and out before our loathing eyes. The language of course is in the main elaborate, pure, and forcible; the verse often admirable for its stately strength; but beyond this we can find nothing to plead in extenuation of uncleanness and absurdity. The only apparent aim of the quasicomic interludes is to prove the possibility of producing something even more hateful than the tragic parts. The indecency of Ford's farcical underplots is an offence above all things to art. How it may seem from the preacher's point of view is no present concern of ours; perhaps he might find it by comparison harmless and powerless, as assuredly it can attract or allure the intellect or the senses of no creature above the level of apes and swine; but in the artist's eyes it is insufferable and damnable. Without spirit, without humour, without grace, it encumbers the scene as with dried and congealed filth. In the face of much exquisite work of painter and sculptor, poet and humourist, which is anything but conventionally decent, we cannot allow that art must needs ‘lean to virtue's side,’ and lend her voice or hand to swell the verdict or prop the pulpit of judge or moralist; but two things she cannot away with; by the very law of her life, by the very condition of her being, she is bound to reject whatever is brutal, whatever is prurient; Swift cannot bend her to the worship of Cloacina, Moore cannot teach her the lisp and leer of his toadfaced Cupids. Great men may sin by mad violence and brutality, like that fierce world-satirist who stood out with lacerated heart against all bitterest infliction and ‘envious wrath of man or God,’ a Titan blasted by the fires but not beaten by the strokes of heaven; but small men only can teach their tongues the tittering accent of a vicious valet, the wriggling prurience of such lackey's literature as is handed round on a salver to the patrons of drawing-room rhymesters and antechamber witlings. Ford was a poet, and a poet of high mark; he could not therefore, even in a meaner age, have learnt the whimper or the smirk of sentimental or jocose prurience; he could never have submitted to ignoble handling the sweet or bitter emotions and passions of sense or spirit; all torture and all rapture of the flesh or of the soul he would always have treated with the frank and serious freedom of the artist, never with the bragging and simpering petulance of the social poetaster and parasitic plagiarist; but the other inadmissible thing he has too often admitted within the precinct of his work. The dull brutality of his lame and laborious farce is a fault quite unlike the faults of his fellows; his cold and dry manner makes his buffoonery at once rancid and insipid; while the ‘bluff beastliness’ of Jonson's plebeian part, the overflowing and boyish wantonness of Fletcher, the foul-mouthed fidelity of Dekker's transcripts from the low life of his period, even the rank breadth of Marston's shameless satire, may admit of excuse in the sight of art, the pointless and spiritless license of Ford's attempts at comedy can be neither honourably excused nor reasonably explained. Of Shakespeare alone we can be sure that no touch is wrong, no tone too broad, no colour too high for the noble and necessary purposes of his art; but of his followers, if excuse be needed for their errors and excesses, the most may plead in palliation either the height of spirits and buoyancy of blood, or the passion of a fierce sincerity, or the force and flavour of strong comic genius, or the relief given by contrast to the high pure beauty of the main work; all alike may plead the freedom of the time, the freshness of young life and energy of the dawn, working as they did when the art was new-born, too strong a child of earth and heaven and too joyous to keep always a guard on its ways and words, to walk always within bounds and speak always within compass. But Ford is no poetic priest or spiritual witness against evil, whose lips have been touched with the live coal of sacred satire, and set on fire of angry prophecy; the wrath and scorn of Jonson, the rage of Tourneur and the bitterness of Marston, find in him no echo of response; and of the bright sweet flow and force of life which feed as from a springing fountain the joyful genius of Beaumont and Fletcher, of the gladness and grace of that wild light Muse who sings ‘as if she would never grow old,’ whether her song be of men's joy or sorrow, he has nothing to show in excuse of worse faults than theirs; with him

The heyday in the blood is tame, it 's humble,
And waits upon the judgment.

Massinger has been accused of the same dull and deliberate license of speech; but Massinger, though poor in verbal wit, had a strong and grave humour, an occasional breadth and warmth of comic invention, which redeems his defects or offences. Hartley Coleridge, in his notice of the two poets, says that Massinger would have been the dullest of all bad jokers, had not Ford contrived to be still duller. But Massinger, if not buoyant and brilliant as Fletcher, or rich with the spiritual wealth and strong with the gigantic thews of Jonson, has his own place of honour in pure as well as mixed comedy; Belgarde, Justice Greedy, Borachia, and others, are worthy to stand, in their lower line of humour, below the higher level of such studies as Overreach and Luke; whereas, if Ford's lighter characters are ever inoffensive for a moment, it is all that can be said of them, and more than could be hoped. The strength and intensity of his genius require a tragic soil to flourish in, an air of tragedy to breathe; its lightning is keenest where the night of emotion and event is darkest in which it moves and works. In romantic drama or mixed comedy it shines still at times with a lambent grace and temperance of light; but outside the limit of serious thought and feeling it is quenched at once, and leaves but an unsavoury fume behind. Even in those higher latitudes the moral air is not always of the clearest; the sanctity of Giovanni's confessor, for example, has something of the compliant quality of Bianca's virtue; it sits so loosely and easily on him that, fresh from the confession of Annabella's incest, he assists in plighting her hand to Soranzo, and passing off on the bridegroom as immaculate a woman whom he knows to be with child by her brother; and this immediately after that most noble scene in which the terror and splendour of his rebuke has bowed to the very dust before him the fair face and the ruined soul of his penitent. After this we cannot quite agree with Macaulay that Ford has in this play ‘assigned a highly creditable part to the friar’; but certainly he has the most creditable part there is to play; and as certainly he was designed on the whole for a type of sincere and holy charity. The jarring and startling effect of such moral discords weakens the poet's hold on the reader by the shock they give to his faith and sympathy. Beaumont and Fletcher have sinned heavily in the same way; and the result is that several of their virtuous characters are more really and more justly offensive to the natural sense, more unsavoury to the spiritual taste, than any wantonness of words or extravagance of action can make their representative figures of vice.

In the gallery of Ford's works, as in the gallery of Webster's, there is one which seems designed as a sample of regular and classic form, a sedate study after a given model. Ford's Perkin Warbeck holds the same place on his stage as Appius and Virginia does on Webster's. In both plays there is a perfect unity of action, a perfect straightforwardness of design; all is clear, orderly, direct to the point; there is no outgrowth or overgrowth of fancy, there are no byways of poetry to divert the single progress of the story. By the side of The Duchess of Malfy or The Broken Heart they look rigid and bare. Both are noble works; Webster's has of course the more ardour and vehemence of power, Ford's has perhaps the more completeness of stage effect and careful composition. The firmness and fidelity of hand with which his leading characters are drawn could only be shown by a dissection of the whole play scene by scene. The simple and lofty purity of conception, the exact and delicate accuracy of execution, are alike unimpaired by any slip or flaw of judgment or of feeling. The heroic sincerity of Warbeck, his high courtesy and constancy, his frank gratitude and chivalrous confidence, give worthy proof of Ford's ability to design a figure of stainless and exalted presence; the sad strong faith of his wife, the pure and daring devotion of the lover who has lost her, the petulant and pathetic pride of her father, all melted at last into stately sympathy and approval of her truth in extremity of trial; and, more than all these, the noble mutual recognition and regard of Warbeck and Dalyell in the time of final test; are qualities which raise this drama to the highest place among its compeers for moral tone and effect. The two kings are faithful and forcible studies; the smooth resolute equanimity and self-reliant craft of the first Tudor sets off the shallow chivalry and passionate unstable energy of the man of Flodden. The insolent violence of constraint put upon Huntley in the disposal of his daughter's hand is of a piece with the almost brutal tone of contempt assumed towards Warbeck, when he begins to weary of supporting the weaker cause for the mere sake of magnanimous display and irritable self-assertion. His ultimate dismissal of the star-crossed pretender is ‘perfect Stuart’ in its bland abnegation of faith and the lofty courtliness of manner with which engagements are flung over and pledges waved aside; whether intentionally or not, Ford has touched off to the life the family habit of repudiation, the hereditary faculty of finding the most honourable way to do the most dishonourable things. Nor is the other type of royalty less excellently real and vivid; the mixture of warmth and ceremony in Katherine's reception by Henry throws into fresh and final relief the implacable placidity of infliction with which he marks her husband for utmost ignominy of suffering.

Of imaginative beauty and poetic passion this play has nothing; but for noble and equable design of character it stands at the head of Ford's works. There is no clearer example in our literature of the truth of the axiom repeated by Mr. Arnold from the teaching of the supreme Greek masters, that ‘all depends upon the subject.’ There are perhaps more beautiful lines in Love's Sacrifice than in Perkin Warbeck; yet the former play is utterly abortive and repulsive, a monument of discomfiture and discredit, as the latter of noble aim and noble success. It is the one high sample of historic drama produced between the age of Shakespeare and our own; the one intervening link—a link of solid and durable metal—which connects the first and the latest labours in that line of English poetry; the one triumphant attempt to sustain and transmit the tradition of that great tragic school founded by Marlowe, perfected by Shakespeare, revived by the author of Philip van Artevelde. The central figure of Ford's work is not indeed equal in stature of spirit and strength of handling to the central figure of Sir Henry Taylor's; there is a broader power, a larger truth, in the character of Artevelde than in the character of Warbeck; but the high qualities of interest based on firm and noble grounds, of just sentiment and vital dignity, of weight, force, and exaltation of thought, shown rather in dramatic expansion and development of lofty character by lofty method than in scenes and passages detachable from the context as samples of reflection and expression—these are in great measure common to both poets. Ford, again, has the more tender and skilful hand at drawing a woman; his heroines make by far the warmer and sharper impression on us; this on the whole is generally his strongest point, as it is perhaps the other's weakest; while, though we may not think his female studies up to the mark of his male portraits, there is certainly no English dramatist since Shakespeare who can be matched as a student of men, comparable for strong apprehension and large heroic grasp of masculine character, with the painter of Comnenus, of Artevelde, and of Dunstan.

The three romantic comedies of Ford have the same qualities and shortcomings in common; they are studious and often elegant in style, sometimes impressive or at least effective in incident, generally inadequate to the chance of excellence offered by the subject; not so much through careless laxity and incoherence—for the sign of labour and finish is visible upon each; they have evidently been wrought up to the height and fullness of his design—as through a want of constructive power and mastery of his own conceptions. The Lover's Melancholy is the best of the three, as having the best things in it; two of these are exquisite; the well-known episode of the lute-player and nightingale, and the reunion of Palador and Eroclea. There are touches of power and tenderness in the part of Meleander, and the courtship of Parthenophil by Thamasta is gracefully and skilfully managed, without violence or offence. The winding-up of a story ill and feebly conducted through the earlier parts of the play is far more dexterous and harmonious than its development; and this is about all that need be said of it. Between the two beautiful versions of Strada's pretty fable by Ford and Crashaw there will always be a diversity of judgment among readers; some must naturally prefer the tender fluency and limpid sweetness of Ford, others the dazzling intricacy and affluence in refinements, the supple and cunning implication, the choiceness and subtlety of Crashaw.

Something better than Ford has left us might have been made of The Fancies Chaste and Noble and The Lady's Trial. In the former play the character of Flavia is admirably conceived; there were excellent possibilities of interest and pathos in her part, and her first interview with the husband who had sold and discarded her under cover of a lie gives promise that something will come of these chances; but in effect they come to nothing; the tragic effect of the position is evaded, the force of the conception diluted, the outlines of character slurred and effaced. Again, we are led to look for more than we get from the scenes of Castamela's mock temptation and seeming peril, from her grave and confident dignity in face of trial, and the spirit with which she assumes a lifelike mask of haughty and corrupt levity to punish the reckless weakness of a brother who has wantonly exposed her to apparent danger; but all ends in futile surprise and flat insufficiency. Livio and Romanello, the brothers of the heroines, are figures too dull and feeble to rouse any stronger feeling than a dull and feeble curiosity to see how they will slip or slink out of situations which might have been full of spirit and interest. The remaining characters are colourless and formless. Of the brutal and brainless interludes of farce I have no more to say than has been said above. With more force and harmony of character the finest occasion in the play might have been put to admirable use; when Livio, in hopes to rescue his sister from shame, offers her hand to the suitor whom he formerly rejected, and finds her in turn refused by Romanello on suspicion of dishonour incurred through her brother's baseness. The presence and intercession of Romanello's own sister, herself newly and nobly vindicated in his eyes and reconciled to his love, should have added to the living interest of the scene; but between curtailed plot and truncated underplot all such possible interest has long since been stifled.

The same waste or misuse of good material has marred the promise of a better play in The Lady's Trial. This should have been an excellent example of romantic or serious comedy; had Ford been content thoroughly to work out the characters of Auria, his wife, and her kinsman, he must have given us again a study of high and delicate moral beauty, a group worthy to stand beside the noble triad of Warbeck, Katherine, and Dalyell; but as it is, shackled perhaps by a fear of repeating himself, he has missed or thrown away this chance also. The one scene in which the spotless and hopeless chivalry of Malfato's love for his kinswoman is brought into action comes too late in the play and too suddenly to make its effect. There are two or three passages of admirable energy and pathos in the part of Auria; but the upshot of all is again ineffective; the evolution of the main story is clogged and trammelled by the utterly useless and pointless episode of Adurni's cast mistress, her senseless schemes of love and revenge, her equivocal reformation and preposterous remarriage. All this encumbrance of rubbish has absolutely no excuse, no aim or reason of any kind; it serves merely to hamper the development and distort the progress of the play, leaving no room or time for the action to expand naturally and move smoothly forward to a consistent end. The underplot of Hippolita's attempted revenge on the lover who has discarded her is neither beautiful nor necessary to the main action of 'Tis Pity She 's a Whore; but it is skilfully wrought in, and so far serviceable that it effectually cuts off Soranzo's chance of arousing such interest or sympathy as might divert the reader's mind from the central figures of Giovanni and Annabella; in this case the discarded adulteress and her cast-off husband are mere worthless impediments which subserve no end whatever.

Of the two plays which bear conjointly the names of Ford and Dekker, The Sun's Darling is evidently, as Gifford calls it, a ‘piece of patchwork’ hastily stitched up for some momentary purpose; I suspect that the two poets did not work together on it, but that our present text is merely a recast by Ford of an earlier masque by Dekker; probably, as Mr. Collier has suggested, his lost play of Phaëton, for which we might be glad to exchange the ‘loop'd and window'd nakedness’ of this ragged version. In those parts which are plainly remnants of Dekker's handiwork there are some scattered lines of great sweetness, such as these of lament for the dead spring:—

How cool wert thou in anger! in thy diet
How temperate and yet sumptuous! thou wouldst not waste
The weight of a sad violet in excess,
Yet still thy board had dishes numberless;
Dumb beasts even lovèd thee; once a young lark
Sat on thy hand, and gazing on thine eyes
Mounted and sang, thinking them moving skies.

For the latter scenes, as Gifford observes, it is clear that Ford is in the main responsible; the intrusion in the fifth act of political satire and adulation is singularly perverse and infelicitous. In the opening scene, also, between Raybright and the Priest of the Sun, I recognise the moral tone and metrical regulation of Ford's verse. Whatever the original may have been—and it was probably but a thin and hasty piece of work—it has doubtless suffered from the incongruous matter loosely sewn on to it; and the masque as it stands is too lax and incoherent in structure to be worth much as a sample of its slight kind, or to show if there was anything of more significance or value in the first conception.

The Witch of Edmonton is a play of rare beauty and importance both on poetical and social grounds. It is perhaps the first protest of the stage against the horrors and brutalities of vulgar superstition; a protest all the more precious for the absolute faith in witchcraft and devilry which goes hand in hand with compassion for the instruments as well as the victims of magic. Dr. Theodorus Plönnies himself had not a heartier belief in the sorceries of Sidonia von Bork than the poets appear to have in the misdeeds of Mother Sawyer; while neither Meinhold nor any modern writer has shown a nobler abhorrence of the genuinely hellish follies and cruelties which brought forth in natural and regular order fresh crops of witches to torture and burn. Even Victor Hugo could hardly show a more tender and more bitter pity for the sordid and grovelling agonies of outcast old age and reprobate misery, than that which fills and fires the speech of the wretched hag from the first scene where she appears gathering sticks to warm herself, starved, beaten, lamed and bent double with blows, pitiable and terrible in her fierce abjection, to the last moment when she is led to execution through the roar of the rabble. In all this part of the play I trace the hand of Dekker; his intimate and familiar science of wretchedness, his great and gentle spirit of compassion for the poor and suffering with whom his own lot in life was so often cast, in prison and out. The two chief soliloquies of Mother Sawyer, her first and last invocations of the familiar, are noble samples of his passionate dramatic power; their style has a fiery impulse and rapidity quite unlike the usual manner of his colleague. Gifford was probably right in assigning to Ford the whole of the first act; there is no more admirable exposition of a play on the English stage; the perfect skill and the straightforward power with which the plan of the story is opened and the interest of the reader fixed are made the more evident by the direct simplicity of method and means used. Ford, therefore, must have the credit of first bringing forward two of the main characters in the domestic tragedy which makes up the better part of this composite play; and the introduction of Frank and Winnifrede gives ominous and instant promise of the terror and pathos of their after story. The part of Susan is one of Decker's most beautiful and delicate studies; in three short scenes he has given an image so perfect in its simple sweetness as hardly to be overmatched outside the gallery of Shakespeare's women. The tender freshness of his pathos, its plain frank qualities of grace and strength, never showed themselves with purer or more powerful effect than here; the after scene where Frank's guilt is discovered has the same force and vivid beauty. The interview of Frank with the disguised Winnifrede in this scene may be compared by the student of dramatic style with the parting of the same characters at the close; the one has all the poignant simplicity of Dekker, the other all the majestic energy of Ford. The rough buffoonery and horse-play of the clown and the familiar we may probably set down to Dekker's account; there is not much humour or meaning in it, but it is livelier and less offensive than most of Ford's attempts in that line. The want of connection between the two subjects of the play, Mother Sawyer's witchcraft and Frank Thorney's bigamy, is a defect common to many plays of the time, noble sketches of rough and rapid workmanship; but in this case the tenuity of the connecting link is such that despite the momentary intervention of her familiar the witch is able with perfect truth to disclaim all complicity with the murderer. Such a communion of guilt might easily have been managed, and the tragic structure of the poem would have been complete in harmony of interest.

No words need here be wasted on any verse of Ford's outside the range of his dramatic work; and of his two pamphlets in prose the first is an ephemeral and official piece of compliment, somewhat too dull and stiff in style to be a truly graceful offering ‘in honour of all fair ladies.’ The second ‘handful of discourse’ has rather more worth and dignity of moral eloquence. The examples chosen from his own age for praise or blame add some historical interest to his axioms and arguments; the sketch of Raleigh, unhappily imperfect as it is, seems from the fragment left us to have given a vigorous and discerning estimate of ‘a man known and well deserving to be known.’ The reader of this treatise will remark, with such comic or tragic reflections as he may find appropriate, the passage in which Ford—having discussed and dismissed as inadequate such minor epithets of eulogy as ‘the Peaceable,’ ‘the Learned,’ and even ‘the Great’—finally and emphatically bestows on the yet living majesty of England the surname for all time of James the Good. The poet is so emphatic in his disclaimer of ‘servility or insinuation’ that we might imagine him writing with an eye to the reversion of Jonson's laurel.

‘Ford was of the first order of poets’: such is the verdict of his earliest and greatest critic. To differ from Lamb on a matter of judgment relating to any great name of the English drama is always hazardous; it is a risk never to be lightly run, never to be incurred without grave reluctance; and to undervalue so noble a poet as Ford, a very early and close favourite of my own studies, must be even further from my wish than to depreciate the value of such a verdict in his favour. Yet perhaps it would be more accurate to say merely that his good qualities are also great qualities—that whenever his work is good it is greatly good—than to say that he was altogether one of the few greatest among great men who stand in that very first order of poets. Thus much assuredly we may admit with all confidence and gladness of gratitude; that the merits he has are merits of the first order. What these merits are no student of his poetry can fail to see. As to their kind there can be no dispute; as to the relative height of rank to which they suffice of themselves to raise a poet, there may be. They are not outward or superficial qualities; a somewhat more liberal sprinkling of these would have relieved and brightened the sombre beauties of his work. His power as a poet is simply a moral power; fancy he has none, and imagination only strong to deal with tragic sentiment and situation; strong to dive and keen to peer into depths of emotion and recesses of endurance dove il sol tace, not swift or light of wing, not vast or ethereal of flight, not lustrous or various of plumage; but piercing and intense of sight, steady and sure of stroke, solemn and profound of strain. He gains strength with the strength of his subject; he wants deep water to swim well. The moral nature with which he is fittest to deal must be large enough to dare or to bear things beyond all common measure; resolute for any deed or any doom. Within the usual scope of action or the ordinary limit of suffering the energy of his spirit has hardly free play. In the hard cast and sombre loneliness of this energy he resembles Byron on one side—the outer side rather than the inner faculty; though there is in both the same fixity and insistence of purpose, the same solitary and brooding weight of will, the same lurid force and singleness of mind. In light, imagination, musical instinct, and all qualities of poetry pure and simple, both are alike below the higher order of poets; in the verse of neither is there that instant and sensible melody which comes only of a secret and sovereign harmony of the whole nature, and which comes of it inevitably and unmistakably.

We often see the names of Webster and Ford bracketed as equal and parallel examples of the same kind or school of poets; to me these two great men seem to belong to wholly different orders; I should no more venture to set Ford by the side of Webster than Byron by the side of Shelley. If not altogether as great in degree, the difference is assuredly the same in kind. On this as on all grounds we must keenly regret the loss of the one play known to us by name in which the diverse forces of these poets were united in the treatment of a subject unsurpassable for terror and tragic suggestion. To trace the points of likeness and unlikeness, to distinguish the lineaments of either man's genius, to note their various handling of an actual and recent tragedy so fearfully fertile of dramatic possibilities, of dark and splendid studies, for a spirit of strength to support them; to measure by the terrible capacities of the workmen the terrible capabilities of their material; to divide in our minds feature from feature, comparing line with line and tone with tone; this would have been a study of greater profit and delight to the student of their art than the comparison we had lately occasion to make between Ford and Dekker. For, though dissimilar in kind as well as in degree, there are points of resemblance between Webster and Ford, especially in bias of mind and aim of contemplation, in choice of matter and sympathy of interest, which may well bring them together in our thoughts and set them by themselves apart; so that we can conceive of them working together on a poem which when complete should show no signs of incongruity, nothing inharmonious or incoherent; as we certainly could not conceive of Shelley and Byron. For the rest, though there may be some community of poetic powers and poetic deficiencies between Byron and Ford, neither has any of the other's highest quality; the emotion shot through with satire, the ardour inwoven with humour, which heighten and sharpen each other in the keenest and loftiest work of Byron, were as unknown to Ford as the truth of deep human passion, the fire that labours without open rage or fury of flame at the heart's root and centre of life itself, the ravage of spiritual waste and agony of travail consuming and exhausting the very nature of the soul, which find shape and speech in the tragic verse of Ford, were beyond the dramatic reach of Byron. Of all men of genius Ford was probably the worst jester and Byron the worst playwright that ever lived. The living spirit of wit, its poetic and imaginative power, the force and ease of its action, the variety of thought and form into which it enters to fill them with life, never had a medium of expression comparable to the verse of Byron; in this, the compound and complex product of serious and humorous energy, rather than in power of any simple kind, lay the depth and width of his genius. Ford's dominion was limited to one simple form of power, the knowledge and mastery of passion properly so called, the science of that spiritual state in which the soul suffers force from some dominant thought or feeling. The pain and labour of such imperious possession, the strife and violence of a nature divided against itself, the strong anguish and the strong delight of extremities, gave the only fit field for his work and the only fruitful pasture for his thought. His imperative and earnest genius stamped and burnt itself into the figures and events of his plays: his mark is set ineffaceably on characters and circumstances, the sign-manual of his peculiar empire. Now, of passion proper Byron has nothing; the one radical emotion in him, deep as life and strong as death, is that noble ardour of rage and scorn which lifts his satire into sublimity; otherwise his passion is skin-deep; all his love-making, from the first desire to the final satiety, may be summed up in that famous axiom of Chamfort which Alfred de Musset, his female page or attendant dwarf, prefixed as a label to one of his decoctions of watered Byronism. Whatever he may have known of passion, he could put into verse of a genuine kind nothing beyond the range of the greater cynic's memorable definition; if he tries to go further or deeper, his verse rings hollow, his hold grows feeble, his colouring false and his tone inflated. Facit indignatio versum, and admirably too; the strength and splendour of his wrath give to his denunciations of tyranny a stronger and sincerer life than we find in his invocations to patriotism; in him Apollo was incarnate only as the dragon-slayer: he might stand so in sculpture with King George for Python, his arrow still quivering in the royal carrion. Of all divine labours that was the one which fell to his share of work; of all the god his master's gifts that was the one allotted him. But for positive passion, for that absolute fusion of the whole nature in one fire of sense and spirit which only the great dramatic students and masters of man can give or comprehend, we must go to poets of another kind. These have flesh and blood, muscle and nerve enough in all conscience; but passion with them means something beyond ‘l'échange de deux fantaisies et le contact de deux épidermes’; they want all that and more as fuel for their fires; they deal neither with soulless bodies nor with bodiless souls. Among them Ford must always hold a place of high honour. Two at least, yet perhaps only two, of his great fellow tragedians—for Shakespeare is of no fellowship—were certainly, in my judgment, poets of higher race and rarer quality. These two were Marlowe and Webster. The founder of our tragedy has in his best verse all the light and music and colour proper to the dawn of so divine a day as opened with his sunrise; and in Webster there is so much of the godhead which put on perfect humanity in Shakespeare alone, that it would scarcely be more rational to couple for comparison The Broken Heart with The Duchess of Malfy than The Duchess of Malfy with King Lear. In one point Ford is excelled by others also of his age. As a lyric poet he is not quite of the highest class in that great lyrical school. Not that his few lyrics are unworthy the praise they have before now received; the best of them, such as the noble dirge which signals with its majesty of music the consummation of Calantha's agony, have an august beauty and dignity of their own. The verse has a marble stateliness and solidity; the grave and even measure carries weight and sufficiency with it; but the pure lyric note is not in this poet. He has no such outbreaks of birdlike or godlike song as Shakespeare's—

Roses, their sharp spines being gone—

or Fletcher's—

Hear, ye ladies that despise—

or Webster's—

Hark, now everything is still—

or Dekker's—

Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers?

After any of these the lyric verse of Ford strikes us as verse ruled out in hard and rigid lines; yet is it excellent in its kind, and contemporary dramatists of high rank and repute have never come near its excellence; witness Massinger, the worst song-writer of them all.

Upon the whole then we find ample reason to assign high rank in the highest school of tragedy to this poet. Dekker, with all his sweetness of natural passion, his tenderness of moral music and freshness of pathetic power, has left no work of such tragic strength and scope, such firmness of line and clearness of composition, such general height and equality of poetic worth, as the two masterpieces of Ford. Had Marston oftener written at his best, he might have matched Ford on his own ground of energetic intensity and might of moral grasp, while excelling him in the depth and delicacy of keen rare touches or flashes of subtle nature, such as his famous epithet of ‘the shuddering morn,’ and other fine thoughts of colour and strokes of pensive passion; but Marston almost always wrote very much below his best. The character of Andrugio in Antonio and Mellida is magnificent; but this grand figure is unequally sustained by the others; and superb as the part is throughout, one part can no more make a play than one swallow can make a summer; not though that part were Hamlet. Set among mean and discordant figures, without support or relief, the part of Hamlet, the greatest single work of man, would not of itself suffice to make a play. The noble thought and the noble verse of Marston are never fitly framed and chased; lying imbedded as his best work does in meaner matter, it cannot hold its own when set beside the work of men who could cut as well as unearth a jewel. The pure simplicity of Heywood, his homely and lively fertility of invention, his honest pathos and gentleness of feeling, give a real charm to his sweet and clear flow of plain verse, but not weight and force enough to support the fame of a tragic poet of the first rank. Middleton had more facility and freedom of hand, less height and concentration of mind, than Ford; Massinger had far more fluency, regularity, and variety of interest, but far less tragic depth and directness of force. Chapman's plays, overweighted with thoughtful and majestic eloquence, sink down and break short under the splendid burden, or wander into empty lands and among rocky places of barren declamation; as a tragic artist he must give place to lesser men. With a far more genuinely dramatic gift, the fiery spirit of Cyril Tourneur lived and laboured in such a tempest that his work, so to speak, is blown out of all shape; the burning blast of his genius rages without intermission at such stormy speed along such wild wastes of tragedy that we have hardly time to note the fresh beauty of a rare oasis here and there; but for keenness and mastery of passionate expression in sublime and sonorous verse he can hardly be overmatched: while for single lines of that intense and terrible beauty which makes incision in the memory, there is none, after Shakespeare, to compare with him but Webster; the grandest verses of Marston or Chapman, both great in their use of deep and ardent words to give life and form to moral passion, have less of cautery in their stroke. Against his tragedies as against theirs the charge of excess and violence may be fairly brought, and the brand of such epithets as ‘spasmodic’ and ‘horrible’ may be set on their choice and composition of incidents; though the pure and strong limpidity of Tourneur's style is never broken into the turbid froth and turgid whirlpools of tortuous rant which here and there convulse and deface the vigorous currents of Chapman's and Marston's. But the application of any such stigmatic phrase to the work of Webster is absurd. If it be true that his tragedies exemplify the old distinction of horrible from terrible, it must be as superb instances of terrible beauty undeformed by horrible detail. There is no such scene or incident in his two great plays as the blinding of Gloster in King Lear; nothing from which the physical sense recoils with such a shudder of instant sickness; nothing defensible only on the ground that where all scenes are terrible to the utmost limit that art can endure, one scene among them may be for once allowed to be simply horrible. Defensible or not, the license was claimed and the experiment made by Shakespeare, and not by Webster. Nor, again, are any of the lesser poet's characters so liable to the charge of monstrous or abnormal excess as the figures of Goneril and Regan; the wickedness of his worst villain never goes beyond the mark of Edmund's. To vindicate the comparative moderation of Webster's moral painting is not to impugn in any least degree the rectitude of Shakespeare's; but it is absurd for those who see no excess of horror in the incidents or of criminality in the characters of the master poet to impeach the greatest of his disciples for the exercise of much less liberty in his handling of criminal and terrible matter. Simplicity and purity mark the most tragic scenes and figures of Webster, not less than sublimity and sweetness. Nothing on a first study of The Duchess of Malfy makes deeper impression on a capable student than this negative quality of noble abstinence, the utter and most admirable absence of any chaotic or spasmodic element, the chastity of a controlling instinct which rejects as impossible all hollow extravagance and inflation, ‘even in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) the whirlwind of passion.’ For one instance, if the comparison is to be made, we cannot but see that the curse of the Duchess on her brothers is less intemperate in the excess and exaltation of its rage than the curse of Lear on his daughters; which of course is as it should be, but is not what the general verdict of critics on Webster's art and style would have led us to expect. The note of extravagance is far more real and far more patent in the tragic genius of Beaumont and Fletcher. Of their comic power there is here no more question than of Jonson's or Massinger's or any other's; we are concerned merely to examine by comparison the rank among tragic poets of a poet who was nothing if not tragic. In this field, then, we find ‘those suns of glory, those two lights of men,’ the Dioscuri of our ‘heaven of invention,’ to be swifter and gracefuller runners than Ford, but neither surer of foot nor stronger of hand. Their genius has more of flame and light, less of fire and intensity; more of air and ease, less of force and concentration; more of beautiful and graceful qualities, less of positive and severe capacity; there is more of a charm about it, and less of a spell. With all its great and affluent beauties, The Maid's Tragedy leaves a less absolute and inevitable mark upon the mind of a student than The Broken Heart. No poet is less forgetable than Ford; none fastens (as it were) the fangs of his genius and his will more deeply in your memory. You cannot shake hands with him and pass by; you cannot fall in with him and out again at pleasure; if he touch you once he takes you, and what he takes he keeps his hold of; his work becomes part of your thought and parcel of your spiritual furniture for ever; he signs himself upon you as with a seal of deliberate and decisive power. His force is never the force of accident; the casual divinity of beauty which falls as though direct from heaven upon stray lines and phrases of some poets falls never by any such heavenly chance on his; his strength of impulse is matched by his strength of will; he never works more by instinct than by resolution; he knows what he would have and what he will do, and gains his end and does his work with full conscience of purpose and insistence of design. By the might of a great will seconded by the force of a great hand he won the place he holds against all odds of rivalry in a race of rival giants. In that gallery of monumental men and mighty memories, among or above the fellows of his godlike craft, the high figure of Ford stands steadily erect; his name is ineffaceable from the scroll of our great writers; it is one of the loftier landmarks of English poetry.

Havelock Ellis (essay date 1888)

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SOURCE: Ellis, Havelock. Introduction to John Ford (Five Plays), pp. xi-xvi. New York: Hill and Wang, 1957.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1888, Ellis maintains that while Ford was a master of dramatizing passionate emotions, the rest of his technique was careless and uninspired.]

Deep in a dump John Forde was alone got,
With folded arms and melancholy hat.

That vivid touch of portraiture is the one record that has come down to us concerning Ford. His shy and reserved temperament corresponds to his artistic position: he stands alone. Of himself he has nothing to tell us beyond one early and perhaps not over-serious allusion, in the youthful Fame's Memorial, to an unkind mistress—

                                                                                The goddess whom in heart I serve
Though never mine, bright Lycia the cruel,
The cruel-subtle.

Little, also, is recorded of him; of that little nothing that is not to his honour; while the tone of his dedications is manly, independent, and, towards his personal friends, affectionate. That he was not afraid to take a losing side is shown by his Fame's Memorial, an elegy which, called forth as it evidently was by the strange story of the lady, Penelope, Countess of Devonshire, to whom it was dedicated, is the earliest witness to Ford's interest in the problems of romantic passion.

Born in the north-west of Devonshire, and issuing from an old-established nest of Fords, while on the mother's side he was the grandson of the Lord Chief Justice Popham, John Ford came up to London at an early age to be trained to the law, becoming eventually, it is probable, a trusted agent for several noblemen, and he refers to his business with that ostentation not uncommon in people who know that their true calling is elsewhere. During the years of his London life he wrote many plays, some of which have perished; they were received with a remarkable share of applause, and gained for their author a general esteem among the decreasing minority who cared for plays. After nearly forty years spent in London he seems to have retired, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, to his native place. According to a faint tradition he married and had children, ending his days as peacefully as he might; for Ilsington was in the centre of a Royalist district, and is known to have suffered heavily at the hands of the Parliamentary forces.

Ford was more than forty years old when the earliest surviving play written by himself alone was first acted. The Lover's Melancholy, although as a whole it is rather dreary, reveals his peculiar style already at its highest point of development. This style, with its slow, subtle melody, its sudden pauses on the suspension of a long breath, its words that are gestures, has nothing of the half delirious freedom of Marlowe or Beaumont, those strong-winged poets of an earlier and more robust age. This artist wrought, laboriously, cool, lucid lines that are sometimes absolutely frozen. In his second extant play, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Ford touched the highest point that he ever reached. He never after succeeded in presenting an image so simple, passionate, and complete, so free comparatively from mixture of weak or base elements, as that of the boy and girl lovers who were brother and sister. The tragic story is unrolled from first to last with fine truth and clear perceptions. At one point only is it possible to detect any failure in Ford's grasp of the situation. When at the climax of their histories Giovanni stabs Annabella, her feeble exclamation, “Brother unkind!” fails to carry the impress of truth, and falls short of the tragic height of passion to which we are uplifted. Such a failure of insight is rare with Ford, much rarer than touches of extravagant physical horror like the introduction of Annabella's heart on a dagger. It is profitable to compare 'Tis Pity She's a Whore with a rather similar play by Beaumont and Fletcher, A King and no King. Dryden thought that this play was the finest that Beaumont and Fletcher ever wrote; it is certainly full of splendid rhetoric, tragic or tender, always broad, various and facile in style; but for the qualities of insight and sincerity, for fineness of moral perception, for the sure and deliberate grasp of the central situation, Ford's play is as far above Beaumont and Fletcher's, with its shifty conclusion, as it is below it in all the qualities which make a play effective on the stage. The Broken Heart is a monument of sorrows, a Niobe group of frozen griefs. There is little movement, no definite plot or story; only this row of heart-broken figures—Orgilus, Panthea, Ithocles, Calantha, with many forms of minor melancholy:

And 'twere a comely music when in parts
One sung another's knell.

The unity of the play lies in the cumulative touches by which these figures are realised for us, and by which we are lifted naturally to the heroic self-restraint of Calantha. Into Love's Sacrifice, the history of the ardent and reckless Bianca, Ford has put his subtlest work, marred though it is by the feeble and foolish sentiment of the conclusion. The story of the youth who falls in love with his friend's wife, and when he has aroused in her stronger nature a passion far deeper than his own, shrinks back realising his falsehood, is true to nature and wrought with Ford's finest art and insight. But we can only smile when we hear these lovers—

                                        Hid in a rock of fire,
Guarded by ministers of flaming hell—

celebrated as miracles of chastity and truth. In so complete a moral collapse as this (unless we choose to regard it as intentional irony), as well as in the occasional touches of forced material horror with which he startles us, Ford shows that he was the child of a society tainted by the affectation of purity, and a court that had ceased to be national and robust—both soon to vanish like a fantastic dream. In Perkin Warbeck he laid aside his characteristic defects, and also his characteristic merits, to achieve a distinct dramatic success. It is the least interesting of his plays for those who care for the peculiar qualities which mark Ford's genius, but it certainly ranks among our best historical dramas. Ford's interest in psychological problems may be detected in his impartial, even sympathetic, treatment of Warbeck; but for the most part this play is an exception to every generalisation that may be arrived at concerning his work. It is of a masculine temperature, with few flaws, and of fine characterisation throughout. These five plays embody whatever is best in Ford's work.

Of his remaining plays, The Lady's Trial contains most that is beautiful in language and character; The Fancies Chaste and Noble has a little that is characteristic, set in a weak and absurd story; The Sun's Darling, a “moral masque,” of which Dekker wrote the larger and happier part, exhibits Ford's most level and frigid manner. The Witch of Edmonton, a noble and more human work of art than any of these, was written in conjunction with Dekker and Rowley. It contains a few touches that are unmistakably Ford's, together with much that, without being very characteristic, has been plausibly assigned to him; on the whole, it is one of those plays, not uncommon at that time, in which two or more writers united to produce something that was unlike their individual work, and often superior to anything they produced singly. Ford's early work in prose and verse may be neglected.

The burden of a passionate and heavy-laden heart—that is the centre of every picture that Ford presents to us; on the painting of it he lavishes all his care. The rest of the canvas is filled in with a rapid and careless hand. His superior persons are generally uninteresting. As to his comic figures, it is for once impossible to go beyond the dictum of Gifford: they are “a despicable set of buffoons.” He is reckless of consistency in action or time, indifferent generally to dramatic effect, but when the mysteries of the heart are in question he elaborates his art to the highest point. The conflict between the world's opinion and the heart's desire he paints and repaints, not as a moralist browbeating the cynical or conventional world, but as an artist, presenting problems which he does not undertake to solve save by the rough methods of the tragic stage. It is the grief deeper than language that he strives to express. He seeks in his own words to

Sigh out a lamentable tale of things
Done long ago, and ill done; and when sighs
Are wearied, piece up what remains behind
With weeping eyes, and hearts that bleed to death.

He is a master of the brief mysterious words, so calm in seeming, which well up from the depths of despair. He concentrates the revelation of a soul's agony into a sob or a sigh. The surface seems calm; we scarcely suspect that there is anything beneath; one gasp bubbles up from the drowning heart below, and all is silence. He is rich in those words and lines of sweet and subtle music—

Parthenophil is lost, and I would see him;
For he is like to something I remember,
A great while since, a long, long time ago.

When we think of Ford we think of Giovanni and Annabella, passionate children who had given the world for love; of the childish sophistry with which they justified themselves, and of their last marvellous dialogue through which pierced a vague sense of guilt—a lurid shadow cast from the world they had contemned. We think of that Bianca (she that “owned the poor style of Duchess”) who had thrown such scorn on her lover that he vowed never to speak to her again of unlawful love, and who comes to him in his sleep the night after, unclad and alone, in the last abandonment of passion. We think of Flavia in The Fancies Chaste and Noble, coldly dismissing her first husband with the one sign of tenderness as she turns at length to her new husband:—

                    Beshrew 't, the brim of your hat
Struck in mine eye.

We think of Calantha, still gracious and calm in the festive dance, as the leaden messages of awful death are shot at slow intervals in her ear,—her father, her friend, her lover—still gracious and calm until her duties are ended.

When one news straight came huddling on another,
Of death! and death! and death! still I danced forward;
But it struck home, and here, and in an instant.
They are the silent griefs which cut the heart-strings;
Let me die smiling.

Ford is the most modern of the tribe to whom he belonged. When Shelley in his last days began a new drama, of which only fragments remain, he reproduced with added sweetness the tones and cadences of Ford's verse; and the writers to-day who seek, and in vain, to revive our ancient drama on its old lines, instinctively ally themselves with Ford. When we enumerate his great qualities we are enumerating the qualities which make him an ineffectual dramatist. Notwithstanding the ungrudging admiration of his relatives, legal friends, and fellow dramatists, and the “generally well received” report of the outside public, he could at no time have been a really popular playwright; and with the exception of Perkin Warbeck his plays have probably never been represented in more recent times. He was a sensitive observer who had meditated deeply on the springs of human action, especially in women. Of none of his fellows, even the greatest of them, can we say this. They have left us pictures of women which are incomparably more tender, or picturesque, or tragic than the searching, deliberate art of Ford could compass. But they looked nearly all from the outside, and were satisfied with the gracious or gorgeous stage-pictures which they knew so well how to present. This man writes of women not as a dramatist nor as a lover, but as one who had searched intimately and felt with instinctive sympathy the fibres of their hearts. He was an analyst; he strained the limits of his art to the utmost; he foreboded new ways of expression. Thus he is less nearly related to the men who wrote Othello, and A Woman killed with Kindness, and Valentinian, than to those poets and artists of the naked human soul, the writer of Le Rouge et le Noir, and the yet greater writer of Madame Bovagry.

George Saintsbury (essay date 1902)

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SOURCE: Saintsbury, George. “The Fourth Dramatic Period.” In A History of Elizabethan Literature, pp. 394-427. London: Macmillan, 1902.

[In the following essay, Saintsbury contends that while Ford demonstrated some poetic genius in his plays, nevertheless his characters are artificial and his low-comedy scenes are humorless.]

John Ford, like Fletcher and Beaumont, but unlike almost all others of his class, was a person not compelled by need to write tragedies,—comedies of any comic merit he could never have written, were they his neck verse at Hairibee. His father was a man of good family and position at Ilsington in Devon. His mother was of the well-known west-country house of the Pophams. He was born two years before the Armada, and three years after Massinger. He has no university record, but was a member of the Middle Temple, and takes at least some pains to assure us that he never wrote for money. Nevertheless, for the best part of thirty years he was a playwright, and he is frequently found collaborating with Dekker, the neediest if nearly the most gifted gutter-playwright of the time. Once he worked with Webster in a play (The Murder of the Son upon the Mother) which must have given the fullest possible opportunity to the appetite of both for horrors. Once he, Rowley, and Dekker combined to produce the strange masterpiece (for a masterpiece it is in its own undisciplined way) of the Witch of Edmonton, where the obvious signs of a play hastily cobbled up to meet a popular demand do not obscure the talents of the cobblers. It must be confessed that there is much less of Ford than of Rowley and Dekker in the piece, except perhaps its comparative regularity and the quite unreasonable and unintelligible bloodiness of the murder of Susan. In The Sun's Darling, due to Ford and Dekker, the numerous and charming lyrics are pretty certainly Dekker's; though we could pronounce on this point with more confidence if we had the two lost plays, The Fairy Knight and The Bristowe Merchant, in which the same collaborators are known to have been engaged. The Fancies, Chaste and Noble, and The Lady's Trial which we have, and which are known to be Ford's only, are but third-rate work by common consent, and Love's Sacrifice has excited still stronger opinions of condemnation from persons favourable to Ford. This leaves us practically four plays upon which to base our estimate—'Tis Pity She's a Whore,The Lover's Melancholy,The Broken Heart, and Perkin Warbeck. The last-named I shall take the liberty of dismissing summarily with the same borrowed description as Webster's Appius and Virginia. Hartley Coleridge, perhaps willing to make up if he could for a general distaste for Ford, volunteered the strange judgment that it is the best specimen of the historic drama to be found out of Shakespere; and Hazlitt says nothing savage about it. I shall say nothing more, savage or otherwise. The Lover's Melancholy has been to almost all its critics a kind of lute-case for the very pretty version of Strada's fancy about the nightingale, which Crashaw did better; otherwise it is naught. We are, therefore, left with 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and The Broken Heart. I own that in respect to the first, after repeated readings and very careful weighings of what has been said, I come back to my first opinion—to wit, that the Annabella and Giovanni scenes, with all their perversity, all their availing themselves of what Hazlitt, with his unerring instinct, called “unfair attractions,” are among the very best things of their kind. Of what may be thought unfair in them I shall speak a little later; but allowing for this, the sheer effects of passion—the “All for love and the world well lost,” the shutting out, not instinctively or stupidly, but deliberately, and with full knowledge, of all other considerations except the dictates of desire—have never been so rendered in English except in Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra. The comparison of course brings out Ford's weakness, not merely in execution, but in design; not merely in accomplishment, but in the choice of means for accomplishment. Shakespeare had no need of the haut goût of incest, of the unnatural horrors of the heart on the dagger. But Ford had; and he in a way (I do not say fully) justified his use of these means.

The Broken Heart stands far lower. I own that I am with Hazlitt, not Lamb, on the question of the admired death scene of Calantha. In the first place, it is certainly borrowed from Marston's Malcontent; in the second, it is wholly unnatural; in the third, the great and crowning point of it is not, as Lamb seemed to think, Calantha's sentimental inconsistency, but the consistent and noble death of Orgilus. There Ford was at home, and long as it is it must be given:—

Cal. Bloody relator of thy stains in blood,
For that thou hast reported him, whose fortunes
And life by thee are both at once snatch'd from him,
With honourable mention, make thy choice
Of what death likes thee best, there's all our bounty.
But to excuse delays, let me, dear cousin,
Intreat you and these lords see execution
Instant before you part.
Near. Your will commands us.
Org. One suit, just queen, my last: vouchsafe your clemency
That by no common hand I be divided
From this my humble frailty.
Cal. To their wisdoms
Who are to be spectators of thine end
I make the reference: those that are dead
Are dead; had they not now died, of necessity
They must have paid the debt they owed to nature,
One time or other. Use dispatch, my lords;
We'll suddenly prepare our coronation.
                                                                                [Exeunt Cal., Phil., and Chris.
Arm. 'Tis strange, these tragedies should never touch on
Her female pity.
Bass. She has a masculine spirit,
And wherefore should I pule, and, like a girl,
Put finger in the eye? Let's be all toughness
Without distinction betwixt sex and sex.
Near. Now, Orgilus, thy choice?
Org. To bleed to death.
Arm. The executioner?
Org. Myself, no surgeon;
I am well skilled in letting blood. Bind fast
This arm, that so the pipes may from their conduits
Convey a full stream; here's a skilful instrument:
                                                                                                                        [Shows his dagger.
Only I am a beggar to some charity
To speed me in this execution
By lending the other prick to the other arm
When this is bubbling life out.
Bass. I am for you,
It most concerns my art, my care, my credit,
Quick, fillet both his arms.
Org. Gramercy, friendship!
Such courtesies are real which flow cheerfully
Without an expectation of requital.
Reach me a staff in this hand. If a proneness
                                                                                                    [They give him a staff.
Or custom in my nature, from my cradle
Had been inclined to fierce and eager bloodshed,
A coward guilt hid in a coward quaking,
Would have betray'd me to ignoble flight
And vagabond pursuit of dreadful safety:
But look upon my steadiness and scorn not
The sickness of my fortune; which since Bassanes
Was husband to Penthea, had lain bed-rid,
We trifle time in words: thus I show cunning
In opening of a vein too full, too lively.
                                                                                [Pierces the vein with his dagger.
Arm. Desperate courage!
Near. Honourable infamy!
Hem. I tremble at the sight.
Gron. Would I were loose!
Bass. It sparkles like a lusty wine new broach'd;
The vessel must be sound from which it issues,
Grasp hard this other stick—I'll be as nimble—
But prithee look not pale—Have at ye! stretch out
Thine arm with vigour and unshaken virtue.
                                                                                                                                            [Opens the vein.
Good! oh I envy not a rival, fitted
To conquer in extremities: this pastime
Appears majestical; some high-tuned poem
Hereafter shall deliver to posterity
The writer's glory, and his subjects triumph,
How is't man?—droop not yet.
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 outfaced my vengeance.
Oh, Tecnicus, inspired with Phœbus' fire!
I call to mind thy augury, 'twas perfect;
Revenge proves its own executioner
When feeble man is lending to his mother
The dust he was first framed in, thus he totters.
Bass. Life's fountain is dried up.
Org. So falls the standard
Of my prerogative in being a creature,
A mist hangs o'er mine eyes, the sun's bright splendour
Is clouded in an everlasting shadow.
Welcome, thou ice that sit'st about my heart,
No heat can ever thaw thee.

The perverse absurdity of a man like Orgilus letting Penthea die by the most horrible of deaths must be set aside: his vengeance (the primary absurdity granted), is exactly and wholly in character. But if anything could be decisive against Ford being “of the first order of poets,” even of dramatic poets, it would be the total lack of interest in the characters of Calantha and Ithocles. Fate-disappointed love seems (no doubt from something in his own history) to have had a singular attraction for Lamb; and the glorification, or, as it were, apotheosis of it in Calantha must have appealed to him in one of those curious and illegitimate ways which every critic knows. But the mere introduction of Bassanes would show that Ford is not of the first order of poets. He is a purely contemptible character, neither sublimed by passion of jealousy, nor kept whole by salt of comic exposition; a mischievous poisonous idiot who ought to have had his brains knocked out, and whose brains would assuredly have been knocked out, by any Orgilus of real life. He is absolutely unequal to the place of central personage, and causer of the harms, of a romantic tragedy such as The Broken Heart.

I have said “by any Orgilus of real life,” but Ford has little to do with real life; and it is in this fact that the insufficiency of his claim to rank among the first order of poets lies. He was, it is evident, a man of the greatest talent, even of great genius, who, coming at the end of a long literary movement, exemplified the defects of its decadence. I could compare him, if there was here any space for such a comparison, to Baudelaire or Flaubert with some profit; except that he never had Baudelaire's perfect sense of art, and that he does not seem, like Flaubert, to have laid in, before melancholy marked him for her own, a sufficient stock of living types to save him from the charge of being a mere study-student. There is no Frédéric, no M. Homais, in his repertory. Even Giovanni—even Orgilus, his two masterpieces, are, if not exactly things of shreds and patches, at any rate artificial persons, young men who have known more of books than of life, and who persevere in their eccentric courses with almost more than a half knowledge that they are eccentric. Annabella is incomplete, though there is nothing, except her love, unnatural in her. The strokes which draw her are separate imaginations of a learned draughtsman, not fresh transcripts from the living model. Penthea and Calantha are wholly artificial; a live Penthea would never have thought of such a fantastic martyrdom, unless she had been insane or suffering from greensickness, and a live Calantha would have behaved in a perfectly different fashion, or if she had behaved in the same, would have been quit for her temporary aberration. We see (or at least I think I see) in Ford exactly the signs which are so familiar to us in our own day, and which repeat themselves regularly at the end of all periods of distinct literary creativeness—the signs of excentricité voulue. The author imagines that “all is said” in the ordinary way, and that he must go to the ends of the earth to fetch something extraordinary. If he is strong enough, as Ford was, he fetches it, and it is something extraordinary, and we owe him, with all his extravagance, respect and honour for his labour. But we can never put him on the level of the men who, keeping within ordinary limits, achieve masterpieces there.

Ford—an Elizabethan in the strict sense for nearly twenty years—did not suffer from the decay which, as noted above, set in in regard to versification and language among the men of his own later day. He has not the natural trick of verse and phrase which stamps his greatest contemporaries unmistakably, and even such lesser ones as his collaborator, Dekker, with a hardly mistakable mark; but his verse is nervous, well proportioned, well delivered, and at its best a noble medium. He was by general consent utterly incapable of humour, and his low-comedy scenes are among the most loathsome in the English theatre. His lyrics are not equal to Shakespere's or Fletcher's, Dekker's or Shirley's, but they are better than Massinger's. Although he frequently condescended to the Fletcherian license of the redundant syllable, he never seems to have dropped (as Fletcher did sometimes, or at least allowed his collaborators to drop) floundering into the Serbonian bog of stuff that is neither verse nor prose. He showed indeed (and Mr. Swinburne, with his usual insight, has noticed it, though perhaps he has laid rather too much stress on it) a tendency towards a severe rule-and-line form both of tragic scheme and of tragic versification, which may be taken to correspond in a certain fashion (though Mr. Swinburne does not notice this) to the “correctness” in ordinary poetry of Waller and his followers. Yet he shows no sign of wishing to discard either the admixture of comedy with tragedy (save in The Broken Heart, which is perhaps a crucial instance), or blank verse, or the freedom of the English stage in regard to the unities. In short, Ford was a person distinctly deficient in initiative and planning genius, but endowed with a great executive faculty. He wanted guidance in all the greater lines of his art, and he had it not; the result being that he produced unwholesome and undecided work, only saved by the unmistakable presence of poetical faculty. I do not think that Webster could ever have done anything better than he did: I think that if Ford had been born twenty years earlier he might have been second to Shakespeare, and at any rate the equal of Ben Jonson and of Fletcher. But the flagging genius of the time made its imprint on his own genius, which was of the second order, not the first.

M. Joan Sargeaunt (essay date 1935)

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SOURCE: Sargeaunt, M. Joan. “The Setting of the Plays.” In John Ford, pp. 142-54. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966.

[In the following essay, first printed in 1935, Sargeaunt discusses the relationship between setting and the characters' emotions in Ford's plays.]

‘Shakespeare and his contemporaries,’ says Peacock, ‘… used time and locality merely because they could not do without them, because every action must have its when and where: but they made no scruple of deposing a Roman Emperor by an Italian Count, and sending him off in the disguise of a French pilgrim to be shot with a blunderbuss by an English archer. This makes the old English drama very picturesque, at any rate, in the variety of costume, and very diversified in action and character; though it is a picture of nothing that ever was seen on earth except a Venetian carnival.’1

The lack of unity which might be expected to result from this indifference to historical accuracy in the plays of Shakespeare and other Elizabethan and early seventeenth-century dramatists is often compensated for by a prevailing atmosphere, or mood, which gives to each play a different kind of unity of its own. The Italian setting of Romeo and Juliet may be no very realistic picture of renaissance Italy, but it is an entirely appropriate background for that tragedy of lyric love. The lovers may indeed live in a country as unknown to historians and geographers as the Sea Coast of Bohemia, but as a country of the mind it is equally remote from the ancient Rome of Coriolanus, the early Britain of King Lear or from Prospero's enchanted Island beyond the still vexed Bermoothes.

Elizabethan and early Stuart writers were, moreover, deeply interested in national characteristics; of this there is abundant evidence in the plays of Shakespeare. In Henry V he draws, with a touch of caricature, the Scottish, Irish and Welsh captains, and contrasts them with various types of English soldiers. In The Merchant of Venice, in Portia's sly word-pictures of her suitors, a contemporary audience would recognize the conventional notion of certain national types. Shakespeare here, too, very imperfectly conceals under a mask of mock modesty, that peculiar form of national vanity, shared by Elizabethan and modern Englishman, the love of a joke at the expense of his fellow countryman's childish delight in foreign fashions and his inability to speak foreign tongues. ‘He hath neither Latine, French nor Italian … hee is a proper mans picture, but also who can converse with a dumbe show? how odly he is suited, I thinke he bought his doublet in Italie, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germanie, and his behaviour everywhere.’ Later in the Roman history plays in Julius Caesar, Brutus, Portia, Coriolanus and Volumnia he draws men and women whose character, and, consequently, whose fates are a part of their national inheritance.

This interest in national characteristics is to be found in the plays of Ford, and the recognition of it is of importance in their right interpretation. In Love's Sacrifice, when Roseilli supposes himself banished by the Duke, he asks for and receives from the newly returned traveller Fernando information concerning the Spaniards, the French and the English, and such a summing up is of more significance than might at first sight appear. A careful study of the plays must lead to the belief that Ford's choice of an Italian background for 'Tis Pity,Love's Sacrifice,The Fancies and The Lady's Trial and of a pseudo-Grecian for The Broken Heart and The Lover's Melancholy was deliberate. Vernon Lee, in her Euphorion, gives a powerful description of the Italy of the Renaissance as it exists in the plays of the later Elizabethan dramatists.

The World of these great poets is not the open world with its light and its air, its purifying storms and lightnings: it is the darkened Italian palace, with its wrought-iron bars preventing escape; its embroidered carpets muffling the footsteps; its hidden, suddenly yawning trap-doors; its arras-hangings concealing masked ruffians; its garlands of poisoned flowers; its long suites of untenanted darkened rooms, through which the wretch is pursued by the halfcrazed murderer; while below, in the cloistered court, the clanking armour and stamping horses, and above, in the carved and gilded hall, the viols and lutes and cornets make a cheery triumphant concert, and drown the cries of the victim.2

Some of these features form the setting of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Love's Sacrifice, both tragedies in which overwhelming and uncontrolled passion and the most cruel and desperate revenge are the chief motifs. That Ford has consciously chosen such a setting is made apparent by various observations by the dramatis personae throughout the plays on the violence of the Italians in love, jealousy and revenge, such as Vasques' boast, in the last act of 'Tis Pity, that though a Spaniard he has beaten an Italian in revenge. The tone of The Broken Heart is entirely different from that of these two tragedies. The motive passions are as great but they lie concealed for the time in a depth whose surface is calm. The love is not less consuming, the revenge not less cruel, the tragedy not less heart-rending, but the action, though terrible, moves with less precipitate violence. It seems strange that critics should have ignored this difference in discussing the setting of The Broken Heart. Professor Sherman has indeed pointed out that the Sparta of this play is modelled on the Sparta of Sidney's Arcadia,3 but has added that the ‘Spartan’ setting is used by Ford as a disguise, to hide the real significance of the plot. His association with Dekker in the legal action brought against him by the persons introduced into Keep the Widow Waking may certainly have taught Ford the veracity of Raleigh's assertion ‘that who-so-ever … shall follow truth too neare the heeles, it may happily strike out his teeth.’ But there is, clearly, besides the Arcadian influence and the possible use of disguise, a more powerful motive for Ford in his choice of Sparta as the setting for The Broken Heart, in the atmosphere of this play so entirely different from that of the other two tragedies. The Ford of The Broken Heart is indeed the Ford of Swinburne's sonnet, hewing from hard marble the figures of Orgilus, and Ithocles and Calantha. They have all a certain statuesque quality of cold restraint, and are in the popular sense of the word truly ‘Spartan’.

A few instances from a comparison of this play with 'Tis Pity at once make clear this difference. In 'Tis Pity the deaths are all brought about by means which fit into the background of the Renaissance Italy of the Elizabethan theatre: poisonings, murder under the cover of darkness with an envenomed dagger, banditti hired as the weapon of revenge. The last scene of this play is a riot of death. In The Broken Heart Penthea deliberately starves herself to death: Orgilus quietly plans the murder of Ithocles and carries it out in cold blood. He regards the act as the necessary retribution for Penthea's forced marriage and her death. Yet he appreciates the nobler side of his victim's nature, even while intent on his destruction. Nor does he seek to escape from the consequences of his deed. He confesses it freely and is allowed to kill himself by the slow means of blood-letting,4 means that he has chosen for himself. In the last scene Calantha after due preparation goes deliberately to a death that is the result of her previous suppression of emotions too strong to be overcome.

The very ‘engine’ that Orgilus uses to bring about the death of Ithocles is of classical origin. It was pointed out by Gifford that such a chair is described by Pausanias in his Attica (I, 20) and that Barnes uses it in The Devil's Charter (Act I, Sc. v). Ford may have borrowed it immediately from the latter, but he must, like Barnes, have known of its classical origin.

One other point is particularly noteworthy. A likeness between the Friar in 'Tis Pity and Tecnicus in The Broken Heart has sometimes been pointed out, but the Spartan sage with his appeals to philosophy is also in strong contrast to the Italian priest with his appeals to the catholic doctrines of the Church.

Unless this Spartan atmosphere is appreciated the play as a whole cannot be understood. The scene of the marriage dance and Calantha's death scene have, since Lamb wrote his fine criticism of them, often been treated as though they were a separate masterpiece, instead of the crown of the whole play. It is perhaps this detachment of these scenes from their context that has led many critics to condemn them as unnatural,5 as indeed they might be if they stood alone, but as it is they seem to sum up the spirit of the whole piece.

The Broken Heart stands alone among Ford's own plays as among those of his contemporaries. It cannot well be compared to any other dramatic poem; it must be judged on its own merits. The appeal depends on the compression of the emotions. The intense reserve of the diction, of the characterization and of the very setting could hardly be surpassed. Its beauties are not of a kind that appeal to popular imagination, but there will always be some who will afford it a high place among the great tragedies of our literature.

The scene of The Lover's Melancholy is laid in Cyprus, and in tone this play is in some ways far more nearly related to The Broken Heart than to the other comedies, though as a romantic drama with so slight a plot and a happy ending it is far removed from the tragic intensity of the later play. But the dramatis personae, especially the sisters Eroclea and Cleophila with their gentle wisdom, their patient courage and their rigorous self-control, might well claim kinship with Calantha and Penthea. This play has never, perhaps, received due attention from the critics. Even Professor Sherman passes it briefly by: ‘The Lover's Melancholy was but a prelude to the other three. It announced the longing for a romantic paradise, the exclusive love interest, the delicate phrasing of fine shades of feeling, the penetrating psychological treatment, which were to characterize the succeeding tragedies. But here Forde was still on purely romantic ground; Eroclea and Cleophila, moving sadly and immaculately among their bloodless sorrows, are but dimly frescoed Arcadians.’6 This critic has recognized the quality of the tone of the play, but it is difficult to think of Cleophila, self-destined to the care of a raving father, shut up in the old castle and assisted in her attendance by the faithful but unmannerly Trollio as ‘a dimly frescoed Arcadian’. Slight though the plot is the characters are drawn with Ford's greatest ability and the setting is entirely appropriate, and for these reasons the play deserves careful study as well as for the light that it throws on his other plays.

It is, perhaps, necessary to stress the difference of atmosphere in these two groups of plays—the pseudo-Grecian and Italianate, as they might be called—since it illustrates Ford's consciousness as a dramatic artist. The two pseudo-Grecian plays stand alone among Ford's plays as among those of his contemporaries. All his work bears strongly the impress of his peculiar genius. Besides certain qualities of style, phraseology, diction and metrical technique, he makes use again and again of similar motifs and ideas and develops them along lines of his own. His hand is easy to recognize, it is this indeed that makes it possible to be almost certain, on internal evidence alone, of his authorship of The Queen and of parts of The Spanish Gipsy. Yet among his plays The Broken Heart and The Lover's Melancholy are almost as far removed in the strange quality of their tone as Perkin Warbeck is from either group.

The Italianate plays are, in spite of evident differences, nearer in some ways to the plays of some of Ford's contemporaries. One can fairly easily imagine the author of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Love's Sacrifice collaborating with Webster to write the tragedy of A Late Murder of the Son upon the Mother, that lost ‘tragedy of blood’ for which Rupert Brooke sighed in vain.7 In her essay on The Italy of the Elizabethan Dramatists—from which quotation has already been made—Vernon Lee writes of Ford, ‘although equal, perhaps, in genius to Webster, surpassing him even in intense tragic passion, he was far below Webster, and, indeed, far below all his generation, in moral fibre. The sight of evil fascinates him; his conscience staggers, his sympathies are bedraggled in foulness; in the chaos of good and evil he loses his reckoning, and recognizes the superiority only of strength of passion, of passion for good or evil: the incestuous Giovanni, daring his enemies like a wild beast at bay and cheating them of their revenge by himself murdering the object of his horrible passion, is as heroic in the eyes of Ford as the magnanimous Princess of Sparta, bearing with unflinching spirit the succession of misfortunes poured down upon her and leading off the dance while messenger succeeds messenger of evil; till, free from her duties as a queen, she sinks down dead.’8 One cannot perhaps altogether dispute this judgement, although one may feel that it tends to confuse moral and aesthetic issues, but it remains nevertheless evident that Ford saw clearly enough what he was about when he created two such different characters as Calantha and Annabella.

Ford's interest in national characteristics is emphasized, though quite differently, in his treatment of the theme of The Lady's Trial. A wife's faithlessness, or supposed faithlessness, and the steps that her husband takes to revenge his honour, form a subject that was popular among Elizabethan and seventeenth-century dramatists. The line of action that the wronged husband will pursue may be said, as a rule, to be assumed as a matter of course. Iago knows that if he can persuade Othello to a belief that his wife is unfaithful, he will feel that he can only save his honour by the deaths of Cassio and Desdemona. Shakespeare does not, of course, give such a crude study of Othello's complex psychology as this hasty summing up implies, but such, nevertheless, is the principle underlying Othello's actions, the principle that leads to the tragic dénouement just as it was in most other plays of the period in which the wife was faithless either in reality or in the husband's belief. In the winter of 1602/3 Heywood in his play of A Woman Killed with Kindness had written a tragedy in which such a principle is not assumed, or, more strictly speaking, is not assumed by the hero. When Frankford discovers that he has been betrayed by his friend and his wife, he does not seek revenge through the death of either.

My words are register'd in Heaven already,
With patience hear me! I'll not martyr thee,
Nor mark thee for a strumpet; but with usage
Of more humility torment thy soul,
And kill thee even with kindness.(9)
Even as I hope for pardon, at that day
When the Great Judge of heaven in scarlet sits,
So be thou pardon'd! Though thy rash offence
Divorc'd our bodies, thy repentant tears
Unite our souls.(10)
My wife, the mother to my pretty babes!
Both those lost names I do restore thee back,
And with this kiss I wed thee once again.
Though thou art wounded in thy honour'd name,
And with that grief upon thy death-bed liest,
Honest in heart, upon my soul, thou diest.(11)

Courthope describes The Honest Whore as sharing with this play ‘the distinction of furnishing the earliest example of those abstract and paradoxical moral situations which were afterwards more highly developed by Massinger and Ford.’12 Mr. Clark has shown, I think convincingly, that Heywood was rather trying to write a domestic tragedy based on a real psychology, and however it may fail to convince in some of its parts, taken as a whole the motives and actions of Frankford in his behaviour towards the guilty couple are straightforward and comprehensible enough, and must have been so to a contemporary audience although they were outside the ordinary dramatic convention of the day. The scene of Heywood's tragedy is laid in England, and it would hardly be possible or convincing had he chosen instead the renaissance Italy of the Elizabethan theatre.

In Ford's tragi-comedy, The Lady's Trial, the attitude of Aurelio, the would-be protector of his friend's honour, is that of the conventional Italian of the Elizabethan stage. He seems almost to suspect before Auria's departure that his wife will be unfaithful to him, or, at least, that by his absence the husband himself leaves her unfairly exposed to temptation.

Aurelio. … it is not manly done
To leave her to the triall of her wits,
Her modestie, her innocence, her vowes.
This is the way that poynts her out an art
Of wanton life.

Later when he discovers Adurni and Spinella locked up together he immediately assumes not only that the wife has been tempted but that she is unfaithful. It is his suspicion that causes the flight of Spinella to her cousin's house and her concealment there even after Auria's return. Here are circumstances that might easily on the seventeenth-century stage have led to a tragic dénouement. But the husband for once is prepared to act in a rational way. He is prepared to believe that his wife may have been faithful to him during his absence, however much appearances are against her, and he is prepared to hear not only her own defence but the defence of her lover. Even more unusual, perhaps, in the drama of this period is the line of defence that Spinella takes in her bold declaration that it is Auria who is in the wrong to have brought a charge of disloyalty against her on insufficient grounds, and that by so doing it is he who breaks faith with her.

Spinella. … herein evidence of frailtie
Deserv'd not more a separation,Then doth charge of disloyaltie objected
Without or ground or witnesse, womans faults
Subject to punishments, and mens applauded
Prescribe no laws in force.

Later, when Auria demands, as of right, to be still further satisfied of her innocence, she cries out

                    you can suspect,
So reconciliation then is needlesse,
Conclude the difference by revenge, or part,
And never more see one another.
Grisilde is deed, and eek her pacience,
And both atones buryed in ytaille;
For which I crie in open audience,
No wedded man so hardy be tassaille
His wyves pacience in hope to fynde
Grisildis, for in certein he shall faille!

Such was the warning of Chaucer to fourteenth-century English husbands, and here on the seventeenth-century stage, and in a scene laid in renaissance Italy, is a wife as devoted to her husband as Griselda, or the nut-brown maid or Prior's Emma, but who is not prepared to exercise her patience in abetting her husband in wrong conduct towards herself. Fortunately her husband has the sense to appreciate this kind of rational loyalty. That Ford was fully aware that such an attitude was opposed to stage convention especially in a play of renaissance Italy seems evident. When Adurni first makes his explanation to Auria, the latter exclaims

                                        Sure Italians hardly
Admit dispute in questions of this nature,
The tricke is new.

And again, later, when he is persuading his sister-in-law to marry Adurni, in order to rectify ‘all crookes’ and ‘vaine surmises,’ he says:

                    Make no scruple
(Castanna) of the choyce, 'tis firme and reall,
Why else have I so long with tamenesse nourisht
Report of wrongs, but that I fixt on issue
Of my desires, Italians use not dalliance
But execution.

Is it fanciful to suggest that Ford in this play may have made use of the Italian setting for the purpose of emphasizing the attitude and actions of hero and heroine, in a domestic tragi-comedy that is perhaps as original in its treatment of subject as is Heywood's English domestic tragedy of A Woman Killed with Kindness?

Many readers of Ford's plays are oppressed by the feeling that their atmosphere is unhealthy, and, as it were, lacking in fresh air. This is especially so of the Italianate plays, but the atmosphere of all seems, at times, almost unbearably overheated. This is due to a variety of causes. Ford's birthplace was a Devonshire village on the edge of Dartmoor, surrounded by some of the most beautiful country of the south-west of England, and it may be assumed, from his constant use of certain west-country provincialisms in the dialogue of the plays,13 that he passed his childhood and early youth there. Whether he ever returned there in later life we do not know for certain, but he owned some property in Ipplepen and Torbryan, two other charming villages, with their characteristic granite-towered churches and lanes whose banks are in springtime a mass of primrose and sweet-smelling white violets. But he has made scarcely any attempt to introduce into his plays, as Shakespeare into his, the beauties of nature or of outdoor life, and for all the evidence of this kind that his writings afford he might have been born and bred in a town. Most of his scenes are laid within doors in the state-rooms and bed-chambers of palaces and castles. The tale of the musical contest between the boy and the nightingale in The Lover's Melancholy, delightful though it is, is a purely fanciful picture, and academic in origin. Some of the scenes of The Broken Heart are laid in a garden, but it seems almost as airless as the house in which the jealous Bassanes tries to keep his beautiful young wife guarded from the contagion of prying eyes, and the mad Penthea's exclamation to her lover,

When last we gather'd Roses in the garden
I found my wits, but truly you lost yours.

seems to be of purely symbolical significance,and hardly calls up to the senses, the lost fragrance of the flowers themselves. In Perkin Warbeck, in strong contrast to Shakespeare's historical plays, neither king nor pretender shows any of that love of English country, that passion for the very soil, that plays a large part in the patriotism, different as it may be in other ways, of Richard II and John of Gaunt.

Nor is there, in the tragedies at any rate, much other attempt at any sort of relief from the scenes of intense passion or from the intervening melodrama of lust and violence. Ford's futile attempts at comedy merely disgust one by the unseemly irrelevance of their buffoonery. Occasionally in some of his more homely characters such as Florio and Donado in 'Tis Pity, and Huntley in Perkin Warbeck one is brought into touch for a moment with a more everyday world. Very rarely, too, Ford has allowed a breath of fresh air to blow in from the city streets. In The Fancies Chaste and Noble he has returned to an Italian setting; yet the play contains one or two descriptions of London city life, as vivid as those of Dekker or Middleton. Such is Flavia's recollection (wherein real regret is concealed under a light cloak of satire) of the days when she was the contented young wife of a citizen, enjoying the excitement of the Lord Mayor's Day.

When we were common, mortall, and a subiect
As other creatures of heavens making are,
(the more the pitty) bless us! how we waited
For the huge play day when the Pageants flutter'd
About the City, for we then were certaine,
The Madam courtiers, would vouchsafe to visit us,
And call us by our names, and eate our viands:
Nay give us leave to sit at the upper end
Of our owne Tables, telling us how welcome
They'd make us, when we came to Court: full little
Dream't I at that time of the wind that blew me
Up to the Weathercocke of th' honours, now
Are thrust upon me, but we beare the burthen,
Were't twice as much as 'tis, the next great feast,
Wee'l grace the City wives (poore soules) and see
How they'le behave themselves, before our presence.(14)

There is nothing quite in this vein in any of Ford's earlier plays, and if the whole piece had been written in this spirit it would have been a remarkable production. But unfortunately it is not so.

What is it then that seems to Ford's admirers to give his plays their real and permanent value? For what reward may one look among that welter of melodrama and tomfoolery, of murder and rape and incest? The answer was given more than a century ago by Charles Lamb, and it is simple enough. It lies in Ford's extraordinary power to make us acutely aware even in the midst of depravity and horror of the greatness of the spirit of man. It is this theme and this alone that has absorbed all his creative energy; if this solitary jewel is lost amongst the shoddy assortment of rubbish that surrounds it, there is nothing further to seek. ‘Ford was of the first order of Poets. He sought for sublimity not by parcels in metaphors or visible images, but directly where she has her full residence in the heart of man; in the actions and sufferings of the greatest minds. There is a grandeur of the soul above mountains, seas, and the elements. Even in the poor perverted reason of Giovanni and Annabella … we discern traces of that fiery particle, which in the irregular starting from out of the road of beaten action, discovers something of a right line even in obliquity, and shows hints of an improvable greatness in the lowest descents and degradation of our nature.’15


  1. Peacock. The Four Ages of Poetry. (Percy Reprints, No. 3, 1923), pp. 12-13.

  2. Vernon Lee. Euphorion, Vol. I, pp. 78-9.

  3. See S. P. Sherman, Stella and the Broken Heart, p. 275 ff. Cf. Ward, Vol. III, p. 79. ‘Either Ford, or the novelist from whom he borrowed made little account of historical probability in choosing Sparta as the scene of a love-tragedy which savours of mediaeval Italy.’

  4. Koeppel (p. 177) has pointed out that the Stoic Seneca was in the same way given choice of death, and made the same choice as Orgilus. See Tacitus, An. XV, 60-64.

  5. See, e.g., George Saintsbury, Elizabethan Literature, Ch. xi, p. 404. ‘I own that I am with Hazlitt, not Lamb, on the question of the admired death scene of Calantha. In the first place, it is certainly borrowed from Marston's Malcontent; in the second, it is wholly unnatural; in the third, the great and crowning point is not, as Lamb seemed to think Calantha's sentimental inconsistency, but the consistent and noble death of Orgilus.’

  6. See S. P. Sherman's introductory essay to W. Bang's edition of John Fordes Dramatische Werke, p. x.

  7. See Rupert Brooke, John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama, pp. 115-6.

  8. Vernon Lee, Euphorion, Vol. I, pp. 75-6.

  9. A Woman Killed with Kindness, Act IV, Sc. vi.

  10. Ibid., Act V, Sc. v.

  11. Ibid., Act V, Sc. v.

  12. W. J. Courthope, A History of English Poetry, Vol. IV, p. 224.

  13. See Chapter III, p. 45.

  14. The Fancies, Act II, Sc. i.

  15. Lamb, Specimens … pp. 264-5.

G. F. Sensabaugh (essay date 1944)

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SOURCE: Sensabaugh, G. F. “Fame and Confusion.” In The Tragic Muse of John Ford, pp. 1-12. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1944.

[In the following essay, Sensabaugh proposes that Ford can be viewed as a prophet of modern thought in that his dramas explore the nascent issues of scientific determinism and extreme individualism.]


John Ford stands in the eyes of competent critics as a poet of considerable stature. Commentary uniformly commends his solemn blank verse and his poetic power; editors include at least one of his plays in every important collection of Renaissance drama. Indeed, Charles Lamb places him in the “first order of poets”;1 and subsequent criticism, though less adulatory, unanimously maintains that Ford's polish and skill entitle him to fame in an age which gave England Shakespeare. Swinburne, for example, describes Ford's poetry as “piercing and intense of sight, steady and sure of stroke, solemn and profound of strain”;2 and even Hazlitt, one of Ford's most severe critics, admits that the poetry of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore shows a “power of simple painting and polished style.”3 Furthermore, twentieth-century scholars agree with these able critics. M. Joan Sargeaunt, for instance, in a recent review of Ford's reputation, concludes that Ford's plays present “a body of poetry direct in expression and of grave and passionate import penetrated by a knowledge of the motives that sway the actions of mankind.”4 It is clear that Ford as a poet receives unquestioned acclaim.

But where Ford stands as a playwright is neither clear nor unquestioned. In fact, so sharp is the clash of critical opinion that recent scholarship doubts whether “there will ever be agreement among the critics of Ford.”5 The growth of two opposing traditions from the time of Charles Lamb to that of modern scholars, moreover, lends credence to the view that Ford's position in the annals of English drama must remain indeterminate. One tradition holds that Ford should be deemed high priest of decadence, an example par excellence of Elizabethan dramatic decline. Thus William Hazlitt, probably the immediate father of this tenacious tradition, accuses Ford of playing with “edged tools” and knowing the use of “poisoned weapons,”6 an accusation which later crystallized into an unyielding dogma of Ford's degenerate place in the drama. A second tradition, perhaps born of Charles Lamb's sincere praise, argues that Ford stands as a prophet of modern times, foreseeing contemporary values and problems. Thus Emil Koeppel finds The Broken Heart expressing “ein ganz moderner Gedankengang,”7 and one recent critic feels that “in this age we are in outlook nearer to Ford than the generations of the intervening centuries.”8

Little commentary lies completely outside these two main traditions. Sometimes one tradition wholly dominates a critical estimate of Ford, sometimes the other. Moody and Lovett, for example, in their History of English Literature, adhere solely to the opinion that Ford was of the decadence:

But while his work shows no sign of degeneration in respect to form, his deliberate turning away from the healthy and normal in human life, and the strange morbid melancholy which shadows his work, betray very plainly that he is of the decadence.9

On the other hand, John Buchan, in his History of English Literature, extols Ford's modernity:

Ford is the most modern of the Elizabethans. He studied the springs of action, and as the exponent of the naked human soul is akin in his subtle analysis to Stendhal, Flaubert, and the Goncourts.10

More often, however, these two traditions appear vaguely joined and thus present a confused clash of critical opinion. Stuart Sherman, cognizant of this confused clash, made an adroit though none too successful attempt to reconcile the two by portraying Ford as a propounder of social dilemmas and problems which, because they appear familiar to contemporary minds, seem modern but which, because they hastened the dissolution of Renaissance custom and law, may be considered to have nourished the germs of decadence. Thus Stuart Sherman contends that The Broken Heart enjoys the unique distinction of being the first problem play in English; but he hastens to add that, since this play subtly attacks the established ethical order, it therefore contributed to the decline of the drama:

It is the forerunner of a long line of modern plays which attack from many different approaches the same problem. We cannot, to-day, call it decadent work, because the ideas involved are now familiar and old; our liberal divorce courts deal with the situation as a part of their business in the existing order. But we must remember that not Shakespeare, nor Jonson, nor Dekker, nor Webster had ever presented the problem of the Broken Heart.11

This crumbling and dissolution of the established order seems to me the proper meaning to attach to the term decadence.12

In short, from a Renaissance point of view Ford may be judged decadent because he helped dissolve the existing Renaissance order; but in contemporary eyes he stands as a modern because of his very rebellion. Now, such adroitness in criticism may be admirable; unfortunately, however, it still leaves Ford in an uncertain position. For calling Ford's revolt against the existing order both decadent and modern is a juggling of terms which gives rise to even further confusion.

Thus whether John Ford is high priest of decadence or prophet of a modern world is a critical problem yet unsolved. He may be both; but this hardly implies, as Stuart Sherman contends, that prophet and priest mean the same. Rather, it may indicate that his decadence is one thing, his modernity another; and that the confusion which hangs over Ford's place in the drama is a result of not recognizing the difference between them. A further separation of these two main traditions may reveal a sharp difference between prophet and priest and in so doing may indicate the procedure necessary for clarifying Ford's place in the annals of English drama.


The tradition which claims that Ford should be recorded as the high priest of decadence bestows upon him this title because of his sins of excess. Without a single dissent, critics in this tradition agree that Ford's comedy sinks to a depth of innuendo and filth which earlier playwrights had not dared to plumb. Thus Professor Neilson, in his comparison of Ford's comedy with that of earlier writers of similar rank, concludes that Ford's plays should be judged the lowest:

Finally, in his attempts at comedy, Ford sinks to a lower level than any dramatist of his class, and his farce lacks the justification of much of the coarse buffoonery of his predecessors. It is not realistic; it is not the expression of high spirits; it is a perfunctory attempt to season tragedy and romance with an admixture of rubbish, without humour and without joy.13

Moreover, Ford's tragedy, upon which his fame as a dramatist rests, receives the same acrimonious censure. Commentary usually agrees that Ford pandered to an audience growing jaded and tired, and that he heaped horror upon horror until no scene, however bloody, could further bead the brow or prickle the spine. It also contends that both his romance and his tragedy not only abound in scenes of eroticism and of lecherous intent but also attempt to arouse sexual passion for the sake of passion alone. A few comments from well-known critics of drama will illustrate these traditional notions. Professor Thorndike, in his study of the nature and function of tragedy, charges that Ford exhibits decadent excesses similar to the worst of Fletcher and Shirley:

His absorption with questions of sex, his searching for new sensation, his attempt to bestow on moral perversion the enticements of poetry correspond with what is most decadent in Fletcher and Shirley.14

Professor Schelling speaks more fully to the same point:

There is little question that as the age went on it demanded a stronger sensational diet and it was here that it found what it craved, not only by robustly heaping together horror upon horror but by, what was far worse, a pandering, in the brilliant but, some of them, degenerate plays of Ford, to a pruriency of taste which the cleaner age of Shakespeare had not known.15

So strong is the notion that Ford plumbed the depths of dramatic crime to an extent unequaled by men of his age that Professor Tucker Brooke states unequivocally that after him no playwright could hope to attract further attention:

After Ford, there was no psychological abnormality, no imaginable depth of misery or excess of half-crazed passion, which could stimulate any longer dramatic attention.16

Proponents of this tradition tend to exaggerate the extent of Ford's crimes; yet that Ford was decadent in this comparative sense is certain and clear. His comedies teem with the cheapest of wit; his tragedies equal and possibly excel in sensationalism those of John Webster and James Shirley. His principal characters, tortured with burning desires, whisper lecherous pleas and utter arguments for clandestine love which exceed in prurience some of the most erotic scenes in the plays of John Fletcher. Held up in this manner for comparison with men of his age, Ford clearly displays those dramatic sins of excess which common consent agrees to have forwarded dramatic decay; and for this reason alone, as tradition insists, Ford may rightly bear his title of high priest of decadence. So clear is this title for the reasons just given that no further questions arise.

The tradition which deems Ford a modern prophet, however, is neither clear nor explicit. Critics in this tradition associate him with modern thought; yet their reasons for so doing are general if not downright vague. Havelock Ellis, for instance, considers Ford “the most modern of the tribe to whom he belonged”; then he goes on to say:

He was an analyst; he strained the limits of his art to the utmost; he foreboded new ways of expression. Thus he is less nearly related to the men who wrote Othello, and A Woman killed with Kindness, and Valentinian, than to those poets and artists of the naked human soul, the writer of Le Rouge et le Noir, and the yet greater writer of Madame Bovary.17

To say that Ford is more closely related to Flaubert than to Shakespeare, or that he strains the limits of his art and forebodes new ways of expression, is not to make clear those specific qualities of mind which associate Ford with modern thought. Moreover, other critics show the same vague approach:

['Tis Pity She's a Whore] is modern in feeling rather than for all time; it is not the ice-cold words of Hamlet and the Gravedigger that we hear, but something very much nearer to ourselves, that appeals especially to us, as we stand to-day perhaps, who knows, on the verge of a new age of faith.18

To leave Ford's modernity thus in the realm of “feeling” may satisfy an occultist; but a mundane scholar, seeking to discover the cast of Ford's thought, may modestly ask what this feeling is, particularly if it is related to a new age of faith upon whose verge we now stand. In short, from Charles Lamb, who extolled Ford for pursuing a “right line even in obliquity,” to John Buchan, who called him the “most modern of the Elizabethans,” critics have associated Ford with modern faiths and beliefs; but they have neither made that association clear nor defined the specific faiths which allow him to claim his title of prophet.

Thus, although Ford has been accorded two definite titles during the last century of criticism, only one has been clearly bestowed. Melodrama, sensationalism, and dramatic excesses of all kinds undoubtedly make him high priest of decadence; his philosophy of life, as revealed through the dramatic world he created, just as undoubtedly associates him with the mind of modern man. Recognition of this difference between prophet and priest, moreover, clarifies in some measure his anomalous position. But, since critics have yet to define his philosophy, his relation to modern thought and hence his title of prophet remain obscure.


The unquestioned fame of Ford as a poet demands a consideration of his dramatic world and of the philosophy in it so that his title of prophet, and thus his place in the drama, may be clearly established. Such a consideration, however, is beset with many scholarly pitfalls. In the first place, an attempt to discover what Ford really thought is in itself perilous. Other than a few early prose pieces and poems, he left no statement of his philosophy; and what may be inferred from his mature plays is at best only an indication, not a final demonstration, of his faiths and beliefs. Second, an endeavor to characterize the modern mind so that Ford may be held up in comparison to it appears at the outset to be highly presumptuous; for so diverse are human interests today and so complex is modern thought that it is hard to find agreement even among men of similar training and taste. Finally, an effort to relate Ford's faiths to modern thought is at best dubious in that the association is bound to be broad. Yet risks of inference, of oversimplification, and of broad association must be taken not only to reveal Ford's philosophy but also to relate it to modern thought and hence to secure for him his title of prophet.

Perhaps the first logical step in making clear Ford's title of prophet involves describing a few beliefs and dilemmas generally unknown to Renaissance man but considered today as marks of the modern mind. Widely accepted by modern man is the belief that scientific laws determine the course of his life. This belief, which began to affect English thought early in the seventeenth century, sprang from scientific inquiries into the nature of man, grew swiftly through succeeding years, and has become in modern times a fixed habit of mind. This belief has so directed the course of contemporary life that old Renaissance values, such as the idea of retributive justice, for example, in reality no longer obtain. In fact, modern man deliberately seeks the meaning of life, not in a study of morals and ethics, but in the discovery of physical laws; and the result has been that man now observes crime and defection with clinical eyes. Witness, for example, the approach of Havelock Ellis to problems of morals and sex. He, with Bertrand Russell and hosts of like-minded men, convinced that misbehavior is simply behavior, probes conventional sins with an air of detachment similar to that of a mechanic examining a defective machine. As a consequence of this scientific approach, evil loses the appearance of evil, for the very reason that scientifically no evil exists. Whatever else modern man may believe, his conviction that life is determined by amoral forces, with the logical corollary that actions resulting from these amoral forces must themselves be viewed with complete amorality, distinguishes the man of today from his Renaissance ancestor.

A second belief which distinguishes modern man from his Renaissance forebears is his faith in the supreme authority of the individual. This faith is not to be confused with the perennial desire of all humanists for liberty and individual rights; instead, it is to be associated with passionate and often unbridled rebellion. Stemming from the Reformation and growing rapidly during the Renaissance, this faith helped produce religious schism in the seventeenth century, Romanticism in the eighteenth, and “rugged individualism” in the century just past. Wherever found, such individualism expresses a caustic mistrust of institutions and laws; its exponents are always professed rebels. Milton in his pamphleteer years, Rousseau in his Émile, and Byron in his Childe Harold illustrate a cast of mind which modern men now claim for their own. This association of unbridled individualism with modernity may have no logical basis; nevertheless, the association exists. In fact, individualism carried to a degree which would have astonished both Richard Hooker and William Shakespeare is generally considered to be a sign of the modern and emancipated mind.

These two marks of the modern mind—belief in scientific determinism and faith in extreme individualism—will serve to identify Ford with modern thought. This identification, however, may await later analysis. At the present juncture it is more important to explore further the mind of today by examining the dilemmas these faiths have produced in modern writers. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley portrays the clash of old moral laws and new scientific injunctions; in addition, he describes sharp and disturbing dilemmas which arise from these conflicts. In The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot paints the hollow despair that attends the modern faith in individualism. Both authors imply that no matter how much man may wish to guide his course through the world by science or by claims of the ego, old gods and myths arise to prevent him from pursuing a strictly logical path. The modern Samaritan, contrary to what Albert Wiggam in The New Decalogue of Science suggests, cannot pass by on the other side with a clear conscience simply because he is not sure that his oil and wine are free from bacteria; nor can the modern egoist escape the injunctions of the moral world merely because he puts faith in individual whim. Thus, unable to accept wholeheartedly either old moral values or the new commandments of modern faiths, the man of today has reached an ethical impasse.

This ethical impasse has been central in most great English poetry of the last one hundred years. Lord Tennyson, in In Memoriam, shows the problems which arise from the clash between science and inherited religious beliefs; Robert Browning, in The Ring and the Book, reiterates the dilemmas which spring from pressing to a logical extreme the individual's claim against custom and law. Perhaps this ethical impasse has affected the nature and function of tragedy, however, more than the matter of poems. For tragedy no longer means, as of old, man's defeat in a world of retributive justice, where defects of character bring man to his doom; instead, tragedy means recognition of implacable physical laws which run athwart human hopes and ideals. Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck questions the value of traditional virtue by probing it with scientific laws; Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude toys with “scientific” adultery as a cure for Nina's libido, and in addition makes it appear that the individual suffers because he adheres to conventional ethics. In both plays the individual strengthens his case against old human ideals by appealing to facts or methods of science. Sharp dilemmas thus arise, and contemplation of these dilemmas, which admit of no clear-cut resolution, leads to hopeless despair and confusion.

This brief analysis of modern faiths and dilemmas makes no attempt at completeness; its shortcomings are so obvious that apology for it is superfluous. Brief as it is, however, it serves the purpose of this study in that it describes those faiths and dilemmas which not only moved Henrik Ibsen to write Ghosts but also, strange as it seems, motivated John Ford in his most significant plays. Yet that Ford should have foreseen at the close of the Renaissance the dilemmas inherent in modern tragedy is not strange if his plays are viewed with the perspective of his immediate milieu. During his time science took root, flourished apace, and gave rise to a belief later described as scientific determinism; and social and political revolts, which shook the foundations of English institutional life, engendered ideas of liberty and individualism subsequently claimed by modern man. If John Ford absorbed these faiths and ideas and revealed in his tragedies the very dilemmas they later produced in the modern mind, he can be considered a genuine prophet and should therefore be given a new place in the annals of English drama.


  1. Charles Lamb, Specimens of English Dramatic Poets (London, 1854), p. 228.

  2. Algernon Charles Swinburne, Essays and Studies (London, 1875), p. 304.

  3. William Hazlitt, Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (New York, 1849), p. 109.

  4. M. Joan Sargeaunt, John Ford (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1935), p. 187.

  5. Sargeaunt, op. cit., p. 175.

  6. Hazlitt, op. cit., p. 109.

  7. Quellen-Studien zu den Dramen George Chapman's, Philip Massinger's und John Ford's (Strassburg, 1897), p. 175.

  8. Sargeaunt, op. cit., p. 187.

  9. Moody and Lovett, A History of English Literature (Chicago, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918), p. 154.

  10. John Buchan, A History of English Literature (New York, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1929), p. 183.

  11. Stuart Sherman, in John Fordes Dramatische Werke. Materialien zur Kunde des älteren Englischen Dramas (ed. W. Bang, Louvain, 1908), Band XXIII, Introduction, p. xi.

  12. Ibid., p. xviii.

  13. William Allan Neilson, in The Cambridge History of English Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1919), VI, 196. Quoted by special permission of The Macmillan Company, American publishers.

  14. Ashley H. Thorndike, Tragedy (New York, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1908), p. 229.

  15. Felix E. Schelling, Foreign Influences in Elizabethan Plays (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1923), p. 72.

  16. C. F. Tucker Brooke, The Tudor Drama (New York, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1911), p. 446.

  17. Havelock Ellis, John Ford (London, Vizetelly & Co., 1888), p. xvii.

  18. E. H., “John Ford,” The Academy, LX (1901), 430.

Clifford Leech (essay date 1957)

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SOURCE: Leech, Clifford. “Ford and Jacobean Tragedy.” In John Ford and the Drama of His Time, pp. 41-64. London: Chatto & Windus, 1957.

[In the following essay, Leech discusses Ford's drama within the context of Jacobean tragedy, asserting that in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore Ford comes closest to recreating the Jacobean tragic spirit.]

If 'Tis Pity She's a Whore can be described as belonging with the Jacobean tragedies of Shakespeare, Chapman, Webster and Middleton, we must approach it by considering the attitude to the nature of things that underlies those plays. The attitude, of course, will vary to some extent from writer to writer, even from play to play—it would be absurd to equate the dominant feelings and effects of Hamlet, Bussy d'Ambois and Women Beware Women—yet it is possible to speak in general terms that have a validity for the whole body of major tragic writing in the earliest years of the seventeenth century. Basically, then, this drama is characterized by an intellectual tension. On the one side there is a feeling of exaltation in the nature of man, a delight in his dominance among created things, in his ambitions and his potentialities, his daring, his readiness to assume responsibility for the pattern of his life, his capacity for love and understanding; on the other side there is a recognition of the limitations of man's power, his isolation in the universe, the isolation among his fellows that great gifts or unusual ambition or the inheritance of high place inevitably brings, the death that must come at the end. The Elizabethans and Jacobeans were not anti-Christian when they wrote tragedy, but they were concerned with a phase of human life that began with the establishment of a perilous situation and that ended with the hero's death. They were not, during the time of composition, concerned with what might follow. At the end of Hamlet we have a perfunctory prayer that flights of angels will sing the Prince to his rest, and perhaps Shakespeare believed that a man who behaved as Macbeth did would go to hell. But when we see the plays we are not comforted by the thought of Hamlet among the blessed, or amended in our conduct by the thought of Macbeth's damnation. The ultimate concern in Hamlet is for the Prince's earthly reputation, and any celestial addition to Macbeth's sufferings, to us idle and revolting, is not explicitly affirmed in the play. In the tragedies of Chapman the indifference to the Christian scheme is more overt: for him, as for Shakespeare, there may be a world of ghosts and devils that can exercise some influence on human action, but that world is important only for its relation to the span of human life.

But, though these writers were not anti-Christian in their intent, neither were they giving us mere intellectual exercises of an ‘as if’ type. They were not saying, in effect, that if we were to disregard revelation this is how the world would look. Professor John Danby in his perceptive study of Antony and Cleopatra has indeed suggested that this was the case when Shakespeare wrote that play.1 But Antony and Cleopatra, like all the major tragedies of its time, seems a much more personal thing than that interpretation would suggest. If the human situation is looked at without thought for an ultimate, supra-terrestrial setting of things to rights, it is inevitable that there should exist in the mind some feeling of resentment. This may be strong, as it surely is in Marlowe and Chapman, or subdued, as it generally appears in Shakespeare—largely perhaps because Shakespeare's interest in human characters as individuals was so strong as often to dominate his field of attention—but it is never wholly absent from Jacobean tragedy. As we see the tragic loading of the bed in Othello and contemplate without joy the torture which is to be Iago's, as the dead bodies of Lear and Cordelia are carried away, as Macbeth is reduced to the condition of the baited bear, we cannot feel other than at odds with the great scheme of things in which these events occur.

But resentment against the scheme of things implies a measure of anthropomorphism. That perhaps is one reason why tragedy has become increasingly difficult to write in recent years. There is something of the blasphemous in tragedy and, as G. K. Chesterton once pointed out, you have to be a believer if you are to blaspheme satisfactorily. Thomas Hardy at the end of Tess had to transform his Immanent Will into a President of the Immortals who was heedless and sadistic, but the last paragraph of Tess, eloquent as it is, does not ring true. It is too obviously a contrivance to allow for the expression of a resentment that for Hardy was irrational. But at the beginning of the seventeenth century the situation was different. The tragic writers had enough of Montaigne in them to consider the span of human life on earth as their proper study, and this concentration of interest made them uneasy and rebellious; at the same time the Christian tradition was powerful, and with part of their minds they feared God and were anxious to love him. So the continuing strength of Christian belief gave a special edge to tragic writing of that time, complicating the pride in man with a sense of guilt, leading to a strange alternation of pagan and Christian notions concerning the governance of the universe, and facilitating a convenient personalism in the apprehension of the divine. These complexities come out sharply in Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. The Duchess, a woman for the most part heedless of religion's claims, yet prepares herself for death with a thought of heaven and the humility needed for admission there. Yet, before she has thus achieved a mood of acceptance and submission, she has cursed the stars which she sees as emblems of the cosmic power. Bosola, her pitying tormentor, draws her attention to the ineffectiveness of such curses: ‘Look you,’ he says, ‘the stars shine still.’ She retorts that her curses have a long way to travel. Here we have an indication of the human need, very strong in the tragic dramatist, for the existence of a Being, a Power, who can feel man's resentment. Even after the Duchess has died in Christian humility (though with her last word proudly sent to her murderous brothers), the play has yet its girds at Omnipotence: it is in V, iv, that Bosola exclaims:

We are meerly the starres tennys-balls (strooke, and banded
Which way please them).

So, too, Shakespeare's Lear is full of references to the ‘gods’. In his physical agony Gloucester compares them to wanton boys, later they are for him ‘you ever gentle gods’ as he submits to their will. They are for Edgar and Albany ‘just’ in their punishment of the adulterous Gloucester, the totally evil Goneril and Regan. But their justice is seen as terrible, impersonal, remote. The ultimate wisdom of Shakespeare's tragedy seems to be that our resentment should be kept in its place: love and understanding, repentance and the capacity to endure, are more important things.

If the continuing hold of a Christian cosmology gave a special edge to the tragic feeling, so did the persistence of a Christian ethical scheme. This can be seen most obviously in the complex views of revenge and ambition in the plays of the time. Revenge had always been condemned by the Church and it was manifestly, too, an offence against the social order, a usurpation of authority's privilege. But, like ambition, it gave to a man a sense of being sufficient to himself, as he assumed the right to ‘Be his own carver and cut out his way’2: it was in tune with the Renascence pride of life, delight in individuality. Moreover, the Senecan drama gave a powerful precedent for revenge as a tragic motive and endowed the passion with classic authority. Ambition likewise was encouraged by the condition of flux in political affairs, despite its incompatibility with the traditional belief that each created thing must function within its given orbit, must not of its own will move into another. So the tragedies of the time demand our sympathy for revengers and for ambitious men. Hieronimo and Tamburlaine, Richard III and Marston's Antonio, Hamlet and Macbeth, Tourneur's Vindice and Webster's Vittoria, are human beings who go against the traditional injunctions: some of them are oppressed by a consciousness of the evil in their purpose, others are whole-hearted in their rebellion; but all of them win something of our esteem through their force of personality. Yet in these plays there is sometimes a hint, sometimes a manifest demonstration, that an act of revenge, or of self-aggrandizement, is evil. Kyd's Hieronimo has to pay for his revenge by his own death; Tamburlaine is stricken down at the moment of his greatest blasphemy; Marston's Antonio, having satisfied his father's ghost, enters a monastery; Richard III must experience remorse when his full course of crime is done; Hamlet must die along with Claudius; Macbeth's overthrow is an occasion for national rejoicing; the good Duke who comes to power at the end of The Revenger's Tragedy orders Vindice's execution; Vittoria at her death cries:

                    My greatest sin lay in my blood:
Now my blood pays for it.

Even the dramatists farthest from orthodoxy, Marlowe and Chapman, are aware of the vanity of ambition's prize, the sinking in the scale of being that revenge entails: in them there is a vein of scepticism that runs deep, but they are far from a mere overturning of Christian precepts.

In the tragedies of the time we are also made aware of the nobility of certain characters who straightforwardly exemplify the Christian virtues, from the faithful wife Olympia in Tamburlaine to the saintly Isabella in The White Devil. On the ethical plane, in fact, these plays are more confused than in their cosmology. It is a psychological commonplace that the human mind is capable of holding contrary ideas concerning the nature of a person or thing: in their cosmology the tragic writers exemplify this, never altogether parting company with the Christian scheme though presenting a picture of the world in which it is hardly manifested. But in their notion of virtue there is not so much complexity as blurring. Tamburlaine is implicitly condemned for his violence and the absurdity of his pretensions, while a minor figure like Olympia is wholly praised. Yet Marlowe can share Tamburlaine's aspirations and delight with him in his dreams of power and sensuality, at the same time honouring him for his love of Zenocrate. Shakespeare is not without a sympathetic understanding of Edmund's and Iago's egoism, he can raise awkward questions concerning Macbeth's degree of responsibility; yet there is no doubt that Cordelia, when he remembers her, is his true saint. Indeed, part of the fascination which these Jacobean tragedies hold for us lies in their shifting attitudes. We have the sense of being in a world like the one we have felt on our own pulses—where there is an uncertainty in the basis for judgment, where an ever-resurgent scepticism coexists with an inherited scheme of values. In that world the rebel can exercise a peculiar power over us, can never be quite denied our sympathy, yet can never firmly hold our approval.

But this kind of tragic writing had a comparatively short life in the seventeenth-century theatre. The major plays of Shakespeare, Chapman, Webster and Tourneur came in a very few years at the beginning of the century, and Middleton's The Changeling (c. 1622) has the appearance of a survival into a changed dramatic world. In general, the tragedy of the later Jacobean and the Caroline years gives us something of the impression that Professor Danby associates with Antony and Cleopatra,3 an impression of a deliberate exercise in which there is only fugitive contact with the dramatist's perception of the nature of things. This mere cultivation of the dreadful, carried out with greater or less ingenuity, is illustrated at its best in Shirley's The Cardinal, one of the most skilful pieces of pseudo-tragedy in the Caroline theatre. Shirley knew his predecessors well and in particular had learned much from Shakespeare and Webster: his blank verse, though it tends to diffuseness, is smooth and eloquent; his characters are conceived with an eye to a striking theatrical effect and with some psychological understanding; his plot, though it runs too easily to violence, has a continuous interest. Yet one cannot feel that this play has much existence outside the theatre for which it was written. Shirley wanted to write a successful tragedy, one that might bear comparison with earlier work, but there was no impulse in him to illustrate general fact. The usually crude statement ‘He wrote from books and not from life’ is applicable enough to Shirley. English tragedy, in fact, from about 1620 to the outbreak of the Civil War was, apart from Ford, to be distinguished from Fletcherian tragi-comedy only in the special character of its thrill.

One cannot give a simple explanation of this change of temper in tragic writing. Partly it comes, perhaps, from the splitting of the theatrical audience into two separate sections from the second decade of the century: neither the populace of the public theatres—for which few important plays were written—nor the sophisticates of the private theatres constituted an appropriate audience for plays of great range of thought, dangerous in their implications. And a struggle was beginning in English society which was ultimately to lead to war. It was not merely a struggle between King and Parliament for political power, though indeed the very notion of such a struggle implied an oversetting of Tudor political orthodoxy. It was also, as Sir Herbert Grierson has called it, a ‘metaphysical’ struggle,4 in which the forces of puritanism were establishing their hold on a great mass of the people while at court the Laudians and the Romanists found themselves speaking with similar tongues. The drama was inevitably on the side opposed to puritanism, and the intimate relations between the private theatres and the court strengthened the players and the playwrights in their adherence to the court party. It is not that they write partisan or propagandist plays, as was to happen in the Restoration theatre: they are indeed quite capable of criticizing the ways of courts, of injecting into their plays sceptical utterances of all sorts. But these thrusts and moments of impatience do not become the dominating impulse in a play. The total effect of the tragedies and tragi-comedies of the time is one of a theatrical excitement which does not reverberate into the universe's dark places. Moreover, I think we must recognize in seventeenth-century English drama a simple exhaustion of the tragic spirit. Shakespeare himself did not continue to write tragedy to the end of his career. He seems to have felt a psychological need for a different approach to the world, and he found it in the final romances. These are serious plays in which the Christian ethical scheme is severely exalted, though perhaps there is rather less of Christian cosmology in them than is generally assumed. They are complicated, because they contain all sorts of echoes of the tragedies, whose world Shakespeare could not at a stroke relinquish, but they are emblematic of a striving towards simplicity, a way of looking at things that will forego at least some of the tragic antitheses. The gods are more personal now, direct manifestations of a Providence that has rewards for its own. Webster's tragedies are later than Shakespeare's, and Middleton's later still, but the tragic impulse does not remain long with either of them. By the end of James's reign the drama had ceased to make hardly endurable demands on the minds of its public.

It was in such a state of affairs that Ford set up as an independent dramatist. Earlier he had been associated with Dekker, in whose work Christian feeling is invariably strong, and Ford's own share in The Witch of Edmonton,The Sun's Darling and, we may believe, The Spanish Gipsy is by no means incompatible with his writing of Christes Bloodie Sweat. But we have noted in his non-dramatic writings a wide-spreading interest in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama: Kyd and Marlowe, Shakespeare and Chapman, all left their casual imprint on his prose and verse. He had, moreover, in Fames Memoriall and Honor Trivmphant, shown his preoccupation with the love of woman and beauty, a preoccupation which he perhaps over-strenuously disowned in Christes Bloodie Sweat:

Loue is no god, as some of wicked times
(Led with the dreaming dotage of their folly)
Haue set him foorth in their lasciuious rimes,
Bewitch'd with errors, and conceits vnholy:
          It is a raging blood affections blind,
          Which boiles both in the body and the mind.

In Honor Trivmphant he displayed a liking for paradox, and in The Golden Meane and A Line of Life his stoicism is presented with little reference to the Christian scheme. A man in whom these contrary impulses could flourish, and who had responded freely to the tragic writing of his youth, should not surprise us if he manages to re-create in one play, perhaps the first that he wrote independently,5 the Jacobean tragic spirit. This indeed is his achievement in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.

Because it is a re-creation we shall find something of strain in it. Ford goes out of his way to shock his audience. Giovanni must not merely rebel, as Bussy d'Ambois does: he must proclaim himself atheist. His love must be not merely illicit, but incestuous. Not only must he kill Annabella, but he must make his last entry on the stage bearing her heart on the end of his dagger. The Jacobean writers had indeed cultivated the horrible and the shocking, needing to jolt an audience accustomed to tragedy, to prevent them from merely recognizing in disaster an old dramatic acquaintance. But there is something ‘operatic’, something in the Fletcherian mode, in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Though when he wrote it he was around forty years of age, Ford shows something of a mere desire to make our flesh creep. That needs to be said, but the criticism does not dispose of the play. The blemish is almost inevitable when a dramatist is working in circumstances of special difficulty, is aware that his audience is hardly to be made to share his view of things. This is indeed frequent in drama, from the Electra of Euripides to the plays of Mr Sartre and the films of Mr Luis Buñuel.

The main action of the play concerns the love of Giovanni and Annabella, a brother and sister. In the first scene Giovanni is confessing his love to the Friar Bonaventura, who is horrified and counsels prayer and fasting. Giovanni is already in a mood to challenge the Church's teaching, yet he agrees to try what the Friar recommends. Next we meet him still consumed with passion, and he brings himself to tell Annabella of his condition. She reveals her own love for him, and for a time they live in secret joy, their relationship known only to the Friar and Annabella's gross servant Putana. Then Annabella is pregnant, and she agrees to marry her suitor Soranzo. He discovers her condition, and attempts to find out the identity of her lover. He treats her brutally, but the secret is safe with her, and she jeers at him and exults in her love—wanting to drive him to the point of killing her. Then, through a trick of Soranzo's servant Vasques, Putana is made to reveal that Giovanni is his sister's lover. Soranzo, planning revenge, invites all the city's nobles to a feast. Giovanni comes early, and Soranzo allows him to visit Annabella. The lovers realize their end must be near: Giovanni kills Annabella, and then comes among the assembly at the feast, proclaiming his love and the murder he has done, and displaying his sister's heart on his dagger. He kills Soranzo and is himself killed by a troupe of banditti whom Soranzo has hired for the achievement of his revenge. The father of the lovers dies of grief and horror, and the Cardinal, who is conveniently present, moralizes the play's ending.

There are two subordinate actions. Soranzo has formerly seduced Hippolita, the wife of Richardetto: she tries to win the help of Vasques, Soranzo's servant, in order to revenge herself on Soranzo; Vasques, however, is loyal to his master, and Hippolita dies by her own poison. Her husband Richardetto is believed to be dead, but he returns to the city in a physician's disguise, accompanied by his niece Philotis: he too plans Soranzo's death, but this leads only to the accidental killing of the comic Bergetto, a suitor of Annabella who has transferred his affections to Philotis. I have already commented on Ford's use of crude comedy to set off the high passion of his chief characters, but the subordinate actions in this play involving Hippolita and Richardetto have an additional function. They make us recognize the moral worthlessness of Soranzo. Otherwise our sympathy might have gone to him, the convenient husband, and away from Giovanni and Annabella. As it is, we care not one jot for his deception, and our sympathy remains with the brother-and-sister lovers. This firm separation of our sympathy from Soranzo is finally ensured when, in V, iv, he permits Giovanni to visit Annabella once more, so that Giovanni may be killed fresh from the committing of sin. Those critics, incidentally, who take Hamlet literally in the prayer-scene should note the effect of this similar passage in Ford's play. Miss Sargeaunt is surely justified in her view that Maeterlinck, in his version of 'Tis Pity, was wrong to excise the Hippolita plot.6 And, though the Bergetto affair is crude, we shall not enter fully into Ford's world unless we see his motive for introducing it, the contrast between the intensity and the reluctance of Giovanni's love and the casualness and easy pleasure of Bergetto's.

What, however, are we to make of the incest-story? In the opening speech of the play the Friar forbids the wanton exploration of heaven's decrees:

Dispute no more in this; for know, young man,
These are no school-points; nice philosophy
May tolerate unlikely arguments,
But Heaven admits no jest; 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 nearest way to hell,
And fill'd the world with devilish atheism.
Such questions, youth, are fond: far better 'tis
To bless the sun than reason why it shines;
Yet He thou talk'st of is above the sun.
No more! I may not hear it.

(I, i.)

Later he admits that, were it not for revelation, there might be something in Giovanni's claims for liberty:

O ignorance in knowledge! Long ago,
How often have I warn'd thee this before!
Indeed, if we were sure there were no Deity,
Nor Heaven nor Hell, then to be led alone
By Nature's light—as were philosophers
Of elder times—might instance some defence.
But 'tis not so: then, madman, thou wilt find
That Nature is in Heaven's positions blind.

(II, v.)

This exclamation has been provoked by an argument of Giovanni's which must remind us of Ford's theses in Honor Trivmphant.7 Here he claims that Annabella's physical beauty implies a beauty of soul and thus a goodness in her love:

Father, in this you are uncharitable;
What I have done I'll prove both fit and good.
It is a principle which you have taught,
When I was yet your scholar, that the frame
And composition of the mind doth follow
The frame and composition of [the] body:
So, where the body's furniture is beauty,
The mind's must needs be virtue; which allow'd,
Virtue itself is reason but refin'd,
And love the quintessence of that: this proves,
My sister's beauty being rarely fair
Is rarely virtuous; chiefly in her love,
And chiefly in that love, her love to me:
If hers to me, then so is mine to her;
Since in like causes are effects alike.

(II, v.)

When the lovers meet for the last time, Annabella is repentant for her sin and anxious to be reconciled to heaven, but Giovanni cannot believe in what ‘the schoolmen’ teach:

Gio. … The schoolmen teach that all this globe of earth
Shall be consum'd to ashes in a minute.
Ann. So I have read too.
Gio.                                                            But 'twere somewhat strange
To see the waters burn: could I believe
This might be true, I could believe as well
There might be hell or heaven.
Ann.                                                            That's most certain.
Gio. A dream, a dream!

(V, v.)

Yet he attempts a compromise before the act of killing her. He hopes for her salvation and for some recognition that their incest may be distinguished from those unjustified by love:

                              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.

(V, v.)

Moreover, Ford repeatedly suggests here the idea of fate, which allows Giovanni no choice but to pursue his illicit love. Thus Giovanni views his situation before he has spoken to Annabella:

Lost! I am lost! my fates have doom'd my death:
The more I strive, I love; the more I love,
The less I hope: I see my ruin certain.
What judgment or endeavours could apply
To my incurable and restless wounds,
I throughly have examin'd, but in vain.
O, that it were not in religion sin
To make our love a god, and worship it!
I have even wearied Heaven with prayers, dried up
The spring of my continual tears, even starv'd
My veins with daily fasts: what wit or art
Could counsel, I have practis'd; but, alas,
I find all these but dreams, and old men's tales,
To fright unsteady youth; I'm still the same:
Or I must speak, or burst. 'Tis not, I know,
My lust, but 'tis my fate that leads me on.

(I, iii.)

Before that he has protested that he will follow the Friar's counsel of prayer and fasting, but if it fails he will know that he cannot free himself from the fate that is on him:

All this I'll do, to free me from the rod
Of vengeance; else I'll swear my fate's my god.

(I, i.)

Yet, when the Friar tries to prevent Giovanni from attending Soranzo's feast, he defies prophecy as Bussy d'Ambois did in Chapman's play when he was warned not to go to his last assignation with his mistress:

Friar. … Be rul'd, you shall not go.
Gio.                                                                                                    Not go! stood Death
Threatening his armies of confounding plagues,
With hosts of dangers hot as blazing stars,
I would be there: not go! yes, and resolve
To strike as deep in slaughter as they all;
For I will go.
          Friar.                    Go where thou wilt: I see
The wildness of thy fate draws to an end,
To a bad fearful end.

(V, iii.)

This, of course, is hubris, but Giovanni's arrogance is at times stronger still. We hear his triumphant words as he listens in the gallery while Soranzo woos Annabella, who is not yet conscious of her pregnancy:

Sor.                              Have you not will to love?
Ann. Not you.
Sor.                                        Whom then?
Ann.                                                                                That's as the fates infer.
Gio. [aside]. Of those I'm regent now.

(III, ii.)

And, seeing Annabella for the last time, he reproaches her for not recognizing the mastery of fate that he believes was almost his:

Thou art a faithless sister, else thou know'st,
Malice, or any treachery beside,
Would stoop to my bent brows: why, I hold fate
Clasp'd in my fist, and could command the course
Of time's eternal motion, hadst thou been
One thought more steady than an ebbing sea.

(V, v.)

So at his last entrance he exults in his anticipation of Soranzo's revenge, his ability, as he sees it, to dominate the course of events:

Sor. But where's my brother Giovanni?
                    Enter Giovanni with a heart upon his dagger.
Gio. Here, here, Soranzo! trimm'd in reeking blood,
That triumphs over death, proud in the spoil
Of love and vengeance! Fate, or all the powers
That guide the motions of immortal souls,
Could not prevent me.

(V, vi.)

From this it is a far cry to Giovanni's earlier belief that his guilt was not his responsibility because fate had decreed it. Like Tamburlaine, he has come to believe, despite the imminence of his destruction, that he holds ‘the Fates bound fast in iron chains’. His arrogance is in sharp contrast to Annabella's passive acceptance of fate's decree as she knows her end near:

Thou, precious Time, that swiftly rid'st in post
Over the world, to finish-up the race
Of my last fate, here stay thy restless course,
And bear to ages that are yet unborn
A wretched, woful woman's tragedy! …
O, Giovanni, that hast had the spoil
Of thine own virtues and my modest fame,
Would thou hadst been less subject to those stars
That luckless reign'd at my nativity!

(V, i.)

The echo of Faustus here8 can hardly be accidental, and it brings with it the notion of a terrified submission. With this we can associate Richardetto's cry when he feels that the dénouement is near: ‘there is One Above begins to work’ (IV, ii).

There can be no doubt that in the planning of this play Ford had Romeo and Juliet in mind. The Friar, Giovanni's confidant, and Putana, the gross ‘tutoress’ of Annabella, manifestly correspond to Friar Lawrence and the Nurse in Shakespeare's tragedy of love. The point is significant, for Shakespeare stressed that his lovers were ‘star-crossed’, were not responsible for the catastrophe that awaited them. Ford, it is evident, sees the love of Giovanni and Annabella as an impulse that drives them to doom. Nevertheless, he sees Giovanni's growing arrogance as at once inevitable, splendid, and culpable.

To an early seventeenth-century tragic writer it is not surprising that a man's conduct should simultaneously present these different facets, and in Ford the opposition of pagan and Christian impulses is stronger than in most. Joined to his admiration for the adventurous Giovanni is the stern piety that had earlier shown itself in Christes Bloodie Sweat. Immediately before her marriage the Friar terrifies Annabella with a threat of hell, and it is in this passage that the play is closest to the poem. Here is the Friar:

Ay, you are wretched, miserably wretched,
Almost condemn'd alive. There is a place,—
List, daughter!—in a black and hollow vault,
Where day is never seen; there shines no sun,
But flaming horror of consuming fires,
A lightless sulphur, chok'd with smoky fogs
Of an infected darkness: in this place
Dwell many thousand thousand sundry sorts
Of never-dying deaths: there damnèd souls
Roar without pity; there are gluttons fed
With toads and adders; there is burning oil
Pour'd down the drunkard's throat; the usurer
Is forc'd to sup whole draughts of molten gold;
There is the murderer for ever stabb'd,
Yet can he never die; there lies the wanton
On racks of burning steel, whiles in his soul
He feels the torment of his ranging lust.
Ann. Mercy! O, mercy!
Friar.                                                  There stand these wretched things
Who have dream'd out whole years in lawless sheets
And secret incests, cursing one another.
Then you will wish each kiss your brother gave
Had been a dagger's point; then you shall hear
How he will cry, ‘O, would my wicked sister
Had first been damn'd, when she did yield to lust!'

(III, vi.)

Ford has achieved an eloquence of speech that was far beyond him a dozen years earlier, when the poem was written. But in devising the Friar's words he must have remembered the vision of hell that he had personally, not dramatically, represented. We cannot doubt that, when he wrote the play, the vision still had validity for him. Here is the poem's version:

Here shall the wantons for a downy bed,
Be rackt on pallets of stil-burning steele:
Here shall the glutton, that hath dayly fed,
On choice of daintie diet, hourely feele
          Worse meat then toads, & beyond time be drencht
          In flames of fire, that neuer shalbe quencht.
Each moment shall the killer, be tormented
With stabbes, that shall not so procure his death:
The drunkard that would neuer be contented
With drinking vp whole flagons at a breath,
          Shalbe deni'd (as he with thirst is stung)
          A drop of water for to coole his tongue.
The mony-hoording Miser in his throat
Shall swallow molten lead: the spruce perfum'd
Shall smell most loathsome brimstone: he who wrote
Soule-killing rimes, shall liuing be consum'd
          By such a gnawing worme, that neuer dies,
          And heare in stead of musicke hellish cries.(9)

At the end of 'Tis Pity the situation is moralized by the Cardinal in sententious couplets, which stand in strong contrast to the last words of Giovanni, finding to the end his idea of heaven in Annabella's love:

                                                                                                                        O, I bleed fast!
Death, thou'rt a guest long look'd for; I embrace
Thee and thy wounds: O, my last minute comes!
Where'er I go, let me enjoy this grace,
Freely to view my Annabella's face.

(V, vi.)

It was at this point, understandably, that Maeterlinck ended his version of the play, but to adapt Ford in this fashion is to conceal his complexity of view. He could at times see Giovanni as not merely arrogant but wholly unscrupulous in his course of evil. When wooing Annabella, he assures her:

I have ask'd counsel of the holy church,
Who tells me I may love you.

(I, iii.)

Yet nothing that the Friar has said to him could be legitimately twisted to mean this. At this moment his wooing becomes seduction.10 Moreover, he administers to us a subtler shock when he claims that his pleasure in lying with Annabella has in no way been diminished since her marriage:

Busy opinion is an idle fool,
That, as a school-rod keeps a child in awe,
Frights th' unexperienc'd temper of the mind:
So did it me, who, ere my precious sister
Was married, thought all taste of love would die
In such a contract; but I find no change
Of pleasure in this formal law of sports.
She is still one to me, and every kiss
As sweet and as delicious as the first
I reap'd, when yet the privilege of youth
Entitled her a virgin.

(V, iii.)

The passage is primarily intended to display Giovanni's condition of hubris, as, near the point of catastrophe, he sets himself up more arrogantly against ‘Busy opinion’ and rejoices in his mastery of pleasure; but also it suggests a coarsening of the character, his deterioration into an intriguer showing itself in his delight in the skill of his deception.11

Yet at the same time it is not merely Giovanni or destiny that is culpable. We have seen that the lovers hold our sympathy as no other character in the play holds it, how Ford takes pains to ensure that we shall waste no regard on Soranzo. And at one moment at least the Cardinal who moralizes the ending comes himself under a critical lash. Grimaldi has mistakenly killed the comic Bergetto and has then taken refuge with the Cardinal, who is his kinsman. When Bergetto's father Donado asks for justice, the Cardinal answers that he has received Grimaldi into the Pope's protection and will not give him up. Donado and his friend Florio protest against this ecclesiastical partiality:

Don. Is this a churchman's voice? dwells justice here?
Flo. Justice is fled to Heaven, and comes no nearer.
Soranzo!—was't for him? O, impudence!
Had he the face to speak it, and not blush?
Come, come, Donado, there's no help in this,
When cardinals think murder's not amiss.
Great men may do their wills, we must obey;
But Heaven will judge them for't another day.

(III, ix.)

So we may remember this when the Cardinal takes it upon himself to re-establish the rule of law at the end of the play, condemning Putana to be burned and declaring, of Annabella, ‘'Tis pity she's a whore.’12

When in this way one analyses Ford's attitude to his characters and their actions, one may feel only that confusion now hath made his masterpiece. But this, as we have seen, is the way of Jacobean tragedy. There is no simple faith in the man who rebels or in the law against which he rebels. There is a strong sense of sin, and of the arrogance that comes on a man as he hardens in sinning; there is a sense that he has had no choice; there is a sense that his fellows are not worthy of judging him. Above all, there is a strong sense of sympathy with the man who is apart from his fellows, making his challenge, facing his end. While we are close to Giovanni, Ford keeps us remote from the cosmic scheme, at whose nature Giovanni or the Friar or the Cardinal may only guess. There is a pattern in things, which leads Giovanni from his first impulse of love for Annabella to his murder of her and his own virtual suicide, but we have only glimpses of what that pattern signifies.

In recent years we have become used to vastly differing interpretations of Shakespeare's major plays. There is a school of critics that sees Othello as winning salvation as he dies, holding Desdemona in a last embrace; there is another school that is sure of his damnation. There are those who see the world as well lost for Antony's and Cleopatra's love, and those who are impressed by the irony of Cleopatra's sensual imaginings of a heaven where Antony is waiting for her kiss or Iras's. It is not surprising, therefore, that 'Tis Pity She's a Whore has similarly lent itself to a diversity of recent interpretation. Professor Sensabaugh sees Giovanni as Ford's sympathetic portrayal of the man who follows, and must follow, his love-impulse, being crushed by a society that will not recognize his need and the inevitability of its assertion.13 Dr Ewing, on the other hand, is willing to dispose of the whole matter by consulting Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and by diagnosing in Giovanni a religious melancholy of the atheistic kind.14 We could not have clearer indications of the danger of interpreting seventeenth-century tragedy either in the light of modern feeling or in the light of its contemporary psychology. According to Professor Sensabaugh,

'Tis Pity She's a Whore … strikes the most decisive blow against the world's moral order. Here no subtle distinctions between whoredom and marriage arise; instead, the play makes an open problem of incest and thus queries the Christian idea of retributive justice.15

Yet we have seen that Ford, as we should indeed expect from his earlier writings, is sharply aware of sin and by no means an active unbeliever in the Christian cosmology. And Dr Ewing's simple diagnosis leaves out of account the impulse to incest that goes along with, and indeed provokes, Giovanni's religious doubts, and the reciprocal love that Annabella feels for her brother. Mr T. S. Eliot has declared Giovanni ‘almost a monster of egotism’ and Annabella ‘virtually a moral defective’.16 To that one might reply that, if the company of monsters of egotism is uncongenial, one had better not read much of seventeenth-century tragedy, and that a sinner who comes to recognize her guilt and to pray for pardon is a moral defective of an unusual kind. Miss Sargeaunt has rightly taken Mr Eliot to task for this exhibition of imperfect sympathy, which is doubtless due to his understandable dislike of the overt expression of moral and cosmic uncertainties. But even she falls into the irrelevant judgment, concerning this brother and sister, that Annabella is ‘the better man of the two’. She praises Annabella's clear-sighted recognition of her guilt in comparison with Giovanni's ‘attempts at a rational justification of their conduct’.17 But this is to give to Ford a sureness of belief that the play hardly warrants, and it runs counter to our deep involvement with Giovanni and the strong sympathy that both he and Annabella successfully demand.

Certainly we can make a distinction between them. For Giovanni we feel that ‘admiration’, in both senses, that normally constitutes part of our response to the Jacobean hero. Professor Davril expresses the wish that he had stabbed himself immediately after despatching his sister,18 but this character is not one born to acquiesce: like Macbeth, like Bussy, he can take heart from a last confrontation of his enemies, and he perhaps outgoes precedent in the enjoyment of his last triumph. The conception of the hero and the violent course of action into which he enters constitute, in fact, the surest link between this play and the tragedies of Ford's predecessors, while Annabella belongs rather with the heroines of the plays that were to come. She has a close kinship with Bianca in Love's Sacrifice, who similarly falls into an illicit love-relationship and mocks at her husband in order to provoke her own death. And Annabella's final acquiescence in the march of events is characteristic of all Ford's heroines. She has not the strong individuality that characterizes her brother: she is nearer the dramatic symbol of error and suffering quietly borne. It is of her, not of Giovanni, that Maeterlinck speaks when, in the preface to his version of the play, he declares that Ford achieves a vision of the undifferentiated human soul:

Ford est descendu plus avant dans les ténèbres de la vie intérieure et générale. Il est allé jusqu'aux régions où toutes les âmes commencent à se ressembler entre elles parce qu' elles n'empruntent plus que peu de choses aux circonstances, et qu'à measure que l'on descend ou que l'on monte (c'est tout un et il ne s'agit que de dépasser le niveau de la vie aveugle et ordinaire) on s'approche de la grande source profonde, incolore, uniforme et commune de l'âme humaine.19

In conformity with this, and in contrast to her brother, Annabella has a discretion and gravity of speech, she can give a Racine-like eloquence to the simplest words:

Brother, dear brother, know what I have been,
And know that now there's but a dining-time
'Twixt us and our confusion.

(V, v.)

She uses the term of family relationship, ‘brother’, by which she has thought of Giovanni for a longer time than their illicit love has endured; the simple reference to ‘a dining-time’ gives an immediacy, an association with a life we know, to her quiet and controlled speech20; the word ‘confusion’ is restrained and generalized, yet ultimate. This is the accent of Calantha in The Broken Heart when she recalled how ‘one news straight came huddling on another Of death! and death! and death!’ If we take Ford's dramas as a whole, it is his women rather than his men that remain in our minds. Giovanni, like the play he dominates, is something of a stranger in that world. But that does not diminish either his stature or that of this last, belated Jacobean tragedy.


  1. Poets on Fortune's Hill, 1952, pp. 149-50.

  2. Richard II, II, iii, 144.

  3. See above, p. 42.

  4. Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century: Donne to Butler, edited by Herbert J. C. Grierson, 1921, p. lviii.

  5. The dedication describes the play as ‘these first fruits of my leisure’. G. E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, iii, 463-4, is unconvinced by this evidence, and certainly it is not to be relied on.

  6. Sargeaunt, p. 108.

  7. See above.

  8. ‘You stars that reigned at my nativity’ (Faustus, V, ii).

  9. Two misprints are silently corrected here.

  10. Oliver, p. 89, has attempted to justify his words, suggesting that ‘the Friar's failure to prove a case against him is to Giovanni equivalent to condonation’. But Giovanni had surely been taught to distinguish better than this.

  11. This passage was a source of bewilderment to Jacques du Tillet in his review of the performance of Maeterlinck's version (Revue Bleue, 4e Série, ii (1894), 633-6).

  12. Mary E. Cocknower, ‘John Ford’ (Seventeenth Century Studies by Members of the Graduate School, University of Cincinnati, Princeton, 1933, pp. 211-12), has suggested that the Cardinal's prompt confiscation of ‘all the gold and jewels, or whatever, … to the pope's proper use’ (V, vi) has a satiric tinge. If so—and it seems not unlikely—this would strengthen the audience's imperfection of sympathy with the Cardinal's judgment of Annabella.

  13. Sensabaugh, pp. 171-3, 186-8.

  14. Ewing, pp. 71-6.

  15. Sensabaugh, p. 186.

  16. Selected Essays, 1932, p. 198.

  17. Sargeaunt, p. 186.

  18. Davril, p. 299.

  19. Annabella, pp. xii-xiii. U. M. Ellis-Fermor, The Jacobean Drama, 1936, p. 228, has similarly found the secret of Ford's universality ‘in the knowledge of the ultimate oneness of the roots of human feeling and experience to which his concentration upon a few processes of the mind has led him’.

  20. As noted in Gifford-Dyce, i, 198, there is a variant reading ‘dying time’. This does, of course, make good sense, but Annabella's reference, later in the same speech, to the coming banquet as ‘an harbinger of death To you and me’ strengthens the case for reading ‘dining-time’.

Donald K. Anderson, Jr. (essay date 1960)

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SOURCE: Anderson, Donald K. Jr. “Kingship in Ford's Perkin Warbeck.ELH, 27, No. 3 (September, 1960): 177-93.

[In the following essay, Anderson argues that Perkin Warbeck presents a lesson in kingship, where the character of Henry VII represents the ideal ruler.]

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 Warbeck1 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.2 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,3 but there is evidence that 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 encourage the audience to unsympathetic prejudgment of Warbeck and James. Warbeck is termed an impostor by Henry (I. 104-126),4 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 / Iust 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.5 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:

But Surrey,
Wee haue imployment of more toyle for thee!
For our intelligence comes swiftly to vs,
That Iames 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 Norham. …
Surrey shall follow soone, with such an Armie,
As may relieue the Bishop.

(II. 269-281)

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 marauding forces (III. 373), his efforts seem doubly futile: Henry has both foreseen 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 wider
Then his weake armes can tugge with; Surrey henceforth
Your King may raigne in quiet: turmoyles past
Like some vnquiet dreame, haue rather busied
Our fansie, then affrighted rest of State.

(V. 115-123)

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 Exter (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.6 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 tryall of the wrongs they felt,
Both fought, and found supplyes, from forraigne Kings
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.

(II. 17-33)

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 emphasized 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, carefull 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.

(III. 439-446)

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 liues, our Land hath evidenc't,
How much wee haue engag'd on your behalfe:
How triviall, 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.

(IV. 244-255)

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 Iames 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 truth,
'A studies to be wise betimes.

(V. 124-133)7

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 counsell, 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.”

(IV. 497-514)

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.8 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 runne 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.

(IV. 142-150)

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.9 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 everfavorable 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.

(XI, 357-358)10

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.

(XI, 363-364)

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.11

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 fifth-act 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).12 And the historians are not alone in this respect.13 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.14 The rest of the historians, as well as other writers, are divided, some charging avarice and some admiring monetary gains.15

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 writers16 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, intelligencers 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.17

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.18 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.19 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 Iames of Scotland,
Will proue, what courage neede, and want, can nourish
Without the foode of fit supplyes.

(III. 27-32)

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 undeserving 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.

(IV. 398-406)

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.20

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, p. 53)

Bacon has the same viewpoint,21 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?” (p. 33).

This interpretation of Perkin Warbeck is open to question.22 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.23 Also uncertain is Ford's relationship with the Middle Temple during his dramatic career; aside from several dedications and commendatory verses in his plays,24 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,25 would submit a play attacking Charles to a lord so openly seeking royal favor.26

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.27 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.28 One should also recall Ford's earlier A Line of Life, which praises James I as a peacemaker.29

The question of a more specific allusion in Perkin Warbeck 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.30 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,31 who involves James IV in futile fighting and expenditures.32 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. Furthermore, the topic of a fallen prince was a popular one, so presumably familiar to both playwrights.33

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 Gainsford. 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.


  1. Of help to the reader may be the following summary of Bacon's account of the Warbeck episode in his History of the Reign of King Henry VII, Ford's chief source: Perkin Warbeck, a comely and clever Flemish youth, claims he is Richard Duke of York, second son of Edward IV, and hence the rightful king of England. One of his English supporters, Sir William Stanley (Henry's Lord Chamberlain), confesses treason and is executed. Warbeck, abandoning an invasion of Kent when finding the subjects loyal, goes to Scotland, where he is accepted as Richard by James IV and marries Katherine Gordon. James and Warbeck make an incursion into Northumberland but withdraw when no Englishmen support Warbeck. The Cornish rebel over Henry's taxes; Henry defeats them at Blackheath. James makes a second border raid but retires when Surrey comes to the aid of Durham. When James and Henry agree to a truce, James dismisses Warbeck, who invades England, besieges Exeter, flees to sanctuary, and is captured. Trying to escape from prison, Warbeck is caught and executed. See The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, Robert L. Ellis, and Douglas D. Heath (Boston, 1857-1864), XI, 199-305.

  2. Scholars denying political emphasis in Perkin Warbeck are Ashley H. Thorndike, Tragedy (Boston, 1908), p. 227; Felix E. Schelling, Typical Elizabethan Plays (New York, 1928), p. 672; M. Joan Sargeaunt, John Ford (Oxford, 1935), p. 69; and Lord David Cecil, The Fine Art of Reading (Indianapolis, 1957), pp. 115-116. Those affirming it are Mildred C. Struble, A Critical Edition of Ford's Perkin Warbeck (Seattle, 1926), pp. 30-37; Henry W. Wells, Elizabethan and Jacobean Playwrights New York, 1939), p. 106; U. M. Ellis-Fermor, The Jacobean Drama (London, 1936), p. 233; Robert Davril, Le Drame de John Ford (Paris, 1954), p. 378; and Irving Ribner, The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare (Princeton, 1957), pp. 299-305.

  3. Struble, p. 33, and Ribner, p. 302. Ribner cites Struble and agrees with her.

  4. This and all subsequent references to Perkin Warbeck are from Struble's edition.

  5. See, for example, Bacon, XI, 264 and 275.

  6. No historian presents the overbearing king of Ford's play. Vergil, Halle, Holinshed, and Bacon admit of alternatives: either James was deceived or he feigned belief as a pretext to war on Henry. Buchanan and Gainsford state that James's advisers first advocated aid to Warbeck and that the king merely voted along with them. See Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia, ed. and trans. Denys Hay (London, 1950), p. 87; Edward Halle, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York (London, 1550), xxxix; Raphael Holinshed, Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1808), III, 463; Bacon, XI, 249; George Buchanan, History of Scotland (London, 1733), II, 105; and Thomas Gainsford, The True and Wonderful History of Perkin Warbeck (appendix to Struble's edition of Perkin Warbeck), p. 191.

  7. In Bacon (XI, 279-280) this refusal to make restitution is attributed to the Scottish commissioners, not to James.

  8. Ford introduces these advisers into the story much earlier than do Bacon and Gainsford, his two principal sources, who first mention them after Warbeck has left Scotland.

  9. For Ford's use of Gainsford, see Struble, “The Indebtedness of Ford to Gainsford,” Anglia, XLIX (1924), 80-91, and E. Koeppel, Quellen-Studien zu den Dramen Chapman's Massinger's und J. F.'s (Strassburg, 1897), p. 189.

  10. Bacon also implies avarice in Henry's subsidies from Parliament in connection with the border raids of James and Warbeck: “His wars were always to him as a mine of treasure of a strange kind of ore; iron at the top, and gold and silver at the bottom” (XI, 263).

  11. Gainsford, Trus History of the Earl of Tyrone (London, 1619), Introduction, p. 4. See also John J. O'Connor, “A Lost Play of Perkin Warbeck,” MLN, LXX (December, 1955), 566. There is no indication that Ford knew this drama. No evidence suggests that it was ever printed, but Ford might have seen it acted. There is always the chance that Ford had a manuscript, that a friend wrote the lost play, or that Ford himself wrote it. On the other hand, his presence in London does not prove that he saw the play. About the content of the lost work, we know only what Gainsford tells us.

  12. Andre calls him “sapientissimus”; Vergil, “wise and prudent” (p. 145). Halle entitles his section on Henry's reign “the politike gouernance” (Introduction); Holinshed praises him for his “politike prouision” (III, 542). For Bernard Andre, see Memorials of King Henry the Seventh, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1858), p. 74.

  13. Elyot (1531) praises him at length for his “circumspection,” Davies (1603) refers to him as “England's Salomon” and “spectacle of Kingly providence,” and Raleigh (1614) states that he “always weighted his undertakings by his abilities; leaving nothing more to hazard than so much as cannot be denied it in all human actions.” See Sir Thomas Elyot, The Governour, ed. Ernest Rhys (London, 1907), p. 101; Sir John Davies, Microcosmus (London, 1603), p. 152; and Sir Walter Raleigh, The History of the World (London, 1687), I, xiv.

  14. See Vergil, p. 145, and Halle, lxi.

  15. Among the chroniclers, Holinshed is favorable (III, 542); Speed, critical. Among the other writers, Warner and Taylor charge avarice but Spenser is complimentary. Aleyn, writing several years after Ford, admits that Henry's desire for money was “the noted blemish of his time” but argues that the king saw “the Exigents / The want of Treasure, brought some Princes to, / And taught himselfe by these experiements / The danger to be unprovided so.” See John Speed, The History of Great Britaine (London, 1623). p. 740; William Warner, Albions England (London, 1602), p. 186; John Taylor, The Workes of John Taylor, the Water-Poet (London, 1630), p. 315; Edmund Spenser, Faerie Queene, II.10.75, lines 1-5; and Charles Aleyn, The Historie of Henrie the Seventh (London, 1638), p. 149.

  16. Among the authorities cited—usually for short quotations—are Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Pliny, Plutarch, Seneca, and Horace. Seneca and Pliny are used more frequently, and the former's dictum “Let a publike man rejoyce in the true pleasures of a constant resolution” could be taken as the theme of Ford's pamphlet. See Ford, Honour Triumphant; and A Line of Life, reprinted from the original copies published in 1606 and 1620 (London: Printed for the Shakespeare Society, 1843), p. 48.

  17. This similarity between Henry VII and James I is noted in 1621 by William Slatyer, who refers to James as “Jacobus, of him a plant of that pacifique Oliue, fortunate Peace-maker, of famous memorie HENRY the seuenth; now anew also planting peace, and vniting foure Kingdomes” and dedicates his book to “Potentissimo, simvlac serenissimo Iacobo.” See The History of Great Britaine (London, 1621), iii.

  18. The number and variety of these treatises were considerable. Gilbert estimates, “Between the years 800 and 1700 there were accessible some thousand books and large, easily distinguished sections of books telling the king how to conduct himself.” See Allan H. Gilbert, Machiavelli's Prince and Its Forerunners (Durham, North Carolina, 1938), p. 4.

  19. There is a similarity between Ford's idealization of Henry and the chapter headings used by the writers de regimine principum. The following comparison of Erasmus and Machiavelli is offered by Gilbert (p. 15) to illustrate the traditional nature of these headings: Erasmus's are “On the prince's avoidance of flattery,” “On taxes and exactions,” “On the good deeds of the prince,” “On magistrates and their duties,” and “On treaties”; Machiavelli's are “In what way flatterers are to be escaped,” “On liberality and parsimony,” “What a prince should do that he may be held excellent,” “On those things because of which men and especially princes are praised or blamed,” “On those whom princes choose as secretaries,” and “In what way faith is kept by princes.”

  20. In regard to money, James I, in his Basilicon Doron, states, “Before ye take on warre, play the wise Kings part described by Christ; foreseeing how ye may beare it out with all necessarie prouision: especially remember, that money is Neruus belli”; Erasmus, “The most desirable way of increasing the revenue is to cut off the worse than useless extravagances, to abolish the idle ministries, and to avoid wars and long travels.” Machiavelli says that the prudent prince will not object to being called miserly, for eventually he will be thought more liberal when it is seen that by his parsimony he has acquired sufficient revenue. As for counsel, Machiavelli believes that a prince should consult his advisers about everything (Ch. XXIII, p. 80); Raleigh, in his Maxims of State, says that two eyes are better than one and that a king should “not lean overmuch to his own advice”; and Bacon, in his essay “Of Counsel” (XII, 146), states, “The wisest princes need not think it any diminution to their greatness, or derogation to their sufficiency, to rely on counsel.” See James I, The Political Works of James I, ed. C. H. McIlwain (Cambridge, Mass., 1918), p. 29; Desiderius Erasmus, The Education of a Christian Prince, ed. and trans. Lester K. Born (New York, 1936), pp. 215-216; Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Ninian H. Thomson (New York, 1910), Ch. XVI, p. 55; Raleigh, Remains of Sr. Walter Raleigh (London, 1675), p. 32.

  21. Bacon was familiar with Machiavelli's writings; he refers to them five times in his Advancement of Learning and four times in his essays. Raleigh in Maxims of State and Aleyn in The Historie of Henrie the Seventh also cite Machiavelli.

  22. Bentley disagrees with Struble on this point: “This [Struble's] contention is wholly unjustified by the evidence cited from the play and most improbable in the light of the recorded actions of Sir Henry Herbert, of the licensers for the press, and of the attitude of Ford and his friend James Shirley to the reforming lawyer, William Prynne, as set forth in 1632/33 in the front matter for Love's Sacrifice.” See Gerald E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage (Oxford, 1941-1956), III, 455. Bentley is here referring to Ford's censure of those who “dote on their own singularity” and to Shirley's castigation of one “‘voluminously’—ignorant” for his “impudence” and “malice to the Stage.”

  23. Such a reason for this masque is given by Whitelocke, who in 1628 was chosen master of the revels and treasurer of the Middle Temple: “This [the giving of the masque] was hinted at in the court, and by them intimated to the chief of these societies [the four Inns], that it would be well taken from them, and some held it the more seasonable, because this action would manifest the difference of their opinion from Mr. Prynne's new learning, and serve to confute his Histrio-Mastix.” See Bulstrode Whitelocke, Memorials (London, 1853), I, 53.

  24. Edward Greenfield addresses his commendatory verses for The Fancies Chaste and Noble to “Master John Ford, of the Middle Temple”; Ford dedicates The Lover's Melancholy to, among others, “all the rest of the noble society of Gray's Inn” and dedicates Love's Sacrifice to “my worthiest kinsman, John Ford, of Gray's Inn, Esq.”

  25. Famous authors who enjoyed the patronage of Newcastle were Jonson, Shirley, and Hobbes. See Henry Ten Eyck Perry, The First Duchess of Newcastle and Her Husband as Figures in Literary History (Boston, 1918), pp. 89, 95, and 100.

  26. Newcastle's goal was the highly coveted post of tutor to Prince Charles, a position that he finally obtained on March 19, 1637/1638 (Perry, p. 18).

  27. Whitelocke states (I, 64-65) that in 1634 Chancellor Oxenstierne of Sweden sent his son, “Grave John,” as ambassador to England. “But [the latter] was … so unworthily slighted in our Court who were not willing to give any assistance to the prince elector against the emperor, that in great distaste, Grave John … went away in discontent from England, and neither he nor his father nor family were friends to our king after this affront put upon; which I have cause to know.”

  28. Searching for contemporary allusion in literature is always precarious. Hence it is not idle to cite an undeniable instance of it in Stuart drama: Middleton's A Game of Chess (1624), a bold attack on Spain that incurred royal displeasure. This is, of course, no proof that Perkin Warbeck must allude to current events; in fact, one could argue that Ford's knowledge of the king's reaction prompted the playwright to make no allusions whatsoever, or at least favorable rather than unfavorable ones.

  29. An examination of Perkin Warbeck reveals Ford's interest in peace. Peace appears twenty-two times, and over two-thirds of these require the meaning of “friendly international relationship” (I. 13; II. 285; III. 12, 42, 322, and 387; IV. 17, 64, 182, 203, 213, 225, 232, and 255; and V. 124). State, in the abstract sense of “matters of government,” is used four times (II. 406, IV. 254 and 407, and V. 124), amitie is used three times (II. 295, III. 313, and IV. 180), and league is used three times (III. 388 and IV. 180 and 235).

  30. Gardiner believes that the play was the one refused a license by Sir Henry Herbert and that this was done not because, as Herbert records, it contained “dangerous matter, as the deposing of Sebastian, King of Portugal,” but because it pointed to Frederick. Gardiner contends that the actions of Massinger's Antiochus (dismissed by Prusias) are much closer to those of Frederick than to those of Sebastian. See Samuel R. Gardiner, “The Political Element in Massinger,” The Contemporary Review (August, 1876), pp. 495-507.

  31. Frederick had died in 1632, but his supporters continued to press the claim of his son. In the summer of 1633 Nethersole sought to raise money in England for Frederick's widow and children through voluntary contributions. See Gardiner, History of England 1603-1642 (London, 1901-1905), VII, 343.

  32. Any allusion seen in Perkin Warbeck is made more tentative by the uncertain date of its composition. The earliest known edition was printed in 1634, but Ford could have written the play as early as 1622, the year Bacon's History appeared. Granting this possibility, Ford still could be alluding to the Palatinate issue, for it had been a prominent one throughout the 1620's. On the other hand, no evidence proves that he wrote Perkin Warbeck before 1633.

  33. A noteworthy example is Gainsford's True History of the Earl of Tyrone (1619), which has the thesis that there is “no confidence in Princes, further then the reuolts of others may second their own businesse,” for among his illustrations Gainsford includes Warbeck, Sebastian, and Prusias (Introduction, pp. 2-5).

Robert Ornstein (essay date 1960)

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SOURCE: Ornstein, Robert. “John Ford.” In The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy, pp. 200-21. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1960.

[In the following essay, Ornstein examines the moral design of Ford's major tragedies, arguing that they represent a flexible morality which is constantly shaped by the dynamic nature of human relationships.]

Of the tragedies written between 1622 and the close of the theaters, only Ford's rank beside the masterpieces of the first decade. Blessed with the virtues of a constitutional monarch—sobriety, sincerity, and conventionality—Massinger had to be content in tragedy with unsubstantial regal gestures; he could not command the imagination as did the earlier Jacobeans. Shirley's dramatic authority was even more limited; at his best (in The Cardinal) he proves himself a skillful manager of plot. Because Ford had the courage and the will to break new dramatic ground, he was a less consistent and “correct” playwright than they. Yet even when his reach exceeds his grasp, he is indisputably the last of the Jacobeans—the last dramatist to make an original and significant contribution to early seventeenth-century tragedy.

Far more clearly than Middleton's, Ford's tragedies are an aristocratic rather than popular entertainment. His portraits of “noblesse” have a dignity and integrity that are lacking in Beaumont and Fletcher's posturing heroes. His ideals of love, as the date of The Peers' Challenge (1606) indicates, derive from Elizabethan Neoplatonism, not from the witty Petrarchanism of The Maid's Tragedy or The Changeling. Indeed, where Middleton ironically dissects the shams of honor, Ford attempts to recapture its meaning as a guide to the conduct of life. Informed by a courtly (though not always refined) sensibility, his plays are more remote from the actualities and exigencies of Jacobean life than any play we have studied so far. He is interested in the ethical problems that arise when the reality of marriage travesties the ideal, but he is not interested in the immediate social problem of enforced marriages. His plays do not teem with the references to contemporary manners and mores which “English” the Italian tragedies of Tourneur, Webster, and Middleton. He projects the aristocratic values of his age into a storied or aesthetically distanced past, where Friars deliver medieval sermons and brokenhearted lovers express the timeless pathos of willow pattern figures.

How distant Ford's art is from that of the earlier Jacobeans can be measured paradoxically by the extent to which he plagiarizes Shakespeare, a dramatist remote enough from Caroline audiences to provide a source of fresh and original situations.1 Ford's drama is to Shakespeare's and Marlowe's as Euripides' is to Aeschylus' and Sophocles'. His tragic arena is bounded by the conventions of society; his tragic subject is the mystery of the heart. That his drama is more “psychological” than Middleton's, Webster's, Beaumont's, or Shakespeare's is not, however, beyond all dispute. If The Broken Heart seems to lack plot, it is because Ford is more interested in creating a tragic rhythm of lyric feeling than in psychological explorations. Like Aeschylus in the Agamemnon he develops a tragic situation, not a tragic sequence of events; he dramatizes the mounting, unendurable pressure of remembered wrongs that explodes at last in a spasm of violence. In Ford's “Oresteia” (which is set, interestingly enough, in ancient Sparta) familial crime—the sacrifice of a sister to a brother's ambition—is also treacherously revenged and the stain of murder expunged by ritual, through the ceremonious deaths of Orgilus and Calantha. All in all, Ford's psychological interests are as dramatic as Middleton's, and they lead to scenes of confrontation in Love's Sacrifice that are as theatrical as any in The Changeling. If we must blame psychology let it be for the tedious, vulgar subplots which Ford requires to flesh out the narrowly focused emotional dramas of 'Tis Pity and Love's Sacrifice. Or let us say that in Love's Sacrifice Ford, like Middleton, loses interest in his characters before their destinies are consummated because he is concerned only with the psychological drama of their relationships and not with their ability to confront death.

Though Ford departs from the dramatic techniques of the earlier Jacobeans, he also builds upon their achievements. When he attempts to imitate earlier melodrama, his passion is strained and meretricious. When he is content to suggest through stylized utterance the deeprooted passions which previous dramatists had unforgettably depicted, he achieves a unique artistic perfection. It is not accidental that many of the terms applied to Ford's drama are usually reserved for criticism of the plastic or pictorial arts, for in his finest plays the sound and fury of melodramatic conflict give way to the relative stasis of ceremonial gesture. Moments of intense feeling are recorded; sensationalism and violence intrude. But the total impression is of a tranquility and delicacy far removed from Webster and Tourneur. The aim in such plays as The Broken Heart and The Lady's Trial is not to hold a mirror up to nature but to capture an ultimate “ritual” expression of love and aristocratic “noblesse.” The protagonists of earlier tragedies were noble in their individuality—in their refusal to bow before circumstances. Ford's most admirable characters, however, seem to lose their individuality at climactic moments. Their nobility in the face of death springs not so much from depth of character as from an aristocratic awareness of the role which they must play—of the need to subordinate all personal feeling. They seem to realize that dying well (like living well) requires art and knowledge. They become, so to speak, artists within a work of art crystallizing through studied attitude the aristocratic values of their society; they make the aesthetic expression of virtue a virtue in itself.

To recognize Ford's method of stylization is perhaps to understand why his attempts at comedy are unsuccessful as well as indecent. His Elizabethan and Jacobean predecessors used clownish simplicity as a ground burden to the sophisticated “divisions” of courtly love. They contrasted the artificial posturings of romantic heroes and heroines against the more realistic (if somewhat burlesqued) affections of maids and servants. Ford's comic characters are also coarser-grained than his heroes, but they are not realistic or satiric social types. They do not bring the sounds and smells of workaday London into the perfumed corridors of Veronese palaces. Instead they are caricatures—at times grotesque ones—of his romantic protagonists. It is as if Ford, knowing the true proportions of his delicate lovers, deliberately distorts them for comic and moral contrasts, to create lewd antimasques to romantic tragedy. The vulgarity of the gutter candidly reported (as in Marston) has at least a natural and earthy vitality. The vulgarity of the boudoir, burlesqued by a writer who had no comic talent, is more often than not simply disgusting.

Earlier dramatists were more uneven in their artistic achievement than Ford, but he alone wrote plays like Love's Sacrifice that are both delicate and gross, finely wrought and carelessly patched together. Only in The Broken Heart does one feel that he perfectly executed his artistic intention. In 'Tis Pity his reach exceeded his grasp; his techniques were not refined enough for the moral and aesthetic complexity of his subject. Although the chronology of Ford's plays remains problemmatical, 'Tis Pity seems to me the earliest of the tragedies.2 Far more successful artistically than Love's Sacrifice, it is notwithstanding less mature in its characterizations and less sophisticated in its themes than the other tragedies. It lacks the concern with aristocratic codes of behavior that marks Ford's later plays and it is the only one which pretends to an ideological significance in the manner of earlier Jacobean plays.

Ford's treatment of incest is the most daring in Jacobean drama, but it is not as unique as critics have made it appear. The debate over nature and moral law in the opening scene of 'Tis Pity recalls similar dialectical moments in the plays of Marston, Tourneur, and Fletcher. In the first speech of the play, the Friar warns his student, Giovanni, against the intellectual subtlety and curiosity that lead men away from God:

Dispute no more in this, for know (young man)
These are no Schoole-points; nice Philosophy
May tolerate unlikely arguments,
But Heaven admits no jest; 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;
And fild the world with develish Atheisme:
Such questions youth are fond; for better 'tis,
To blesse the Sunne, then reason why it shines;
Yet hee thou talk'st of, is above the Sun.(3)

(I. i)

Echoing the quietism of Renaissance apologists, the Friar seems to recall Tourneur's assertion that God is above nature (or the sun). Like D'Amville's, Giovanni's naturalistic atheism has its libertine corollary, and like D'Amville he defends the naturalness of incest against the “customary forme” of moral law:

                                                                                Shall a peevish sound,
A customary forme, from man to man,
Of brother and of sister, be a barre
Twixt my perpetuall happinesse and mee?
Say that we had one father, say one wombe,
(Curse to my ioyes) gave both us 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 hav't,
Even of Religion, to be ever one,
One soule, one flesh, one love, one heart, one All?

(I. i)

The Friar counsels mortification of the flesh and self-abasement, but like earlier Jacobean heroes Giovanni finds that prayers and counsel are futile, that supposed remedies against passion are “but dreames and old mens tales / To fright unsteedy youth.” Convinced that he is fated to love and perish, he dares to reveal his passion to Annabella. When she objects, “You are my brother, Giovanni,” he answers:

                                                                                I know this:
And could afford you instance why to love
So much the more for this; to which intent
Wise Nature first in your Creation ment
To make you mine: else't had beene sinne and foule,
To share one beauty to a double soule.
Neerenesse in birth or blood, doth but perswade
A neerer neerenesse in affection.
I have askt Counsell of the holy Church,
Who tells mee I may love you, and 'tis iust,
That since I may, I should; and will, yes will.

(I. iii)

Up to this point the moral pattern of 'Tis Pity seems almost predictable. The only question would seem to be whether Giovanni will (like Malheureux) renounce his naturalism in time, or (like D'Amville) acknowledge God too late. The deliberate equivocation about the “Counsell of the holy Church” signals a new emphasis in characterization, however—a turning away from ideology to psychology. Intimating the shallowness of Giovanni's atheistic convictions, it prepares us for the casuistry with which he later rationalizes his seduction of Annabella. When the horrified Friar warns of catastrophe, Giovanni replies:

Father, in this you are uncharitable;
What I have done, I'le prove both fit and good.
It is a principall (which you have taught
When I was yet your Scholler) that the Frame
And Composition of the Minde doth follow
The Frame and Composition of 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.

(II. v)

There is no more intellectual seriousness in this “unlikely argument” than in Giovanni's plea to Annabella, only now his improvisation is mocking and exultant. This is high-spirited casuistry for casuistry's sake, an egotistic display of shallow wit. The brilliant young scholar does not really attempt to persuade his teacher; he demonstrates again the jesting arrogance which the Friar earlier condemned by sophisticating Neoplatonic ideas. The horrified Friar does not respond in kind:

O ignorance in knowledge; long agoe,
How often have I warn'd thee this before?
Indeede if we were sure there were no Deity,
Nor Heaven 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 Heavens positions blind.

(II. v)

Strangely enough, the Friar does not attack Giovanni's specious syllogisms. Instead he implies that philosophy and “natural law” support rather than refute Giovanni's arguments. Though an uncompromising defender of religion, the Friar admits what had never before been admitted on the Jacobean stage: namely, that incestuous desire is natural, though forbidden by divine law.

The Friar's reply is of course characteristic of his fideistic viewpoint. It also has a larger significance in relation to Jacobean debate over nature and moral law. The recurrent link between libertine naturalism and incest in Jacobean drama was not fortuitous, because a justification of incest was implicit in the libertine argument for unconfined love and is in fact wittily explicit in Donne's “Elegie XVII.” One footnote to the Friar's speech is provided by François Garasse, who attacks the libertine Vanini for associating with a man who excused some forms of incest:

Le mal-heureux Lucilio Vanino, Atheiste tres-envenimé, tesmoigne en ses Dialogues qu'il a recogneu dans Geneve un Ministre Flamand qui se moquoit de tout ce qu'on appelle scrupule, nommément en matiere de vilainies, & dogmatisoit publiquement dans cette Bethauen, que les incestes en premier & second degré, ne sont pas plus grand peché que les actions iournalieres de boire & manger: Et rendoit une raison du tout horrible, pour laquelle il s'imaginoit que les Loix humaines seulement, & non pas les Ordonnances divines eussent defendu les incestes.4

To Garasse's orthodox mind any defense of incest was a manifest sign of depravity. To more liberal minds, however, the naturalness or unnaturalness of incestuous desire was a more complex matter. Charron, for example, is not convinced that incest is unnatural. Indeed, he cites the prohibition against incest as evidence of the power of custom over natural desire:

But who would beleeve how great and imperious the authoritie of custome is? He that said it was another nature, did not sufficientlie expresse it, for it doth more than nature, it conquereth nature: for hence it is that the most beautiful daughters of men draw not unto love their naturall parents, nor brethren, though excellent in beautie, winne not the love of their sisters. This kind of chastitie is not properly of nature, but of the use of lawes and customes, which forbid them, and make of incest a great sinne. … And it is the law of Moses which forbad it in these first degrees; but it hath also sometimes dispensed therewith. …5

In 1625 Hugo Grotius, the famed authority on ethics, came to a somewhat similar conclusion about incest. Although he refutes moral relativism and presupposes the universality of moral law, he insists upon carefully defining the sanctions for moral precepts. He warns against rashly accounting “among things forbidden by nature, those things which are not manifestly so, and which are forbidden rather by Divine Law: in which rank haply you may put copulations without marriage, and some reputed incests, and usury.”6

The late Renaissance acknowledgment of the naturalness of sexual desire makes comprehensible the Friar's “retreat” to a fideistic position. In his speeches, as in The Atheist's Tragedy, there is a partial acceptance of a naturalistic view of man and the universe. If there were no power superior to nature and no goal in life higher than that of satisfying natural impulses, the Friar concedes, the naturalist's position would be in some respects defensible. But like Tourneur (and like the moral philosophers of the late Renaissance) the Friar insists that a wholly naturalistic view of the universe is incomplete, that nature in “Heavens positions” (i.e., as law-giver) is blind.

The significance of the Friar's answer to Giovanni, then, is not its apparent surrender to libertine sophistry but its calm, assured dismissal of “ignorance in knowledge.” The debate over nature is ended, the naturalistic casuistry which had provoked so many learned and lengthy confutations is now summarily rejected. In fact compared to D'Amville, Giovanni is hardly a dangerous opponent of morality. If nature really is his goddess, she receives scant acknowledgment in his speeches; and although he has a facile wit, he has no ideology that would substitute for traditional ethics. Because his atheism is lacking in conviction he is easily terrified by the Friar's threats of damnation. When he despairs of gaining Annabella he is a frightened child; when his love is fulfilled, he jokes about heaven or hell. All in all, his rebellion is more emotional than intellectual. The once mighty naturalist is now impersonated by an unsteady youth, who scarcely takes his own arguments seriously.

It requires a peculiar insensitivity to the nuances of characterization and verse in 'Tis Pity to treat Giovanni as Ford's spokesman. But it is no less an error to turn Ford into a champion of orthodoxy by identifying him with the Friar, who is, despite his choric role, a somewhat muddled moralist. Unless we understand the Friar's place in Ford's moral design, he must seem an ambiguous character: on the one hand, kind, earnest, and sincere; on the other hand, politic, insensitive, and unscrupulous. The contraditions disappear, however, when we realize that the Friar represents not traditional morality as such but a peculiarly legalistic, authoritarian religious ethic. Preaching sin and damnation, the Friar upholds a moral “ideal” that abases man before the divine will and negates his rational humanistic participation in divine government. When Giovanni first confesses his incestuous desires, the Friar counsels him to

                                                                                                    fall downe
On both thy knees, and grovell on the ground:
Cry to thy heart, wash every word thou utter'st
In teares, (and if't bee possible) of blood:
Begge Heaven 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 every night:
For seven dayes space doe this. …

(I. i)

The suggestion of superstitious, “magical” exorcism is not inappropriate, for the Friar's idea of morality does not rise far above a primitive fear of punishment. His later sermon to Annabella is an exercise in terror:

                                                                                                    … there is a place
(List daughter) in a blacke and hollow Vault,
Where day is never seene; there shines no Sunne,
But flaming horrour of consuming Fires;
A lightlesse Suphure, choakt with smoaky foggs
Of an infected darknesse; in this place
Dwell many thousand, thousand sundry sorts
Of never 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 Usurer
Is forc't to supp whole draughts of molten Gold;
There is the Murtherer for-ever stab'd,
Yet can he never dye; there lies the wanton
On Racks of burning steele, whiles in his soule
Hee feeles the torment of his raging lust.

(III. vi)

The Friar's worldly “realism” does not clash with his other-worldly piety; it is instead a direct consequence of it. His literalistic mind views morality wholly in terms of crime and punishment; he regards sin with the mentality of a criminal lawyer. Deeply attached to Giovanni and Annabella, he would have them, if possible, avoid sin altogether. But if prayers, fasting, and self-mortification are unavailing, then he would have them commit the smallest possible crime and incur the lightest punishment. “Looke through the world,” he advises Giovanni,

And thou shalt see a thousand faces shine
More glorious, then this Idoll thou ador'st:
Leave her, and take thy choyce, 'tis much lesse sinne,
Though in such games as those, they lose that winne.

(I. i)

He is even more politic when he preaches comfort to the remorseful Annabella, who carries Giovanni's child:

… despaire not; Heaven is mercifull,
And offers grace even now; '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.

(III. vi)

The Friar's idea of precedence is disturbing and his conception of heavenly grace ironic, for the deceitful marriage which he advises is neither an effective nor a moral solution. Nevertheless his legalistic mind is working here at full pressure. He does not consider that Annabella's marriage will be unjust to Soranzo and a travesty of the sacrament of wedlock. All that matters to him is that it will construct another legal and moral barrier between the sinning lovers. It succeeds, however, only in dragging Giovanni and Annabella into deeper spiritual and moral degradation.

The opposition between Giovanni and the Friar, then, is not a simple antithesis of sin and piety, darkness and light. Both are insensitive to the ideal claims of morality. The Friar forces Annabella into marriage to save her “honour”; Giovanni murders her to save her “name.” Giovanni rejects morality as “customary forme”; the Friar substitutes the empty “customary forme” of marriage for its true meaning. Giovanni exalts anarchic desire, the immediate sensuous response to beauty that denies all but the present ecstasy. The Friar stands for an ethical code that seems no more than a dread coercion. With the Friar we reject Giovanni's specious rationalizations, but we respond more sympathetically to his lovely description of Annabella.

View well her face, and in that little round,
You may observe a world of variety;
For Colour, lips, for sweet perfumes, her breath;
For Iewels, eyes; for threds of purest gold,
Hayre; for delicious choyce of Flowers, cheekes;
Wonder in every portion of that Throne:
Heare her but speake, and you will sweare the Sphaeres
Make Musicke to the Cittizens in Heaven.

(II. v)

Sweetness and affection hover in these lines; the worn Petrarchan conceits take on fresh beauty and meaning. Here is a love of the flesh that touches the spiritual, an ardor that is unsullied by the courtly sensual wit of Suckling and Carew.

If Ford endows Giovanni (particularly at the beginning of the play) with his own poetic sensibility, he does not apologize for his illicit passion any more than Shakespeare apologizes for Hotspur's rebellion by giving him the most memorable lines in Henry IV. Like Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatra, Ford dares to find beauty, tenderness, and devotion in a forbidden love. Without confusing moral values, he explores the commonplace truth that there are crimes and crimes. There is a difference between Annabella's selfless love, Hippolita's vicious passion, and the disgusting animalism of Putana, who applauds Annabella's submission:

Why now I commend thee (Chardge) feare nothing, (sweete-heart) what though hee be your Brother; your Brother's a man I hope, and I say still, if a young Wench feele the fitt upon her, let her take any body, Father or Brother, all is one.

(II. i)

If it is true, as some critics claim, that Ford believed in an amoral deterministic psychology,7 then it is strange that he should state his “philosophy” in such revolting terms and through so despicable a mouthpiece. While he does not bow to the conventionally moralistic opinion that all illicit desire is sordid, he upholds the more profound truth that submission to illicit passion degrades. In his tragedies he pities lovers who are trapped by circumstances not of their own making—by the accident of their births or of loveless marriages; yet he recognizes full well that it is circumstances that try men's characters and lives. To Ford the romantic defiance of circumstances has a Marlovian beauty, but it is also a symptom of weakness, of an inability to endure misfortune and calamity. Even when Giovanni's affection is relatively innocent, it is incipiently corrupt. He lies to win Annabella, and his love is increasingly warped by the fear and jealousy that shadows its first ecstatic consummation. Because (as he realizes) there can be no lasting fulfillment of their love in marriage, their passion can only defile them as they grow accustomed to the stealthy satisfaction of incestuous and adulterous desire. Before the play ends Annabella is a helpless pawn in the struggle between a jealous lover and a jealous husband, both infatuated with revenge. Soranzo cannot bear the sting of cuckoldry although he seduced Richardetto's wife; Giovanni cannot bear the thought of another man possessing Annabella. Tormented by jealousy and coarsened by stealth, Giovanni's love changes from breathless adoration to insane possessiveness. In the final throes of despairing egoism he comes to believe that Annabella's life literally belongs to him. When their relationship is discovered, he murders her as part of his “revenge” on Soranzo.

Still loving her brother, Annabella feels before she dies the agony of their hopeless existence. And though he remains a defiant atheist, Giovanni eventually admits that the moral law which condemns his love is not simply a “customary forme”:

… if ever after times should heare
Of our fast-knit affections, though perhaps
The Lawes of Conscience and of Civill use
May iustly blame us, yet when they but know
Our loves, That love will wipe away that rigour,
Which would in other Incests bee abhorr'd.

(V. v)

But the moral order which he at last recognizes is far different from the Friar's, for having found damnation on earth, Giovanni does not fear another judgment. Urged by the Cardinal to “thinke on thy life and end, and call for mercy,” he replies: “Mercy? why I have found it in this Iustice.” Death comes to Giovanni as a “guest long look't for”; justice is merciful when it ends an intolerable existence. Thus despite its bloody finale, 'Tis Pity is not haunted by the earlier Jacobean preoccupation with death. It is, like The Broken Heart, a tragedy of spiritual disintegration, of heroes and heroines trapped in a living death which only death can end.

Unlike earlier dramatists Ford does not ponder universal questions. Certain that moral values are constantly reaffirmed by man's experience, he presents the rare individual instance that proves conventional moral generalizations. It is not surprising, however, that some critics have interpreted 'Tis Pity as a decadent apotheosis of passion,8 because Ford does not completely translate his moral vision into effective artifice. His judgment of Giovanni would seem clearer, for example, if there were another moral chorus than the Friar, whose vision remains narrow and prosaic and whose speeches do not impress the imagination as do Giovanni's. Because there does not seem to be any alternative to the Friar's and Giovanni's irreconcilable and unacceptable positions, moral knowledge and poetic intuition do not melt into a single humane, ethical perception. And because Giovanni grows more insensitive to ethical values as the play proceeds, his belated admission of guilt seems almost an afterthought, a sop to Nemesis rather than a final illumination.

It should be Annabella who positively affirms the humanity of moral law and who weds ethical judgment and poetic insight. Possessing a moral sensitivity which Giovanni lacks, she feels the loathsomeness of their sins while he knows only the torments of jealousy. Unfortunately, however, Annabella plays too ambiguous a role in the moral action to serve as an ethical touchstone. At one moment she seems to have risen above carnality; at another moment she seems like Giovanni corrupted by incest and adultery. Now she plays the repentant sinner, now the wanton who brazenly boasts of her lover to her husband. Even when she is conscience-stricken, Giovanni fills her mind. Her nobility lies in the generosity of her love for him, not in a victory over desire.

But the fact that we cannot erase all the ambiguities of 'Tis Pity should not lead us to exaggerate its failings. When we consider the daring of Ford's intention and the difficult problems of moral discrimination which his subject posed, we must admire his achievement. Indeed his boldness should offend only those who are dogmatic in their ethics and who can picture only stereotypes of virtue and vice. If Ford imperfectly executes the moral design of 'Tis Pity, he does not completely obscure it, and we need only turn to The Broken Heart to grasp the ethical viewpoint that does not completely and lucidly emerge from the earlier play.


In contrast to the glowing life and passion of 'Tis Pity,The Broken Heart seems somewhat pale. The violence that erupts in the last act does not so much quicken the dramatic action as add to the hidden soul-destroying burden of silent griefs. An Elizabethan dramatist, one imagines, would have cast The Broken Heart in the romantic mold of Romeo and Juliet. He would have set upon the stage another tale of star-crossed lovers ruined by hostile circumstances. Ford is more interested, however, in emotional reaction than in romantic action. His play begins after the most dramatic incidents of the fable have occurred. He studies, as it were, the aftermath of romantic tragedy, the cumulative shock of misery and frustration on the lives of Penthea, Orgilus, and those who share their unhappy fates.

The tragedy of Penthea is to be betrayed by the three men who love her: her brother, Ithocles, who for ambition forces her into a loathsome marriage; her evil-minded “humorous” husband, Bassanes, who imprisons her to possess her entirely; and her former lover, Orgilus, who tries to seduce her from her marriage vows. To Ithocles and Bassanes, Penthea's misery brings a redeeming awareness of the sins of ambition and jealousy. Orgilus' spiritual fate is more uncertain. Although Penthea's death seals his decision to murder Ithocles, his revenge is motivated as much by self-pity and envy as by love; there is, in fact, a touch of Giovanni's crazed vanity in his thought and actions. On the other hand, his misfortune demands our sympathy and he achieves in the acceptance of death a dignity lacking in his struggle against the circumstances of his life. His revenge is certainly immoral, but his claim to Penthea's love is not explicitly refuted except by Penthea, whose feelings are ambivalent if not contradictory.

By conventional standards Orgilus' love for another man's wife is adulterous, even though Penthea's marriage was tyrannically enforced and is a shameful travesty of the wedding vow. Before Ithocles interfered, Penthea and Orgilus shared a chaste and “approved” affection. Indeed, according to Elizabethan custom, they were “married” by plighting their troth even though an official ceremony had not yet been performed. When Orgilus confronts Penthea he does not place the rights of love above the bond of marriage. He claims a wife, not a courtly mistress: “I would possesse my wife, the equity / Of very reason bids me” (II. iii). More than anyone else, Penthea is aware of the immorality of her marriage; she feels violated, defiled, and even prostituted by her loveless servitude. In effect she admits Orgilus' prior claim when she later says to Ithocles:

… she that's wife to Orgilus, and lives
In knowne Adultery with Bassanes,
Is at the best a whore.

(III. ii)

And yet when Orgilus presses his claim she denies it:

How (Orgilus) by promise I was thine,
The heavens doe witnesse; they can witnesse too
A rape done on my truth: how I doe love thee
Yet Orgilus, and yet, must best appeare
In tendering thy freedome; for I find
The constant preservation of thy merit,
By thy not daring to attempt my fame
With iniury of any loose conceit,
Which might give deeper wounds to discontents.

(II. iii)

When he continues to plead for her love, she turns on him angrily:

                                                                                Uncivill Sir, forbeare,
Or I can turne affection into vengeance;
Your reputation (if you value any)
Lyes bleeding at my feet. Unworthy man,
If ever henceforth thou appeare in language,
Message, or letter to betray my frailty,
I'le call thy former protestations lust,
And curse my Starres for forfeit of my iudgement.
Goe thou, fit onely for disguise and walkes,
To hide thy shame: this once I spare thy life.

(II. iii)

We may admire Penthea's strength of will and still question her wisdom. We may wonder what value resides in an utterly meaningless dedication, or what purpose is served by fidelity to a marriage that exists in name only. By spurning Orgilus she condemns him as well as herself to a living death and ensures catastrophe. Perhaps in this instance Ford suggests that it would have been wiser to challenge circumstances than to submit passively. Perhaps it would have been more moral for Penthea to find happiness with Orgilus than to observe the “customary forme” of marriage.

How easy it is to falsify the central issue in The Broken Heart by reducing it to a simple conflict of values—the “promptings of the heart” versus “conventional morality.”9 Actually Ford's presentation of character leaves no doubt that Penthea is wiser as well as stronger than Orgilus, who advances the claim of love as an absolute that negates circumstances and time itself. Penthea does not deny that she was once promised to Orgilus, but she will not confuse the past with the present. Admitting the vileness of her marriage, she nevertheless accepts it as one of the irremediable accidents that distort the shape of men's lives. The opportunity for happiness which she and Orgilus once possessed no longer exists because they have themselves changed. Like Giovanni (indeed, like most of Ford's heroes), Orgilus is weaker than the woman he loves and crushed by a far lighter burden than she bears. The misery that makes her compassionate and generous makes him selfish and self-pitying. Although he attacks Ithocles' tyranny, he insists on the privilege of authorizing his own sister's marriage and enjoys the power even if he does not abuse it. Embittered, wretchedly frustrate, he enters into a labyrinth of deceptions and disguises that ends in murder and self-destruction.

Far more realistic than Orgilus, Penthea recognizes the true nature of the alternatives that face her. If she flees with Orgilus it must be outside society and law, without hope of the joyous fulfillment of marriage. If she refuses, Orgilus may yet find happiness and she will preserve intact the citadel of her mind. Her thoughts are pure even though her body is defiled; the shame of her “adultery” rests upon Ithocles. Thus while Orgilus' claim to Penthea is in the abstract just, he demonstrates his unworthiness of her by pressing it. She spurns him pityingly, aware of the gulf that has sprung between them, recognizing that he is “fit only for disguise” and a ruin of his former self. There is obviously more frustrate desire than selfless devotion in his plea. He speaks of Neoplatonic devotion but his imagery reveals the hunger of sensual appetite:

All pleasures are but meere imagination,
Feeding the hungry appetite with steame,
And sight of banquet, whilst the body pines,
Not relishing the reall tast of food. …

(II. iii)

For Penthea, then, the choice is between an evil-minded husband who feverishly schemes to inter her alive and an embittered lover who feverishly schemes to steal her away. Both are ungenerous, both are wildly possessive. The gentle Penthea, who had almost attained the strength to endure her life with Bassanes, is crushed by the shock of Orgilus' betrayal.

For from exalting the claim of individual desire over the bond of matrimony, The Broken Heart, like Ford's other tragedies, depicts the warping of love that cannot grow and mature. It is quite true that Giovanni and Orgilus express Ford's romantic idealism—his poetic worship of love—but they also betray that idealism by their jealousy and by their desire to possess rather than serve beauty. Indeed, the highest expression of love in Ford's drama is not the reckless ardor of Giovanni and Orgilus but the generous devotion of Annabella and Penthea.10 And though Tecnicus is the official “philosopher” of The Broken Heart, it is Penthea who, expressing in the beauty of her own life the correspondence of poetic vision and moral knowledge, reaffirms the essential humanity of ethical ideals. If the portrayal of Penthea leaves any doubts about Ford's attitude towards marriage, those doubts are erased by the solemn beauty of Euphranea's betrothal and Calantha's wedding to Ithocles in death.


I have withheld discussion of Love's Sacrifice until now, not because I assume that it was Ford's last tragedy but because we can scarcely understand Ford's intention (or failure) in this bewildering play except by reference to 'Tis Pity and The Broken Heart. Miss Sargeaunt and Professor Harbage place Love's Sacrifice before The Broken Heart; G. E. Bentley and H. J. Oliver place it after.11 I would argue only that Love's Sacrifice is not a shaky piece of apprentice work by an inexperienced tragedian. If anything it is a careless, perhaps hasty, composition by a very skilled dramatist who was too confident of his ability to camouflage a splintered plot with the trappings of melodrama.

To begin with, the moral confusion that surrounds the heroine of Love's Sacrifice is quite different from the contradictions in the portrait of Annabella. Ford is not uncertain about Bianca's nature, nor is there any inconsistency in his development of her character. She does not abruptly change in the last act; instead Ford abruptly shifts his standard of judgment (his moral point of view) in order to assimilate the last act within his tragic design. One notes, moreover, that when Love's Sacrifice staggers into obliquity it is because Ford deliberately abdicates artistic responsibility. Instead of resolving imaginatively the tragic situation developed in the first two acts, he patches together a conclusion out of the First Folio. There are also imitations of Shakespeare in 'Tis Pity: lines from Othello, a recollection of Laertes' poisoned rapier, and remembrances of Romeo and Juliet in the roles of the Friar and Florio and in the enforced marriage. But these echoes are relatively unobtrusive and seem unconscious tributes to a dramatist whose art had become an integral part of Ford's poetic experience. The imitations of Othello in Love's Sacrifice are an entirely different matter; they constitute a gross and uninspired plagiarism of scenes and situations, characterizations and dialogue. One can easily believe that Ford wrote the latter half of the play (especially scenes III. iii and IV.i & ii) with a copy of Othello before him, taking care only to drag what is marvelous in Shakespeare down to a pedestrian level. This kind of imitation would be inconceivable in a young dramatist making his first bid for the laurel of tragedy; it would be more understandable in a writer who had already enjoyed success as an independent playwright and was secure in or indifferent to his reputation.

Despite the inanities of the last act, we can, I think, infer from it Ford's original intention. He set out, it would seem, to write a more ironic and richly plotted version of Othello, in which Iago (D'avolos) exaggerates but does not completely fabricate the unfaithfulness of Othello's (Caraffa's) wife. In Ford's version, the trusted young friend does betray the husband's confidence. In Caraffa's absence Fernando repeatedly importunes Bianca, who, unlike Desdemona, does not actually love her aging husband although she is grateful to him and is determined to be a loyal wife. Innately gracious and dignified, she does not invite Fernando's illicit courtship and she falls in love with him against her will. For three acts, she is Ford's most subtle psychological portrait, a woman who fights a silent and losing battle against her ambivalent feelings. Though she angrily rejects Fernando's pleas, she allows them to continue, even providing an opportunity for him to speak when they are alone. When she protests too well her indignation (which is unfeigned if impure), and Fernando pledges to end his courtship, she comes to his bed and offers herself to him with the threat that she will kill herself if he takes her.

Here is the familiar Fletcherian boudoir scene with a moral difference. Despite the latent eroticism of the situation, it has a rare psychological delicacy. Hungering for Fernando's affection and too weak to resist his passionate demands, Bianca thrusts the burden of restraint on his shoulders. At first skeptical, Fernando is at last convinced of Bianca's integrity; through a daring gamble she is now able to accept his devotion without fear of guilty consequences.

If Ford had left Fernando and Bianca's relationship as it is at the end of the second act, his play might seem more coherent. The murder of Bianca would then be deeply ironic because she would have preserved her innocence only to be “punished” by the horn-mad Caraffa. But Ford knew the human heart too well to portray Bianca's “victory” as a genuine solution to her emotional conflict. At the very moment that she disarms Fernando, she lowers her own defenses; indeed, her triumph over passion is built on the sands of her weakness. Because she spends her total moral capital in refusing Fernando's adulterous advances she cannot endure in her resolve; too confident of his restraint, she feels free to enjoy his love in every way short of adultery. As their “harmless” dalliance grows more brazen, adherence to her marriage vow changes from a positive article of faith to a meaningless bar to her desires. And finally she joins the libertines in attacking the chains of custom:

Why shouldst thou [Fernando] not be mine? why should the laws
The Iron lawes of Ceremony, barre
Mutuall embraces? what's a vow? a vow?
Can there be sinne in unity? Could I
As well dispense with Conscience, as renounce
The out-side of my titles, the poore stile
Of Dutchesse; I had rather change my life
With any waiting-woman in the land,
To purchase one nights rest with thee Fernando,
Then be Caraffa's Spouse a thousand yeares.

(V. i)

By now there is little resemblance between Bianca and Desdemona. The tragedy of martyred innocence is no longer possible; we can only anticipate the tragic fall of a woman who attempted an impossible compromise between fidelity and passion. Since Ford's characterization of Bianca overstepped the bounds of his original intention, he had either to alter his dramatic design or juggle his moral values. He chose to do the latter. Returned to the court, Caraffa hears D'avolos' venomous report of Bianca's lechery. The great temptation scenes in Othello are drearily rehashed; Caraffa gives Bianca fair warning of his jealous suspicions, and when he discovers her kissing Fernando, he murders her. Fernando is about to defend himself against Caraffa when he learns of Bianca's death. Dropping his sword, he exclaims:

Unfortunate Caraffa; thou hast butcher'd
An Innocent, a wife as free from lust
As any termes of Art can Deifie. …
                                        If ever I unshrin'd
The Altar of her purity, or tasted
More of her love, then what without controule
Or blame, a brother from a sister might,
Racke me to Atomies.

(V. ii)

While Caraffa sneers, Fernando continues:

                                                  … glorious Bianca,
Reigne in the triumph of thy martyrdome,
Earth was unworthy of thee.

(V. ii)

Impressed too late by Fernando's sincerity, Caraffa sees the “truth.” In the silliest final scene in Jacobean tragedy, Fernando, wrapped in a winding sheet, drinks poison in Bianca's tomb. Caraffa, not to be outdone, washes away his “sinne” in blood, his last thoughts dwelling on his “chaste” wife and “unequall'd” friend.

It would be pleasant to believe that this last scene is deliberately ironic or even a burlesque of romantic melodrama. But if there was any joke intended in Love's Sacrifice, it was played on the actors and the audience. I imagine that we must take the entire last act as seriously as we can, although we do not have to agree that Bianca should be worshipped as a saint because she could not be convicted of adultery. Whereas Penthea was defiled in body but chaste in thought, Bianca has adulterous appetites and the technical chastity of a loyal wife. To keep his play together, Ford travesties the moral viewpoint of his other tragedies; as Coleridge remarked of Fletcher's plays, chastity is here valued “as a material thing—not as an act or state of being.”

Perhaps some of the obliquity in Love's Sacrifice is the result of Fletcher's influence. The boudoir scenes are reminiscent of The Lover's Progress, and the retreat from a serious ethical problem through a twist of plot recalls the denouement of A King and No King. Still we cannot blame Fletcher for Ford's irresponsibility, for his use of cheap theatrics, and for his ranting parody of the conclusion of Romeo and Juliet. I suspect that Ford, having wandered into deeper water than he purposed in the first two acts of Love's Sacrifice, found it easier to drift along with scraps of other men's plays than to strike out for shore again. Bianca's role is the only spark of inspiration in the last act and that spark produces more smoke than fire. When Caraffa accuses her of adultery, she does not defend her technically sound “honor.” Instead she attempts to shield Fernando by assuming his guilt, by playing a brazen slut so effectively that 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.

To a reader familiar only with the tragedies, confusion and sensationalism may seem more characteristic of Ford than the refinement and sensitivity which we find in The Broken Heart. Those who also study The Lover's Melancholy,Perkin Warbeck, and The Lady's Trial, however, will have a truer sense of Ford's quality. They will know a dramatist who did not always possess the tact required for the investigation of the darker ways of passion, but whose judgments were based on a clearly defined set of values. Indeed the very nature of Ford's subjects indicates that he wrote with a far greater ethical assurance than did his predecessors. In the absence of pervading skepticism, he was free to probe beneath the surface of conventional morality and to investigate the rare individual instance that proves the moral “rule.” Because he was concerned with the individual rather than the typical, Ford does not offer universal truths. Instead each of his plays, perhaps even Love's Sacrifice, adds another fraction to a cumulative knowledge of the human heart.

Twentieth-century criticism has insisted upon Ford's “modernity,” either by praising his psychological insights or by damning his “scientific” amoral view of the passions. I imagine, however, that we need no more modern a guide to Ford's view of character than the liberal ethic of Biathanatos. If Ford does not arrive at Donne's conclusion that “there is no externall act naturally evill,” he shares Donne's knowledge that circumstances “condition” acts and give them their moral nature. Like Donne he insists upon an ethical judgment that is individual, flexible, and humane, not rigid, dogmatic, and absolute. Like Donne he believes that moral values are shaped by the processes of life even as they in turn shape the nature of human relationships.

A modern dramatist might have viewed the tragic situation in The Broken Heart as an unresolvable dilemma that baffles judgment. Ford, however, challenges the reader to perceive those permanent values on which judgment rests. Although he lived in an age of warring factions, he wrote with a deeper sense of the communion between the individual and society than did Chapman or Webster. And unlike Middleton he had a clear view of the ideal in man's thought and conduct and a poignant awareness of the tragedy that befalls when the bonds of friendship, love, and devotion are warped or sundered.


  1. A clue to the freedom with which Ford imitates Shakespeare may lie in the fact that there are no recorded Jacobean revivals of Romeo and Juliet and only one recorded performance of Othello (in 1629) between 1610 and the publication of Love's Sacrifice. There were, however, Jacobean quartos of both plays.

  2. Because Ford's tragedies were apparently written within a very brief span of years, their unsettled chronology does not have a crucial bearing on the interpretation of his art. Traditionally it has been assumed that 'Tis Pity was Ford's first tragedy; recently H. J. Oliver has argued that it is Ford's last and finest tragedy (The Problem of John Ford [Melbourne, 1955], pp. 47-49, 86 ff.). In the absence of conclusive external evidence, I assume only that the tragedies were written fairly closely together some time between 1627 and 1633.

  3. Citations from 'Tis Pity and The Broken Heart are from John Ford's Dramatic Works, ed. H. De Vocht in W. Bang's Materialien, n.s. 1 (Louvain, 1927). Citations from Love's Sacrifice are from John Fordes Dramatische Werke, ed. W. Bang in Materialien, XXIII (Louvain, 1908). For ease of reference I have included the traditional scene divisions found in the Mermaid text. I have also preferred to use Bianca rather than the less familiar Biancha as the name of the heroine of Love's Sacrifice.

  4. La Doctrine Curieuse (Paris, 1623), p. 964.

  5. Of Wisdome, trans. Samson Lennard (London, 1608), Bk. II, Ch. 8, p. 310.

  6. Of the Law of Warre and Peace, trans. C. Barksdale (London, 1655; first Latin ed. 1625), p. 365.

  7. In The Tragic Muse of John Ford (Stanford, 1944), G. F. Sensabaugh argues that Ford “so absorbed the idea of [psychological] determinism that his plays are exemplifications of the formula of cause and effect” (p. 35). The only objective evidence that would support this theory, however, is the imitations of The Anatomy of Melancholy in The Lover's Melancholy. Moreover, Mr. Sensabaugh would have us believe that Ford viewed love as a “melancholic disease” (pp. 46 ff.) and idealized it as “all-important” (pp. 164 ff.) at one and the same time. One suspects that here the inconsistency is in the interpretation, not in the plays.

  8. Even Joan Sargeaunt, one of Ford's most judicious critics, comments: “There might be some excuse for identifying Ford's point of view with Giovanni's in 'Tis Pity, because Giovanni justifies his passion on the very same grounds that Ford justifies the four positions in The Peers' Challenge. The similarity of the arguments extends to the use of the same Aristotelian text ‘that the temperature of the mind follows that of the body’” (John Ford [Oxford, 1935], pp. 133-34). It is true that Ford's romantic idealism, like most of the popular Neoplatonism of the Renaissance, involves a somewhat vague and unphilosophical identification of beauty and goodness. But Giovanni, like Orgilus in The Broken Heart, betrays this romantic idealism in thought as well as act (see n. 10 of this chapter). Moreover, we may agree that Annabella's beauty mirrors her original goodness and still condemn Giovanni for corrupting her beauty and despoiling her goodness.

  9. For a discussion of The Broken Heart as a “problem play,” see S. P. Sherman, “Forde's Contribution to the Decadence of the Drama,” Bang's Materialien (Louvain, 1908), XXIII, pp. xi ff.

  10. Although I agree with Mr. Oliver (The Problem of John Ford, pp. 11-12) that we cannot take all the casuistry of The Peers' Challenge seriously, nevertheless it does seem to express Ford's ideal of love. Perhaps the finest comment on Giovanni and Orgilus is the following passage from the Challenge: “For this, in the rules of affection, is text: whosoever truely love, and are truly of their ladies beloved, ought in their service to employ their endevours; more for the honour and deserving the continuance of their ladies good-will, than any way to respect the free-will of their owne heedlesse dispositions; else are they degenerate bastards, and apostates, revolting from the principals, and principall rules of sincere devotion. It is not ynough for any man, that hath by long suit, tedious imprecations, jeopardous hazard, toyle of bodie, griefe of mind, pitifull laments, obsequious fawnings, desperate passions, and passionate despaire, at length, for a meed or requitall to his unrest, gained the favourable acceptance of his most, and best desired ladie: … Perfect service, and serviceable loyaltie, is seene more cleerely in deserving love and maintaining it, than in attempting or laboring for it. How can any one be sayd truely to serve, when he more respects the libertie of his owne affections, than the imposition of ladies' command?” (Shakespeare Society Reprints [London, 1843], pp. 10-11).

  11. See Sargeaunt, John Ford, Ch. II; Harbage, Annals of English Drama (Philadelphia, 1940), p. 100; Bentley, Jacobean and Caroline Stage (Oxford, 1956), III, 451-53; Oliver, The Problem of John Ford, p. 48.

Mark Stavig (essay date 1968)

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SOURCE: Stavig, Mark. “'Tis Pity She's a Whore.” In John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order, pp. 95-121. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.

[In the following essay, Stavig argues that Ford integrated a sophisticated satirical commentary on contemporary moral, ethical, and religious issues into the traditional moral design of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.]

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.1 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,2 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 “Idoll” (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?

(B1; 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,3 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,4 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.5

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.6 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)7

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 overcome 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 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.8 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 pseudo-religious 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.

(C1v; I, iii)

At the end of the scene the ultimately physical basis of their love is stressed by their passionate kiss and their not-too-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 principall (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-E1; 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], D1v). … 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” (E1; 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 something 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 recovers 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.

The play's subplots are more important than has usually been recognized, for they parallel the action in the main plot and help create the play's moral atmosphere. Annabella's three suitors are obviously much inferior to her in everything except status; but her father is concerned primarily with wealth and position, and her other main adviser, her corrupt “Tutresse” (B3; I, ii), Putana, is preoccupied with the physical and the material. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that Annabella turns to Giovanni, the one admirable person in her circle. Since her three suitors, Grimaldi, Bergetto, and Soranzo, have respectively influence, money, and worldly honor, they are treated seriously even though it means that a virtuous girl must be subjected to indignities. The cowardly soldier Grimaldi's hope is that his connection with the Pope and the local Cardinal will make him desirable, but in his duel with Vasques in the second scene of the play he is exposed as both a coward and a weakling. From that point on he gives up all pretense of nobility and depends entirely on underhanded methods and influential friends. Persuaded that he must kill Soranzo if he is to win Annabella, he decides to attack even though he knows such a course is dishonorable. When the plan back-fires and Bergetto is killed, he uses his connections with the Cardinal to avoid punishment.

Bergetto is the type of the rich but frivolous fool, and his only hope for Annabella is his uncle Donado's money. Having him rich serves to expose the motives of people who deal with him. His uncle Donado sees him primarily as a means of making a marriage that will increase his own wealth. Putana says to Annabella, Donado “meanes to make this his Cozen a golden calfe, thinkes that you wil be a right Isralite, and fall downe to him presently” (B4; I, ii). Hippolyta's disguised husband, Richardetto, tries to marry his niece to Bergetto so as to get some of his money. All view Bergetto as a means to their own selfish ends; as his servant, Poggio, comments: no one has ever considered elder brothers fools “as long as they had either land or mony left them to inherit” (B3v; I, ii). His pathetic murder just before he is about to achieve some measure of happiness through marrying Philotis serves as a further indictment of a society in which the innocent too often suffer for the misdeeds of the evil. Florio is never serious about letting Annabella marry him but feels that he cannot risk offending the wealthy Donado. Consequently he suggests that Annabella has free choice as to whom she shall marry even though he has made it clear earlier that Soranzo has already been chosen.

The third suitor, Soranzo, is both more successful and more dangerous because he is able to present a more impressive exterior than either Grimaldi or Bergetto. Soranzo is a clever dissimulator, as the duel between Grimaldi and Vasques indicates. Grimaldi had apparently been spreading some scandalous yet plausible rumors about him, and the shrewd Soranzo sees that sending Vasques to start a fight will vindicate himself by showing his concern for his honor and disgrace Grimaldi by showing his ineffectiveness as a soldier. he succeeds in both ends, and the audience is permitted to see Soranzo's devious methods as well as one reason why the honor-conscious Florio has been convinced that Soranzo would be the best husband for his daughter. In this scene Florio's reasons for preferring him are not made clear but later he makes them explicit:

My Lord Soranzo, though I must confesse,
The proffers that are made me, have beene great
In marriage of my daughter; yet the hope
Of your still rising honours, have prevaild
Above all other Joynctures; here shee is.

(E4; III, ii)

Florio's lack of concern about moral qualities should be obvious, and Annabella's expected response is clear when he tells her “And heare you daughter, see you use him nobly” (E4; III, ii). The issue of who is to decide on the marriage partner does not become a major one since Annabella herself decides that a marriage to Soranzo would be wise. Nevertheless it should be clear that Florio's handling of his daughter's marriage does not make her situation any easier.

But Soranzo's chief importance in the structure of the play is as a parallel to Giovanni as a lover, for we find that he too utilizes all the standard devices of the Platonic lover. When we first see him alone he is reading the Italian poet, Sannazar, “This smooth licentious Poet” (C4v; II, ii), and we see that he too is an overenthusiastic admirer of female beauty. In his rewriting of Sannazar's couplet about the pain, unrest, and disdain associated with love, Soranzo hymns the joys of satisfied love, and indicates that the present object of his fancy is Annabella. She is described in the same exaggerated Platonic love terminology that Giovanni had utilized in courting Annabella. Both Soranzo and Giovanni combine sensuality with elevated language. Although it should be clear that Soranzo's fine speeches are in part merely a means to an ignoble end, there can be no doubt of his appreciation of feminine beauty. Worldly honor and love are Soranzo's idols.

The quality of his love is revealed in the following scene in which the forsaken Hippolyta confronts him with her misery. She describes herself as a chaste girl who was seduced by the smooth charms of a lover who used all of the stock Platonic arguments:

Thou knowst (false wanton) when my modest fame
Stood free from staine, or scandall, all the charmes
Of Hell or sorcery could not prevaile
Against the honour of my chaster bosome.
Thyne eyes did pleade in teares, thy tongue in oathes
Such and so many, that a heart of steele
Would have beene wrought to pitty, as was mine.

(D1; II, ii)

But now she recognizes that the real motivation was not love but “distracted lust” (D1; II, ii) and “sensuall rage of blood” (D1; II, ii), and that his promises to marry her after her husband's death were meaningless. Even in this situation in which his duplicity has been completely unmasked Soranzo tries to maintain the appearance of virtue by appealing to the letter of the Christian moral code:

The vowes I made, (if you remember well)
Were wicked and unlawfull, 'twere more sinne
To keepe them, then to breake them; as for mee
I cannot maske my penitence.

(D1v-D2; II, ii)

Hippolyta is not deceived and even Vasques is shocked by his legalism, but Soranzo's habit of trying to appear honorable has become so interwoven into his being that he has perhaps managed to convince even himself that his course is the proper one.

In the later scene in which Soranzo courts Annabella, he uses the same stock literary Platonic phrases that he apparently had used earlier with Hippolyta and that Giovanni used in his courtship of Annabella. The difference in result is significant. When the girl feels the same passion that the man does, she accepts the Platonic trappings as sincere; but when she views the arguments in a rational way, they become ridiculous and the speaker is exposed as a fool. Feeling no love, Annabella exposes Soranzo, and we should remember that in the earlier scene Annabella was ready to treat Giovanni's ravings as a joke until she became convinced that he reciprocated her own passion. It should be clear that the element of the ridiculous is never far removed from Fordian courtship scenes; they are saved from descending to comedy in cases where we recognize a worthy person victimized by passion, but Ford allows the comic full scope whenever the situation is not inherently tragic.

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 relationship 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 Lord
Found out a tricke in night-games more then wee
Could know in our simplicity?

(I4; 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.9 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 affair. 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”10 that Ford does not approve. 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.11 If Ford's authorship 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 love.
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?(12)

(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.(13)

(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 proclaims 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. Instead 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.”14 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 invariably 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.

(I1; 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” (I1v; 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 Annabella 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 formall 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,15 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 than 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
As thunder.

(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 eternall motion; hadst thou beene
One thought more steddy then an ebbing Sea.

(I4; 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” (K1; 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” (I4v; V, v), and she without reservation forgives him, somewhat 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 performe 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.16 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; then 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 concern 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.17 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.


  1. This view is summarized by Leech, John Ford and the Drama of his Time, p. 61. For similar views, see Babb, The Elizabethan Malady, pp. 152-53; Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy, pp. 202-13; Ribner, Jacobean Tragedy, pp. 163-74; Kaufmann, “Ford's Tragic Perspective,” pp. 532-37. Christian interpretations have been presented by H. H. Adams, who tries to link 'Tis Pity to the moral tradition of domestic tragedy (English Domestic Or, Homiletic Tragedy, 1575 to 1642 [New York, 1943], pp. 177-83), and by Cyrus Hoy in an important article which treats 'Tis Pity and Dr. Faustus as Christian tragedies (“‘Ignorance in Knowledge’: Marlowe's Faustus and Ford's Giovanni,” MP, LVII [1960], 145-54). Hoy does not discuss the subplots and our interpretations of the main plot differ considerably, but my discussion of Giovanni parallels his in many ways. Alan Brissenden in a recent article (“Impediments to Love: A Theme in John Ford,” Renaissance Drama, VII [1964], 95-102) discusses Giovanni's moral degradation. See also N. W. Bawcutt's sensible introduction to 'Tis Pity She's a Whore in the Regents Renaissance Drama Series (Lincoln, Neb., 1966), pp. xi-xxii.

  2. Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy, pp. 203-7.

  3. The charges against the friar mentioned in this paragraph are summarized by Ornstein in The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy, pp. 207-9.

  4. For a discussion of the importance of this distinction in Renaissance England, see Campbell, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, pp. 99-101. Similar advice from a voice of morality is found in The Atheist's Tragedy. The chaste Castabella tells D'Amville:

    If it be your lust; O quench it
    On their prostituted flesh, whose trade
    Of sinne can please desire with more delight,
    And less offense.

    (The Works of Cyril Tourneur, ed. Allardyce Nicoll [New York, 1963], p. 233; IV, iii)

  5. For a discussion of the importance of disciplined meditation in the period, see Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation (New Haven and London, 1962).

  6. Another objection to fatalistic interpretations is that the predominantly non-Puritan Caroline audience would have been immediately suspicious of any questioning of man's free will. Anglican theology of the period emphasized the importance of belief in man's free will and was severely critical of Calvinistic determinism. See the section on predestination in Anglicanism: The Thought and Practice of the Church of England, Illustrated from the Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century, ed. P. E. More and F. L. Cross (Milwaukee, 1935), pp. 307-16. Giovanni's fatalism is not of the Calvinistic kind, but any determinism would have been suspect.

  7. In Christ's Bloody Sweat, Ford takes the moral view:

    Love is no god, as some of wicked times
    (Led with the dreaming dotage of their folly)
    Have set him foorth in their lascivious rimes,
    Bewitch'd with errors, and conceits unholy:
              It is a raging blood[,] affection's blind,
              Which boiles both in the body and the mind.

    (CBS, sig. F3)

  8. Sensabaugh, The Tragic Muse of John Ford, pp. 109-26.

  9. See, for example, Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy, p. 209; and Ribner, Jacobean Tragedy, p. 168.

  10. Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy, p. 208.

  11. The passage from Christ's Bloody Sweat is as follows:

    Here shall the wantons for a downy bed,
    Be rackt on pallets of stil-burning steele:
    Here shall the glutton, that hath dayly fed,
    On choice of daintie diet, hourely feele
              Worse meat then toads, & beyond time be drencht
              In flames of fire, that never shal be quencht.
    Each moment shall the killer, be tormented
    With stabbes, that shall not so procure his death:
    The drunkard that would never be contented
    With drinking up whole flagons at a breath,
              Shal be deni'd (as he with thirst is stung)
              A drop of water for to coole his tongue.
    The mony-hoording Miser in his throat
    Shall swallow molten lead: the spruce perfum'd
    Shall smell most loathsome brimstome: he who wrote
    Soule-killing rimes, shall living be consum'd
              By such a gnawing worme, that never dies,
              And heare in stead of musicke hellish cries.

    (CBS, sigs. E1v-E2; Cf. TP, sig. F3v; III, vi)

  12. “What death more sweet than to die for love?”

  13. “To die in grace is to die without sorrow.”

  14. Bowers, Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, p. 186.

  15. Annabella's words to the friar imply that the letter has a repentant tone: “bid him read it and repent” (sig. I1; V, i).

  16. Donald K. Anderson, Jr., in “The Heart and the Banquet: Imagery in Ford's 'Tis Pity and The Broken Heart,” SEL, II (1962), 209-17, notes the many references to hearts and to feasting in the play. Ford makes the heart represent the source of deep feeling and often describes love in imagery of food and feasting. The two strains are linked in this banquet scene when Giovanni refers to Annabella's heart as his food:

    You came to feast My Lords with dainty fare,
    I came to feast too, but I dig'd for food
    In a much richer Myne then Gold or Stone.

    (sig. K2; V, vi)

    It should be apparent that none of Giovanni's feasting on Annabella has provided proper sustenance.

    In addition to this imagery of hearts and feasting, Ford makes his customary frequent use of images of blood, tears, flames, and disease. Such language relates in fairly obvious ways to Ford's preoccupation with guilt, suffering, and spiritual corruption.

  17. Ford uses the same symbolic device in The Broken Heart when he has Tecnicus leave Sparta just before the final act after a warning of impending tragedy.

Thelma N. Greenfield (essay date 1972)

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SOURCE: Greenfield, Thelma N. “The Language of Process in Ford's The Broken Heart.PMLA, 87, No. 3 (May, 1972): 397-405.

[In the following essay, Greenfield examines how Ford uses language in The Broken Heart to convey the process of feelings and actions that create a tragic chain of events.]

“Ford does not,” writes Mark Stavig, “simply rewrite the same play over and over again as so many of his contemporaries did. In each of the plays he attempts something a little different.”1 Although this observation is certainly accurate, Ford's plays bear such a distinctive atmosphere, his characters and style are so much his own, and his focus in certain ways is so narrow, that there has been an understandable tendency to emphasize the similarities more than the differences among his plays.2 Concerning his language, readers of Ford's plays have rather uniformly remarked on his poetic power and on his characteristic qualities of simplicity and passionlessness, of colloquialism, of directness, of an odd thinness of imagery especialy at moments of supreme truth, and of the slow, dignified regularity of metrical line typical of all his plays.3 My present purpose is to attempt to identify in Ford's language “something a little different” that distinguishes one of his plays—The Broken Heart—from the others.

Robert Davril's conclusion that Ford molded his dramatic language into an exact and perfect vehicle for his particular mode of thought, taken in conjunction with Stavig's comment on the variety among Ford's plays, leads one to suspect that a search for peculiarities in Ford's language in a given play might well reveal a quality and significance particular to that play alone. Ford as “poet first” and “of the first order of poets,” a ranking testified to by many a modern scholar as well as by the weighty praises of Lamb, Swinburne, and (more reluctantly) T. S. Eliot, probably deserves more detailed study of his poetic craftmanship than he has received.4

One may begin with the question, what does the language of The Broken Heart do? Mainly, I think, it does three things: first, it explains at length the processes at work in the play, diagnosing the causes and effects in feeling and action (the important motivations, situations, and events stemming chiefly from Ithocles' initial error or ultimately shaped by that error); second and third, it articulates major emotional responses and, more briefly, it provides through the lips of secondary characters statements of events and feelings, but also of hopes and plans which set up a kind of phantom countermovement of what could or would have been had the normal course of events not been overwhelmed by the irresistible and tragic chain of reaction that controls the main characters. It is the first of these functions, revelation of a process, that seems to me fundamental to the play and what especially distinguishes it in language from the other plays. The analytical habit of mind which Oliver perceives as Ford's special gift finds here a sustained dramatic focus, a structure, and a language that go quite beyond his engagement of it elsewhere.

Although Ford's other plays dwell on statements of feeling and on self-assertion and self-defense, denunciation, defiance, reconciliation, etc., one does not get from them the same extended depiction of characters meeting a fate in a way illustrative of an inevitable causal pattern. One does find a kinship to the method of The Broken Heart in a few early lines in Perkin Warbeck on the operation of the Wars of the Roses. Of the other Ford plays, though they work with the same human relationships and situations—maligned ladies, jealous husbands, and complications between brothers and sisters—only The Lover's Melancholy as a whole brings to bear something of the illustrative quality of The Broken Heart. That play, too, undertakes to explain an operation, the operation of melancholy as distinct from ecstasy, dotage, rapture, and so forth.

The word “process” seems a useful one for this play. Swinburne used it of Ford's best writing, by which he certainly meant The Broken Heart, speaking of the “studious arrangement of emotion and expression, a steady inductive process of feeling … answering to the orderly measure of the verse.” Morris speaks perceptively of the avoidance of lucid statement in the play and a technique of blurred meanings which “mediates a process of thought rather than the thought itself.”5

The process of feeling and the process of thought that these critics observe as a crucial part of the language begin, I think, as early as the list of “Speakers' Names Fitted to their Qualities.” Everyone has commented on Ford's not only using but defining indicative names for this tragedy, but I have not seen mention of the fact that here is something quite different from the naming of humor characters or from fixing the figures so named in the realm of the abstract typical. For the important characters, the names signify not fundamental character traits but states of being evolving from action and situation. Penthea's name, meaning Complaint, tells her state of mind as a result of enforced marriage. The name otherwise has no particular appropriateness. Orgilus (Angry) has been a man of love and peace until made angry by the results of Ithocles' ambition. Aplotes, Simplicity, he assumes as a deliberate disguise. Euphranea is Joy only because she is allowed to wed Prophilus, who is Dear as a friend to Ithocles. Bassanes is Vexation because he has married a young wife who does not and should not love him. He later becomes a model of patience. Ithocles as Honor of Loveliness is grammatically harder to diagnose: he receives honor and in his heroic impulse to greatness he yet becomes increasingly of lovely character; he also comes to be honored by loveliness, by receiving the love of Calantha, Flower of Beauty. In any case, honor and loveliness are what come to him within the play.

The names, then, have the quality of intimate nicknames, bestowed with regard to given situations and the emotional responses of the characters rather than as clues to basic traits. Orgilus is more a man who has become angry than a man who does become angry. Calantha's name, on the other hand, is more a statement of an essential quality than are the other names, but her role in the chain of reactions is unlike the roles of the other characters, too; it is a secret and a surprise and she alone commands her fate as it happens.

The beginning of the play is especially laden with explanations of the vital sequences of cause and effect. Orgilus explains the result of Thrasus' death in Ithocles' consequent pride and what follows as the cruel aftermath brought about thereby.

From this time sprouted up that poisonous stalk
Of aconite, whose ripened fruit hath ravish'd
All health, all comfort of a happy life;
For Ithocles, her brother, proud of youth,
And prouder in his power, nourish'd closely
The memory of former discontents,
To glory in revenge. By cunning partly,
Partly by threats, 'a woos at once and forces
His virtuous sister to admit a marriage
With Bassanes, a nobleman, in honor
And riches, I confess, beyond my fortunes.


Whether the poisonous aconite is Ithocles himself or his pride or the train of events he has initiated is not clear but the father's death has left room for the resumption of old animosities; the aconite grows, bears fruit; the fruit brings destruction. To clarify his metaphor, Orgilus immediately restates the process on the literal level. His next speech explains the effect of the marriage on Penthea—“thraldom, misery, / Affliction”—and then its effect on Bassanes:

                                                                                                              this thought
Begets a kind of monster-love, which love
Is nurse unto a fear so strong and servile
As brands all dotage with a jealousy.


Lastly, he explains the result of Bassanes' monstrous behavior upon himself, although he deliberately falsifies on this score until he has the opportunity to speak in soliloquy.

Others proceed to speak along the same lines. Tecnicus warns of the operation of fate and of the “danger” bespoken in Orgilus' aspect. Ithocles analyzes ambition's dangerous operations, its disastrous conclusions, and its proper remedies.

Ambition! 't is of vipers' breed: it gnaws
A passage through the womb that gave it motion.
Ambition, like a seeled dove, mounts upward,
Higher and higher still, to perch on clouds,
But tumbles headlong down with heavier ruin.
So squibs and crackers fly into the air,
Then, only breaking with a noise, they vanish
In stench and smoke. Morality, appli'd
To timely practice, keeps the soul in tune,
At whose sweet music all our actions dance;
But this is form of books and school tradition;
It physics not the sickness of a mind
Broken with griefs. Strong fevers are not eas'd
With counsel, but with best receipts and means;
Means, speedy means and certain; that's the cure.


Ithocles' demand for means clearly indicates that his anatomy of ambition has been no academic exercise—he has described the journey of his own future. Ithocles' ambition is, throughout, a complex and developing force. It has led him to wrongdoing in nourishing revenge and forcing the fateful marriage. It leads to his death, for Orgilus will not allow him to triumph while Penthea dies. But Ithocles' ambition becomes refined into heroism on the battlefield and after that is glorified by love for a great princess. His greatness of spirit grows to afford him both a clear vision of his guilt and a simultaneous, undeniable impulse toward self-fulfilling grandeur.

Throughout The Broken Heart, characters continue to expound what they have become and why. Penthea explains herself to her lover and then to her brother: “Such an one / As only you have made me: a faith-breaker, / A spotted whore”; she makes clear why her guilty body must die by her chosen method of suicide; Bassanes describes the operation of his new-found patience; Orgilus defines himself as an enforced revenger and explains often and fully why Ithocles is his victim; Calantha delineates the cause and procedure of her own death.

With all his emphasis on explanation, however, Ford gives his characters in The Broken Heart a curious imprecision of speech and leaves them unselfconscious as speakers. Rhetorical wit appears even less frequently in this play than elsewhere in Ford's drama. There are relatively few plays on words or crucial contrasts or repetitions of words or phrasal patterns within significant syntactic structures. The characters seem not to listen to themselves speak.7 Their formulations are often constructed of obscure and leisurely periphrases, compounded of varied, strung-out phrases:

Make me the pattern of digesting evils,
Who can outlive my mighty ones, not shrinking
At such a pressure as would sink a soul
Into what's most of death, the worst of horrors.
But I have seal'd a covenant with sadness,
And enter'd into bonds without condition,
To stand these tempests calmly; mark me, nobles,
I do not shed a tear, not for Penthea!


Although the diction in itself is unexceptionable, ambiguities and loose syntactic connections abound among the extensions and repetitions here. Our understanding lags a little behind our sense of the rhythmic flow of the lines, and for good reason. On examination, the first two lines are skewed, to suggest rather than exactly articulate their meaning, and constant discrimination among possibilities is required. It takes time to see that Make me the pattern must be diagnosed to mean “proclaim me to be the model” or “consider me the model”; that digesting evils is a verbal and its object; that can outlive means “can endure.” More teasing, the equivalence between me, with a human referent, and digesting evils, which is a process, produces an uneasy desire for readjustment at one end or the other. The adjective clause that follows—who can outlive my mighty ones—aggravates the disjunction by reference to the person, me (who), and the object of the verbal of process, evils (ones), at its beginning and end, and aggravates it also by more or less restating the process but in terms of me as the doer instead of as a pattern of the process itself.

These two lines fuse the performer with what he does, a fusion which is the very heart of how the characters in the play function; they both do the action and illustrate it. Having given proof of his being an example of the process by virtue of his having performed it, Bassanes then (1) explains how he does it—not shrinking, etc., (2) explains how he is able—I have seal'd a covenant with sadness, and (3) demonstrates—mark me … I do not shed a tear.

Reiterative and explanatory as the passage is, however, it continues to be vague. The who clause leads into further extensions by the disparate, unparalleled continuations of not shrinking, at such, as would, into what's. The apparently appositional the worst of horrors presumably expands what's most of death or perhaps gives it a belated referent, or states its cause. The correlative But I have seal'd has no grammatical or semantic elements to correlate with—one must invent some application such as “my endurance is amazing but thus explainable” or “the soul cannot so endure but I have found a means.” The metaphor moves loosely from the fairly abstract processes of digesting and pressure to the completely abstract superlatives most of death and worst of horrors and thence to the language of the contract and a suggested personification of sadness and finally to tempests, after which metaphor is dismissed altogether for the abrupt literal “I do not shed a tear, not for Penthea!” The simplicity and colloquialism of this last line and its preceding insistent imperative and direct address, “mark me, nobles,” cannot mitigate the sense of the speaker's disengagement from himself, a sense that comes from the vagueness and complexity of the preceding lines. We feel that Bassanes stands apart from himself and looks at what he has become and at how he manifests his new state and urges others to look, too. But he provides no ironic honing of word as word or phrase as phrase as a vehicle for experience: he does not say, “listen to how I say this.” There is a gentle urgency in his continual shifts that bespeaks an anxiety to explain, but articulation does not become a vital part of his experience.

A quotation from Penthea gives a further illustration of my point.

'T is long agone since first I lost my heart;
Long I have liv'd without it, else for certain
I should have given that too; but instead
Of it, to great Calantha, Sparta's heir,
By service bound and by affection vow'd,
I do bequeath, in holiest rites of love,
Mine only brother, Ithocles.


One notices here in particular that every line after the first is filled with interrupting parentheses and parentheses within parentheses. But rather than adjusting and tightening the sense they mainly provide simple extension by obvious restatements, alternatives, and allusions to the person addressed. Most of the passage is tautological and the tautology is unexcused by wit. If Penthea lost her heart long ago, then obviously she has long lived without it. Three times in four lines she parenthetically avows her love to the Princess. That Calantha is great Calantha obviates need for the appositional Sparta's heir. Ithocles is of course Penthea's brother and that he is her only brother is of no significance really. These lines do not, as they might in the hands of another playwright, reveal the speaker as a smooth flatterer or even overly given to words. Insofar as they reveal character, they underscore her gentility. Above all they make us aware of the refinements of the situation and once again they represent a character sensitively albeit gropingly elucidating her condition and her action.

In both of the above passages there is dramatic purpose of another kind being served: contrast. Ford deals heavily in The Broken Heart with abrupt surprises and reversals and his language operates skillfully to enhance as well as to control such patterns. Bassanes' elevated and understanding words are completely unanticipated in view of his earlier vicious brutality of speech. Penthea's gracious intervention for her brother with Calantha follows hard upon her bitter denunciations of him uttered to his face. Ithocles' hostility toward Orgilus suddenly turns to protestations of love and Orgilus' acceptances of Ithocles' friendship turn as suddenly to reviling.

Morris has remarked on another kind of contrast, a linguistic tension between periphrasis and simplicity, as fundamental to this play: “the true distinction is not between image and plain statement, but between periphrastic and direct utterance.” Morris continues: “Ford's moments of profound simplicity are set in a context of an elaborate and courtly language, by means of which his speakers communicate both information and attitudes” (p. xxvii).

Especially toward the end of the play, these occasional abrupt contrasts become more frequent and often oxymoronic to underscore that here the paradoxical tragic developments make their strongest emotional bid. Bassanes ends the first speech quoted above with a sudden two-word contradiction, “Excellent misery.” Terse phrases follow Orgilus' somewhat talky suicide: “Life's fountain is dri'd up,” “'A has shook hands with time,” “Speech hath left him,” to state the death, and to offer paradoxical judgment, “Desperate courage,” “Honorable infamy.” Calantha's very frequently cited insistent directness at her own death caps the elaborate death speeches that preceded hers and suitably represents a sensibility by contrast so aristocratic that not old age, starvation, diabolical machine, or bloodletting but only repeated shock need be evoked to shatter it:

                                                                                          Oh, 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 danced forward;
But it struck home, and here, and in an instant.


Actually, these seemingly simple lines are very artfully done. Beginning with the dynamic “antic gesture” and “one news straight came huddling on another” and “still I danced forward,” the passage suddenly reverses itself with the countering suspension of movement, “but it struck home.” “And here, and in an instant” further simulates immobility. “Death and death and death … and here and in an instant” can be given a local habitation and names among the grammatical figures (polysyndeton, epizeuxis, and even something that sounds like hendyadis) but the effect is one of having moved beyond the leisure of art.8 Penthea, the King, Ithocles, and Orgilus have died seriatim, variously, but all with elaborate loquacity. Ford effectively climaxes the series with Calantha's skillful inarticulateness.

Morris remarks of the more expanded passages of the play, “the core of meaning is overlaid with a complicated yet a loosely articulated syntax which gives, without recourse to verbal ingenuity, an aureate grandeur of utterance. And this is not deployed to delineate character: it is a feature common to most of the speakers in certain situations” (p. xxvii). Penthea's speech indicates her awareness of her own conditions and her sensitivity to the situation at hand. True, her gift of her brother to Calantha will be foiled by Orgilus' revenge but, as always in The Broken Heart, the irony is much more in the event than in the language. Groping and disjointed in thought, soft through the frequent agency of vaguely applied connectives and leisurely repetitions, splendid in the purity of their diction, metrically measured and steady, with many run-on lines and with little pause even at full stops—thus equipped, long speeches of analysis and delineation are finally brought to rest by terse, pithy, or sometimes flat phrases, metrically roughened and summarizing in import. Both styles, however, unite in conveying a sense of much being unsaid. They work together rather than oppositely in providing rhythmical units and in implication of meaning.

The alternation between “the periphrastic and direct utterance” works in still another way. Ford's reversals, paradoxes, and surprises operate to such an extent that with the least liberty of language they would verge into the crassly sensational. Looseness and abstractness in the aureate style, radical understatement in the simple style, bring to both a compensatory objectivity (while at the same time allowing for contrast and range) that controls severely any tendency to melodrama in the innumerable sudden turns.

The explanatory quality of the language of The Broken Heart pervades its metaphors in several interesting ways. One of the most distinctive to this play, although one can find some similarity in The Lover's Melancholy and briefly in Perkin Warbeck, is Ford's concretizing, not so much through nouns and adjectives—these remain fairly generally abstract—but by means of verbs and verbals. To go back to the Calantha passage, the substantive antic gesture, news, and death are not visually evocative; more concrete are the movements, came huddling, danced forward, struck home. In the passage cited above which describes the operation of Bassanes' reaction to his marriage, the emphasis on the process involved comes because of the dominance of causative verbs: thought begets a monster-love; this love is nurse (although nurse is a noun, the meaning here lies in the action of nursing rather in the figure of a nurse) to fear; fear brands dotage with jealousy. The nouns, thought, love, fear, jealousy, are abstractions. The concretizing verbs set them in a delicate balance between literal statement and personification. Verbs keep us constantly alert to how things happen: lust sweats, travails, plots, wakes, contrives; cruelty enforces a divorce and prevents triumphs; resolution chokes the breath of reason; reason speeds the traveler; dissension, fury, and rage broach quarrels in blood; time cannot eat into a love pledge; sorrow melts into more than pity; jealousies grow wild; humility bends before altars and perfumes temples of the gods. Even where more extended metaphors develop noun and adjective images, verbs and verbals continue to function as described (italics in this and the following quoted passage are my own):

Applause runs madding, like the drunken priests
In Bacchus' sacrifices, without reason,
Voicing the leader-on a demi-god …
                                                                                each common soldier's blood
Drops down as current coin in that hard purchase
As his whose much more delicate condition
Hath suck'd the milk of ease: judgment commands,
But resolution executes.


Ford is able to use this type of metaphor very sensitively. Orgilus, posing as a rather mad scholar, and enraged by Prophilus' courtship of Euphranea, formulates in soliloquy grotesque, disjointed images with leap'd, creeps, reach, and write expressing his inner turmoil as well as the ironies of the developing situation:

Ingenious Fate has leap'd into mine arms,
Beyond the compass of my brain. Mortality
Creeps on the dung of earth, and cannot reach
The riddles which are purpos'd by the gods.
Great arts best write themselves in their own stories.


(Once again the nouns in subject position are abstractions, fate, mortality, arts.) Ithocles' excited defiance of the Prince is similarly grotesque and even comic in its hyperbole of toss, lick, durst not stir, and rend, and, typically, like the two preceding passages quoted, subsides with its final sentence into a vague quietness:

                                                                                          for could his breath,
Like whirlwinds, toss such servile slaves as lick
The dust his footsteps print into a vapor,
It durst not stir a hair of mine: it should not;
I'd rend it up by th' roots first. To be anything
Calantha smiles on, is to be a blessing …


With the explication of processes constantly before us, this tragedy works itself out not mysteriously but clearly. The many allusions to unknown fate, mysterious oracle, clouds, and hidden things refer much more to unknown and surprising events in the fulfillment of necessity than to the universal why and whence. The morality of the play, however, is a different matter. In moralizing passages, with Ford's typically unsustained images and loose syntax, we must often build our own bridges to move from point to point. In Ithocles' ambition speech quoted earlier, for example, ambition is a gnawing viper; ambition is a blinded dove; ambition is an exploding firecracker; then, rather obscurely, we are on morality, music, dance, and physic. Ford's technique here is not the smooth Shakespearean “fused image” (“the hearts / That spaniel'd me at heels / … do discandy, melt their sweets / On blossoming Caesar; and this pine is bark'd”) nor is it controlled by a Shakespearean rhetorical tightness (“thou mayst hold a serpent by the tongue, / A chafed lion by the mortal paw, / A fasting tiger safer by the tooth, / Than keep in peace that hand which thou dost hold”).

Several recent critics have approached the language of The Broken Heart by identifying key words, Anderson finding them in image clusters relating to the heart and the banquet, McDonald in “antilogies” of moral significance; Morris sees them as shifting from passage to passage, “each energizing a phrase and creating not a lucid statement but an arcane meditation” (p. xxvii). I think the use of key words is probably more sustained than Morris allows and I find a number of them embodied in repeated verbals, again indicating patterns of process. Verbals of diving into or piercing define attempts to penetrate clouded, hidden fates. Growing, budding, and shriveling (linking with height- and growth-signifying noun images of vegetation—mushrooms, underbrush, vines, elms) predicate individual fortunes and hopes as well as Sparta's general welfare. The word building reinforces the emphasis on rising and the contrast between the high and the low, while standing recurs to express firmness, certainty, endurance, and heroic stature. Certain kinds of images attach to certain people. Confinement and sinking are associated with Penthea especially (though later they begin to apply to others), while an opposite pattern of building, rising, and height images bespeak the contrasting fortunes of her brother. The inextricably intertwined fates of the two, however, are indicated through shared metaphors. Not only does Ithocles finally accept the metaphors of sinking for himself but earlier both have had dream speeches; Penthea more knowingly, “I've slept with mine eyes open a great while” (in this dream of life) while Ithocles rejects dreams of greatness—“these are still but dreams”—yet insists on “a real, visible, material happiness … I saw it, sir, I saw it.”

Words of a very different type—and nouns, mainly—characterize Bassanes' speeches in his early condition. Between them, he and Phulas name vulgar disfigurements and sicknesses, and degrade humanity into long catalogs of beasts and birds and even fish and insects in their comings and goings (gaudy earwig, springals, son of a cat, ill-looking hound's head, lions, bears, bit-fox, a herd of lords, a flock of ladies, shoals of horses, caroches in drifts, and so forth). Husbands are asses or beneath animal existence altogether—earth, “clods of dirt.” These nouns are not part of the explanatory element of the play but are indicative of Bassanes' hideously debased view of man.

I should like to mention two more kinds of key words, those associated with the culmination of the tragic movement of the play in death, and those associated with the ultimate means to that death. In the inexorable sequence, death becomes more an acceptable respite than a fearful cutting off. Peace, rest, freedom, and curatives become death's synonyms. Reiteration of the word bed operates importantly here as pivotal between marriage and the grave and as a reminder of the chain of causation that stretches in this play from one to the other. The chain comes to its end when those doomed to or prevented from the marriage bed can “lie down in a bed of dust.” Sorrows are the preparation for this “rest for care.” The following passage between Ithocles, urging friendship as he looks forward to his own marriage, and Orgilus, covertly promising assassination as he remembers the wreck of his, illustrates these connected meanings of bed and carries the typical sense of peaceful subsidence into death through its gentle, downward-moving verb phrase.

Ith.                                                                                                              partners
In all respects else but the bed.
Org.                                                                                                              The bed!
Forfend it Jove's own jealousy!—till lastly
We slip down in the common earth together,
And there our beds are equal.


Lastly, slip down in the common earth together, there our beds are equal suggests soft naturalness that sits a little oddly with the treacherous violence of Orgilus' diabolic machine, but the ritualistic shaping of Ithocles' murder, a view accepted by Ithocles himself, puts the emphasis on order and peace: “my last breath,” says Ithocles, “which on the sacred altar / Of a long-look'd-for peace—now—moves—to Heaven.” The slip down of Orgilus' lines is a part of a pattern of such verbs appearing especially toward the end of The Broken Heart—such as sink, fall, totter, bend, lie down—the ironic real process that substitutes for the fantasies of growing, building, reaching, and standing.

Two final points, which I shall pass over hastily not because they are unimportant but because they are so large and obvious that much comment has been given them. The first is the function of the words blood and heart in the play's movement toward death. In addition to being a part of the process of the play, blood and bleeding unite mankind in a common humanity and individual characters with one another in their particular involvements. Blood is the metaphor for quarrels, battles, family ties and authority, love, and revenge. To Bassanes it is lust and youth. To Penthea, it is her own sexual life, polluted by the marriage bed, requiring literal starvation. To Orgilus it is death as well as “this bubbling life.” Some applications of the word are general, “Poor Honor, thou art stabb'd and bleed'st to death,” “Your reputation … / Lies bleeding at my feet,” “usher to the rankness of the blood”; some more particularized, “I sweat in blood for it,” “By our bloods / Will you quite both undo us, Brother”; some fantastic, “three drops of blood at the nose,” “every drop / Of blood is turn'd to an amethyst, / Which married bachelors hang in their ears”; some literal, “It [Orgilus' actual blood] sparkles like a lusty wine new broach'd.”

Penthea, Ithocles, and Orgilus all die by processes of literal deprivation of blood. Even Penthea's starvation aims at this part of her being, “blood … be henceforth never height'ned / With taste of sustenance! Starve.” Ithocles dies of stab wounds, “Penthea, by thy side thy brother bleeds.” Orgilus kills himself with an exaggeratedly clinical opening of a vein in each arm. With the appropriate order, “Remove the bloodless body,” the stage is cleared of the last of the trio so bound together by blood in its various meanings of consanguinity, love, life, murder, suicide, and so forth. Calantha moves the focus to the heart. She does not bleed but dies of “the silent griefs which cut the heartstrings.” As her mode of speech ostensibly moves beyond art and her dying beyond ordinary agency, she is fixed linguistically in death in an oxymoron of smiling sorrow: “Her heart is broke … I must weep to see her smile in death.”

In spite of the heavy emphasis on blood, it is typical of Ford's control that white, the ritual symbol of purity, is the play's only color. And this leads me to my last point, that much of the process and the language of process in The Broken Heart is crystallized into ceremonial form. The pattern is repeated violation and reconstitution of ceremony. One thinks of The Spanish Tragedy in which the tragic play-within-the-play turns to real killings, of the heaped-up horrors perpetrated under the cover of the masked revels at the end of The Revenger's Tragedy, or of numerous interrupted banquet scenes of which Macbeth and The Tempest offer most striking examples. The Broken Heart, however, is more ceremonial throughout and its violations of ceremonial rites substitute new ceremonies through which the playwright achieves both shock value and control. These transformed ceremonies are the inevitable results of the violation of Penthea's purity through marriage rites. Much of the language concerning ceremony has to do with sacrifice, suggesting that the tragedy is a propitiation for guilt and a cleansing of sacrilegious pollution. A countermovement of the play resides in images anticipating happy celebrations but these are ominously undercut. The King's proclamation of a victory celebration, “our humility shall bend before altars, and perfume their [the gods'] temples with abundant sacrifice,” is supplanted by a contrary image of celebration described by Ithocles and quoted above beginning, “Applause runs madding, like the drunken priests.” Prophilus' happy expectation of Hymen's torches fed “with eternal fires” is immediately followed by Orgilus' “Put out thy torches Hymen.”

Love is the holiest sacrifice, sacred to the altar of Vesta:

                                                                                                                                  Time can never
On the white table of unguilty faith
Write counterfeit dishonor; turn those eyes,
The arrows of pure love, upon that fire
Which once rose to a flame, perfum'd with vows
As sweetly scented as the incense smoking
On Vesta's [altars]; virgin tears, like
The holiest odors, sprinkled dews to feed 'em
And to increase their fervor.


Wrongdoing and expiation are expressed in terms of desecration and redeeming rites. Thus Bassanes endeavored

                                                                                                                                  to pull down
That temple built for adoration only,
And level 't in the dust of causeless scandal.
But, to redeem a sacrilege so impious,
Humility shall pour before the deities
I have incens'd a [largess] of more patience
Than their displeased altars can require.


Ithocles will make Penthea a deity at whose “hallowed shrine” prayers and sacrifices will be offered by maids and wives, but he himself becomes the blood offering upon her altar as Orgilus entraps him “to sacrifice a tyrant to a turtle.” Dying, Ithocles proclaims himself and his great hopes to be sacrifices on the altar of peace.

When Calantha pronounces her own coronationturned-abdication and marriage-funeral rites, the union of ritualized action and ritual language and the ceremonial paradoxes reach full strength. Fulfilling her personal destiny and her public duty at the same time, concluding the final event in the tragic series and opening up a hopeful future for Sparta, Calantha harmonizes disparate elements that have hitherto in the play been at war.

In the ceremonial words, explanation is still at work and it is this explanatory presentation of what happens, of what must be, that is so distinctive in The Broken Heart. Significant names, pinpointing of cause and effect, heavy use of verbs that produce metaphors showing cause and operation, a style detached and observational although alternately complex-vague and simple-direct, a measured and unbroken, yet slightly incoherent, progression of lines, key words that crucially define the last steps of the tragedy, ceremonial shaping (both verbal and visual) of actions and reactions—these are qualities of language that Ford puts to work in this play where so clearly one initial choice brings inescapable repercussions on everybody and on everything that happens. With these components, Ford can have inevitability with surprise; he can be explicit yet maintain the heavy implication of things not said; he can bring an aura of incredible refinement to a drama of blood revenge; he can operate mainly in a single dimension and yet suggest variety and depth.


  1. John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1968), p. 193.

  2. One thinks of an early example in Richard Crashaw's reproachful epigram to the effect that Love's Sacrifice is nothing but The Broken Heart. The Poems English, Latin and Greek of Richard Crashaw, ed. L. C. Martin, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1957), p. 181.

  3. Robert Davril, Le Drame de John Ford (Paris: Didier, 1954), M. Joan Sargeaunt, John Ford (Oxford: Blackwell, 1935), Stavig, H. J. Oliver, The Problem of John Ford (Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne Univ. Press, 1955), and among earlier critics, Lamb, Hazlitt, Swinburne, Lowell. Hazlitt and Lowell disliked Ford's style intensely for some of these very reasons but Saintsbury, who also disliked Ford, still praised his poetical faculty and his verse as a “noble medium.”

  4. Eliot found Ford's blank verse unique in its movement and tone. Essays in Elizabethan Drama (New York: Harcourt, 1960 [c. 1932]), p. 140. Of late, in fact, the considerable 20th-century attention to Ford's ideas, apart from his techniques as a poet, has begun to be balanced by a few examinations of his language. I have already mentioned Davril's long section on the subject. Frederick M. Burelbach, Jr., has published an article on “John Ford's Style: The Apprentice Years,” The McNeese Review, 17 (1966), 58-73. Donald K. Anderson, Jr., in “The Heart and the Banquet: Imagery in Ford's 'Tis Pity and The Broken Heart,SEL, 2 (1962), 209-17, defies the much remarkedon paucity of images in Ford and uses imagery as a key to meanings in Ford's greatest plays. Charles O. McDonald, “The Design of John Ford's The Broken Heart: A Study in the Development of Caroline Sensibility,” SP, 59 (1962), 141-61, finds in The Broken Heart oppositional key words or “antilogies” which develop contrasting moral sequences that lie at the heart of the play's meaning. A most sensitive treatment of John Ford's verse appears in Brian Morris' introduction to the New Mermaids The Broken Heart (New York: Hill, 1966) where, although no particular effort is made to distinguish the poetic technique of The Broken Heart from that of any other of the Ford plays, most of the observations aim at that one work.

  5. Algernon Swinburne, Essays and Studies (London: Chatto and Windus, 1875), p. 280; Morris, p. xxviii. Further references to the Morris introduction will be given parenthetically in the text.

  6. Quotations from The Broken Heart are taken from Robert Ornstein and Hazelton Spencer, Elizabethan and Jacobean Tragedy (Boston: Heath, 1964).

  7. Even the most verbose of Shakespeare's characters speak self-consciously, with tightly structured circularity: “Madam, I swear I use no art at all. / That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity; / And pity 'tis 'tis true. A foolish figure! / But farewell it, for I will use no art. / Mad let us grant him then.”

  8. Ford's fondness for such a phrase is attested to by his use of the same pattern in The Lover's Melancholy V.i: “Here's prince, and prince, and prince; / Prince upon prince!” where again the effect is something like irritably relegating momentous news to a fly's insistent buzzing.

Carol C. Rosen (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: Rosen, Carol C. “The Language of Cruelty in Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.” In Drama in the Renaissance: Comparative and Critical Essays, edited by Clifford Davidson, C. J. Gianakaris, and John H. Stroupe, pp. 315-27. New York: AMS Press, 1986.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1974, Rosen discusses 'Tis Pity She's a Whore within the context of Antonin Artaud's application of the tragedy to his theory of the theater of cruelty, concluding that Artaud fails to recognize that there is a fundamental balance between the cruel language and the violent action in the play.]

Though Antonin Artaud has been popularly deified as the mad martyr of the modern theater, his critical The Theater and Its Double deserves careful consideration not merely as an essential element in the bizarre alchemy of contemporary drama, but also as a provocative approach to orthodox dramatic theory. Indeed, Artaud's infamous “First Manifesto” of the Theater of Cruelty culminates in an apparently traditional program to stage “an adaptation of a work from the time of Shakespeare, a work entirely consistent with our present troubled state of mind” or other “works from the Elizabethan theater.” Notions of traditional revivals are shattered, however, with Artaud's revolutionary stipulation that these “apocryphal plays” be performed not only “without regard for text,” but that they be “stripped of their text and retaining only the accouterments of period, situations, characters, and action.”1 By offering John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore as a paradigm of his proposed theatrical epidemic (TD 28-32), Artaud provides us with a convenient pivot about which we may examine the efficacy of his approach to the Elizabethan drama on the modern stage.

Surprisingly, except for his disdain for Elizabethan verbosity, Artaud's discussion of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore is primarily a passionate affirmation of the appraisals of more reserved commentators.2 But Artaud uses the incestuous union consecrated in the course of Ford's play as a simile for his own concept of the theater of revolt. His focus upon the excessive cruelty of Ford's play and his emphasis upon the “paroxysm of horror, blood, and flouted laws” (TD 29) lead Artaud to his awesome analogy:

If the essential theater is like the plague, it is not because it is contagious, but because like the plague it is the revelation, the bringing forth, the exteriorization of a depth of latent cruelty by means of which all the perverse possibilities of the mind, whether of an individual or a people, are localized.

Like the plague the theater is the time of evil, the triumph of dark powers that are nourished by a power even more profound until extinction.

(TD 30)

By means of this circuitous syllogism, Artaud alludes to the cathartic value of the violated taboo in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Consequently, Paul Goodman's facile summation of this section of Artaud's manifesto—“And he ends with a rhapsody on Ford's Whore, whose content seems to him to be the plague itself”3—misses the metaphoric point. Artaud's obsession is far from rhapsodic; the aptness of Ford's play for Artaud's essay is demonstrated by the broken taboo at its core. As Brian Morris notes in his Introduction to the New Mermaid edition of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, though plays about incest were not uncommon in the Jacobean period, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore “is the only play which makes incest its central theme, and explores to the full the nature and consequences of the relationship.”4 The content of Ford's play is, in essence, the plague itself.

Seeking to revive rather than to recall the primordial theater “whose only value is in its excruciating, magical relation to reality and danger” (TD 89), Artaud suggests an intensely savage stage which would externalize through grotesque images, exaggerated movements, stylization, and distortion the pervading cruelty of all human acts. He wants “to break through language in order to touch life … to create … the theater” (TD 13); like Cocteau, he longs to substitute a vital “poetry of the theater” for the impotent “poetry in the theater.”5 But by dismissing the text of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore as benign and obtrusive, Artaud undercuts Ford's dependence upon caustic language as dramatic texture. For it may be suggested that this crucial dramatic instance of overwhelmingly cruel forces exemplifies Artaud's theatrical concerns most concretely by means of its brutal language.

Artaud's base metaphor of the plague is itself anticipated in the language of 'Tis Pity.6 In the first scene of Ford's play, in fact, the Friar counsels Giovanni:

Beg Heaven to cleanse the leprosy of lust
That rots thy soul. …


This motif of internal decay echoes throughout the play. Its incremental effect is intensified as well as counterpointed by antithetical stage action. In Act IV, scene iii, for example, this grotesque image of the plague contrasts with the stage presence of Annabella, an innocent involved in a double edged action. Soranzo berates his wife for her “hot itch and pleurisy of lust” (IV.iii.8), he vows to drag her “lust-be-lepered body through the dust” (IV.iii.61), and he calls her “a damned whore” who “deserves no pity” (IV.iii.78-79). Yet Annabella remains pure; she braves the harsh sound of Soranzo's ravings, and finally, she rebels against the cruelty of his words. To Soranzo's threats of torture (“I'll rip up thy heart, / And find it there” and “with my teeth / Tear the prodigious lecher joint by joint” [IV.iii.52-55]), Annabella responds with sarcasm and laughter. In response to his furious physical attack (“I'll hew thy flesh to threads” and “Thus will I pull thy hair, and thus I'll drag / Thy … body” [IV.iii.57-61]), she staunchly sings to the Heavens. But Soranzo's belittling of a lover who trifled with lesser parts than “the part I loved, which was thy heart, / And … thy virtues” (IV.iii.127-28) hurts Annabella to the quick. For her brother's incestuous love she cries out now in anguish:

                                                                                                                                            O my lord!
These words wound deeper than your sword could do.


Clearly, the language of this scene intensifies its cruelty. For the angry, savage epithets hurled by Soranzo are the dark double of the innocent action of the siblings off-stage. Also, the horrible visual conclusion of the play is foreshadowed by Soranzo's verbal abuse of Annabella's torn heart. In this scene, Annabella's appeal for the audience is heightened by Soranzo's words perhaps even more than by his blows.

Citing this scene (IV.iii) as the crux of cruelty in 'Tis Pity, Artaud alludes to the antithetical stage effect of shrieks and songs:

With them we proceed from excess to excess and vindication to vindication. Annabella is captured, convicted of adultery and incest, trampled upon, insulted, dragged by the hair, and we are astonished to discover that far from seeking a means of escape, she provokes her executioner still further and sings out in a kind of obstinate heroism. It is the absolute condition of revolt, it is an exemplary case of love without respite which makes us, the spectators, gasp with anguish at the idea that nothing will ever be able to stop it.

If we desire an example of absolute freedom in revolt, Ford's Annabella provides this poetic example bound up with the image of absolute danger.

(TD 28-29)

Artaud's visceral approach to the play compels him to call attention to this scene. Here, the tension between lawful cruelty and pure yet criminal rituals shreds the action in a conflict of energies. A vital paradox of deeds and demeanor, Annabella is guilty of incest and adultery, yet she stands as an image of innocence before us. Though Artaud is struck by the double nature of the action at the heart of 'Tis Pity, he strikes out the words which parallel the poetic duplicity of the action.

The power of words to inflict as well as to aggravate wounds echoes throughout 'Tis Pity, particularly in coarse allusions to blood and lust. A verbal distortion of love's image is, in fact, invoked by Florio, whose first angry utterance, though aimed at Grimaldi and Vasques (a soldier and a servant), nonetheless suggests the oral abuse to be hurled by an entire society at the incestuous love shared by his children, Annabella and Giovanni. Florio confronts the brawlers outside his home with the demand, “Have you not other places but my house / To vent the spleen of your disordered bloods?” (I.ii.21-22). This image reinforces the Friar's early admonitions concerning the seductive bonds of “lust and death” (I.i.59), and it also anticipates Annabella's final profanation of her love as “lust” (V.i.9).

When spoken by Soranzo and his betrayed mistress, Hippolita, however, the lusty language of 'Tis Pity is more precisely suited to the actions and characters being depicted. Hippolita's accusation of Soranzo as her seducer, whose “distracted lust” and “sensual rage of blood” have combined to wrong her (II.ii.27-28), for example, puts this verbal image in its proper visual perspective. For the language of blood in 'Tis Pity has a double nature. At once it applies both to the violence and lust of Parma and to the blood-ties and rites of purification enacted by Giovanni and his sister.

Like Annabella's note of warning, the central action of Ford's drama is “double-lined with tears and blood” (V.i.34). Indeed, the incestuous lovers seem to have heeded the Friar's advice to “wash every word thou utter'st / In tears (and if't be possible) of blood” (I.i.72-73). On one level their actions are termed monstrous, lewd, and unnatural. On a more symbolic level, however, the language of lust and blood is consistently undercut by the actions of tears and cleansed blood. For example, Hippolita's curse, when she is poisoned at the wedding of Soranzo and Annabella, proves ironically prophetic:

Take here my curse amongst you: may thy bed
Of marriage be a rack unto thy heart,
Burn blood and boil in vengeance—O my heart,
My flame's intolerable—Mayst thou live
To father bastards, may her womb bring forth
Monsters. …


This burning speech not only foreshadows Soranzo's realization that his own “blood's on fire” (V.ii.25) and “blood shall quench that flame” (V.iv.27), but it also creates a strong verbal contrast with the pure visual image of the final monstrosity presented on stage. Similarly, Florio's early comments to Vasques bear a prophetic double-edge:

I would not for my wealth my daughter's love
Should cause the spilling of one drop of blood.
Vasques, put up, let's end this fray in wine.


Verbally turning blood to wine, Florio fosters a motif of sacrilegious communion which, like Hippolita's bloody curse following a drink of deadly wine, culminates in the final scene of 'Tis Pity. Here the potent image of wine is transformed back to the symbolic blood of childbirth as one heart is untimely ripped ( and another is broken (, suggesting a double pagan sacrifice when Giovanni attends a last banquet “trimmed in reeking blood, / That triumphs over death” (

Constituting a cruel coup de théâtre, Giovanni's appearance with the essential prop of 'Tis Pity fuses poetry and plot into the vital poetry of the theater. For the heart of Annabella, which her brother bears as an offering at the last banquet, serves the drama concretely as well as emblematically. Bringing to fruition Artaud's modern concept of the stage as a magical “concrete physical place which asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete language to speak,” the overwhelming reality of Annabella's heart envelops the action in a concrete physical language which, according to Artaud, is “truly theatrical only to the degree that the thoughts it expresses are beyond the reach of the spoken language.” Thus, the stage property of Annabella's heart exemplifies Artaud's ideal of a solidified and sensual “poetry in space” (TD 37-38).

Annabella's heart is also more than a visible metaphor. It is the real “fragile, fluctuating center” of 'Tis Pity (TD 13); it is, in effect, the life obscured by language in dramatic form. As such, it illustrates the elusive double nature of theater and its magical core postulated by Artaud. In his preface to The Theater and Its Double, “The Theater and Culture,” Artaud asserts:

Every real effigy has a shadow which is its double; and art must falter and fail from the moment the sculptor believes he has liberated the kind of shadow whose very existence will destroy his repose.

Like all magic cultures … the true theater has its shadows too, and, of all languages and all arts, the theater is the only one left whose shadows have shattered their limitations. …

But the true theater, because it moves and makes use of living instruments, continues to stir up shadows where life has never ceased to grope its way.

(TD 12)

In Ford's 'Tis Pity, Annabella's lifeless heart suggests that “real effigy” insulated by the shadow of its form.

Though it is carried out upon the tip of a bloody dagger, the double significance of Annabella's heart (even on Artaud's metaphysical terms) is ultimately tied to the text as if it were a stake. First, it is, as its deliverer stresses, “a heart, / A heart, my lords, in which is mine entombed” ( To Giovanni, then, his sister's heart symbolizes their union in blood. Their marriage bed has become a coffin, and Annabella's heart is now Giovanni's grave. Secondly, Annabella's heart is a concretization of the lovers' bond and the ripened product of their love. For Giovanni has “ripped this heart” from Annabella's bosom as his dagger's point “ploughed up / Her fruitful womb” ( So Giovanni also equates Annabella's heart with the miscarried fruit of her womb; and his emblematic gesture, as he bears in his “fists … the twists of life” (, becomes a sacrificial birth rite. Finally, the brutal interruption of a banquet visually recalls the Friar's foreboding words at a previous feast. Witnessing the murder of Hippolita, the Friar expresses his fear to Giovanni that “marriage seldom's good, / Where the bride-banquet so begins in blood” (IV.i.109-10). The celebration of the marriage of Soranzo and Annabella which begins Act IV of 'Tis Pity thus prefigures the ritualistic content of the interrupted final banquet. Whereas the first feast is halted by the masked entrance of Hippolita and ladies in white robes, with garlands of willows (IV.i.36), the last feast ends with the sudden appearance of Giovanni. Each entrance inverts the purity of a ritual by means of unexpected murder. For in the course of the first banquet, the bloody happenings of its crueler double are foreshadowed as Hippolita takes a poisoned cup of wine as a token of charity. Clearly, then, Annabella's heart embodies the ripened seeds of death which have been verbally acknowledged throughout prophetic actions. As various meanings merge in a single moment, Annabella's heart's blood compresses the ritualistic occasions of 'Tis Pity into a single ceremony of innocence, combining aspects of communion, childbirth, and marriage rites.

Indeed, metaphoric language transforms symbolic action into ritual throughout Ford's play. In Act I, for example, gestures made in childish games are infused with ominous portent through the language of intuition. The game-world is established by the comments of secondary characters: the Friar describes choosing between degrees of sin as risky because “in such games as those they lose that win” (I.i.63), Florio reassures Soranzo of his “word” by reminding him that “Losers may talk by law of any game” (I.ii.55), and Donado strikes the central chord of 'Tis Pity as he rhetorically inquires of his foolish nephew, “wilt make thyself a may-game to all the world?” (I.iii.46-47) Likewise, the real-world of Parma is immediately established, as R. J. Kaufmann observes in his essay on “Ford's Tragic Perspective,” as a “carefully contrived world … in which marriage is debased, sacraments are violated, vows are disregarded, churchly and secular sanctions are loosened and enfeebled.”8 Before this distorted mirror of their actions, the children of Florio invent a double-game of deadly vows and tragic promise.

The interplay between Giovanni and Annabella in Act I, scene ii of 'Tis Pity may thus be approached as the “real effigy” of actions by sacrosanct shadows in acceptable society. Giovanni first appears to his sister as “some shadow of a man” (I.ii.132), and he admits that he is already suffering from “incurable and restless wounds” (I.ii.143). He offers his own heart as well as his dagger to his sister:

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.


With these words, Giovanni verbally reverses the play's final image of his sister's heart wrenched in ritualized murder. Similarly, Annabella anticipates future repercussions of their mimetic actions when she joins her brother in an eerie game of simonsays. Instinctively kneeling in an imitation of the marriage-game, Annabella charges her brother with a vow. “Love me, or kill me, brother,” she intones for him. And in a microscopic inversion of the play's progression, Giovanni responds in kind. “Love me, or kill me, sister,” he swears as he kneels beside Annabella and they kiss in a mock consummation of the marriage vows (I.ii.252-58).

While they improvise miniature representations of the rituals by which they will be destroyed, Giovanni and Annabella also perform symbolic acts of sensuality (the offering of the sword and the simultaneous rising after the exchange of vows, for example). In addition, they recognize the insufficiency of language to purge an inner pain. Having shared the anguish of enforced silence, they now share a scorn for words used to define roles. Giovanni asserts that he “must speak, or burst” (I.ii.153), and Annabella admits that she has sighed and cried “not so much for that I loved, as that / I durst not say I loved, nor scarcely think it” (I.ii.246-47). Now they dismiss the import of words like “brother” and “sister” (I.ii.228-30), and they become bound to each other by the “links / Of blood … to be ever one, / One soul, one flesh, one love, one heart, one all” (I.i.31-34).

Ironically, however, as Giovanni and Annabella free themselves from the bounds of Parma propriety, they are faced with more complex entanglements. In their first scene together, they form the pattern for 'Tis Pity, naively anticipating the traps as well as the macabre trappings of parallel rituals to follow. Vows and bonds of blood take on the double nature of crueler actions, and ultimately they negate themselves in a pattern turned inside out.

Foremost among these doubles of the original ritual is Act III, scene vi. This scene opens with Annabella kneeling and whispering to the Friar. Immediately, the positioning of the actors in Act I, scene ii is recalled in a distorted form, because Annabella now repents her incestuous vows and she seeks forgiveness. Upon completion of his graphic lecture on Annabella's wretchedness, the torment of “raging lust,” and the condemnation of “secret incests” (, the Friar warns Annabella: “Then you will wish each kiss your brother gave / Had been a dagger's point” ( By echoing, yet significantly distorting Giovanni's first sacrificial offer, the Friar foreshadows the final movement of 'Tis Pity. With these words, the Friar does “work / New motions in [Annabella's] heart” (, for he twists the “love or kill” vow towards its final malignant form.

Another counterpart to the basic ritual of 'Tis Pity is to be found in the double scene of Act III, scene ii. Echoing Giovanni's claim, Soranzo pronounces himself “sick to th' heart” (III.ii.34). He also pleads to Annabella for grace, even offering, as did her brother, to show her his heart (III.ii.21-26). This scene is performed not only before the audience, but also beneath Giovanni, whose voyeurism concretizes the double nature of his love and obsessive uncertainty. While watching this “looking glass” of his own actions (III.ii.40), Giovanni overhears his sister telling Soranzo, “If I hereafter find that I must marry, / It shall be you or none” (III.ii.61-62). This double-talk is necessitated by Annabella's new “sickness.”9 For Annabella's early sickness caused by silence has been changed into a more concrete morning sickness. She has, herself, become double, pregnant with another life inside her. Puzzled by Annabella's peculiar remarks and by her subsequent fainting spell, Soranzo, too, is “doubly … undone” (III.ii.76). And now, Hippolita's opinion of Soranzo (“You are too double / In your dissimulation” [II.ii.51-52]) can come to fruition.

The ritualistic ceremonies of Act I, scene ii are finally most emphatically negated when the less innocent participants awaken from their “dream” and “night-games” (V.v.36 and 2). They can no longer play their marriage-games of exchanging vows and rings ( Instead, the cycle is completed; the dark side of Giovanni's vow is fulfilled as he kills his sister “in a kiss,” repeating “Thus die, and die by me, and by my hand” (V.v.85) in what might be called a frenzied chant.

The concept of the feast is also negated in the final action of the play. Previously viewed as a celebration of fertility, the idea of a feast has gradually changed. As Richardetto foresaw, “And they that now dream of a wedding-feast / May chance to mourn the lusty bridegroom's ruin” (III.v.23-24). Now, a supposedly redemptive rite portends evil; this feast is a funeral; this banquet is, as Annabella suggests, “an harbinger of death” (V.v.27). Giovanni arrives late. Recalling the image of Hippolita, who arrived like a spectre at an earlier marriage-feast, Giovanni belittles numbed spectators:

You came to feast, my lords, with dainty fare;
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 is mine entombed:
Look well upon't; d'ee know't?


When Vasques asks, “What strange riddle's this?” ( he is startled by Giovanni's coldhearted reply. “'Tis Annabella's heart” ( The game is over.

Perhaps the most significant parallels in the play may be drawn between the ritualistic action of the main plot and that of the subordinate plot which also depicts a bloody stylized revenge for an unlawful love. The two plots, merging in Soranzo's “sensual rage of blood” (II.ii.28), counterpoint each other even to the mimesis of a “second death” (II.v.61). In the sub-action, the substitute murder of Bergetto in the place of Soranzo is a mistake; the irony of this dual revenge is intensified by the fact that the revenger himself (Richardetto) is playing a double role of doctor and destroyer. This bloody revenge by a man in disguise in Act II, scene iii serves as a counterpart both to Hippolita's deception (revealed in the removal of her mask during the masque) and to Hippolita's mistaken trust in the double nature of Vasques, who betrays her shortly afterwards (IV.i.35-63).

The fusion of the two plots is most clearly demonstrated in the final confrontation between Giovanni and Soranzo. Here, Giovanni's ecstatic proclamation that “Now brave revenge is mine” ( almost parodies the conscious motivations of Soranzo, Hippolita, and Richardetto. Twisting mad logic to his own ends, Giovanni declares his rage to be “the oracle of truth” (, and he offers to objectify the union of revenge by exchanging the heart of Annabella for the blood of her husband, Soranzo ( The torment of physical particularly which pervades the main action of 'Tis Pity (especially IV.iii and is also grotesquely burlesqued in the subplot of comic pain recounted by Bergetto (

Obviously, the clearest indication of ritualized cruelty in silhouette is to be found in the balance between Ford's intertwined actions. Hence an emphasis upon the bloody nature of the double plot might be offered as a tentative defense for Artaud's dismissal of Ford's potent words. But a consideration of Maeterlinck's translation and adaptation of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, the version of Ford's play with which Artaud was familiar,10 invalidates this defense. For there is no doubled subplot in Maeterlinck's Annabella. In his preface to the play, Maeterlinck denounces the “melodrame” of Hippolita, and he derides the “grosse comédie” of Bergetto and his “obscène valet,” Poggio. Deciding that “Ces scenes sont illisibles,” Maeterlinck proceeds to eliminate them from his text.11

A reading of Maeterlinck's version of 'Tis Pity also eliminates the possibility of justifying Artaud's scorn for Ford's piercing language on the basis of a faulty adaptation lacking the cruel images of the original text. On the contrary, Maeterlinck's translation is more than occasionally accurate; rather, it is almost literally exact. Yet its poetic force is ruthless as well, particularly in the crucial scene of IV.iii and in the concluding scene (which Maeterlinck ends, appropriately enough, with Giovanni's final speech and his death []). Indeed, Maeterlinck's analysis of the dark workings of 'Tis Pity foreshadows (and almost overshadows) Artaud's attempt at articulating the efficacy of ritualizing a drama dealing with the broken taboo. Maeterlinck writes:

Ford est descendu plus avant dans les ténèbres de la vie intérieure et générale. … Annabella est le poème terrible, ingénu et sanglant de l'amour sans merci. C'est l'amour charnel dans toute sa force, dans toute sa beauté et dans toute son horreur presque surnaturelle. … Les mots qui le déclarent ont déjà sur leurs lèvres le goût âcre et sombre du sang.12

Like Artaud, Maeterlinck cites scene iii of Act IV as the crux of ruthless cruelty in the play. Asserting, “Je ne crois pas qu'il y ait dans la littérature une scène plus belle, plus douce, plus tendre, plus cruelle et plus désespérée,” Maeterlinck also notes that Annabella braves the attack of Soranzo “avec des mots magnifiques arrachés comme des pierreries dans une tempête, aux abîmes éternels de l'âme humaine.”13 So although, like Artaud, he stresses the inner horrors implied by Ford's 'Tis Pity, Maeterlinck recognizes moreover the necessity for the language of the play. The words are hurled like bricks; in 'Tis Pity

la moindre parole que l'on prononce alors a une signification et une vie qu'elle n'a jamais ailleurs. Le ton du drame, là où ce ton existe, se modifie aussi.14

Maeterlinck, then, unlike the revolutionary Artaud, is not careless with traditional texts. “Les vieux dramatistes,” writes Maeterlinck in his preface (perhaps anticipating Artaudian theatrics), “n'avaient pas peur des mots.”15

Taking Artaud's theories and Ford's play in a complementary context, it becomes increasingly apparent that Artaud's choice of 'Tis Pity as a conceit for and as an instance of the theater of cruelty is more than understandable; it is unquestionably apt. Indeed, the action of 'Tis Pity emphatically illustrates Artaud's extreme notions about a double drama of painful exposure. Nevertheless, if the action of 'Tis Pity were simply to be mimed, as Artaud suggests (TD 99-100), then the edge of its essential weapon would be severely dulled. For the torrential language of 'Tis Pity engulfs the drama in cosmic anguish as both the sound and the fury of ceremonies of innocence reverberate in the twisted redundancies of ruthless words. This balance between the word and the unspeakable deed makes Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore the quintessential drama of cruelty.


  1. Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, tr. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), pp. 99-100. Subsequent page references to The Theater and Its Double, henceforth “TD,” will appear in the text.

  2. See, for example, Fredson Bowers' examination of tainted revenge in Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy (1940; rpt. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 208-11; M. C. Bradbrook's discussion of the sensual implications of Ford's language in Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1935), p. 253; T. S. Eliot's provisional acceptance of Ford's “double-stressing the horror” of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore in Essays on Elizabethan Drama (1932; rpt. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1960), p. 130; Ralph J. Kaufmann's analysis of the obsessive core and “delicately achieved balance” of “Ford's Tragic Perspective,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 1 (1960), 522-37, reprinted in Elizabethan Drama: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. R. J. Kaufman (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961), pp. 356-72; Clifford Leech's recognition of the cultivation by Ford of the “horrible and the shocking” in “The Last Jacobean Tragedy,” in Shakespeare's Contemporaries: Modern Studies in English Renaissance Drama, 2nd edition, ed. Max Bluestone and Norman Rabkin (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), pp. 387-99; and Mark Stavig's discussion of the inversion of Christian rituals in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore in John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1968), pp. 95-121.

  3. Paul Goodman, “Obsessed by Theatre,” in The Theory of the Modern Stage, ed. Eric Bentley (Baltimore: Penguin, 1968), p. 77.

  4. John Ford, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, ed. Brian Morris (New York: Hill and Wang, 1969), p. x. For convenience, this edition of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore has been used as the source of quotations and citations in this paper.

  5. Jean Cocteau, “Preface: 1922” to “The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower,” trans. Michael Benedikt, in Modern French Theatre: The Avant-Garde, Dada, and Surrealism, ed. Michael Benedikt and George E. Wellwarth (New York: Dutton, 1966), pp. 96-97.

  6. It is important to note, however, that Artaud's choice of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore as a model for his theater of cruelty has its basis in the play's obsessive quality, use of ritual, and breaking of taboo. This is substantiated by a consideration of the similar qualities exhibited by Arden of Feversham, the only other Elizabethan or Jacobean play Artaud mentions (TD 99). Though the image of the plague echoes throughout 'Tis Pity, it is also understandably common in other plays of the period (e.g., Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy [IV.i.38, 196]).

  7. For a discussion of Ford's “hypnotic” use of the word “blood,” see Brian Morris' introduction to 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, pp. xxiv-xxv.

  8. Kaufmann, “Ford's Tragic Perspective,” in Elizabethan Drama, p. 366.

  9. This guessing-game of incest, reminiscent of Pericles (I.i), is another instance of childish play which oversteps its bounds in 'Tis Pity. For an illuminating discussion of play which may be applied to Artaud's concept of Ford's drama, see Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1949; rpt. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), pp. 107-11. Huizinga describes play as lying “outside morals” (p. 213) in a magic circle which absorbs “the player intensely and utterly” (p. 13) with a savagely poetic game which tends to be beautiful. Huizinga states, “All true ritual is … played. We moderns have lost the sense for ritual and sacred play. Our civilization is worn with age and too sophisticated” (p. 158). Huizinga's theories seem to support Artaud's quest for savage terms of artistic expression.

  10. Artaud began his acting career under the direction of Lugné-Poe, who founded the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre (where Maeterlinck's adaptation of 'Tis Pity was first performed on November 6, 1894). See Naomi Greene, Antonin Artaud: Poet Without Words (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970), p. 18.

  11. John Ford, Annabella ('Tis Pity She's a Whore), traduit et adapté par Maurice Maeterlinck (Paris: Paul Ollendorff, 1895), p. xviii. For a discussion of the weakness of the subplot of 'Tis Pity, see also H. J. Oliver, The Problem of John Ford (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1955), p. 97. For a defense of the subplot, however, see M. Joan Sargeaunt, John Ford (1935; rpt. New York: Russell and Russell, 1966), p. 108.

  12. Maurice Maeterlinck, “Préface” to Annabella, pp. xii, xvi. See also Maurice Maeterlinck, quoted in Clifford Leech, “The Last Jacobean Tragedy,” p. 398.

  13. Maurice Maeterlinck, “Préface” to Annabella, pp. xviii, xvii.

  14. Ibid., p. xiii.

  15. Ibid., p. x.

David Atkinson (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: Atkinson, David. “Moral Knowledge and the Double Action in The Witch of Edmonton.Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 25, No. 2 (Spring, 1985): 419-37.

[In the following essay, Atkinson asserts that the theme of moral knowledge serves to unite the seemingly disconnected Mother Sawyer and Frank Thorney plots in The Witch of Edmonton.]

A familiar view of The Witch of Edmonton by Dekker, Ford, and Rowley is that the play was written hastily in order to cash in on the topicality of the witchcraft material and that little effort was made to integrate this with the Frank Thorney plot.1 A study which praises the main plot as “probably the most sophisticated treatment of domestic tragedy in the whole of the Elizabethan-Jacobean drama” simultaneously dismisses the sub-plot as sketchy and largely unrelated.2 Edward Sackville West, in his seminal essay on the play, gives a more detailed reason for doubting the unity of The Witch of Edmonton:

While in the theatre the interest and excitement of the play is marvellously sustained, so that we do not care to notice the points at which the double action fails to amalgamate, outside it we must admit that the stories of Frank Thorney and of the witch herself are not properly integrated. We can, if we like, argue that the Dog acts as a sufficient binding force; but I do not think this argument holds, for the reason that that figure is made to do (since the stage is after all a simplifying medium) for two different devils: the revenge-lust of the witch and the self-destructiveness of Frank.3

Besides the Dog there are few characters who function in both plots. Nevertheless, a claim can still be made for a greater degree of thematic coherence in the play than has hitherto been allowed.4 Unity is given to the double action of The Witch of Edmonton by the theme of moral knowledge, or the knowledge of good and evil. Initially Frank Thorney and Mother Sawyer, the witch, are hardly to be thought of as especially virtuous people, but neither are they intentionally wicked; in fact they show little consciousness of the difference between right and wrong. Yet during the course of the play both of these characters become aware of that distinction, and this gives rise to a division within the personality of each of them. It is only then that they are drawn into irrevocable evil, resulting in catastrophe in both cases, but also bringing about repentance. These two lines of action parallel one another, although the treatment is considerably more detailed in the main plot. In addition, the plots complement each other in two different ways. In the first place, Frank Thorney specifically encounters the goodness of Susan Carter which makes a profound impression upon him, whereas Mother Sawyer discovers the nature of evil. Secondly, Frank's motives are depicted as being primarily psychological in origin, while the dramatization of Mother Sawyer concentrates a good deal upon social pressures, although there is also a fair amount of overlap in these respects. There is thus a counterpointing of themes between the two plots which, combined with the independent activity of the Dog, tends to obscure the play's structural unity.

Frank Thorney is weak-willed and complaisant, desiring nothing more than general approval and a quiet life. So he has married Winifred, his fellow-servant, in the knowledge that this will gratify not only her but also their employer, Sir Arthur Clarington, who is actually hoping to manipulate Frank's willingness to please for his own lecherous ends. At the same time, Frank shows no qualms about parting from his wife immediately after their wedding, with the vague promise of seeing her “once every month at least” (I.i.44), so as not to risk displeasing his father who wishes him to marry Susan Carter. Nevertheless, Frank is quite prepared to deceive Old Thorney about his marriage in order to secure an inheritance:

                                                                                                                        I'll use
Such dutiful and ready means, that ere
He can have notice of what's past, th'inheritance
To which I am born Heir, shall be assur'd:
That done, why let him know it; if he like it not,
Yet he shall have no power in him left
To cross the thriving of it.


The main import of this speech, however, is to demonstrate Frank's habit of self-delusion, because he should know perfectly well that there is no such inheritance available. Old Thorney makes this quite clear the first time they meet in the play: “I need not tell you / With what a labyrinth of dangers dayly / The best part of my whole Estate's encumbred” (I.ii.124-26). This explains why Frank has had to go into the service of Sir Arthur and why his father wants to see him married to Susan, the daughter of a wealthy yeoman.

A tendency towards self-delusion is probably likewise implicit in the oath of fidelity to Winifred which Frank goes on to reaffirm:

                                                                                                              Once more in hearing
Of Heaven and thee, I vow, that never henceforth
Disgrace, reproof, lawless affections, threats,
Or what can be suggested 'gainst our Marriage,
Shall cause me falsifie that Bridal-Oath
That bindes me thine. And, Winnifride, when ever
The wanton heat of youth by subtle baits
Of beauty, or what womans Art can practice,
Draw me from onely loving thee; let Heaven
Inflict upon my life some fearful ruine.


The Witch of Edmonton is too psychologically complex a drama to be considered simply as an illustration of the consequences of breaking such an oath, and the dramatists do not point this moral of the story.5 All the same, the oaths in the play are significant. Cuddy Banks is eventually told by the Dog about the dangers of swearing and cursing, and the Dog's speech also draws attention to the parallel between Frank's oath here and Mother Sawyer's later cursing of Old Banks: “Thou never art so distant / From an evil Spirit, but that thy Oaths, / Curses and Blasphemies pull him to thine Elbow” (V.i.127-29). The swearing of an oath is not something that should be undertaken lightly, although to swear one and keep to it is legitimate; Old Carter, for instance, is proud that “my word and my deed shall be proved one at all times” (I.ii.6-7). Winifred likewise has a healthy respect for oaths and fulfils her own vow to reform her life, yet she rounds on Sir Arthur when he frivolously swears “by this good Sun-shine”:

                                                                                                              Can you name
That syllable of good, and yet not tremble,
To think to what a foul and black intent,
You use it for an Oath?


In a lighter vein, Susan Carter upbraids her suitor Warbeck for his extravagant oaths, “By the honour of Gentility” and “By this white hand of thine” (I.ii.49, 52). But Frank Thorney, for his part, is oblivious to all this.

Indeed, he is not even really conscious of the seriousness of bigamy. Although he responds indignantly to his father's accusations, he nonetheless fully intends to go ahead and marry Susan:

What do you take me for? an Atheist?
One that nor hopes the blessedness of life
Hereafter, neither fears the vengeance due
To such as make the Marriage-bed an Inne,
Which Travellers day and night,
After a toylsome lodging leave at pleasure?
Am I become so insensible of losing
The glory of Creations work? My soul!
O I have liv'd too long.


Frank has not suddenly “become so insensible” of losing his soul; he has never been alert to that danger and is not so now in spite of the unmistakable seriousness that Old Thorney puts into his warning: “Darest thou persevere yet? and pull down wrath / As hot as flames of hell, to strike thee quick / Into the Grave of horror?” (I.ii.181-83). Frank proceeds to deceive his father by means of Sir Arthur's letter and then to go through with the wedding, still in the belief that this will please Old Thorney. It is sufficient to set his mind at ease if the people around him continue to call him “Honest Frank” and “My good Son” (I.i.116; I.ii.200). All the same, by the end of his interview with his father even Frank recognizes that he has got himself deeply embroiled, but instead of examining his own conscience he starts to shift the blame onto an inevitable fate:

          On every side I am distracted:
Am waded deeper into mischief,
Then virtue can avoid. But on I must:
Fate leads me: I will follow.


He could, of course, easily evade a malign “Fate” and disentangle himself from this “mischief” by owning up to his marriage with Winifred and withdrawing from the second, bigamous wedding. But Frank has no real conception either of “virtue” or of the sin that he is about to commit. He declares that “No Man can hide his shame from Heaven that views him. / In vain he flees, whose destiny pursues him” (I.ii.227-28), yet he is not sufficiently conscious of his own “shame” to do anything about it. At the end of the scene the excitement over the imminent wedding is mounting and Frank alone fails to share in the general air of anticipation; Susan speaks tenderly, “Pray Heaven I may deserve the blessing sent me. / Now my heart is settled,” but there is an ironic ring to his brief response, “So is mine” (I.ii.223-24).

The next time Frank appears on the stage he is married to two different women. Susan's speech, “'Las, Sir, I am young, / Silly, and plain; more, strange to those contents / A wife should offer” (II.ii.79-81), contains a certain pathos in view of the fact that her husband, who should be equally “strange to those contents,” is already familiar with them as provided by Winifred. In fact until now Winifred has been a wholly suitable partner for him because she seems prepared to accept him on his own terms. In contrast, Susan cannot believe that Frank should fail to live up to what she has expected of their marriage, and sensing after their wedding that he is uneasy about something, she blames herself for it. Frank in turn is evasive and resorts to extravagant but meaningless flattery of her: “Thou art all perfection” and so on (II.ii.95-106). The rhetorical style of this speech represents a conventional method of indicating romantic passion, but it is in contrast to his usual manner of speaking and, because Susan's diction is often a little more elevated than his (as in this episode and in their parting scene), this can create the impression that Frank is desperately trying to raise himself to her level; the difference in their speech thus symbolizes the more profound level on which they are incompatible. His flattery, however, is to no avail, and it gives way to a passage which reveals the extent of the inner torment that he is by now suffering, the apparently mixed metaphors of the Hydra growing wild and taking root and of the leeches twisting about his heart vividly describing the feelings both of turmoil and of constriction in Frank's breast:

Sus.: Come, come, those golden strings of flattery
Shall not tie up my speech, Sir; I must know
The ground of your disturbance.
Frank:                                                                                          Then look here;
For here, here is the fen in which this Hydra
Of discontent grows rank.
Sus.:                                                            Heaven sheild it: where?
Frank: In mine own bosom: here the cause has root;
The poysoned Leeches twist about my heart,
And will, I hope, confound me.


The fact of the matter is that in Susan he has encountered something quite new, “so rare a goodness” (II.ii.138). She presents a challenge to the whole basis of his personality since in her presence he is forced to acknowledge the difference that there is between good and evil. The result is the opening up of a deep division within Frank's character because the sort of existence that he has enjoyed until now has involved wrongdoing and represents an affront to Susan's innocent goodness. But in the end his old way of life is too deeply engrained for him to act on this discovery, and so he abjures it, leaving Susan in order to run away with Winifred. In a sense the two women symbolize the division within Frank, and the pain that it causes him is suggested by his unwillingness to be with the two of them together. When Susan comes to bid him farewell he tries to send the disguised Winifred on ahead, and because Susan asks her to stay he himself walks apart from them. Yet even in the light of his new recognition of right and wrong Frank tries to justify his actions and to avoid accepting any sort of moral responsibility. From previously invoking fate, he now tries to shift the blame for his situation onto his father, even though there is nothing in the play to support such an accusation:

Let my Father then make the restitution,
Who forc'd me take the bribe: it is his gift
And patrimony to me; so I receive it.
He would not bless, nor look a Father on me,
Until I satisfied his angry will.
When I was sold, I sold my self again
(Some Knaves have done't in Lands, and I in Body)
For money, and I have the hire.


With Winifred, Frank could perhaps maintain this sort of ingenuous fiction, but in front of Susan he finds himself unable to overlook his own guilt: “I do not lay the sin unto your charge, / 'Tis all mine own” (III.iii.33-34). Because such goodness does oblige him to make an admission like this he finds its presence unbearable and consequently tries to part from Susan as quickly as possible. Yet at the same time she retains an attraction for him, and this makes him accede to her fatal request to accompany him through one more field. He speaks of her as a thorn in his flesh, but a thorn on which a rose grows: “What a Thorne this Rose grows on? parting were sweet, / But what a trouble 'twill be to obtain it?” (III.ii.118-19). Sensing this division within Frank, the diabolical Dog seizes the opportunity to brush up against him and plant in his troubled mind the idea that he might be at ease again if he were to do away with Susan: “Now for an early mischief and a sudden: / The minde's about it now. One touch from me / Soon sets the body forward” (III.iii.1-3). Thus it is only when Frank has become properly conscious of good and evil that he carries out the terrible, evil act which had never previously entered his mind. Yet his new level of awareness also renders him unable to delude himself as to what he has done. His earlier fatalism contained echoes of Macbeth and now, like Macbeth at a similar stage of his career, he is ready to embrace evil and defy the consequences: “'Tis done; and I am in: once past our height, / We scorn the deepst Abyss” (III.iii.65-66). So he rapidly devises the scheme to make it appear as if he and Susan were attacked by Warbeck and Somerton, and the Dog lends his assistance in tying him to a tree.

Frank's defiant attitude, however, reckons without two things. The first is the independent part played by the Dog in prompting him to kill Susan, although Frank believes that it was his own idea:

I did not purpose to have added murther;
The Devil did not prompt me: till this minute
You might have safe returned; now you cannot:
You have dogg'd your own death.


The pun in the last of these lines addressed to Susan just as he is about to stab her provides the audience with a comment on Frank's error, but the Dog is not visible to anybody in the play except for Mother Sawyer and Cuddy Banks. The Dog appears to help Frank in making his alibi more credible, but the Dog is a devil and has his own reasons for doing so. Like the witches in Macbeth, the Dog is single-mindedly serving his own ends and not those of the individuals with whom he has contact. His purpose with regard to Frank Thorney is not only to prompt him to commit the sin of murdering Susan but also to ensure that his crime is detected and that he is executed for it, thus paving the way for his damnation. When Frank's guilt does emerge the Dog is present, according to the stage direction, “shrugging as it were for joy, and dances” (IV.ii.65 s.d.). The second factor for which Frank has not made allowance is the manifestation of divine Providence which is to disclose his guilt so that justice may be done and to play upon his conscience in order that he might confess and repent and so achieve salvation, even though this will also mean his death upon the gallows.

Even before the workings of Providence become apparent through the discovery by Katherine Carter of a bloodstained knife in Frank's pocket and the appearance of Susan's spirit, Frank displays a troubled conscience:

                              when a man has been an hundred yeers,
Hard travelling o're the tottering bridge of age,
He's not the thousand part upon his way.
All life is but a wandring to finde home:
When we are gone, we are there. Happy were man,
Could here his Voyage end; he should not then
Answer how well or ill he steer'd his Soul,
By Heaven's or by Hell's Compass; how he put in
(Loosing bless'd Goodness shore) at such a sin;
Nor how life's dear provision he has spent:
Nor how far he in's Navigation went
Beyond Commission. This were a fine Raign,
To do ill, and not hear of it again.
Yet then were Man more wretched then a Beast:
For, Sister, our dead pay is sure the best.


In this moving speech a Frank who is no longer the defiant villain of the murder scene puts into words the knowledge of good and evil that he has acquired and the recognition that he alone can be held responsible for his actions. The difficulty of accepting such a realization is expressed in the lines “This were a fine Raign, / To do ill, and not hear of it again,” for they are so strongly reminiscent of his career prior to the murder of Susan.6 Yet at the end of his speech he claims that moral knowledge is what raises a human being to a level above that of a mere animal and leaves him finally answerable to the sure judgment, and mercy, of God. In effect the old Frank, who, when he had done wrong, desired nothing more than not to hear any more about it, is condemned as something almost less than fully human, and the promise of a deeper humanity in him is soon to be fulfilled. There is no longer any real illusion that he can escape justice, although he denies Old Carter's direct accusation, and when Katherine is sent by her father to fetch officers Frank only half-heartedly asks “For whom?” (IV.ii.159). This forms a natural prelude to his affirmation of Winifred's innocence in the course of which his own guilt is fully disclosed. The end of the scene sees him hoping to escape not earthly punishment but eternal damnation: “my wages now are paid, / Yet my worst punishment shall, I hope, be staid” (IV.ii.193-94). Frank reaches the highest point of his development when he goes repentantly to his death, conscious at last of having achieved a degree of goodness:

                                                                                                    He is not lost,
Who bears his peace within him: had I spun
My Web of life out at full length, and dream'd
Away my many years in lusts, in surfeits,
Murthers of Reputations, gallant sins
Commended or approv'd; then though I had
Died easily, as great and rich men do,
Upon my own Bed, not compell'd by Justice,
You might have mourn'd for me indeed; my miseries
Had been as everlasting, as remediless:
But now the Law hath not arraign'd, condemn'd
With greater rigour my unhappy Fact,
Then I my self have every little sin
My memory can reckon from my Child-hood:
A Court hath been kept here, where I am found
Guilty; the difference is, my impartial Judge
Is much more gracious then my Faults
Are monstrous to be nam'd; yet they are monstrous.


The division within Frank's character, which provided the Dog with an opening into which he could creep, is finally healed. His judgment of himself is severe and comprehensive, and he is even grateful to the law for condemning him. For all this is a conventional scaffold speech such as is characteristic of domestic tragedy; the responses of the onlookers, even of those he has most wronged, lend conviction to the scene.

The pattern of development in the career and character of Frank Thorney finds its counterpart in that of Mother Sawyer, the old woman who goes to the gallows, convicted of witchcraft, at the same time as Frank. The first appearance of the supposed witch is unforgettable: “poor, deform'd and ignorant, / And like a Bow buckl'd and bent together,” she enters gathering “a few rotten sticks to warm me” (II.i.3-4, 21). This lonely figure is shunned, abused, and taken for a witch by the community of Edmonton because she is old and deformed, and steals a few sticks from time to time to burn on her fire, but most of all because their own ill-treatment of her has bred in her a bad temper and a sharp tongue. But the key word that she employs to describe herself is “ignorant.” Initially she means uneducated, but she also uses the word to insist that she lacks any knowledge of witchcraft, although her neighbours seem to be unintentionally teaching her about it:

                                                                                Some call me Witch;
And being ignorant of my self, they go
About to teach me how to be one: urging,
That my bad tongue (by their bad usage made so)
Forespeaks their Cattle, doth bewitch their Corn,
Themselves, their Servants, and their Babes at nurse.
This they enforce upon me: and in part
Make me to credit it.


The conclusion of this speech does more than anything to demonstrate convincingly that Mother Sawyer neither is a witch nor possesses the knowledge of good and evil that is implicit in the notion of witchcraft. Her desire for revenge upon, for instance, Old Banks is malevolent in a way that Frank Thorney's initial wrongdoing is not, but at the same time her bitterness is the natural result of provocation rather than conscious wickedness. Indeed, it is difficult to blame her for cursing her tormentor, Old Banks, who shortly beforehand has driven her off his land with blows:

Still vex'd? still tortur'd? That Curmudgeon Banks,
Is ground of all my scandal. I am shunn'd
And hated like a sickness: made a scorn
To all degrees and sexes. I have heard old Beldames
Talk of Familiars in the shape of Mice,
Rats, Ferrets, Weasels, and I wot not what
That have appear'd, and suck'd, some say, their blood.
But by what means they came acquainted with them,
I'm now ignorant: would some power good or bad
Instruct me which way I might be reveng'd
Upon this Churl, I'd go out of my self,
And give this Fury leave to dwell within
This ruin'd Cottage, ready to fall with age:
Abjure all goodness: be at hate with prayer;
And study Curses, Imprecations,
Blasphemous speeches, Oaths, detested Oaths,
Or any thing that's ill; so I might work
Revenge upon this Miser, this black Cur,
That barks, and bites, and sucks the very blood
Of me, and of my credit. 'Tis all one,
To be a Witch, as to be counted one.
Vengeance, shame, ruine, light upon that Canker.


Mother Sawyer has acknowledged her own “bad tongue,” but she is certainly unaware of the danger of letting a curse like this escape her lips, although it is graphically realized by the entrance of the Dog who claims her allegiance: “Ho! have I found thee cursing? now thou art mine own” (II.i.116). Her reaction to his appearance is still one of total surprise and incomprehension: “Thine? what art thou?” (II.i.117). While Frank Thorney never gave a second thought to the morality of his conduct, Mother Sawyer had naively assumed that “'Tis all one, / To be a Witch, as to be counted one,” but she is quickly disabused of this notion by the Dog's description of himself as “He thou hast so often importun'd / To appear to thee, the Devil” (II.i.117-18). The ignorant old woman is rudely awakened to the knowledge of good and evil and she is certainly horrified as well as fascinated at the appearance of the devil; the Dog, however, soon gains ascendancy over her by a mixture of threats and promises of furthering her desire for vengeance, so that against her better judgment she agrees to seal with her blood the pact which will make over to the devil her soul and body. As the Dog departs at the end of the episode Mother Sawyer mutters after him, “Contaminetur nomen tuum” (II.i.176), meaning “defiled be thy name,” instead of the prayer that he has taught her, thus providing the audience with an ironic comment on the evil to which she has, partly through weakness and partly out of bitterness, aligned herself. She must now be aware that it is not “all one, / To be a Witch, as to be counted one,” and in this light her earlier remark, that “I'd go out of my self, / And give this Fury leave to dwell within / This ruin'd Cottage,” seems to hint that this new consciousness of good and evil is to open up a painful division within the character of the witch, not unlike that which it gave rise to in Frank Thorney. Drawn by the furtherance of her revenge, and increasingly by the affection that the Dog apparently offers her in her otherwise isolated existence, she is unable to resist the blandishments of the devil.

Mother Sawyer's wickedness lies not so much in the crimes she perpetrates by means of her familiar as in the fact of her signing over her soul and body to the devil.7 In homiletic terms her curse upon Old Banks is equivalent to Frank's broken oath of fidelity to Winifred, and her sealing of the pact with her blood corresponds to his murdering Susan, both of these sins being committed under the diabolical influence of the Dog. The Dog sucks Mother Sawyer's blood from her arm to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning which represent a conventional dramatic method of signifying divine disapproval. While the actions that the Dog is to carry out on her behalf are malevolent, the worst is to blight the corn and kill the cattle of Old Banks, and this vengeance is not entirely undeserved.8 Once she has sealed their pact with her blood the Dog reveals the limitations of his ability to harm Old Banks, or anybody who is not wholly wicked, personally; it is apparent that the witch has in fact sold her soul very cheaply. The Dog has no particular interest in furthering Mother Sawyer's revenge for its own sake, and after she has promised him her soul and body he serves her as her familiar only for so long as it takes to ensure her conviction for witchcraft, when, as he gloatingly informs her, her execution should bring with it her damnation: “thy time is come, to curse, and rave and die. The Glass of thy sins is full, and it must run out at Gallows … thou art so ripe to fall into Hell, that no more of my Kennel will so much as bark at him that hangs thee” (V.i.63-64, 60-61). She, of course, believes all along that the Dog is her servant and curses him at the end of the play when he will no longer even make a show of obeying her. The Dog, however, defines their relationship more accurately, “Out Witch! Thy tryal is at hand: / Our prey being had, the Devil does laughing stand”; as she is led away he stands aloof and remarks sardonically, “Let not the World, Witches or Devils condemn, / They follow us, and then we follow them” (V.i.75-76, 84-85). The Dog again demonstrates his independence from his victim, an independence that allows him to function in the main plot as well as in the sub-plot in spite of the lack of connection between Mother Sawyer and Frank Thorney, and to appear in quite a different role when alone with Cuddy Banks. Yet there can be no doubt that the Dog “shrugging as it were for joy” as Katherine Carter finds Frank's bloodstained knife, and the Dog laughing softly to himself as the witch is arrested, are one and the same.

Mother Sawyer's misapprehension of her relationship with the Dog inevitably brings to mind the comparable situation in Doctor Faustus. The parallel further suggests that repentance might still be possible for Mother Sawyer because Faustus, although he has similarly sealed with his blood a pact with the devil, is urged until the very last moment to repent and be saved. In The Witch of Edmonton there is some doubt as to Mother Sawyer's ultimate fate. As she goes to her execution there is none of the forgiveness and reconciliation that accompany Frank and nobody expresses the conviction that she will achieve salvation. But the onlookers are deeply prejudiced against her, and in spite of considerable provocation and a certain amount of wavering on her part she does finally leave the stage with some sense of having attained, with difficulty, a new measure of goodness in her repentance:

These Dogs will mad me: I was well resolv'd
To die in my repentance; though 'tis true,
I would live longer if I might: yet since
I cannot, pray torment me not; my conscience
Is setled as it shall be: all take heed
How they believe the Devil, at last hee'l cheat you. …
Have I scarce breath enough to say my Prayers?
And would you force me to spend that in bawling?
Bear witness, I repent all former evil;
There is no damned Conjurer like the Devil.


Despite her reluctance to die, the witch does not go to her death cursing and raving quite as the Dog had anticipated. Edward Sackville West remarks that “her old spirit, which originally conjured up the Dog, is by no means dead”;9 what she shows in this final scene, however, is not exactly the same spirit as summoned the Dog, for she has become much wiser in the knowledge of good and evil and now explicitly rejects the devil. In view of the sympathy she commands on account of the way in which she has been persecuted, it is perhaps just to believe that she can still benefit from the mercy of God.10 The main reason for any uncertainty here lies in the fact that the dramatists do not depict her conscience becoming “setled as it shall be,” as they do with Frank Thorney, but only show the witch's anger at being deserted by the Dog, with the result that there is less of a sense of the division within her character being healed than in the case of Frank.

The Mother Sawyer plot is not without psychological as well as social interest, as the old woman ostracized by the community turns to the Dog for comfort, but the dramatization is nevertheless primarily from a social angle. Thus, as her apprehension and conviction draw near, she defends herself not by reference to her conscience but by a comparison of her crime with those at which society winks:

A Witch? who is not?
Hold not that universal Name in scorne then.
What are your painted things in Princes Courts?
Upon whose Eye-lids Lust sits blowing fires
To burn Mens Souls in sensual hot desires:
Upon whose naked Paps, a Leachers thought
Acts Sin in fouler shapes then can be wrought.


She likewise rounds on the typically Jacobean propensities for extravagance and ostentation, as well as on scolds and lawyers, and on seducers, thus giving Sir Arthur Clarington an unpleasant moment. All these do more harm to the fabric of society than does the witchcraft of an impotent old woman like herself:

                                                                                Now an old woman
Ill favour'd grown with yeers, if she be poor,
Must be call'd Bawd or Witch. Such so abus'd
Are the course Witches: t'other are the fine,
Spun for the Devil's own wearing.


Such wide-ranging social satire is perhaps out of place in the mouth of an uneducated character, and there is also a change in this episode to a more rhetorical style of speech than Mother Sawyer normally employs, but it does serve to suggest the penetration of her awareness of right and wrong and to broaden the scope of this theme in the play.

Social implications of the theme of moral knowledge are present in the main plot too, because Sir Arthur Clarington plays a significant part in Frank Thorney's career. Sir Arthur is both oblivious to right and wrong and sufficiently influential socially to cause considerable harm. Edward Sackville West defines his role in a penetrating comment on the play: “here we touch what was probably at the bottom of the dramatists' conception: the idea that frivolity (and Sir Arthur is entirely frivolous) is the only ultimately unforgivable sin.”11 When Frank wants him to write a letter which will deceive Old Thorney about his marriage with Winifred, Sir Arthur's qualms disappear as soon as he is assured that no blame can attach to him. His conscience remains unaffected by Winifred's rebukes, and the way in which he casually dismisses her from his mind once it is clear that their liaison cannot continue is an indication of the superficiality of his emotions. Yet he is in a position to pressure Frank into marrying his pregnant mistress;12 and he might also have a hand in Mother Sawyer's fate, for when her tirade against social ills touches on seduction he abruptly denounces her: “By one thing she speaks, / I know now she's a Witch, and dare no longer / Hold conference with the Fury” (IV.i.144-46). The implication is that what Mother Sawyer says comes too close for comfort to describing his own relations with Winifred, and the Dog seems to allude to this when he says, “there's a Dog already biting's conscience” (IV.i.263). Other characters, too, recognize his role in the tragic outcome of events:

Just.: Sir Arthur, though the Bench hath mildly censur'd your Errours, yet you have indeed been the Instrument that wrought all their mis-fortunes: I would wish you pay'd down your Fine speedily and willingly.


O. Cart.: Come, come, if luck had serv'd, Sir Arthur, and every man had his due, somebody might have totter'd ere this, without paying Fines: like it as you list.


However, Sir Arthur's acknowledgments of responsibility totally lack conviction and his social status protects him from the consequences of his actions; if he really is at all uneasy in his conscience he shows no sign of it in public.

While Sir Arthur is supremely unaware of the distinction between right and wrong, Old Banks and the other rustics are not without some traces of the same fault, at least in so far as their treatment of Mother Sawyer is concerned. As a result of their general ignorance or lack of education they make ridiculous but damaging accusations against her. They believe, too, that they can prove her witchcraft by setting fire to her thatch, when, if she comes running to the scene, it will indicate that she is indeed a witch; the Justice treats this idea with the scorn that it deserves. Even the otherwise wholly sympathetic Old Carter joins with them in casting unjust aspersions upon Mother Sawyer at the end of the play: “Did not you bewitch Frank to kill his wife? he could never have don't without the Devil” (V.iii.26-27).13 Her reply is instructive: “Who doubts it? but is every Devil mine?” (V.iii.28). Nevertheless, all these country-folk are basically decent people, the Dog even describing Old Banks to Mother Sawyer in terms which retrieve some sympathy for him:

                                        though he be curs'd to thee,
Yet of himself he is loving to the world,
And charitable to the poor. Now Men
That, as he, love goodness, though in smallest measure,
Live without compass of our reach.


Yet the fact that such individuals do play a significant part in driving Mother Sawyer first into witchcraft and then to the gallows places rustic ignorance in a darker, more serious light than is usual in the drama of the period. Even the pure innocence of Susan Carter, who can believe no evil of Frank, proves fatal to her.

Cuddy Banks alone is sufficiently simple through and through to sense the essential harmlessness of Mother Sawyer; a witch is for him little more than a character in a morris-dance. The Dog he treats simply as an animal and when he gets a ducking he accepts it philosophically: “thou didst but thy kinde neither” (III.i.100). Later he is to protect the Dog from his father and the other rustics who are out to catch the witch's familiar. The devil is in turn powerless to harm him:

                                                                      We can meet his folly,
But from his Vertues must be Run-aways.
We'll sport with him: but when we reckoning call,
We know where to receive: th'Witch pays for all.


Yet Cuddy Banks is not frivolous in the way that Sir Arthur is, and once the Dog reveals to him his part in Mother Sawyer's fate he is quick to insist that he entertained him “ever as a Dog, not as a Devil,” to which the Dog replies, “True; and so I us'd thee doggedly, not divellishly” (V.i.107-109). While the Dog is disclosing something of his real nature, Cuddy fails to understand the pleasure that he takes in wickedness, and he even attempts to persuade him to give up his old ways. However, when the Dog concludes by offering to become Cuddy's familiar he is ready to wash his hands of him: “I know thy qualities too well, Ile give no suck to such Whelps; therefore henceforth I defie thee; out and avaunt” (V.i.176-78). Beneath the simplicity of Cuddy Banks there is an innate recognition of right and wrong which unconsciously directs his actions. His is a simplicity to confound the devil, and the Dog replies to his dismissal, “Nor will I serve for such a silly Soul” (V.i.179).

While the two plots of The Witch of Edmonton are tenuously connected by subject matter, it should be evident that the roles of a large section of the community of Edmonton, not to mention the Dog, are determined in accordance with their awareness of the moral dimension, helping to bind the play together into a thematic whole. Most importantly, the two main strands of action gain a structural unity from their complementary treatment of the theme of the knowledge of good and evil. It is perhaps the case, too, that besides the play's other qualities, its richness of social detail for instance, the handling of topical and domestic events at this more profound level contributes to the lasting quality of The Witch of Edmonton.


  1. M. Joan Sargeaunt, John Ford (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1935), p. 40. Elizabeth Sawyer was executed for witchcraft at Tyburn on 19 April 1621 and the play was probably written during the summer of that year; see Gerald Eades Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941-1968), 3:271. The witch scenes are usually attributed mainly to Dekker, and Frank Thorney and Winifred to Ford, while Rowley is credited with the creation of Cuddy Banks; see Sargeaunt, p. 34. I have made some tentative suggestions in “The Two Plots of The Witch of Edmonton,Notes and Queries, n.s. 31 (1984):229-30, as to how the initial association of the story of Frank's bigamy and the witchcraft material might have come about. All quotations from The Witch of Edmonton are from Fredson Bowers, ed., The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1953-1961), 3:481-568.

  2. Leonora Leet Brodwin, “The Domestic Tragedy of Frank Thorney in The Witch of Edmonton,SEL 7, 2 (1967):311.

  3. Edward Sackville West, “The Significance of The Witch of Edmonton,Criterion 17 (1937):30.

  4. The present discussion of The Witch of Edmonton is nonetheless indebted in various ways to the previous studies by West, pp. 23-32, and Brodwin, pp. 311-28. I should also like to express here my thanks to Dr. Sandra Clark for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this essay.

  5. Henry Hitch Adams, English Domestic or, Homiletic Tragedy 1575 to 1642, Columbia Univ. Studies in English and Comparative Literature, no. 159 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1943), p. 134, points out that Frank Thorney's tragedy is nevertheless partly God's punishment for his breaking of this solemn oath and that it is common in the drama of the English renaissance for a character unwittingly to bring down a curse upon himself in this way.

  6. Graham Greene uses these lines from The Witch of Edmonton as a highly apt epigraph to Brighton Rock in which the hero, Pinkie, is tormented by his own awareness of good and evil.

  7. In the pamphlet which provides the source for this plot, Henry Goodcole's The wonderfull discouerie of Elizabeth Sawyer a Witch (1621), the witch confesses to several evil acts such as the killing of children; the dramatists, however, concentrate upon her relationship with the Dog rather than her crimes.

  8. The play does not make it entirely clear whether or not the witch really is responsible for the death of Anne Ratcliff (see IV.i.167-215 and V.iii.32-35); the episode was probably imperfectly assimilated from the source.

  9. West, p. 31.

  10. Adams, p. 139, takes the opposite view; the source alludes to the inscrutability of divine mercy.

  11. West, p. 31.

  12. Probably nobody knows whether Winifred's baby really belongs to Frank or to Sir Arthur.

  13. Perhaps Old Carter's distrust of Warbeck (see I.ii.74-90) is the result of a similar prejudice; Warbeck's conduct in the play is not suspect at all.

Verna Ann Foster and Stephen Foster (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: Foster, Verna Ann, and Stephen Foster. “Structure and History in The Broken Heart: Sparta, England, and the ‘Truth.’” English Literary Renaissance, 18, No. 2 (Spring, 1988): 305-28.

[In the following essay, Foster and Foster argue that Ford intended to draw an historical and political analogy between mythological Sparta in The Broken Heart and Elizabethan England, concluding that such an interpretation assists in revealing the play's structure and tragic outcome.]

In preparation for her death, Calantha at the end of Ford's The Broken Heart disposes of her realms and her people. To her cousin and designated heir, Nearchus, prince of Argos, she says,

I would presume you would retain the royalty
Of Sparta, in her own bounds: then in Argos
Armostes might be viceroy; in Messene
Might Crotolon bear sway


The political detail here is curiously circumstantial for the conclusion of a tragedy, and one wonders in any case why Nearchus should not simply join the two kingdoms. In fact, the future relations between Sparta and Argos can hardly have failed to remind a Caroline audience of those already existing between England and Scotland, ruled by one king but separately governed. Like James VI and I, Nearchus is to leave his first kingdom to take up residence in his second and more important one. The third realm Calantha bequeaths, the recently conquered Messene, suggests Ireland, which had been effectively subdued for the first time in the reign of Elizabeth.

While the fusion of Spartan “fiction” and English “truth” becomes most literal at the play's resolution, the parallel between Sparta and England implied in the prologue to The Broken Heart is developed throughout the action. Like the Tudor monarchs, Amyclas has, before the play begins, settled the violent quarrels between rival families (1.1.17-28). The precise blood relationship between the virgin princess, later queen, of Sparta and the prince of neighboring Argos closely parallels that between Elizabeth and James VI of Scotland. Nearchus is “In title next” to the Spartan throne because he is, as Amyclas carefully explains matters, “grandchild to our aunt” (3.3.8). James was great-grandchild to Elizabeth's aunt, Henry VII's daughter Margaret, whose marriage to James IV of Scotland Ford celebrates in Perkin Warbeck. And at the end of The Broken Heart Calantha's dying voice assures Nearchus' succession, just as James' claim to the English throne rested most immediately on Elizabeth's supposed deathbed declaration on his behalf.

If The Broken Heart had been written during Elizabeth's lifetime, it would have stood as a very bold example of the many plays concerned with advising the queen to settle the question of succession.2 Throughout The Broken Heart the Spartan succession is a major issue, as the English succession had been during the lifetime of Elizabeth—and of the young John Ford. Ford highlights the problem of succession in the play through the rivalry of Ithocles and Nearchus for Calantha's hand (curiously James VI had been one of Elizabeth's many suitors3) and especially through Apollo's riddling oracle and Tecnicus' interpretation of it:

The plot is Sparta; the dried vine the king;
The quailing grape his daughter; but the thing
Of most importance, not to be revealed,
Is a near prince, the elm; the rest concealed.


Armostes supposes that the oracle refers to Calantha's marriage with “some neighbouring prince” (4.3.33).

Ford and his Caroline audience, however, had the advantage of historical hindsight. Calantha does not marry the “neighbouring prince,” but Crotolon's less specific intrepretation of the oracle does turn out to be true: “Truth is child of Time; and herein / I find no scruple, rather cause of comfort, / With unity of kingdoms” (4.3.39-41). This providential view of the union of Sparta and Argos has a distinct parallel in Durham's prophecy in Perkin Warbeck that from the marriage of Margaret of England and James IV of Scotland “a mystery / Of providence points out a greater blessing / For both these nations than our human reason / Can search into” (4.3.16-19).4 In Perkin Warbeck Ford writes about the end of the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of Tudor stability, looking forward in this speech of Durham's to the union between England and Scotland. In The Broken Heart he focuses on the end of Tudor rule, dramatizing and interpreting, not literally but imaginatively in the overall design of his play, the most important political event of his youth—the passing of the Tudors and the peaceful accession of the Stuarts.

The Broken Heart is not a topical play nor in any ordinary sense a straightforward political allegory. “Our scene is Sparta,” just as the first line of the prologue asserts, but Ford gives to Sparta an importance not assigned to any other state in Tudor-Stuart drama outside plays about English or, on occasion, Roman history. Sparta, in fact, is the real protagonist of The Broken Heart, for the play's unifying theme is the working out of the kingdom's fate. Just as Sparta rather than any Spartan is the play's “fictive” protagonist, so its “true” protagonist is England itself—not, as has sometimes been suggested, any individual English personage. The Broken Heart presents a kind of mythologized history of England's recent past and celebrates in the Spartan ideal a set of public virtues at once ancient and modern. If we are not aware of the play's historical implications for its first audience and readers, then we fail to understand either Ford's achievement or the play's total effect. Recovering the historical import of The Broken Heart goes beyond acknowledging a resonance of purely Caroline interest; rather, the play's political significance is central to resolving the vexed question of its structure and therefore to our understanding of its meaning. If Sparta is seen to shadow England, then much that has seemed confusing about the structure of the play and Calantha's role in it becomes clear.

It will be necessary, then, first to demonstrate that Ford did intend Sparta to suggest England and, equally important if we are talking about the play's effect, that his Caroline audience would have seen the analogy. Ford's reworking of English history as Spartan fiction, in turn, largely determines the play's structure and accounts for the subdued quality of the tragic outcome.


The political analogies between Sparta and England, which a Caroline audience could hardly have missed, have gone unnoticed by Ford's twentieth-century critics. At four centuries' remove their inquiries into the “truth” that The Broken Heart proclaims in its prologue have generally been little more than source-hunting without any further reference to the interpretation of the play.5 The most widely accepted version of the play's “truth” has been Stuart Sherman's argument that Ford based the relationship between Orgilus and Penthea on that between Sir Philip Sidney and Penelope Rich, the Stella of Sidney's sonnets.6 Recently Katherine Duncan-Jones has argued that Orgilus is modelled not on Sidney but on Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who was supposedly contracted to Penelope before her marriage to Lord Rich and was for many years her lover. Duncan-Jones goes on to suggest that Ithocles can be identified with Penelope's brother, the Earl of Essex, and Calantha with Elizabeth.7

We also will argue that the story of Calantha and Ithocles would indeed have evoked for a Caroline audience the history of Elizabeth and Essex. In fact, this analogy is far more likely to have been recognized by Ford's audience than any allusion to Penelope and her disappointed lover, whether Sidney or Mountjoy or some composite of the two. But individual identifications of any kind are insignificant in themselves. They matter because through allusions to historical personages and incidents immediately recognizable to his audience, Ford unfolds the parallel between Sparta and England with increasing explicitness. It is the audience, however, and its experience that have been neglected in earlier discussions of The Broken Heart. To recreate the play's effect on Caroline spectators, we need to examine it as it develops from the prologue that first points Ford's audience to the “truth” to the last scene in which the identification of Sparta and England becomes most literal.

The short prologue to The Broken Heart is generally remembered only for the unavoidable two lines, “What may be here thought a fiction, when time's youth / Wanted some riper years, was known A TRUTH.” This remarkable declaration, however, needs to be reread in the context of the full eighteen lines, as well as in light of the well-known proclivities of the audience to whom it was addressed. Playgoers in the early seventeenth century were notorious for their enthusiastic pursuit of topical commentary and hidden meaning, whether probable, plausible, or downright silly; the more literal-minded types even took along “table books” to jot down the details of any bits worth repeating later. A routine, almost ritualized task of the prologue, accordingly was to warn the audience away from their favorite practices.8The Broken Heart offers the usual injunction, opening not only with the pointed reminder that “Our scene is Sparta,” but adding almost immediately, “The title lends no expectation here / Of apish laughter, or of some lame jeer / At place or persons.” Then quite atypically the prologue continues by contrasting contemporary vulgarity with the pure art and “unblushing verse” of an earlier period, and, still without pause, the next lines go a long way toward pinning down just what past epoch it is whose standards are invoked and whose history will inform the play that follows.9 The lines, “This law we keep in our presentment now, / Not to take freedom more than we allow,” look very like a pun, for if “presentment” means theatrical presentation, its earlier signification, known certainly to Ford and the large contingent of lawyers in the Blackfriars audience and probably to most of the rest, is that of “a statement on oath by a jury of a fact within their own knowledge,” that is, their own personal knowledge.10 And if this reference to the recent past is not intended, or were overlooked, the crucial allusion is supplied in the two lines immediately following, which announce that the “TRUTH” of the play is to be found in a period “when time's youth / Wanted some riper years,” a phrase that does not imply the two thousand or so years it would have taken to get back to the Hellenic era. So far from being disingenuous in its repudiation of topicality (as other plays that made similar disavowals were), The Broken Heart is transparently honest in its prologue because its parallels are to matters no longer topical, although well within living memory.

If we now adopt the standpoint of an audience of the late 1620s or the 1630s that has just been primed by the prologue, then the familiar critical discussion of historical originals in The Broken Heart begins to seem a little out of focus. Whether the audience would have known the Inez de Castro story, for example, or seen in Orgilus Mountjoy rather than Sidney are dramatically less interesting questions than just what it was they were most likely to have been reminded of once their well-known curiosity was piqued by one of the most unusual of prologues. In the discussion that follows we will, to the extent that it is possible, concentrate solely on material readily available to any educated person in the 1620s and early 1630s and likely to be familiar to him—although, for reasons that will become apparent, a partial exception will be made for Calantha's marriage to the dead Ithocles.

What was “of famous memory” by 1630 or so was not primarily the careers of Mountjoy or Penelope Rich. Celebrated in their own day, they were progressively more distant figures after the passing of well over two decades since their deaths. Penelope probably would have been the more vividly remembered of the two, but for contingent reasons: she was, after all, the worthy second earl of Essex's sister, the popular and politically prominent second earl of Warwick's mother, and Sir Philip Sidney's Stella. Significantly, however, the vogue for sonnet cycles had passed, and there had been no new individual editions of Astrophil and Stella since the late 1590s—the work survived only as one of the “additions” tacked on to folio editions of the Arcadia, which remained popular.11 As a sixteen-year-old college student in 1618 Sir Simonds D'Ewes dismissed poor Penelope as “old Lady Rich, mother of the Earl of Warwick, who was thought to be no better than need constrained.”12 Mountjoy was even worse off, for he had neither legitimate issue nor a sonnet sequence to keep his memory fresh. He was remembered by 1630 for his conquest of Ireland (although after thirty years a large share of the glory had gradually been transferred to Essex) and especially for his connection with William Laud, who as his chaplain had officiated at his scandalous marriage to Penelope.13 Neither Penelope nor Mountjoy had been entirely forgotten by the time The Broken Heart was performed, but they were hardly figures to be evoked by the play unless the audience had first been pointed in their direction by some very strong suggestion—supplied in the play by two other, more immediately recognizable characters.

The dominant figure from the immediate past was of course Queen Elizabeth. Two monarchs on, in the reign of Charles I, the church bells of London still “rang merrily, in remembrance of famous Queen Elizabeth” every November 17th, the anniversary of her accession day. The deepening political crises of her last years, the unseemly, almost desperate yearning for getting on with a new reign, all that one would have thought anyone living in 1630 could possibly have remembered of Elizabeth, had somehow vanished from memory, and within a few years of her death, in Godfrey Goodman's bitter judgement, “the Queen did seem to revive … and in effect more solemnity and joy [were shown] in memory of her coronation than was for the coming in of King James.” Her epoch became the golden age and her reign the benchmark against which her successors were judged and (outside of the court masques) in one degree or another found wanting.14

Elizabeth, however, was more a presence than a personality—taken to be a given at all times and never departing for forty-four years from her motto, semper eadem. The intractable nature of her character as generally conceived presented special dramatic problems that Ford was to solve in a special way. Among the Elizabethans, however, the character most easily captured and most inherently dramatic was not the queen herself but the ill-fated second Earl of Essex. Unlike his sister Penelope or his friend Mountjoy, Essex left a name worth conjuring with decades later. At any time in the seventeenth century his gallant and tragic career was, as Samuel Daniel put it, a particularly vivid instance of “the universall notions of ambition and envie, the perpetuall arguments of bookes or tragedies.”15 The legendary Sidney had bequeathed to Essex his sword and his wife, and Essex accordingly also succeeded him as the model of courtesy and courage, in death as much as in life.16 His rising in 1601 was seen not so much as a pardonable act of impetuosity as quite simply a trap that the too-honest earl fell into because his nobility prevented him from comprehending the machinations of his enemies. His cousin Fulke Greville described Essex as in a “pitfall,” the ingenuous victim of “sect-animals whose property was to wound and fly away,” and of “such instruments as naturally like bats both fly and prey in the dark.” The twenty-year-old Sir Simonds D'Ewes was reminded at the departure of the hated Spanish ambassador Gondomar in 1622 of “Burleigh that plotted Essex death, which fell out after his [own] death,” and shortly thereafter dedicated an afternoon to “a treatise concerning the Earle of Essex troubles before his death.” Another twenty-year-old, John Ford, like D'Ewes a student at the Middle Temple at the time, had been more poetic in the same vein when in 1606 in Fames Memoriall he lamented “Renowned Devoreux, whose aukward fate, / Was misconceited by fowle envies hate.”17

For those already disposed to remember him favorably, the hero of the 1590s seemed peculiarly compelling during the deeply depressing 1620s. Essex was still the last victorious general anyone could remember during a decade marked first by the humiliating failure to aid the very Continental allies in whose causes he had fought and then by successive defeats at the hands of the same powers whom he had earlier humbled. (Ford dedicated The Broken Heart to the only English soldier who could possibly have claimed Essex's mantle in that decade, William, Lord Craven.) Contempories found the analogies especially close after 1624, when a new war with Spain was dressed up as a reenactment of the great days of Elizabeth. Partly by accident, increasingly by design, the leading figures in the English campaigns immediately recalled the hero of the earlier efforts. The four English commanders in the expedition of 1624 in aid of the Dutch included the young third earl of Essex and Robert, Lord Willoughby, who had fought under the second earl, as well as the earl of Southampton, who, as D'Ewes had written in his college diary, had a “deep hand” in the rising of 1601 and was accordingly “the better beloved.” The next year, 1625, an expedition against Cadiz was intended from the start as a reprise of Essex's triumph of 1596, and the third earl was induced against his own inclination to take the post of second in command so that his family name might inspirit the troops. Gervase Markham wrote Honour in his Perfection on the occasion of the Dutch expedition to prophesy glory for the young Essex by rhapsodizing on the triumphs of his father, and at the same time the inveterate polemicist Thomas Scott in Robert Earle of Essex his Ghost carried matters to their logical conclusion by pretending to speak with the voice of the second earl of Essex himself in order to urge an anti-Spanish Protestant alliance.18 With an eye on the market for Essex memorabilia, the London stationer Cuthbert Wright promptly reissued A Lamentable Ditty of 1603 on the earl's execution and followed it up with A Lamentable New Ballad on the same subject, “to the tune of Essex last goodnight.”19

When both the Dutch expedition and the attack on Cadiz failed, along with Buckingham's attempt to relieve La Rochelle in 1627, the consequence was a further increase in the prestige of the earlier generation that was able to accomplish what the present one glaringly was unable to do. Creating a thoroughly incongruous Elizabethan popular front (as had Thomas Scott before him), John Russell in a bitter verse diatribe against Buckingham asked in 1628, “Where now is Essex, Norris, Rawleigh, Drake? / (At whose remembrance yet proud Spaine doth quake) / Where's Burleigh, Cecill, all those axletrees / Of state, that brought our foes upon their knees?”20 Buckingham himself may have been aware of just whose standards he was to come up to, for he was reported in 1627 on the eve of his disastrous expedition to have boasted “that before Mid-summer he will and shall be more honoured and beloved of the Commons than ever the Earl of Essex was.”21 In the event, it was a bad prediction, but comparisons could hardly be avoided between the two royal favorites of military inclination who met sudden violent ends. Sir Henry Wotton, who had served both Essex and Buckingham, saw fit on Buckingham's death to revive an old project, an essay contrasting Essex and his archrival Cecil, and to convert it into a Parallell between earl and duke.22 It circulated privately in the 1630s, as did Sir Robert Naunton's memoir of the leading personalities of Elizabeth's reign, Fragmenta Regalia, but both works were printed in 1641 as testimony to the continuing fascination of the era. In the meanwhile, the public taste for evocations of the earlier period, of which both efforts were a sign, was met by successive editions of William Camden's Annales in the 1620s and 1630s.

Essex had complained in his own lifetime that he was all too suitable a candidate for representation on the stage. After his execution, the prosecution of Samuel Daniel for Philotas, like the fate of Fulke Greville's Anthony and Cleopatra (burned by its author because of the resemblance between the protagonists and Essex and Elizabeth), suggested how easily the earl might come to the minds of audiences early in the reign of James.23 It may seem odd that a play of the 1630s should also include a character, Ithocles, who bears a strong resemblance to a man who died in 1601, but as has been repeatedly suggested, no moss had grown on Essex's memory in the intervening three decades, and it will be remembered as well that Ford was fond of the drama of the earlier era. (He went back to the 1590s for the structure of Perkin Warbeck and for the theme of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.) Admittedly, in finding Essex in The Broken Heart we join what Lily Campbell as far back as 1938 described as “a great chorus of political identifiers, shouting in volumes thick and thin their scholarly equivalent of ‘That's Him!’ ‘That's Essex!’ ‘That's Mary!’ ‘That's Elizabeth!’ ‘That's Sir Walter Raleigh!’—but most often, ‘That's Essex!’”24 We can only reply that the habit of Essex-finding was not invented in the twentieth century, but by the audiences who first saw the plays in question, and if the resemblance between Ithocles and Essex in The Broken Heart is somehow a remarkable coincidence, then Ford must have been singularly blind to the inevitable consequences of his own inadvertent parallels. Once directed to the recent past by the prologue, a veteran theatre audience would have little difficulty in spotting the obvious similarities—and in The Broken Heart there are similarities aplenty just as soon as Ithocles is on stage in the second scene.

The play's first expository scene is given over to Orgilus and his predicament, the enforced marriage of his betrothed to another because of the ambition of her brother. This transgression explains Orgilus' desire for vengeance, the mechanism by which the action of the play is moved along almost to the end, but nothing in Orgilus' situation would immediately suggest a particular historical analogue, anymore than one could have been deduced from Vindice's opening tale of past injury in The Revenger's Tragedy. In the second scene, however, in come a virgin princess and a triumphant general just returned from finally subduing a neighboring territory that had been the scene of previous wars and that now has been added as a province to the Spartan monarchy. Then, and only then, after the Elizabeth and Essex parallel has first been raised—it will be continued and developed—would it have become possible for speculation to extend to the identity of the general's wronged sister and, at the third remove, to the original of her outraged lover. The simple fact of the matter is that apart from the marked similarities in their marital circumstances, Penthea and Orgilus bear little direct resemblance to their proposed historical doubles: the flamboyant Penelope, the warlike Mountjoy, the chivalrous Sidney.

By contrast, the identification between Ithocles and Essex would have been easy to make even in the first act. The entrance of Ithocles, fresh from conquering Messene, immediately suggests the last victory of English arms anyone in the play's audience could possibly have remembered, the subjugation of the revolt of Tyrone in the conquered province of Ireland at the very end of Elizabeth's reign. Essex's Irish command was actually the beginning of his final disgrace, a point noted twice by Ford himself back in 1606 in Fames Memoriall.25 But more frequently, especially as time passed, it was regarded as another and, as it turned out, the last of his unrewarded triumphs. Mountjoy, the true victor, might or might not receive a share of the credit in popular memory because he might or might not come to mind, but Ireland was almost invariably remembered as at least in part an Essex victory. As Fulke Greville recalled it, Elizabeth “first by Essex, and after by Mountjoy, overthrew the Irish, and sent home the Spaniard well recompensed with loss and dishonour for assisting her rebels.” In 1624 Thomas Scott denigrated Mountjoy's role in Ireland by having Essex boast that after he had Tyrone “upon his knees,” his commission was transferred to “another Noble, my inferiour: who was sent over to wade [go] against those Rebels, after I had broken the Ice aforehand; and hee had the Honor, happily to performe what I had carefully and painefully, projected and intended.” With time Ireland was just another, rather vague addition to Essex's reputation and part of that long train of military successes by which the past could be called upon for the purpose of reproaching the present. “In Ireland, France, and Spaine, / they fear'd great Essex name— / And England lov'd the same / in every place.”26

Most importantly, the resemblance is not only circumstantial. Ithocles really does behave as if he were Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex: impetuous, ambitious, ingenuous, much too brave and much too honorable for his own good. Camden summed up the popular verdict in his Annales of Elizabeth's reign when he wrote of Essex:

And indeed he seemed not to be made for the Court, who was slow to any wickednesse, of a soft nature to take offence, and hard to lay it downe, and one that could not cover his affections. … To speake in a word, No man was more ambitious of glory by vertue, no man more carelesse of all things else.27

The ambition that Ithocles denounces as “of viper's breed” (2.2.1) originally prompted him to marry Penthea to Bassanes, as subsequently it hurries on his suit to Calantha. But his Essex-like innocence of wickedness, his “carelessness” about anything not related to glory by virtue, ultimately destroys him because he cannot conceive what is plain to the audience and might have suggested itself to anyone else—that the wrong he has done Orgilus festers to the point where the latter will desperately seek revenge.

These parallels between Spartan and English generals are not restricted to a few significant points. They recur regularly throughout The Broken Heart, from Ithocles' triumphant entry to his murder and (we will suggest) beyond that to the final scene with his corpse. To begin with, Essex's violent jealousy of his rivals for Elizabeth's favor was notorious. As in the case of Ithocles' near brawl with Nearchus for the possession of Calantha's gold ring, twice Essex became enraged because of a token Elizabeth presented to another. In the better known and closer parallel, the gold chess piece the queen gave to the young Mountjoy prompted an insult from Essex that led to a duel and from there to a fast friendship.28 Later, in 4.4, Ithocles held fast in Orgilus' trick chair might be Essex at his own end, caught in what Ford in 1620 had called “the toyles, snares, and trappes of the envious.”29 Ithocles lacks his historical counterpart's Christian piety, hardly appropriate in pagan Sparta, but otherwise he is the same man in the same situation: by turns brave and defiant (as Essex was at his trial) and composed and reconciled (as Essex was on the scaffold).30 Essex forgave his executioner and called him “the minister of justice,” just as Ithocles forgives Orgilus (“Nimble in vengeance, I forgive thee”) and confesses that the injury he has inflicted on Penthea justifies his fate (4.4.63,65-66), while Essex's last words, “strike, strike,” are echoed in Ithocles' “Strike home” (4.4.39).31 The parallel even extends as far as the most gruesome detail, fortitude under pain. In the Essex execution the headsman bungled the job the first two times and dispatched his victim only with the third stroke, but the earl, to the admiration of the spectators, never flinched, a last triumph celebrated by Robert Pricket in the ghastly verses,

Honor ne're moov'd, a third blow did devide
The body from the worlds admired pride:
Was that the way to lose a head
To have an Earle so butchered?(32)

Orgilus has much the same thing to say of his victim, whose courage and endurance he commemorates by announcing:

                                                                                          That Ithocles
Was murdered; rather butchered, had not bravery
Of an undaunted spirit, conquering terror,
Proclaimed his last act triumph over ruin.


Nor is the analogy quite over at Ithocles' death. His body is carried on stage in the very last scene of The Broken Heart to fulfill Tecnicus' prophecy that the lifeless trunk shall wed the broken heart. In the dramatic realization of that prophecy we come about as close as we ever may, given the scarcity of biographical details, to a direct link between an important episode in the play and a source known personally to Ford but otherwise not widely known. At the very last Calantha disposes of her realm by the terms of a feigned marriage proposal to Nearchus, immediately and correctly discerned by Bassanes to be in fact “a testament” (5.3.53), then turns to the body of Ithocles to put on his finger her mother's wedding ring, declaring, “Thus I new-marry him whose wife I am” (5.3.66). Then of course she dies of a broken heart. Here in the last moments of the last scene, the congruence between recent English history and the dramatic action is more complete than at any other point in the play.

As was well known, Queen Elizabeth in her last month of life ordered removed from her finger the ring originally given to her by the city of London to marry her symbolically to the kingdom. Contemporaries took the action to be a portent, and indeed soon afterward the queen fell into a deep and ultimately fatal melancholy, attributed by Essex's remaining partisans to her remorse at his execution.33 Ford, however, has actually gone further than this common knowledge in his reworking of the episode. Although it was not generally known, when Elizabeth rid herself of the city of London's ring, she did not remove a second ring, presented to her by Essex, but retained it until her dying day. In having Calantha “marry” Ithocles' corpse with a ring after taking leave of her kingdom through a form of unmarrying ceremony, Ford was simply varying Elizabeth's actions slightly and compressing two rings into one.

The disjunction of the fate of the two rings was noted by members of the court, and it was just another step to applying an obvious romantic gloss to the episode. Narrow as the base provided by the retention of Essex's ring may have been, on it were erected all of the various and absurd accounts, some still current, in which rings not sent or missent frustrate Elizabeth's hope of granting Essex a last-minute pardon and plunge her into her fatal grief.34 Webster had already alluded in unmistakable fashion to one of the variants on the ring story in The Devil's Law-Case, published as recently as 1623, so that there is every reason to suppose that Ford's audience caught the full force of the allusion in Calantha's gesture, in which through the ring she embraces death and Ithocles at once.35 Webster's version of the story, however, is simply a form of the ring missent, “that loose report which hath crept into our discourse,” as Clarendon calls it.36 Ford, by contrast, constructs his scene without much alteration of the historical original, and significantly he was one of the relatively few people in a position to have received a contemporary report of what happened in its simplest and most accurate form.

The only contemporary account of Elizabeth's disposal of the two rings is to be found in the entry of 4 April 1603 in the diary of John Manningham, then a student at the Middle Temple: “Dr. Parry told me the Countess Kildare assured him that the Queene caused the ring wherewith shee was wedded to the Crowne, to be cutt from hir finger some 6 weekes before hir death, but wore a ring which the Earl of Essex gave hir unto the day of hir death.”37 Ford had been a contemporary of Manningham's at the Middle Temple for about six months when this entry was made, although the extant sections of the diary never mention his name. Manningham, however, was an incorrigible vehicle for gossip, and his diary mostly consists of the sort of wisecracks masquerading as aphorisms and revelations of dubious veracity about the famous that can be found in one form or another in many other sources of the period. While best known for its entry about a performance of Twelfth Night at the Temple, the diary, as its most recent editor notes, is really the very model of the tablebook, the collection of scandal and good lines a prosaic would-be wit kept in order to facilitate their more exact retailing.38 Manningham even recorded the sources of his story for each entry (in most cases another member of his inn), and when he thought it necessary added a kind of annotation to make sure the point was clear. (“Shakespeare's name William” is the most famous.) He was hardly likely to keep his inside information about the death of Elizabeth to himself, and the Middle Temple was a small institution—no more than 200 to 250 members were likely to be in residence at any one time.39 Directly or indirectly a very pedestrian and pedantic law student almost certainly provided the raw material Ford was to convert three decades later into a compelling dramatic moment in The Broken Heart.

Calantha's resemblance to Elizabeth is so close in this final scene that it is tempting to rest the case by simply stating that she “is” or at least “evokes” the English monarch. But Ford, in fact, treats the queen in a far more complex manner, and in that complexity we have an indication of his dramatic purpose. Elizabeth in Ford's (and the audience's) memory may have been a strong-willed virgin and the last of her line, but she was not a young woman who held the throne for only a fitful moment “when youth is ripe.” The character of Elizabeth is actually distributed among Calantha, Amyclas, and even Penthea. Amyclas is the old monarch whose long reign has brought peace to a country previously torn by the conflicts of feuding families. Penthea's death, a self-willed act caused by deliberately going without sleep and food for ten days, closely parallels Elizabeth's own end as it was widely reported.40 Calantha's role in the last act of the play more symbolically recapitulates Elizabeth's final years: a monarch oppressed by a multitude of griefs, yet by all outward signs imperturbably maintaining the masque and mask of royalty until she gives way all at once. The device of fragmentation was probably the only way an artist of Ford's generation could have dealt with the awesome unchanging figure whose reign seemed to be the most unalterable given of his youth. Elizabeth in multiple guise could appear variously as aging monarch or nubile princess without Ford's quite having to present the almost mythical queen as flesh and blood.41 But there is more to the tactic than an understandable delicacy or even artistic necessity.

All of the allegory of The Broken Heart, and not just the rendering of Elizabeth, is in one sense fragmented, allusive, intermittent, always, except for the last scene, unfinished or imperfect in its analogies. In the hands of a less skilled tragedian the effect might have been a recurring tease, but in The Broken Heart the imperfect allegory serves instead to make the point: it is not individuals Ford wishes to evoke so much as it is the England of Elizabeth, through its leading characters, in order that the history of his own nation might resonate against the developing, unifying theme of the tragedy, the drama of Sparta's fate and the civic ideal that city-state proverbially embodied. If the play is to invest the English past with a mythic, “classical” meaning, then this unifying Spartan theme and its historical echo must run parallel until the very last scene; too complete a convergence too early, and the result will be the kind of bathos the prologue deplores.

Only in 5.3 can theme and echo be allowed to come together. Calantha first insists that the Spartan polity requires that she marry, but like Elizabeth, who also promised to take a husband, she has, in fact, a different solution in mind, and it is the same one as her historical original's. She wills her kingdom to a cousin, monarch of a neighboring state, who ascends his new throne precisely as if he were the king of Scotland now made king of England and Ireland (newly conquered Messene). Calantha's reason for insisting on marriage—the inability of a woman to rule a warrior state—has startled critics, and the neat disposal of her kingdom and court, down to the fine point of the viceroyalties, seems a little incongruous in the last actions of a tragedy. But Calantha's disability is merely the closest appropriate Spartan counterpart to the Elizabethan problem of succession, and her disposition of the kingdoms in such detail is equally essential to complete the exact correspondence between the tragedy's end and the denouement of Tudor political history. At this point alone Ford can and must make explicit the sustained implications of the “TRUTH” heralded by the prologue: in the briefest of final moments Sparta and England fuse completely, and the Tudor line dies in order that the Spartan ideal shall endure under a new dynasty.


It has been necessary to demonstrate the likely Caroline reception of The Broken Heart at some length because Ford is never obvious or inartistic in his Spartan evocation of England and because modern critics, lacking the historical memory of Ford's contemporaries, have created difficulties over the structure of the play that would not have presented themselves to its first audiences and readers. Caroline spectators would have recognized the significance of the polity whose fate unifies the disparate stories of the characters, and they would not have been unprepared for the last scenes. The structure of The Broken Heart perfectly reflects and can best be explained by its Tudor theme. Out of conflict and potential chaos both Sparta and England achieve unity and peace.

Critics who have seen The Broken Heart simply as a tragedy stemming from Ithocles' enforcement of Penthea's marriage to Bassanes when she was already bethrothed to Orgilus have been confused about the play's central figure and wonder why the climax should be given over to Calantha, who rarely appears in the early acts and whose death is hardly required by the initial tragic premise.42 Certainly the dance scene does not function as an appropriate climax to any action centering on the four characters among whom Ford has thus far divided our interest. In the early acts of The Broken Heart Orgilus, Ithocles, Penthea, and Bassanes each sees himself as the central character in his own private drama. By constantly shifting point of view, Ford allows us to share the vision of each of these characters in turn, and so prevents the focus of the play from falling on any one of them. Setting himself up as wronged protagonist to Ithocles' villainous antagonist, Orgilus pursues a wavering course of vengeance against his enemy. But Ithocles, unaware of the role Orgilus has cast him in, romantically if ambitiously pursues his love for Calantha. Penthea sees herself as trapped in a moral limbo, married in faith to Orgilus but in law to Bassanes, so that her violated integrity can be restored only by death. And Bassanes, at first vacillating between adoration and suspicion of his wife, changes course entirely and resolves to become a true Spartan. For all of these characters the dance scene is irrelevant. Penthea and Ithocles are already dead; for Orgilus Calantha's dance is an anticlimax and for Bassanes it is a spectacle. Yet critics since Charles Lamb have felt and theater productions have demonstrated that the dance scene is indeed the play's climax.43

In it Calantha sacrifices herself by fulfilling her duty to her country at the expense of her private feelings and ultimately her life. The Broken Heart presents as its chief theme and its unifying action the working out of Sparta's fate, in which the fates of the individual characters are subsumed. Sparta is more important than any Spartan.44 In dying the heroes and heroines of The Broken Heart—but especially Calantha—achieve greatness for themselves and, more importantly, regeneration for Sparta—and by implication for England.

The Sparta of The Broken Heart is Ford's own creation, although it is based in important respects on the Renaissance image of Sparta. Ford emphasizes his characters' sense of duty to their country and the fortitude of his heroines, and he presents Sparta as a warrior state.45 Specific details aside, Sparta provided an appropriate setting for Ford's purposes because it was identified with a distinctive and admirable civic ideal embodied in a particular state. That ideal as Ford presents it in The Broken Heart is essentially the sublimation of private self in public duty. As an ideal Sparta is most appropriately embodied in the persons of her rulers, Amyclas, Calantha, and finally Nearchus. The Spartan virtues of self-control and duty to country demonstrated by them throughout the play are attributes of their characters as individuals no less than of their public roles. Nearchus, for example, perceiving Calantha's love for Ithocles, gives up his own suit with the wisdom and restraint that fit him for the Spartan throne.46 All three of the Spartan rulers possess an integrity of self that Penthea, Ithocles, and Orgilus, whose private feelings conflict with their public duty, can find only in death.

At first Ford presents the history of Sparta primarily as a backdrop to the personal struggles of the leading characters. The choice of so distinctive and unusual a location, however, in itself focuses interest on the state and its unique public culture. In the person of Amyclas, moreover, there is from the start a character who repeatedly draws attention to the importance of the kingdom itself. Amyclas rejoices that “The Spartan gods are gracious” (1.2.1) in granting the conquest of Messene that makes Sparta “a monarchy at length” (1.2. 13). He hopes that a marriage between Nearchus and Calantha will insure the future security of the state (3.3), and he is anxious about Apollo's oracle, not for himself, but for his daughter and his kingdom (4.3). Tecnicus also voices concern for Sparta; he prophesies the deaths of Ithocles and Orgilus yet laments not over them but “O Sparta, / O Lacedaemon!” (4.1.124-25 and 142-43). By the last act the fate of the city-state has come to dominate the action as Calantha, “in all [Amyclas'] daughter” (1.2.69), gives up her life in affirmation of her country's ideals.

Apollo's oracle is crucial to our understanding of Calantha's role in the last act of The Broken Heart. The oracle prophesies both the succession of Nearchus and the death of Calantha: “want of sap / Doth cause to quail the budding grape” (4.3.13-14). While Ithocles and Orgilus die for what they have done and Penthea for what has been done to her, each fulfilling some objective or subjective sense of justice, Calantha's death is a divinely required sacrifice. Ford makes explicit Calantha's role as willing sacrificial victim by his ritualistic staging of the play's last two scenes. In 5.2 Calantha refuses to interrupt the carefully wrought harmony of Prophilus and Euphrania's marriage dance, which symbolizes order and renewal, despite the jarring counterrhythm created by the messengers who announce the deaths of her father, her friend, and her betrothed lover. She defends her continuation of the dance in terms that point to its symbolic significance and suggest that she herself understands the nature of the ritual she is enacting:

                                        'tis, methinks, a rare presumption
In any, who prefers our lawful pleasures
Before their own sour censure, to interrupt
The custom of this ceremony bluntly.

(5.2. 24-27)

By Ford's day the disrupted celebration had become a well-established dramatic symbol of disorder. Calantha's refusal to interrupt her dance powerfully asserts the preservation of the Spartan order over which she herself now presides. The heroic deliberateness of Calantha's choice becomes apparent in the play's final scene when the queen stage-manages her own funeral-marriage. By denying herself the natural outlet of “shrieks and outcries” (5.3. 72) in order to fulfill her duties as queen of Sparta, Calantha has imposed on herself an emotional burden impossible to bear. Symbolically her heart breaks. Calantha's death, then, results directly from her repression of personal grief in the name of Spartan duty. Ford's elaborate stage directions at the beginning of 5.3 emphasize the religious nature of the play's final rite. Clad in the white robe of a pure victim, Calantha dies willingly, “smiling” (5.3. 76), before the altar of the Spartan gods.

Previous criticism has missed the full public dimension of this final scene. Calantha's death has generally been regarded as a personal tragedy or as a self-immolation in tribute to an aristrocratic ideal of reticence by which Calantha reconciles her public and private duties.47 But the setting is not merely any Renaissance or ancient patriciate; it is Sparta and also England. Calantha's death is not only appropriate, it is also required as public expiation for public wrong. Although the other characters have already paid for their private sins—Bassanes for his jealousy, Ithocles for his ambition, Orgilus for his vengefulness—these Spartans are not just private citizens: there are no private citizens in Sparta. Their transgressions treaten the fabric of a commonwealth built upon public duty. Bassanes' violent suspicions, especially his accusation of incest, and Ithocles' rudeness to the Prince of Argos over Calantha's ring undermine social and political relationships. More seriously, in preventing the marriage of Penthea and Orgilus, Ithocles not only ruins their happiness and causes Penthea's madness and suicide, but he has also disrupted Amyclas' plan to put an end to the contention between the houses of Thrasus and Crotolon. Ithocles' continuation of the vendetta leads inevitably to his own death at the hands of Orgilus. In killing Ithocles, Orgilus in turn destroys not only a personal enemy but Sparta's greatest general and potential future king. The cumulative effect of the wrongs done to Sparta is greater than the suffering of any individual, for through the conflicts of her citizens Sparta faces disintegration as an ideal and possibly even as a state. By their deaths Ithocles and Orgilus can atone for their personal sins but only partially for their crimes against the state. Orgilus' murder of Ithocles, while in one sense a just punishment, is also a sinful act of vengeance. The queen's order for Orgilus' death, however, is an unexceptionable act of justice, finally putting an end to the chain of vengeance that stretches back into the Spartan past. Although Orgilus links Calantha herself to this bloody chain, her death requires no further act of vengeance because it results from her own heroic determination to vindicate the Spartan ideal, violated by most of the other major characters, of subordinating one's own needs to those of one's country. Calantha's death finally expiates the wrongs done to Sparta.

The play's unifying pattern of sin, punishment, and expiation is reinforced through the repetition of visual and verbal images. Ford presents as rituals all three of the play's onstage deaths, all of which have been prophesied, suggesting that they are pieces of the same providential design. Orgilus stabs Ithocles with the solemnity of a priest offering a sacrifice: “To sacrifice a tyrant to a turtle” (4.4.29). And Ithocles acknowledges the justice of his death for Penthea's “forced faith” (4.4.66). Orgilus in turn willingly becomes his own “executioner” (5.2.147) in reparation for the murder of Ithocles, stabbing himself since he is “well skilled in letting blood” (5.2.101). In this ceremony, this “pastime” that “Appears majestical” (5.2.131-32), Bassanes assists Orgilus (“How is't man? Droop not yet” [5.2.135]) as courteously as Orgilus encouraged Ithocles (“Keep up thy spirit” [4.4.60]). The ritualistic death scenes of Ithocles and Orgilus foreshadow the much more elaborate ceremony of Calantha's death. And the bloodlessness of the dead Ithocles and Orgilus links them imagistically with Penthea, who starves her “blood” (4.2. 151) to pay for the pollution of her body, as well as with Calantha, to whose cheeks the dance, or the news of death, brings the blood rushing (5.2. 21-22) and who dies a pale figure dressed in white.48 In their courageous acceptance of death and acknowledgement of its justice, Penthea, Ithocles, and Orgilus share with Calantha in the salvation of Sparta. As each of these characters gives up his personal struggle, the disparate strands of the play's action coalesce and flow into the one action that contains them all, the working out of Sparta's fate, finally accomplished by Calantha, who hands over her kingdom, purged and intact, to her cousin Nearchus, prince of neighboring Argos.

The Broken Heart is a cycle completed.49 It is also, we will suggest, a cycle broken. The audience that has seen Sparta and England shadow each other throughout the play and finally merge in the last scene was not likely to be taken unaware by Calantha's death. They knew of course that Elizabeth had died and the Tudor line with her—an event that had a moral as well as a political significance. From at least as far back as Polydore Vergil down to Samuel Daniel and Sir Walter Ralegh, English history was seen in terms of a recurring cycle of dynastic foundation and extinction, generally in three generations, dating from the Conquest. In Ralegh's popular History of the World, which went through five editions between 1614 and 1634, the pattern proposed is one of transgression and expiation. The innocent pay for the deeds of the guilty, so that for the sins of the Tudors the line of Henry VII “ended in his grand-children, as that of Edward the Third and Henry the Fourth had done.”50

This concept of English history was clearly familiar to Ford: Daubeney invokes it in Perkin Warbeck. In the expository first scene Durham and Daubeney recount the civil war between York and Lancaster that has culminated in the rule of Henry VII. We quote from the quarto of 1634:

Edward the fourth after a doubtfull fortune
Yeelded to nature; leaving to his sonnes
Edward and Richard, the inheritance
Of a most bloudy purchase; these young Princes
Richard the Tirant their unnaturall Uncle
Forc'd to a violent grave, so just is Heaven.
Him hath your Majestie by your own arme
Divinely strengthen'd, pulld from his Boares stie
And strucke the black Usurper to a Carkasse

(sig. Bv)

Philip Edwards points out that in his edition of Perkin Warbeck Peter Ure repunctuated this speech to make “so just is Heaven” go with the following rather than the preceding lines, presumably because Ure could not conceive of the murder of the little princes as a divine punishment for the sins of their father. Edwards, by contrast, urges the “barbarous” nature of Daubeney's interpretation of history as a virtual denial of “any theory of divine intervention” in the play.51 In fact, the line does not need to be repunctuated, nor should Daubeney's view be seen as particularly bloodthirsty. Rather, he is expressing a common view of the moral purpose behind English dynastic history. (Ralegh, indeed, read exactly the same lesson into the deaths of the little princes.)52

Unlike the overthrow of the house of York, the extinction of the Tudor line could be seen as the end of the pattern. The death without issue of a virgin princess brought the cycle to a close by allowing the guiltless accession of an untained foreign prince.53 In The Broken Heart the sins for which Calantha's line is extinguished are those of the polity rather than the dynasty, but otherwise the parallel holds very closely. The disruptions of the social order that were first quieted by Amyclas before the opening of the play and that break out again at the very end of his reign are finally expiated by Calantha. Through her death she can bequeath a Sparta purified to a new prince in no way implicated in past transgressions. In The Broken Heart Ford has raised recent English history to the level of tragic necessity.

The ending of the play is appropriately subdued. There is none of the tragic agony of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. The final mood in The Broken Heart is rather one of reconciliation and acceptance as Calantha calmly disposes of her realms and her subjects and new-marries Ithocles, and Nearchus takes over the kingdom of Sparta. In keeping with the play's classical propriety, the quiet tone of the ending mutes its tragic force. The peculiar emotional effect of the conclusion of The Broken Heart can, like the play's structure, be attributed to its Tudor theme. The “tragic” death of the old monarch (Amyclas-Calantha) is subsumed in the rebirth of the kingdom. Nearchus can ascend the throne of Sparta just in the way that James assumed the crown of England—“in a profound peace.”54


  1. Quotations are taken from T. J. B. Spencer, ed., The Broken Heart (Manchester, Eng., 1980).

  2. See Marie Axton, The Queen's Two Bodies: Drama and The Elizabethan Succession (London, 1977).

  3. Conyers Read, Mr. Secretary Walsingham and the Politics of Queen Elizabeth (Cambridge, Mass., 1925), II, 195, 240. See also Edith Rickert, “Political Propaganda and Satire in A Midsummer Night's Dream,Modern Philology, 21 (1923-1924), 74-75. We should emphasize that there was little chance that either Ford or his audience knew anything of these proposals.

  4. Quoted from Peter Ure, ed., Perkin Warbeck (London, 1968).

  5. Spencer, pp. 15-20, summarizes the scholarship on Ford's possible sources for The Broken Heart.

  6. S. P. Sherman, “Stella and The Broken Heart,PMLA, 24 (1909), 274-85.

  7. Katherine Duncan-Jones, “Ford and the Earl of Devonshire,” Review of English Studies, 29 (1978), 447-52. Duncan-Jones suggests that the identification of Calantha as Elizabeth might “help to explain both the oddity and the ultimate strength of her part in the play” (p. 451), but she does not elaborate on this important point.

  8. William A. Armstrong, “The Audience of the Elizabethan Private Theatres,” Review of English Studies, 10 (1959), 247-48; Clifford Leech, “The Caroline Audience,” Modern Language Review, 36 (1941), 304-19. See also David Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics: A Critical Approach to Topical Meaning (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), pp. 12-13; Ann Jennalie Cook, The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare's London, 1576-1642 (Princeton, N.J., 1981), p. 162; Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 1632-1642 (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 106-108, 111-113. Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison, Wisc., 1984), p. 47, stresses that the inexactness or incompleteness of analogies between fiction and historical fact did not bother contemporaries and could serve as a useful line of defence for the author.

  9. Leech, pp. 310-15; Cook, pp. 164-67.

  10. OED, s.v. “Presentment.” For lawyers at the Blackfriars see Armstrong, p. 237.

  11. Christopher R. Wilson, “Astrophil and Stella: a Tangled Editorial Web,” The Library, 6th Ser., 1 (1979), 336-46.

  12. [John Howard Marsden], College Life in the Time of James the First as Illustrated by an Unpublished Diary of Sir Symonds D'Ewes, Baronet, and M.P. (1851), p. 47.

  13. H. R. Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud, 1573-1645 (London, 1940), pp. 36-37.

  14. Thomas Birch, comp., The Court and Times of Charles I, ed. R.F. Williams (1848), I, 171, II, 80, 145; Godfrey Goodman, The Court of King James I, ed. John S. Brewer (1839), I, 98. See also Christopher Hill, “Parliament and People in Seventeenth-Century England,” Past & Present, No. 92 (Aug. 1981), pp. 110-11; Anne Barton, “Harking Back to Elizabeth: Ben Jonson and Caroline Nostalgia,” ELH, 48 (1981), 706-31.

  15. A. B. Grosart, ed., The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Samuel Daniel, I(London, 1885), xxiii.

  16. See Ray Heffner, “Essex, the Ideal Courtier,” ELH, 1 (1934), 7-36.

  17. John Gouws, ed., The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (Oxford, 1986), pp. 93-97; Elizabeth Bourcier, ed., The Diary of Sir Simonds D'Ewes (1622-1624), Publications de la Sorbonne, Litteratures, No. 5 (Paris, 1974), pp. 78, 87; Fames Memoriall, or the Earle of Devonshire Deceased … (1606), sigs. C3-C3v.

  18. Vernon F. Snow, Essex the Rebel, The Life of Robert Devereux, the Third Earl of Essex, 1591-1646 (Lincoln, Neb., 1970), pp. 118-19, 129; [Marsden], College Life in the Time of James I, p. 47.

  19. The text of the two ballads may be found conveniently in William Chappell, ed., The Roxburghe Ballads, I (1888, rpt. New York, 1966), 564-74.

  20. I. R. [John Russell], The Spy, Discovering the Danger of Arminian Heresie and Spanish Trecherie (Strasburgh [i.e., Amsterdam], 1628), sig. Av.

  21. Birch, I, 217.

  22. The piece circulated privately in the 1630s and was published posthumously as A Parallell betweene Robert late Earle of Essex, and George late Duke of Buckingham (1641). For the original project see Logan Pearsall Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton (Oxford, 1907), I, 130, 130n.

  23. Bevington, p. 290; The Tragedy of Philotas by Samuel Daniel, ed. Laurence Michel, Yale Studies in English, No. 110 (New Haven, Conn., 1949), pp. 36-66; Greville, p. 93.

  24. “The Use of Historical Patterns in the Reign of Elizabeth,” Huntington Library Quarterly, 1 (1937-1938), 136.

  25. Sig. C3v.

  26. Greville, p. 126; Robert Earl of Essex his Ghost, Sent from Elizian … (1624), p. 8; A Lamentable Ditty, Roxburghe Ballads, I, 565.

  27. Annales, or the Historie of the Most Renowned and Virtuous Princess Elizabeth, Late Queene of England, trans. R. Norton, 3rd ed. (1635), pp. 552-53.

  28. Sir Robert Naunton, Fragmenta Regalia or Observations on Queen Elizabeth, Her Times & Favorites, ed. John S. Cerovski (Washington, D.C., 1985), pp. 75-76. Cf. Francis Osborne, Historical Memoirs of the Reigns of Elizabeth and King James in Secret History of the Court of James I, ed. Sir Walter Scott (Edinburgh, 1811), I, 47-49; William Sanderson, Aulicus Coquinariae in Scott, II, 138. Although the earliest of these three accounts, Naunton's, first appeared in print in 1641, each version differs so much from the others in detail (and in the source to which the story is attributed) as to indicate an independent origin in each case: some version or other was presumably abroad and in widespread circulation well before Fragmenta Regalia was published. See in general Frederick M. Jones, Mountjoy, 1563-1606, The Last Elizabethan Deputy (Dublin, 1958), pp. 23, 187-88. For another quarrel over a gold token, this time between Essex and Ralegh, see Charles E. Mounts, “The Ralegh-Essex Rivalry and Mother Hubberds Tale,Modern Language Notes, 65 (1950), 509-13.

  29. A Line of Life, ed. John Payne Collier, Shakespeare Society of London Publications, 10 (1843; rpt. 1966), 62.

  30. The source for Essex's trial and execution most immediately available to Ford's audience would have been Camden, Annales, pp. 543-51. Two secondary sources that provide a summary of the very numerous contemporary accounts of Essex's last moments are Snow, 15-16; G. B. Harrison, The Life and Death of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (London, 1937), pp. 322-25. See also below, n. 32.

  31. Snow, p. 16.

  32. Honors Fame in Triumph Riding, ed. A. B. Grosart (1604, facsimile rpt. Manchester, 1881) p. 29.

  33. One can find this much of the ring story, along with a detailed account of Elizabeth's death, in Camden, pp. 584-86.

  34. The evolution of the ring story may be traced in DNB, s.v. “Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.” See also Robert Lacey, Robert Earl of Essex, An Elizabethan Icarus (London, 1971), pp. 314-315.

  35. [Leonora]                                        Let me die
    In the distraction of that worthy princess
    Who loathed food, and sleep, and ceremony
    For thought of losing that brave gentleman
    She would fain have saved, had not a false conveyance
    Express'd him stubborn-hearted.

    Frances A. Shirley, ed., The Devil's Law-Case (Lincoln, Neb., 1972), 3.3.295-300. The play was probably first acted somewhere between 1617 and 1621 (pp. xi-xiv).

  36. “The Difference and Disparity between the Estates and Conditions of George Duke of Buckingham, and Robert Earl of Essex,” in Sir Henry Wotton, Reliquiae Wottonianae (1651), p. 52.

  37. Robert Parker Sorlein, ed., The Diary of John Manningham of the Middle Temple, 1602-1603 (Hanover, N.H., 1976), p. 222. Dr. Henry Parry, then a royal chaplain and subsequently bishop of Worcester, was a personal friend of Manningham. The “Countess Kildare” is Frances Howard daughter of Catherine, countess of Nottingham, a great favorite of the queen. Catherine Howard had died the previous month, and in the wilder versions of the ring story she reputedly intercepts Essex's ring, but then confesses her crime to Elizabeth on her deathbed, breaking the queen's heart.

  38. Diary of Manningham, pp. 1-2.

  39. Wilfrid R. Prest, The Inns of Court under Elizabeth I and the Early Stuarts, 1590-1640 (Totowa, N.J., 1972), pp. 10-17.

  40. In addition to Camden, cited above, n. 33, see F. H. Mares, ed., The Memoirs of Robert Carey (Oxford, 1972), pp. 57-59.

  41. The device of fragmenting the monarch had ample dramatic precedent in the Tudor masques. See Marie Axton, “The Tudor Mask and Elizabethan Court Drama,” in English Drama: Forms and Development, Essays in Honour of Muriel Clara Bradbrook, ed. Marie Axton and Raymond Williams (Cambridge, 1977), pp. 24-47. For state presentations of Elizabeth after her death see Barton, “Harking Back to Elizabeth,” pp. 712-19.

  42. See H. J. Oliver, The Problem of John Ford (London and New York, 1955), pp. 68-70; “Artifice or High Design?” Times Literary Supplement, 19 July 1957, pp. 433-35; Arthur C. Kirsch, Jacobean Dramatic Perspectives (Charlottesville, Va., 1972), p. 116; Kenneth Muir, “The Case of John Ford,” Sewanee Review, 84 (1976), 624. For a defense of the play's structure in terms of the theme of enforced marriage see Glenn Blayney, “Convention, Plot, and Structure in The Broken Heart,Modern Philology, 56 (1958), 1-9.

  43. For a discussion of productions of The Broken Heart see Verna Ann Foster, “The Dramatic Art of John Ford: Varieties of Mode and Effect,” diss. Univ. of London (1977), pp. 447-54.

  44. Two recent defenses of the structure of The Broken Heart in terms of a unifying theme are Eugene M. Waith, “Struggle for Calm: The Dramatic Structure of The Broken Heart,” in English Renaissance Drama: Essays in Honor of Madeleine Doran and Mark Eccles, ed. Standish Henning et al. (Carbondale, Ill., 1976), pp. 155-66, and Anne Barton, “Oxymoron and the Structure of Ford's ‘The Broken Heart’,” Essays and Studies, 33 (1980), 70-94. Barton's interpretation of The Broken Heart is in some respects similar to our own in that she sees Calantha as the play's central figure who vindicates “an aristocratic social order” (p. 73) that is more important than any individual. However, Barton's concern is with an aristocratic code rather than with Sparta as a polity, and we cannot agree with her argument that Ford deliberately misleads his audience as a means of dramatizing “the unknowability of fate” (p. 94).

  45. See Elizabeth Rawson, The Spartan Tradition in European Thought (Oxford, 1969) and Spencer, ed., The Broken Heart, pp. 21-25.

  46. Nearchus corresponds to Ford's rather conventional definition of the good man in A Line of Life: one who out of his own private virtue voluntarily assists others for the public good. Ford gives James I as an example of such a man (pp. 64-69).

  47. See especially Barton, “Oxymoron and the Structure of Ford's ‘The Broken Heart’.”

  48. Thelma N. Greenfield, “The Language of Process in The Broken Heart,PMLA, 87 (1972), 403, discusses the way in which blood imagery links Penthea, Ithocles, and Orgilus.

  49. Dorothy M. Farr, John Ford and the Caroline Theatre (New York, 1979), p. 98, makes a similar point.

  50. The History of the World (1614 [i.e. 1628]), pref., sig.[A4v]. Cf. F. J. Levy, Tudor Historical Thought (San Marino, Calif., 1967), pp. 278-79; Robert Rentoul Reed, Jr., Crime and God's Judgement in Shakespeare (Lexington, Ky., 1984).

  51. Philip Edwards, “The Royal Pretenders in Massinger and Ford,” Essays and Studies, 27 (1974), 25.

  52. The History of the World, pref., sig. [A4r].

  53. The History of the World, sig. [A5r].

  54. James Spedding et al., eds., The Works of Francis Bacon, VII (London, 1861), 167. Cf. the verdict of John Hawarde, an Inner Temple lawyer, immediately upon Elizabeth's death that “shee wente to her Forefathers in peace, lyved, reygned and dyed in peace, and bequeathed peace to her people.” William Paley Baildon, ed., Les Reportes del Cases in Camera Stellata, 1593 to 1609 (London, 1894), p. 178. Glynne Wickham has argued for the influence of the accession of James I on Shakespeare's last plays. See Shakespeare's Dramatic Heritage (New York, 1969), pp. 249-65, and “From Tragedy to Tragi-Comedy: ‘King Lear’ as Prologue,” Shakespeare Survey, 26 (1973), 33–48.

Katsuhiko Nogami (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: Nogami, Katsuhiko. “The Rationalization of Conflicts in John Ford's The Lady's Trial.Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 32, No. 2, (Spring, 1992): 341-59.

[In the following essay, Nogami examines Ford's sophisticated use of dualities in The Lady's Trial to achieve unconventional dramatic effects.]

The assumption that John Ford, as a Renaissance playwright, was wholly bound by the dramatic conventions of his time was notably refuted by Robert Stanley Forsythe in his assiduous examination of the interrelationship among English Renaissance plays: “Ford creates a problem which he studies and analyzes during a play, without any regard for the inculcation of a lesson by its solution. … Two courses were open to the dramatist of this period: to carry on the established traditions or to seek out new material. Ford did the latter; almost all other dramatists did the former.”1 The recent rise of critical comment on John Ford's last play, The Lady's Trial (licensed and acted 1638, printed 1639), appears to endorse Forsythe's view.2 Enquiries into the dramatic components of this tragicomedy, however, are still insufficient, since some of Ford's ways of treating the subject matter of the play have hitherto escaped notice.3

Obviously Ford could not work completely outside the conventions of his time.4 A late Renaissance tragicomedy, The Lady's Trial predictably consists of serious and comic plots; a serious episode is followed by a comic, which is followed by a serious. As is to be expected, characters are polarized as stereotypes, righteous or absurd as well as chaste or wanton, thus laying stress upon contrast as a dramatic principle. The content also shows a stark contrast between husband and wife or, more generally, male and female stances, and between classes.5 Even the themes do not go beyond such commonplace topics of Renaissance drama as love, adultery, dueling, revenge, friendship, and marriage.6 Nevertheless the combination of these subjects produces something different from a routine tragicomedy. There is, for example, much emphasis upon the conflicts between appearance and reality, between individualism and institutionalism, between honor and justice, between love and friendship, between friends, and between values.7 This treatment serves to build up the audience's awareness of the struggle in the course of the action.

Dualism is not merely a feature of the action, though, because the development from polarity to multiplicity and then to fusion is another aspect of the play. The main plot reveals the drastic change from the protagonist's destitution to his prosperity, and the effect of that change on the people around him, all the while presenting a certain criterion for assessing the values involved. There is, on the other hand, a subtle interaction between the main plot and the subplots, among some characters and among their attitudes of class consciousness. This sense of affinity ultimately establishes the underlying tone of the play, that is, the unification of divided opinions and the synthesis of corresponding elements.8

Along with these assessments, there are still other Fordian innovations to be examined. The tragicomedy, complicated in construction, looks novel in its treatment of dramatic devices as well. A close analysis of some components, especially in the Fordian context, is indispensable to see where his originality dwells and how it works. The purpose of this essay is to provide several perspectives for looking at Ford's sophistication in dramaturgy, with special attention paid to those features of the play that are unconventional for the time.


At the beginning of the play, Ford presents the hypocritical, decadent Genoese society, into which he introduces a significant event: the gentleman Auria departs on his military service for the Great Duke of Florence. The scent of wars stirs excitement and tension in the peaceful but immoral atmosphere of the city, arousing criticism against the protagonist Auria, all of which is scandalously reported by a nobleman's dependants, Piero and Futelli. Auria has to leave behind his wife Spinella, beautiful but penniless, and “such an arme full of pleasures” (I.i.106)9 as are enjoyed by the newly married. When he returns triumphant, it is only to find Spinella accused by his best friend Aurelio of adultery with a nobleman, Adurni.

The reaction of the wronged husband portrayed by Ford is exceptional since Auria not only refrains from violence, but is even free from all jealousy; he trusts his wife Spinella in spite of any allegations against her, which implies that Ford had Othello in mind.10 He remains as serene as when he left, proving himself to be a man of integrity. Indeed, throughout the play the rationality of the hero is emphasized. Aurelio admits, “You forme reasons, / Iust ones” (I.i.315-16); Auria later asks him to speak “with reason” (III.iii.1425).11

Nevertheless Auria is not just a man of reason, but also a man of passion, one who has, before the play begins, already embarked upon an unconventional marriage without dowry, which is criticized by Aurelio as indiscreet in that Auria

                                                                      prescribes no law,
No limits of condition to the objects
Of his affection; but will meerly wed
A face because tis round, or limb'd by nature
In purest red and white.


The description stems from Robert Burton, who counted “beauty” or “sight” as one of the causes of love melancholy,12 but Ford's use of Burton as the source for Aurelio's financially motivated criticism in this scene significantly differs from his earlier straightforward reliance on Burton as witnessed in, for instance, The Lover's Melancholy (1629). Here Ford portrays Aurelio as someone making much of social position rather than love which Auria (and perhaps Ford) appears to regard as of the highest value.

The protagonist discloses several other passions. A passion for soldiering, for instance, unavoidably declares itself in his very choice. Although he is careful not to make himself appear as a mercenary, the presence of that passion is made all the clearer when Auria is reproved by his friend as well as by the dependants of Adurni (I.i.96-114). In addition, as Auria confesses that he has been politically active, so the play also hints at his political motivation (I.i.322), a motivation which points to the future effect of his success in the audience's eyes. A passion for politics may thus flow beneath the surface.13 Another passion does not hold Auria back from his adventure, either. A friendship with Aurelio on which Auria can totally rely prompts him to make a proposal: “I pronounce / Aurelio heire of what I can bequeath” (I.i.323-24). This is castigated by Aurelio himself. What the audience can deduce from these passionate exchanges is Auria's willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of love and friendship, in the face of Aurelio's sincere but obtrusive criticism as a friend. The remarkable way, however, in which Auria keeps his passions well under control is one of Ford's main devices in the play.14

The determination and flexibility of mind the protagonist displays do not contradict each other; rather they need each other since a reasonable, firm decision is reached by a mind free from such extremes as jealousy, malice, fanaticism, rigidity, melancholy or excessive enthusiasm. He cannot but keep calm with “reason,” as he frankly tells Aurelio: “the wrongs / I should have ventur'd on against thy fate / Must have deny'd all pardon” (I.i.241-43). This is the reason he has kept silent about his plan. Auria's argument is validated by rare chances of exerting his abilities:

He who cannot merit
Preferment by employments, let him bare
His throat unto the Turkish cruelty.


Despite all his friend's caviling that his adventures are unnecessary, the statement ratifies his liking (or passion) for evaluation by merit which Ford soon causes other characters to assert.

Having acknowledged the “indiscretion” of his marriage, Auria admits that he may “propose / No shelter for her honour” (I.i.317-18). Furthermore he cannot respond to Aurelio's questioning except with a statement of his personal trust in Spinella: “She's my wife” (I.i.308). In spite of criticisms and attempts at dissuasion he goes his own way. This would seem to imply that he is a simpleminded man of action, but the play reveals and reinforces that he is a man of thought as well. The audience realizes his discretion as soon as he comes back triumphant, when he is so humble as to stress his debt to the country and even to suggest the possibility of his immediate retirement (III.ii.1337-48). His reasoning on these public matters modulates the previous caustic satire and helps elevate the audience's estimation of the quality of his mind.


Ford creates another tension by emphasizing the conflict in Auria's dual status as private and as public man. Auria's decision to go on an expedition seems to be a private one, since Ford underlines Auria's financial difficulty (I.i.247, 260-63, 321, and 338). Auria is not very concerned with fame or honor at the start; after his return, his remarks about his new status (III.ii.1312-50, III.iv.1594-99) suggest that he does not wish to be regarded as a public figure. Circumstances, however, do not allow him to be a private man any longer, for he is a national hero selected as Governor of Corsica, Admiral of Genoa, and Count of Savona, all of which positions he has accepted.15 Ford's treatment of conflict between an individual and society manifests itself in Auria's placing his love above his honor. Regret assails Auria:

would she and I my wife,
I meane …
had together fed
On any out-cast parings, course and mouldy,
Not liv'd divided thus, I could have beg'd
For both, for't had been pitty she should ever
Have felt so much extremitie.


Auria's “tameness” in spite of the situation incites the irritated Aurelio to urge him to take revenge. An honored public man, Auria has to punish the guilty in some way in accordance with social convention, which he is most reluctant to do. Ford, however, introduces wisdom on the part of Auria. Thus Auria describes Adurni's invitation of Spinella and others as “nobly done!” (III.iii.1429), contradicting Aurelio's report. Similarly he recounts as an instance of an innocent visit how in his childhood he “by the stealth of privacie enjoyd / A Ladies closet” without any sin (III.iii.1437-38).16 Moreover, he urges that love and friendship conform with each other, and then goes on to criticize Aurelio for his “rash indiscretion” (III.iii.1504). He almost succeeds in persuading his stubborn friend to be reconciled by reminding him of their longstanding friendship, finally begging that “if I must loose / Spinella, let me not proceed to misery, / by loosing my Aurelio” (III.iii.1536-38). Reaching the conclusion of the conflict between love and friendship, Auria philosophizes on the fallibility of human observations insofar as they are not malicious:

                                                                                                    we through madnesse,
Frame strange conceirs, in our discoursing braines,
And prate of things as we pretend they were.


The concept of madness here probably contains diverse implications, including the idea of melancholy, as Auria is conscious of Aurelio's idiosyncrasies. He immediately comes back, however, to the reality which he is most anxious about:

Joyne helpe to mine (good man) and let us listen
After this straying soule, and till we finde her,
bear our discomfort quietly.


Ford lets Auria behave like a well-disciplined stoic, who is hardly influenced by rumors, even by his best friend Aurelio's charge, and who rather employs this mentality to persuade the friend.

Ford convinces the audience by questioning Auria's wisdom through probable challenges from other elements. Auria attempts to keep the matter private, but he fails when Adurni comes to confess publicly his intention of doing “wrong … To Auria” (IV.iii.2085-87). Auria immediately intervenes and tries to dissuade him from such a confession. Indeed, he almost threatens him:

Take advice,
(Young Lord) before thy tongue betray a secret
Conceald yet from the world …
as I durst not wrong the meanest, so
He who but onely aimd by any boldnesse,
A wrong to me, should finde I must not beare it.


With all this, Adurni continues to “discourse” his secret and, conversely, condemns Aurelio, thus creating another tense situation between the accuser and the accused. Adurni criticizes Aurelio for his “jealousie,” “spleene,” and “suspitious rage” (IV.iii.2110-22), all of which are Burtonian terms,17 and terminates his complaints with “thou hast / Enforc'd the likelihood of scandall” (IV.iii.2122-23). Appearance comes to be so important that reality has to be introduced,18 leading to Adurni's testifying to “The power of vertue” (IV.iii.2132) possessed by Spinella, with his reports of her desperate cry: “Come Auria, come / Fight for thy wife at home” (IV.iii.2167-68). Adurni's candid attitude anticipates Auria's reasonable response to his explanation of what happened; at the other's favorable reply, Adurni concludes:

I finde my absolution,
By vowes of change from all ignoble practice.


Thus they successfully avoid confrontation, bringing about the instant collapse of Aurelio's accusation.

Once the matter has been brought to light, however, it requires a public resolution. The lover Auria is convinced of Spinella's innocence, but as he is a public man and has even assumed the role of “magistrate” (III.iii.1514) or “judge” (V.ii.2389) “in counsell” (IV.iii.2223), his task is to prove it publicly. In consequence Spinella has to stand trial in the presence of Auria, Adurni, and Aurelio, a trio who are either to form “a hearty league, or scuffle shrewdly” (IV.iii.2224) as accusers or defendants. The public matter requires formal procedures and legal language19 with which Ford is professionally acquainted. What is most important here, however, seems to be that the judge is to be judged as well, since the verdict is clear to the audience from the beginning. The process of the trial itself therefore becomes the object of interest. Auria, in spite of himself, is so excited as to use “a borrowd bravery” (V.ii.2371), inviting a plain charge from Malfato:

Let upstarts exercise uncomely roughnesse,
Cleare spirits to the humble will be humble:
You know your wife no doubt.


Ford prepares a conclusion in the culmination of the conflict between private and public, when Spinella rejects any help:

I have no kindred sister, husband, friend,
Or pittie for my plea.


If as judge Auria handled the case with even a hint of favor towards her, the demonstration of her innocence would not be unequivocal. If Auria, therefore, remains a complete public man, i.e., a judge without any bias, personal or institutional, then a favorable verdict will produce a perfect warrant that Spinella is entirely innocent.20 This is what Ford is aiming at when he causes Spinella to reject even her husband's assistance. She adds that, “Nor name, / … I disclaime all benefit / Of mercie from a charitable thought” (V.ii.2397-99).21 She subsequently challenges Aurelio, urging him to “roundly use your eloquence / Against a meane defendant” (V.ii.2419-20). This challenge is a direct reaction to his previous statement: “I find. / Course fortunes easily seduc'd, and herein / All claym to goodnesse ceases” (II.iv.1097-99), a remark betraying an obsession with the frailty of women as well as contempt for the poor. She exerts her talent for argument (or “scoulding,” V.ii.2463), delights Auria (V.ii.2407-8), and remarkably defeats Aurelio (V.ii.2421-22). With all her attempts to clear herself of the accusation, though, “reconciliation” would be “needless” if Auria suspected her (V.ii.2490-91). Her point is made sharply, whereas the trial ends with her fainting when the situation goes beyond her “courage.”22 Auria is quick to proclaim Spinella's innocence in public: “I finde thy vertues as I left them, perfect, / Pure, and unflaw'd” (V.ii.2499-2500). The judge is thus judged well, since this constitutes his reply to her demand: “prove what judge you will” (V.ii.2389). Ford answers virtually every question that he raises in the dramatic action, leaving the audience to content themselves with what he provides. Thus the conflict between private and public is employed to make the protagonist look more flexible in spite of the stern requirements of society.23


Ford uses dissension between the mature and the young for the distinctive purpose of examining the value of high rank. Almost all the young from the lower classes in the play passionately aspire to high office or the nobility. Even the difference in mentality between the young comes out clearly when quality of mind is questioned, especially in Futelli's case. Futelli has betrayed his ambition, though in time he accepts the impossibility of rising in the world by mere wit. Through this lesson, Ford leads him to a degree of maturity in which he has abandoned his former vanity. Futelli expresses his inmost voice at the right moment:

I grow quite weary of this lazie custome
Attending on the fruitlesse hopes of service,
For meate and ragges, a wit, a shrewd preferment
Study some scurrill jests, grow old and beg
No let em be admir'd that love foule linnen.
Ile runne a new course.


The philosophy he exercises is realistic and somewhat stoic, coming closer to Malfato's, and even to Auria's. This is wisdom such as Futelli has gained for the first time in his life. Trelcatio testifies to its efficacy:

my good friends, you have like wise Physitians,
Prescrib'd a healthfull dyet.


Through these achievements Ford allows him to join the society of worthies.

Auria, on the other hand, is a grey-haired, middle-aged gentleman, who has wisdom sufficient for any situation:

                                                                                behold these haires,
(Great Masters of a spirit) yet they are not
By winter of old age quite hid in snow,
Some messengers of time I must acknowledge
Amongst them tooke up lodging, when we first
Exchang'd our faiths in wedlock.


A sense of anxiety may be detected in his recognition of a somewhat advanced age, an age which caused at least in part the downfall of Othello. Here Ford echoes Shakespeare. Unlike the Moor, however, Auria exercises wisdom. It is set against Aurelio's “slovenly presumption” (III.iii.1434) and “cheape providence” (III.iii.1517), Aurelio's allegation being “too course” for him (III.iii.1494).24

Auria's discretion results in the triumph of the middle-aged over the young, as the mature know better how to deal with worldly problems than do such young men as Giovanni in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, who ruins himself because of rashness or immaturity. One sub-plot provides a parody of the main plot, portraying the coxcomb Fulgoso as he indulges in courting without risking anything. Although he is a coward, he emphasizes his maturity, claiming, when he tries to avoid dueling, that “Theres none but hare-brain'd youths of metall use it” (IV.ii.2026). He never gains anything like wisdom, though at least he achieves a social elevation which no one else in the play except Auria attains, being called a gentleman. He is also allowed to stay with Auria in the denouement, as is Futelli.

Ford expressed the importance of “wisdom” from an early point in his career as a writer. He manifested it, for instance, in The Golden Meane (1613), B11v, a “noble and wise man,” the introduction of A Line of Life (1620), “Wise, and therein noble,” or The Laws of Candy (1619), I.i, “The Senate / Is wise, and therein just.”25 Auria is another embodiment of this pattern.

Wisdom, therefore, is set as such a strategy and value that it has to be acquired by some unwise characters, especially by Malfato and Aurelio, who mark conflicts between young and old. Ford makes them confront each other at an early stage, when Aurelio tries to give advice to Malfato:

A Melancholy grounded, and resolv'd,
Receiv'd into a habit, argues love,
Or deepe impression of strong discontents, …
It is an ease, Malfato, to disburthen
Our soules of secret clogges.


This rude intrusion reflects the similarity between Aurelio and Malfato. Both men are alike26 in that they suffer from “humor,” their judgments or misjudgments both being the cause of female afflictions—Malfato's discommoding Levidolche on the one hand and Aurelio's accusing Spinella on the other. Aurelio and Malfato are taken by surprise when Auria causes Castanna to marry Adurni, presumably because of their obsession with class. They are as susceptible to their own misconception of the truth as to misleading appearances.

Malfato proclaims that he is too good for a wanton woman (I.iii.588-89), and yet he is not free from the folly of love, nor even from an incestuous love for Spinella.27 His abuse of Levidolche (I.iii.558-94) also reveals his hypocritical inclination. Malfato is by no means free from doubt about his greed, either. According to Martino, he held “some lands” which supposedly “Belong'd to certaine Orphans” (II.ii.914). Subsequently it transpires that he occupies the house of the late father of Spinella and Castanna (IV.i). He reveals another defect: a rigidity in adhering to aristocratic standards, in his assertion that the status of gentlemen is equal to that of noblemen.28 He does not even understand the genuine afflictions of people of a lower class, in spite of, or rather because of, the pain of his own love for Spinella.

Aurelio similarly mistakes the meaning of love. Questioning Auria's action of leaving behind his new wife, he casts suspicion on Spinella's moral strength (I.i.279-83). Auria's answer, “She's my wife” (I.i.308), is deeply ironic in its protest as well as in its trust. Aurelio is depicted not only as being rigid in adhering to social conventions but also as being insensitive to human feelings. Aurelio's problem is that he does not recognize his own lack of wisdom, and confuses his intentions of decency with wisdom.29 Ford, however, has him deliver a “coarse” argument, departing from Malfato's manner at one point. It is difficult to deny that Malfato's love discourse with Spinella (IV.i.1675-1762) yields some of the finest writing of the play, while Aurelio is not given any chance at all to talk of love.

Both Malfato and Aurelio ultimately realize a degree of wisdom, because of their pride in their status as gentlemen. After Malfato attains self-discipline (IV.i.1760-62), Aurelio gives a frank apology to Auria and Spinella (V.ii.2542-43). This achievement encourages the supposition that Ford has conceived of the theme as one of reconciliation through wisdom.


The structure of this play provides an image of the microcosm within the macrocosm, and the similarity between the two. In the larger world a nobleman Adurni indulges in womanizing, while the shortcomings of his way of life manifest themselves in his ignorance of worldly affairs. He even has to be taught by Futelli: “He that is honest, must be poore, my lord, / It is a common rule” (I.ii.432-33). His conduct initiates false accusation in the main plot, since he is intrigued by the difficulties in seducing a chaste woman after an easy association with Levidolche, with whom he is now tired. His contempt speaks: “A wanton Mistresse is a common sewer” (I.ii.419).

Levidolche, on the other hand, lives in the smaller world. At an early stage of the action, her remarks reach the aristocrat (and the audience) only through Futelli's report. She can speak for herself when her frustrations arise: although she does not agree that “All should be equalls,” according to Futelli, it seems a pity to her that “men should differ in estates”; therefore, she wants to see justice done, thinking that “the properest men / Should be prefer'd to fortune” (I.ii.371-77). This request for evaluation according to merit follows Auria's comments on his decision (I.i.275-78); her subsequent words,

I had seene
Persons of meaner quality, much more
Exact in faire indowments,


predict even the ethical development of the main plot. There is, however, a wide discrepancy between the two, for she uses the “evaluation by merit” as an excuse for aiming at her next lover, whereas Adurni corrects his mistake.

The smaller world is the world of private lower-class people, where personal matters receive more emphasis than such public matters as politics. The comic sense derives essentially from the absurd results of those minor characters' bringing private business into the public arena, impelled by misconceptions, pretensions, or ill-conceived sincerity. Significant here is Martino's criticism of Levidolche that she is “growne so rampant, / That from a privat wanton thou proclaimst thy selfe / A baggage for all gamesters” (V.i.2241-43), while Amoretta has made her reputation by unwisely refusing all proper suitors (I.ii.446-63). The larger world stands in contrast as the protagonist tries to keep his personal business private, although at the end everything is brought to the surface by his friend. When the Burtonian melancholic types are introduced into both worlds, it becomes more evident that the similarities rather than the contradictions are being emphasized. Amoretta, for instance, exhibits fantastic inclinations with her romantic aspirations to nobility. A very young girl, she is blind to reality, full of aspirations but equipped with no critical capacity. At the end, however, just as Malfato cures himself with Spinella's help, so Amoretta is cured of her “humor” with the help of Piero and Futelli.

In the meantime, Levidolche's former husband Benatzi plays a particular role in the sub-plot; he assumes an “antic disposition,” spouting bombastic language (III.i.1194 ff.). His behavior also has something in common with Malfato's. Malfato seems to have become more melancholic because of the recent marriage of Spinella; as Castanna says, “your late strangenesse hath bred mervaile in us” (IV.i.1770). Benatzi, on the other hand, served in the war under Auria, but he has not been rewarded yet and so is living the life of a tramp. He disguises himself as a slightly deranged ex-soldier. Since his “ragged” prose does not quite make sense, he is the object of the pity as well as the contempt of Fulgoso, as a result of the blatant difference between their classes (III.i.1271-76). Nevertheless his merits also can be observed in the scene of reconciliation with Levidolche when each pretends not to recognize the other. His antic disposition enables him to thank her:

liberality and hospitable compassion (most magnificent beauty) have long since lyen bed-rid in the ashes of the old world till now, your illustrious charity hath rak'd up the dead embers by giving life to a worm inevitably devoted yours as you shall please to new-shape mee.


Malfato in his melancholic humor also announces his resolutions to Spinella:

Ile blesse that hand,
Whose honourable pittie seales the pasport
For my incessant turmoyles, to their rest.
If I prevaile (which heaven forbid) these ages
Which shall inherit ours, may tell posteritie
Spinella had Malfato for a kinsman,
By noble love made jealous of her fame. …
All is said:
Henceforth shall never syllable proceed,
From my unpleasant voyce, of amorous folly.


The language and the ways of expression of the two characters are so different that an inattentive audience may find one irrelevant to the other, but still there is something in common between them, a possible cure of the “humor.” The deliberate parallelism makes it clear that the play suggests two paths to one goal, the recognition of each other's true worth. Since Benatzi is not very wise, he subsequently promises to challenge Adurni and Malfato to avenge Levidolche's dishonor. Again similarly, Malfato assumes the duties of barrister in order to help defend Spinella's cause (V.ii.2409-10, 2460-71). In this respect the sub-plot does more than just anticipate the main plot. The comic sequence is meant to arouse laughter, but it also draws the audience's attention to the very heart of the play.

Conversely, one subsidiary, serious plot illuminates a comic plot which follows. Malfato urges Auria in the trial to “Hold dispute,” but also tells him to “execute your vengeance” (V.ii.2466) if he doubts Spinella's innocence at all; otherwise he himself will “challenge satisfaction” (V.ii.2471). This is parodied at the end of the play, where Benatzi, drawing his sword, tries to take revenge but then immediately succumbs to his superiors (V.ii.2553 ff.). His behavior exactly reflects Malfato's ironical urging of “vengeance,” providing an example of how not to behave. The contrast attracts immediate attention, but the basic parallelism in events reveals similar mental workings of the two characters issuing in different outcomes.

In another sub-plot, Amoretta is censured by Piero and Futelli for her social aspirations, but the hangers-on themselves are eager aspirants as well. Most remarkable is that after renouncing their aspirations Amoretta and Futelli get married in the end. Despite many apparent differences, the similarity between the two draws attention to them, while, it is worth noting, this marriage further reflects that of Adurni and Castanna.


Ford's treatment of silence, the Italian setting and disguise—commonplace subjects of Renaissance drama—is unconventional. Silence was regarded as an especially feminine virtue. Talkative women, Levidolche and Amoretta, who lack discretion, are humiliated and severely criticized, respectively. Where this silencing of women was common in Renaissance England, Ford challenges the traditional value by demonstrating how silence is required not only of the women, but of the men as well. Aurelio, for instance, should have kept “wisely silent” in Auria's eyes on discovering Adurni and Spinella alone together in Adurni's bedroom, or he should have challenged Adurni on the spot. Having failed to do either of these, Aurelio causes unnecessary problems for both the hero and the heroine, thereby disclosing his lack of wisdom. Thus the prescription for women to keep silent changes to a prescription for men, too. The setting of the play also signals Ford's intention to exploit and confound the stereotyped view of the Italian marriage. Here the protagonist (contrary to the stock reaction of an Italian husband) refuses to give himself to jealousy:

Sure Italians hardly
Admit dispute in questions of this nature,
The tricke is new.


In consequence the duel between the newcomer and the inborn aristocrat is successfully avoided through debate.

Finally, Benatzi's disguise in the sub-plot is penetrated by Levidolche (III.iv.1669-70) in breach of the normal conventions of Renaissance drama.30 This ability to penetrate disguise is demonstrated as the power of love, one of Ford's preoccupations since the beginning of his career as a playwright.31

These dramatic innovations in Ford's development of theme also permeate the course of the play's action. Ford consciously alludes to excess or rigidity with, for instance, “officious” (I.iii.524), “overliving” (II.ii.918), “ore-doe” (III.iii.1507), and “over-busie” (V.ii.2543) (which contrasts with Auria's serenity). Ford shifts this stress by having Auria remain overly reserved. When the role of private man superimposes itself upon that of public man, Auria begins to learn how to behave as an honored public figure. At the end of the play, the synthesis of both different and similar forces is contrived in favor of human beings rather than the social code.32 The whole action implies that a drastic change in circumstances can awaken people's latent abilities, if all goes well.

Although dramatic dynamic is thus not wanting, the play achieves a calmness or mildness of tone from the author's way of treating his subjects and perhaps also from the style of debate, especially when it employs legal terms.33 Auria's conclusion—“After distresse at sea, the dangers ore, / Safety and welcomes better taste a shore” (V.ii.2648-49)—refers to his wish, expressed in his initial warnings to Spinella, “to take the wracke of our divisions” and so “sweeten the remembrance of past dangers” (I.i.150-51). The epilogue contributes to this wish as a testimony of gentleness after turbulence. It finally evokes the familiar old, if not brave new, world outside the theater:

The Court's on rising; tis too late
To wish the Lady in her fate
Of tryall now more fortunate.
A verdict in the Iuries brest,
Will be given up anon at least,
Till then tis fit we hope the best.
Else if there can be any stay,
Next sitting without more delay,
We will expect a gentle day.

(lines 2651-59)

This epilogue is a reminder of the metaphor of the world as a stage which has been employed subtly in the dramatic action. Genoa, unlike Coriolanus's Rome, accepts Auria as a national hero. He has to play that role, having assumed grave responsibilities, while the other characters are acting their own parts, some in serious ways, some with an antic disposition. They thus construct a dramatic illusion as real as life on the stage, the epilogue corresponding to this in its conclusion.

The play's innovative sharpness points to a fine sense of sophistication in terms of plot, character, meaning, and sensitivity. Ford is still ambitious, or at least serious, in his endeavors to present a drama. His conception of theater comes not just from the combination of words, matter, and delight; to his mind theater requires the workings of wit. Ford clearly disapproves, though, of the usual “wit” (Prologue.59), namely wit as an exposing force, which had been fashionable in the Caroline theater, for example, in James Shirley's The Witty Fair One (1628, printed 1633) and William Davenant's The Wits (1635), which follow Jacobean wit as seen in, for instance, Thomas Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One (1604) and Ben Jonson's The Silent Woman (1609).34 On the contrary, Ford's “wit” (Prologue.72) seems to suggest something unifying, healing, or even beneficial, as Trelcatio makes clear on several occasions: “my good friends, you have like wise Physitians, / Prescrib'd a healthfull dyet” (IV.ii.2054-55); “Futelli hath wean'd her from this paine” (V.ii.2615); and “hee's not the richest / I'th parish; but a wit” (V.ii.2618-19). As we have seen, The Lady's Trial is meant to be exemplary in this respect. This conforms with Ford's promise that he will present “no Satyr, but a play” (Prologue.70). His confidence in the undertaking grows, therefore, as he declares in the epistle dedicatory that the play is “mine own” (27).

At the end of his career, Ford's thought and skill as a dramatist find a way of presenting all these developments through the process of each character's growth, calmly rationalizing all that happens.35 The method he employs is intensive rather than extensive; and it is a method which requires a delicate probing into the truth.36


  1. Robert Stanley Forsythe, The Relations of Shirley's Plays to the Elizabethan Drama (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1914; rprt. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965), pp. 14, 49.

  2. E.g., Glenn Hopp, “The Speaking Voice in The Lady's Trial,” in “Concord in Discord”: The Plays of John Ford 1586-1986, ed. Donald K. Anderson (New York: AMS Press, 1986), p. 169, “[Ford is] moving into new modes of expression”; Dorothy M. Farr, John Ford and the Caroline Theatre (London: Macmillan, 1984), p. 149, “Fundamentally and in spite of its late place in the Ford canon, The Lady's Trial was a potential new beginning”; and G.F. Sensabaugh, The Tragic Muse of John Ford (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1944; rprt. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965), p. 4, “in contemporary eyes he stands as a modern because of his very rebellion.” Joan M. Sargeaunt, John Ford (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1935), p. 152, also wonders if The Lady's Trial is “original in its treatment of subject.”

  3. However, an illuminating comparative study has recently appeared: Brian Opie, “‘Being All One’: Ford's Analysis of Love and Friendship in Loues Sacrifice and The Ladies Triall,” in John Ford: Critical Re-Visions, ed. Michael Neill (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 233-60.

  4. Even the incestuous love between Giovanni and Annabella in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, one of the most sensational topics, is not peculiar but common in Renaissance drama, as Lois E. Bueler enumerates instances in “The Structural Uses of Incest in English Renaissance Drama,” RenD 15 (1984): 115-45.

  5. Mark Stavig, John Ford and the Traditional Moral Order (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1968), p. 84, points out that in this play “Greater attention is paid to structure and theme than to psychological analysis.” In addition, Lois E. Bueler, “Role Splitting and Reintegration: The Tested Woman Plot in Ford,” SEL 20, 2 (Spring 1980): 325-44, having discovered the presence of the tested wife plot in the play, says that “whereas much critical attention has been paid to courtly love and revenge elements in drama, the structural (as distinct from the didactic) elements of the tested wife plot have not been explored” (p. 343).

  6. A number of shortcomings of the play have been alleged: for instance, insufficient material for the five-act plot, lack of theatricality, over-complicated sub-plots, and lack of humor.

  7. Cf. Florence Ali, Opposing Absolutes: Convention in John Ford's Plays (Salzburg: Universität Salzburg, 1974), pp. 79-88; James Howe, “Ford's The Lady's Trial: A Play of Metaphysical Wit,” Genre 7, 4 (December 1974): 342-61; Donald K. Anderson, John Ford (New York: Twayne, 1972), p. 127; Opie, pp. 233-60, esp. 236-46. Cf. also Douglas Sedge, “Social and Ethical Concerns in Caroline Drama” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Birmingham, 1966), pp. 145-49.

  8. Ronald Huebert, John Ford: Baroque English Dramatist (Montreal and London: McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 1977), p. 114, asserts that “The Lady's Trial is not a collision between two different worlds, but a fusion of two similar worlds that blend into one motif.”

  9. Quotations from The Lady's Trial are taken from the edition in John Ford's Dramatic Works, Materials for the Study of the Old English Drama, n.s. 1, ed. Henry de Vocht (Louvain: Uystpruyst, 1927), pp. 329-408. The act and scene division is indicated immediately before the line number of Vocht's edition for convenience of reference.

  10. Sargeaunt, John Ford, pp. 149 and 152, finds that there are only two preceding plays in which wronged husbands take actions unconventional for the time: Thomas Heywood, A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603) and Thomas Dekker, The Honest Whore (1604).

  11. “Reason” (or “reasons”) occurs nine times in the play: I.i.302, 315; I.iii.582, 583; II.ii.887; III.iii.1387, 1425; IV.i.1732; and V.ii.2447.

  12. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), 3 vols. (rprt. London: Dent, 1978), 3:65.

  13. Auria, it seems, has been an active courtier, which could have been one of the reasons for his financial destitution, as the play refers to his past activities: In my Countrey, friend / … I have sided my superior friend / Swayd opposition, friend (I.i.265-67).

  14. Cf., for instance, “never did passion / Purpose ungentle usage of my sword, / Against Aurelio” (III.iii.1532-34).

  15. Earlier Ford had discussed the implications of being a public man: cf., for example, A Line of Life (1620), D4v-D5v: “[Two sorts of publike men] The one … haue beene raised to, a supereminent ranck of honour, and so by degrees … to speciall places of weightie imployment in the common wealth. The other sort are such as the Prince according to his iudgement, hath out of their owne sufficiencie, aduaunced to particular offices … these two are the onely chiefe and princilpall members of imployment, vnder that head of whose politike bodie they are the most vsefull & stirring members.”

  16. G.F. Sensabaugh, “John Ford and Platonic Love in the Court,” SP 36, 2 (April 1939): 206-26, 223-24, argues that Ford seems to believe it quite possible that a woman can still keep her chastity in this kind of meeting, citing The Queen, IV.1671-75 (ed. W. Bang [Louvain: Uystpruyst, 1906]), in which Murretto, commenting on similar circumstances, maintains, “I think now a woman may lie four or five nights together with a man, and yet be chaste; though that be very hard, yet so long as 'tis possible, such a thing may be”; cf. also The Fancies, Chast and Noble, III.ii.40-43 (ed. Dominick J. Hart [New York and London: Garland, 1985]).

  17. Characters affected by Burtonian melancholy include Malfato, Aurelio, Amoretta, Levidolche, and, though temporarily, Auria himself.

  18. Howe, pp. 347, 350, and 353, makes this point.

  19. Cf. Howe, p. 354: “Ford advocates enough flexibility in legal proceedings to allow the heart to speak. Reality is allowed to influence one's interpretation of appearance; an adjustment in a basically sound system is all that is needed to bring appearance and reality into harmony.”

  20. For a contrary example, cf. the Cardinal's partial judgment in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, ed. Derek Roper, Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1975), III.ix.54-57: “as Nuncio from the Pope, / For this offence I here receive Grimaldi / Into his Holiness' protection. / He is no common man, but nobly born.”

  21. Farr, p. 142, sees it in a different way: “while anyone can find ‘likelihood of guilt’ in her behaviour she will have none of him or any of her kindred.”

  22. Linda Woodbridge, Woman and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Brighton: Harvester, 1984), p. 215, contends: “Certain stock devices enabled authors to reassert the weak nature of Woman in the face of steel-backboned female behavior. The sturdiest of women faint when circumstances become too trying: Rosalind faints in As You Like It, Luce in The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon, Phillis in The Fair Maid of the Exchange, Celia in Volpone, Thaïsa in Pericles, Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra. Lady Macbeth faints too, although she may be shamming, like Tamyra in Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois.

  23. Sedge, p. 276, makes this point: “As far as personal relationships are concerned … society has no need for flexibility, the system being impervious to such considerations as love or friendship. The dramatist's role here is to move us to pity by showing the manner in which the system threatens to crush individual chances of happiness unless an enlightened attitude arises in particular cases to thwart the working of the machine.”

  24. Clifford Leech, John Ford and the Drama of his Time (London: Chatto and Windus, 1957), p. 120, writes that “Ford's play … does suggest a form of human aspiration, a civilized approach to the relations of human beings to one another.”

  25. C.J. Norman, ed., “A Critical Edition of The Golden Mean and A Line of Life” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of London, 1968), and The Laws of Candy, in Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, ed. Arnold Glover and A.R. Waller, 10 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1905-12), 10:37, although Ford's authorship of the play has not firmly been established; cf. Cyrus Hoy, “The Shares of Fletcher and His Collaborators in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon (V),” SB 13 (1960): 77-108, 97-98, for the Ford authorship (in accordance with this, Alfred Harbage, Annals of English Drama 975-1700, rev. S. Schoenbaum, 3rd edn., rev. Sylvia Stoler Wagonheim [London and New York: Routledge, 1989], entirely ascribes the play to Ford), and Bertha Hensman, The Shares of Fletcher, Field and Massinger in Twelve Plays of the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, 2 vols. (Salzburg: Universität Salzburg, 1974), 2:222-34, for the Fletcher-Field authorship with the Massinger revision.

  26. As Farr, p. 139, points out, “The melancholic and the moralist are curiously alike.”

  27. Bueler, “The Structural Uses of Incest,” supplies a brief, pertinent comment under a section sub-titled “Witting Incest—The Failure of Exchange”: “In Ford's The Lady's Trial, where a minor character entertains a circumspect and unrequited love for his married cousin, the hint of incestuous passion merely flavors one of the play's many examples of ethical discrimination and control” (p. 132).

  28. In contemporary England, “Thomas Bennett was fined £2,000 by the Star Chamber [in 1637] for telling the Earl of Marlborough that he was as good a gentleman as his lordship, for the Bennetts were as good as the Leys” (Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1637, pp. 281, 299, and 472, cited in Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965], p. 34). Whether this kind of incident influenced Ford is not known, though he has Malfato behave as if he is one of the Egalitarians.

  29. “The implication of this play is that conviction may not be enough. A man comes to full maturity when he can call upon reason and understanding to guide his conduct and assess his vision of truth. This, I think, would be Ford's conception of wisdom” (Farr, p. 144).

  30. Victor Oscar Freeburg, Disguise Plots in Elizabethan Drama (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1915; rprt. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965), pp. 87-88, lists several examples of “suspected disguise” in Chapman's May Day (1602), Ford's The Lover's Melancholy (1628), Shirley's Grateful Servants (1629), and Changes, or Love in a Maze (1632), but none of these (except, perhaps, for Grateful Servants) is an exact instance of the penetration of disguise; for the “penetrated disguise” like Levidolche's case, cf. Richard Brome, The City Wit (1630), where Tryman [disguised Jeremy] sees through Crasy's disguise in III.i., while similarly Crasy's wife Josina claims to have penetrated her husband's disguise right after the play within the play in Act V (The Dramatic Works of Richard Brome, 3 vols. [rprt. London: John Pearson, 1873], 1:317, 369).

  31. These elements seem to have led several critics to their belief in Ford's originality and modernity; cf. note 2 above.

  32. Stavig, p. 22.

  33. Clifford Leech, “Pacifism in Caroline Drama,” Durham University Journal 31, 2 (March 1939): 126-36, suggests a general tendency of pacifism in Caroline drama. In the play Guzman notably testifies: “We may descend to tales of peace and love” (II.i.684).

  34. Cf. Michael Neill, “‘Wits Most Accomplished Senate’: The Audience of the Caroline Private Theaters,” SEL 18, 2 (Spring 1978): 341-60; Leo Salingar, “‘Wit’ in Jacobean Comedy,” in his Dramatic Form in Shakespeare and the Jacobeans (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 140-52.

  35. Cf. Una Ellis-Fermor, The Jacobean Drama: An Interpretation (London: Methuen, 1936), p. 233: “[The Lady's Trial] is interesting rather as showing the final development of Ford's tendency to work more and more in reticent undertones in action, in character and in sentiment, than as adding much to his positive poetry.”

  36. This essay took its initial shape in my Ph.D. dissertation for the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, 1989. I render grateful thanks to my supervisor, Dr. Robert Smallwood, and to Professor Stanley Wells for his help.

Lisa Hopkins (essay date 1999)

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SOURCE: Hopkins, Lisa. “Touching Touchets: Perkin Warbeck and the Buggery Statute.” Renaissance Quarterly, 52, No. 2 (Summer, 1999): 384-401.

[In the following essay, Hopkins maintains that Ford's Perkin Warbeck encodes a form of sexual deviancy that may be subtle to modern readers and spectators but would not have been lost upon Ford's audience and patrons.]

At first sight, The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck seems to be the only one of John Ford's plays that is not pointedly and openly concerned with sexual deviation. Both 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and The Broken Heart feature either actual incest or the fear of it. The Lover's Melancholy is structured around the concept of a passion that verges on the pathological, an erotomania. The Fancies Chaste and Noble has at the heart of its plot an allegedly impotent marquis who is believed to keep a harem. Love's Sacrifice probes the boundaries of platonic love. And The Lady's Trial has one wife who is thought to be adulterous, one who is actually so, and a third who has been sold by her husband to another man. Perkin Warbeck, by contrast, presents a cast of characters who seem to be models of sexual rectitude. Perkin and his wife Lady Katherine Gordon are romantically devoted to one another and virtually inseparable, while Katherine's former suitor, Dalyell, cherishes a blameless, totally platonic attachment to her. The Scottish king, James IV—historically notorious for the number of his affairs, and represented as a philanderer in Greene's play about him—is never mentioned in connection with any woman but his future wife, Margaret Tudor. A similar silence is observed on the subject of the marriage of Lady Katherine's parents, the Earl of Huntly and his royal wife Annabella Stewart, who in real life had had a messy divorce. For once, it seems, Ford's notorious attraction to the exploration of aberrant or unusual psychologies has rigorously excluded sexuality from the arena of its concerns.1 Sometimes, however, dogs that do not bark can be as significant as ones that do, and I am going to argue that far from being devoid of sexual deviancy, Perkin Warbeck actually encodes a transgressive sexuality so subversive that its traces are hidden deep within the fabric of the play, visible only to a reading that historicizes Ford's work within very specific contexts.

It has often been suggested that a work of the same year as Perkin Warbeck, Milton's Comus,2 can be profitably located within the context of the sexual scandal surrounding the Earl of Castlehaven, who was related to the Bridgewater family for whom Milton wrote the masque.3 In 1631 the Earl was found guilty of sodomizing one of his servants, of physically assisting another servant to bugger the Countess, and of pandering his daughter-in-law to yet another servant.4 It has been suggested that Comus, with its insistence on the sexual purity of its participants, was a conscious attempt to improve the reputation of the Bridgewater family, vicariously tainted by association with its notorious relative. No-one has yet suggested a similar context for Perkin Warbeck. There was, however, at least one link between the two dramatists in the shape of a shared connection with the Lawes brothers. Henry Lawes took the role of the Attendant Spirit in Comus; William seems to have composed the music for the two songs in Ford's last play, The Lady's Trial, and to have been employed by the Earl of Newcastle, to whom Ford dedicated Perkin Warbeck.5 (Newcastle's daughter, Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, was later to marry Viscount Brackley, who had played the elder brother in Comus.6) Another link was Castlehaven's brother-in-law Francis Bacon, author of one of Ford's principal sources for the play, and widely believed to be a sodomite himself.7 Moreover, Castlehaven was tried by a jury of twenty-six of his peers, so that the noblemen to whom Ford dedicated his works would have had personal and detailed experience of the case—not to mention the interest that Ford himself, as a member of the Middle Temple and great-nephew of the famous lawyer Sir John Popham, is likely to have taken in the proceedings. For similar reasons, Ford could also have expected his audience to be au fait with the Castlehaven story, since members of the Inns of Court seem to have formed a very prominent part of the private playhouses' audience.8

More directly, however, Perkin Warbeck refers overtly to the personal history of the Castlehaven family. The family name of the Castlehavens was Touchet, and the original title of the head of the family, before the creation of the earldom, had been Audley. The name of the renegade peer was, in full, Mervyn Touchet, Lord Audley, Earl of Castlehaven. It was an earlier bearer of that title, James Touchet, Lord Audley, whose story is prominently featured in Perkin Warbeck as one of the principal leaders of the Cornish revolt. He is mentioned by name four times, and the final occasion is one that might well bring to mind the recent, even more opprobrious, disgrace of another bearer of the Audley title:

Let false Audley

Be drawn upon an hurdle from the Newgate To Tower-hill in his own coat of arms Painted on paper, with the arms revers'd, Defac'd and torn; there let him lose his head.


Moreover, a seventeenth-century source to which Ford's connections would probably have given him access during the composition of Perkin Warbeck, Henry Rice's Life of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, attributes the capture of Audley (whom it characterises as “troubled in his mind”) to Sir Rhys ap Thomas personally.10 Sir Rhys, a major figure in early Tudor South Welsh politics, had married Jenet, widow of Sir Thomas Stradling of St. Donat's, and brought up the Stradling heir; and it was from the Stradling family that Ford's mother was descended.

Additionally, Castlehaven was the brother of the notorious prophetess Lady Eleanor Davies, which would undoubtedly have been of interest to the Stradlings, since their library housed what was referred to as “the great Collection of Welsh, English, & Latin Prophecies at St. Donats in Glamorganshire.”11 Lady Eleanor, wife of the poet Sir John Davies (whose works included the celebrated Orchestra), began to prophesy immediately after the accession of Charles I. She was later to claim that her second husband, Sir Archibald Douglas, was the elder half-brother of Charles I—an allegation particularly interesting in the light of the imposture plot of Perkin Warbeck. In 1633, the probable period of the play's composition, the long-suffering Sir Archibald seems to have lost his reason, while she herself was being particularly vociferous against the court12 and openly denigrating Ford's early dedicatee, the Earl of Arundel.13 Her obsessive habit of punning on the various versions of her own name and those of her relations in her prophecies, coupled with her growing notoriety in the early 1630s, would have made the connection between the name of “Audley” in the play, and the real-life woman who claimed to be married to the mad royal heir, inescapable.

I have argued elsewhere that the many references in Perkin Warbeck to members of the English and Scottish nobility of the late fifteenth century are of great significance, particularly since they without exception, figured in the family trees of those mid-seventeenth-century nobles with whom Ford himself was associated and to whom he dedicated so many of his works.14 By representing their ancestors in so positive a light, I have suggested, Ford was pointing up the merits of his own coterie, and was effectively endorsing their habitual argument that they were entitled to a hereditary role in government, which Charles I seemed increasingly disposed to deny them. The Audley reference draws on the same networks of knowledge about kinship and ancestry—but to very different effect; instead of drawing attention to the heroic tradition of the aristocracy, it reminds them of a story of sexual deviance and of behavior inappropriate to their class. I also want to argue, however, that it works to make two other points as well, which depend less on a knowledge of genealogy and history than of literary precedents and analogues.

The decisive battle against Lord Audley and his followers is fought at Blackheath. Blackheath had also featured tellingly in an earlier history play, Shakespeare's Henry V, where, with a geographical precision rare in Shakespeare,15 the Chorus locates the triumphant festivities for the king's victory and safe return:

So swift a pace hath thought that even now You may imagine him upon Blackheath, Where that his lords desire to have him borne His bruised helmet and his bended sword Before him through the city.


Annabel Patterson points to the potentially disturbing connotations of Blackheath here: “the city may be peaceful, but the welcoming crowd ‘quits’ that stable environment for the liminal territory of Blackheath.”16 Patterson is particularly interested in the fact that the speech very soon moves on to offer a very suggestive analogy for that scene on Blackheath:

As, by a lower but a loving likelihood, Were now the General of our gracious Empress, As in good time he may, from Ireland coming, Bringing rebellion broached on his sword, How many would the peaceful city quit To welcome him!


In her incisive article on gender and kingship in the play, Jean Howard finds Henry V a telling comparator for Perkin Warbeck in terms of its representations of masculinity and rule.17 Indeed, the oppositions seem so strong as to imply a deliberate reworking on Ford's part of the Shakespearean model, just as he relies on audience sensitivity to differences from a Shakespearean original for much of the effect of many of his other plays: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore obviously reworks Romeo and Juliet; The Lover's Melancholy takes material from both King Lear and Twelfth Night; and both The Lady's Trial and Love's Sacrifice ring the changes on the basic motifs of Othello. Moreover, the story of Essex was one of great personal importance for Ford.18 His maternal great-uncle Lord Chief Justice Popham had been held prisoner in Essex House at the start of the rebellion, and his first published work, Fame's Memorial, had been dedicated to Essex's sister Penelope Devereux, whose ill-fated love affairs have often been taken to have provided the plotline for The Broken Heart.19 Ford is, therefore, likely to have been acutely conscious of the twin presences of Henry V and Essex conjured up by the reference to Audley meeting his nemesis on Blackheath; his rebel noble is silently but tellingly juxtaposed with two exemplars of heroic masculinity and, simultaneously, with the twin poles of royal legitimacy and of treasonous rebellion, affording a complexly ironic perspective on the relationship between gender and legitimacy which Jean Howard identifies as a crucial concern of the play. Equally, the Audley name serves to evoke not only the buggery scandal itself but that other literary incarnation of it, Comus; at the same time that he destabilises the pretensions of his characters to status and legitimacy, Ford himself is revealed as powerfully aligned within the high literary tradition of Milton and Shakespeare.

Covert allusion to the Castlehaven scandal might also, however, bring to mind another celebrated instance of alleged sexual deviance, and one which would have been of particular interest to the author of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. When Perkin Warbeck was published in 1634, it was almost exactly a hundred years since a queen of England, Anne Boleyn, had been accused of incest with her brother, George, Viscount Rochford. Although this may seem to have been very old news indeed—“Queen Anne is dead” with a vengeance—there were various reasons why the career of Anne Boleyn should have been in Ford's mind. If the events recounted in Perkin Warbeck had been of crucial importance for the histories of the great families to whom Ford dedicated his work, so too was the story of Anne Boleyn.

In the first place, Anne was a member of the Howard clan. Her mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Thomas Howard, second Duke of Norfolk, who, as “Jockey of Norfolk,” had been immortalised in Shakespeare's Richard III—the play which is, of course, implicitly contradicted if we assume that Perkin Warbeck is the legitimate Duke of York, as we are pointedly reminded by the play's two references to “Richard the tyrant, their unnatural uncle” (1.1.31 and, as a close paraphrase, 2.1.66). Elizabeth Boleyn's nephew had been the poet Earl of Surrey, a major figure in the development of English literature; her great-great-great-grandnephew was Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, co-dedicatee of Ford's early work, Honour Triumphant. The Earl of Arundel was, moreover, the dedicatee of Thomas Gainsford's work on Perkin Warbeck, one of Ford's two major sources for the play; and the author of the other source, Francis Bacon, was a close associate of Arundel. Arundel was passionately devoted to memorializing the history of his own family. Clarendon said of him that he “thought no other parts of history considerable, but what related to his own family,”20 and Arundel was particularly fascinated by the early Tudor period, for he saw this as the period of his family's greatest power and splendour, and “was deeply interested to discover what had made that possible.”21 In the career of Anne Boleyn, Arundel would have seen the moment when a member of his own lineage was not only elevated to be queen consort of England but had also shaped the course of history by giving birth to the future Elizabeth I.

Anne Boleyn was of importance to other members of Ford's circle besides Arundel. Her sister, Mary Boleyn, was the great-grandmother of the Earl of Essex and of Penelope Devereux; Mary was also the great-great-grandmother of Elizabeth Howard, Countess of Peterborough, to whose husband Ford dedicated 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. The Peterborough family were conspicuously proud of this alliance; Elizabeth Howard's son christened one of the rooms in his house at Drayton the Norfolk room.22 Moreover, the title which Henry VIII bestowed on Anne was Marquess of Pembroke, which undoubtedly would have been of interest to the Earl of Pembroke—to whom Ford dedicated twice—and his brother and heir, the Earl of Montgomery, also a dedicatee. Not only had Anne shared a title with them, but her elevation to the marquisate—however brief—would have created the intriguing suggestion that they, too, might have been eligible for the honor. Finally, one of the most avid watchers and chroniclers of Anne's rise to power was Cardinal Wolsey's secretary, George Cavendish, and Cavendish was a member of the same family as William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle, to whom Ford dedicated Perkin Warbeck. Another historian of Anne was Nicholas Harpsfield, the Catholic propagandist, who asserted that Anne's lovers had included the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt;23 Harpsfield was also the recorder of the allegedly miraculous ash tree, said to display the cross of Christ, which was blown down in the grounds of St. Donat's Castle, Glamorgan, family home of the Stradlings, of whom Ford's grandmother was one.24 Stradling family history had intersected again with the aftermath of the Reformation in the matter of one of the prophecies kept at St Donat's, predicting the return of the Catholic faith and the disgrace of a primate. A note by Sir Thomas Stradling records, “I saw this prophecy come to pass. For on Saturday in the Easter week I saw Cranmer Bishop of Canterbury sit on the midst of the alter in our Lady chappell in Powles anno tertio Edwardi 6.”25 Ford's family was further bound up in the affair since Sir John Popham's house of Littlecote (then in the hands of the Darrell family) had been one of the bases used by Henry VIII during his courtship of Anne's immediate successor, Jane Seymour; the house still has stained glass featuring the entwined initials H and J.

Most crucially of all, Anne Boleyn had been a key factor in Henry VIII's break with the Church of Rome and in the sequence of events that had eventually made England a protestant country. Many of those with whom Ford was associated showed, like his Stradling ancestors, strong signs of residual adherence to Catholicism, and some of his own works may be seen as being informed by a Catholic sensibility.26 It was during Henry's liaison with Anne—and arguably as a more or less direct result of it—that he renounced his allegiance to the Pope and precipitated the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century, which were still creating echoes in the Arminian and Laudian debates of Ford's own contemporaries. In evoking the story of Anne, described by Shakespeare and Fletcher in Henry VIII (chronologically speaking, the “sequel” to Perkin Warbeck) as “a spleeny Lutheran” (3.2.99),27 Ford thus touched on a moment full of resonance not only for the personal histories of those with whom he was connected but for the spiritual history of the nation as a whole. (Interestingly, the story of Anne also overlapped, albeit momentarily, with that of the Audleys; Thomas Audley was one of those who persuaded Cranmer to divorce her from Henry as part of the pre-execution proceedings.28)

The play which most precisely seems to parallel certain elements of Anne Boleyn's career is not, however, Perkin Warbeck, but 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. The most obvious link is the motif of brother-sister incest, which was one of the charges brought against Anne at her trial, and which both J.C. Flugel and Charles R. Forker have separately argued was a central issue both in Henry's relationship with Anne and in his reign as a whole;29 there may even be a suggestive echoing of Anna Bullen in the name of Annabella, while Anne's cry in the Tower, “I can say no more but nay withyowt I shuld oppen my body,” takes us very close to the heart-motif of 'Tis Pity.30 Additionally, if Retha Warnicke's recent speculations about Anne Boleyn's final miscarriage are correct,31 then Anne Boleyn and Annabella both figure in the role of mother whose fetus, untimely expelled from the womb, becomes an object of intense curiosity, and, in the terms of Hippolyta's curse, is open to labeling as a monster. But the name of Annabella may also remind us of that other Annabella, daughter of James I of Scotland, who married and divorced the Earl of Huntly and whose daughter, Lady Katherine Gordon,32 is the heroine of Perkin Warbeck. Moreover, Warnicke touches on a further issue very resonant for Perkin Warbeck when she argues that the fall of Anne Boleyn can be linked not only to her miscarriage and to accusations of witchcraft against her but also to breaches of the Buggery Statute—the same law that a century later was to ensnare the Earl of Castlehaven.

Warnicke suggests that although he was almost certainly innocent of the incest charge, George Rochford had in fact violated the Buggery Statute.33 Since the Statute had been passed in February 1534, the publication of Perkin Warbeck precisely celebrated its anniversary (a fact of which Ford, with his legal training, would no doubt have been well aware, as would the many Inns of Court men likely to have formed part of his original audience). However, only two men were convicted of buggery during the six years immediately following the passing of the Statute: Nicholas Udall, headmaster of Eton and author of Ralph Roister Doister, and Walter, Lord Hungerford, whose title and estates derived from the Berkshire town of Hungerford and whose family were thus the near neighbours of Ford's great-uncle Lord Chief Justice Popham, owner of Littlecote. This connection was to become particularly relevant when Hungerford's elder son Sir Walter accused his wife of adultery with William Darrell of Littlecote, from whom Popham bought the house. Darrell's scandalous reputation as incest-monger and murderer may well have provided partial inspiration for the plot of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.34 And since Sir Walter willed his land away from his children to his brother and contracted a third marriage during the lifetime of his second wife, his legal vicissitudes would surely have been of as much interest to legal minds as the more celebrated ones of his father, who, accused not only of buggering his servants but also of incest with his daughter and of consulting witches to determine how long the king would live, was executed in 1540. (In the generation after Ford's, the Stradling heir would marry a Hungerford, which may indicate a continuing connection between the families.)

Hungerford and Udall were the only two men to suffer under the new law during the reign of Henry VIII. Nevertheless, despite the tiny number of actual convictions, buggery was believed to be rife at the pre-Reformation court, and was particularly associated with those with French manners35—something which may cast a new light on the Bishop of Durham's description of Perkin's supporter Stephen Frion as “French both in heart and actions!” (1.3.53). As Warnicke comments:

Before the Reformation … accusations of sodomy were often directed at courtiers with French manners. According to Baldessare Castiglione, who had visited England late in the reign of Henry VII, there was at some courts “a most wanton life in every kinde of the women enticefull … and the men womanish.” He maintained that these men “seeing nature … hath not made them women ought … to be banished not only out of princes courtes but also out of the company of gentlemen.” The Treatise of the Galaunt, first published in 1510, associated sodomy with men who aped French fashions. It described the courtiers with “womanlike dress” as transvestites.36

Particularly notable in these invectives is the repeated association of sodomy with effeminization. As Jean Howard has argued in her article, “Effeminately Dolent” (itself a quotation from Perkin Warbeck), Perkin himself is seen as radically feminized: in addition to the Scottish court's stigmatization of him as “effeminate,” she also quotes Gainsford's comment that Perkin's kinsman Nathaniel Osbeck “declared Warbeck to be a counterfeit who had been named Perkin ‘for his effeminatenesse and childishnesse.’”37 Interestingly, Howard considers the essence of his effeminacy to reside not, as one might initially suppose, in his relation to men, but in his relation to women. Drawing on early modern conceptions of a continuum rather than an opposition between homosexuality and heterosexuality, she suggests, as Laura Levine also does, that what renders men most effeminate is the contaminating contact of women; essentially, therefore, she sees Perkin's manhood as undermined by his closeness to Katherine.38 In particular, she contrasts the representation of Perkin's courtship with that of Shakespeare's portrayal of Henry V's, arguing that Perkin “courts and weds Katherine in a manner which is the antithesis of the Lancastrian mode of domination,”39 and she also cites Hotspur's “great opening speech in I Henry IV,” which, she suggests, “perfectly expresses masculine outrage at the contamination of the sacred male arena, the battlefield, by the mincing fop.”40 It is, of course, specifically his own behaviour on the battlefield that earns Perkin the charge of effeminate dolency; and the play does indeed deliberately evoke the world of Shakespeare's second tetralogy through repeated echoes.41 Most particularly, though, it is Richard II (itself a play featuring a feminized king, and also, of course, the play that Essex's followers had had acted as the prelude to his rebellion) that is cited and suggested;42 and with the echo of Richard II there surely comes also that of what is effectively its companion piece, the other great sodomy play, Marlowe's Edward II.43

There are many links between Ford and Marlowe, ranging from the minor—such as their shared propensity to refer to the upwardly mobile, such as Gaveston, as “mushrooms”—to the major, such as the sustained series of parallels between Dr Faustus and Giovanni,44 which are supplemented by having Giovanni quote Tamburlaine (5.5.1 1-12). Perkin Warbeck itself has been described as “Tamurlaine rewritten by Ford.”45Edward II is less obviously a source for Ford, but there are some suggestive details: Edward exclaims the classically Fordian “Here, man, rip up this panting breast of mine / And take my heart” (4.7.66-67); Lightborn's butcher-like skewering of Edward parallels Giovanni's arrival at the banquet with Annabella's heart impaled upon his dagger; and Edward's “Shall I still be haunted thus?” (2.2.153) is directly in the first line of Perkin Warbeck, “Still to be haunted, still to be pursued”—a point made more obvious by the fact that Edward's question is followed almost immediately by an account of devastation on the northern borders (2.2.178-79) which parallels that which so grieves Perkin. There was even a personal connection between Ford's family and the events of Marlowe's play, since Ford's Stradling ancestors, from their castle of St. Donat's, had been associates of the Despensers, whose power-base was also in Glamorgan—Sir Hugh le Despenser's still-extant charter to Margam Abbey bears the signature of Sir Edward Stradling, and since the Stradling family were all renowned antiquaries, the connection is unlikely to have been lost on them,46 especially since the play has a heavily Welsh emphasis, with Rice ap Howell, the Welsh hooks, and the scene in Neath Abbey (of which the Stradling library possessed a history).47 And other members of Ford's circle would have found their family histories reflected in Marlowe's play: the Earl of Pembroke would have heard how his ancestor was given the right “in public shows / … [to] bear the sword before the king” (1.4.349-50), and the Earl of Arundel how his Fitzalan ancestor was considered by his peers “a noble gentleman” (2.5.66). There is even a Toucher, and once again a Toucher in disgrace, for “The Lord William Tuchet” is the first name on the list read out by Spencer Junior of those drawn and hanged (4.3.12).

Moreover, Edward II too, like the story of Anne Boleyn, encodes discourses of anti-papalism,48 and Emily Bartels has recently argued that it, like Warnicke's theory about George Rochford and the Buggery Statute, centers on the unspeakability of sodomy.49 Additionally, all three of these history plays, as well as the story of the Boleyns, have strong connections with Ireland, to which Richard II goes, where Gaveston is sent as Governor, where Perkin has come from (as the masque of wild Irish reminds us), where the Boleyn ancestors originated, and from which Sir Thomas Boleyn derived his earldom of Ormond. Edward II shadowing Richard II shadowing Perkin Warbeck may well seem to be another instance of the deftness and delicacy within which stories of sodomy are covertly encoded within the text. Equally, the story of a sodomitical king may serve as the most delicate of hints at James I.50Perkin Warbeck overtly contrasts styles of kingship in its diptych of James IV and Henry VII; also, conceivably, it may do so in its representation of the married love of Perkin and his Katherine, so reminiscent of the mutual devotion of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, but with the taint of effeminate dolency suggesting also the sexual mores of the previous reign, just as Rhetias's discreet hints to Palador seem to do in The Lover's Melancholy (2.1.135ff).51

Behind Perkin Warbeck's ostensibly most blameless of heterosexual love stories, then, we may faintly discern the shadows of three, or perhaps even four, scandalous ones: the Castlehaven affair, the trials of Anne Boleyn and her allegedly incestuous brother, the history of Edward II, and maybe even that of James I. Their presence may seem to be only very faintly marked, but it is hard to believe that the name Audley did not stir memories in 1634, or that Ford's ancestry-conscious dedicatees were not aware of the echoes of their own family histories, or that his theatrically sophisticated audience were blind to the obvious allusions to Richard II and the dependence of that play, in turn, on Edward II. A similar resonance would be stirred by the insistent emphasis on Perkin's actorliness. As Jean Howard points out, “[A]ctors were often associated in polemical writings with exactly those transgressions of gender and class boundaries, those losses of distinction, which I am arguing are figured in Ford's play by the person of Perkin.”52 She also comments that Perkin “is often, as at his entry into James's court, presented as a spectacle for the gaze of others,”53 which, taken in conjunction with her remark that “he and Katherine both play ‘the women's part’ to perfection,”54 may well remind us of Lisa Jardine's contention, and its development in the work of Laura Levine, that the woman's part on the early modern stage is always already eroticized, with the boy actor implicitly presented as potential partner in a relationship which flirts teasingly with the possibility of homosexuality.55Perkin Warbeck, then, threatens more than the social fabric of the state, he also menaces its sexual status quo.

The social challenge is, though, the more obvious, and its tension is greatly exacerbated by Ford's refusal to follow his sources in decisively disallowing the legitimacy of Perkin's claim to the throne. It may well be that he does this in the service of a specific political and aesthetic agenda,56 but whatever his motives, the effect is a striking one: we do not know whether Perkin is a king or a counterfeit—a word which also, as in the emblem of Ganymede by Henry Peacham, a figure associated with Ford's circle, connotes sodomy.57 The uncertainty of his origins and the fluidity of his gender position means that he collapses into himself the roles of both the king and the catamite, Edward and Gaveston. Most acutely, we do not know whether in his marriage to Katherine he is not committing precisely the same sort of cross-class liaison that proved so disturbing a feature of both the Castlehaven and the Hungerford sodomy trials.58 If Perkin really is an impostor, then even so exalted a personage as King James of Scotland has been, however unwillingly, guilty of the technical crime of disparagement, the arranging of a match which violates social decorum—an action different in degree but not in kind from Castlehaven's breaching of class barriers by pandering his daughter-in-law to his servant. In short, even legitimate, loving, monogamous marriage can be tainted, for even when it is not susceptible to the accusation of sexual deviancy it may well prove vulnerable to that of social deviancy.59 And since, whether he is or is not a pretender, Perkin is always already an actor, the issue is complicated still further, because this form of pretence, however socially licensed, is also seen as threatening to society by an inbuilt sexual deviancy.

The sexual and the social often co-exist in complex tension in Ford's works. In The Fancies Chaste and Noble, there is unease over the relationship between Flavia, the cast-off wife of a merchant, and the aristocrat Julio; in Love's Sacrifice, the haughty Fiormonda regards Biancha as socially beneath her brother the Duke; in The Lover's Melancholy, the Prince's cousin Thamasta looks down on her more humbly-born suitor Menaphon; in The Broken Heart, Ithocles is a “mushroom” for aspiring to the hand of the Princess; in Perkin Warbeck itself, Dalyell is similarly uneasy about his qualifications to court Katherine, arguing, to what seems to me spectacularly subversive effect, that although he is descended from a king, “kindreds are not ours, when once the date / Of many years have swallowed up the memory /Of their originals” (1.2.34-36). The clearest instance of the interplay between the social and the sexual, though, occurs in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Hippolita's jealousy of Annabella is pointedly situated in class terms, as she upbraids Soranzo:

'tis not your new mistress, Your goodly Madam Merchant, shall triumph On my dejection; tell her thus from me, My birth was nobler and by much more free.


A merchant is, of course, precisely what Perkin Warbeck really was for the vast majority who discount his claim to have been Richard, Duke of York;60 he was alleged to be the apprentice of a Flemish cloth dealer who, while modeling his master's produce on a quayside in Ireland, had been spontaneously acclaimed by the locals as a Plantagenet prince because of his fine looks and dress. His codename, in the secret correspondence surrounding his intrigues, was the Merchant of the Ruby.61 Since London merchants were notoriously uxorious, as so wickedly parodied by Beaumont in his portrayal of George and Nell in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Perkin's attentiveness to Katherine may serve not only, as Jean Howard suggests, to contrast him unfavourably with the more “masterful” Plantagenets of Shakespeare's second tetralogy, it may also align him with the mores of the merchant class rather than the aristocracy. His sexual success is thus his social failure.

To situate Perkin Warbeck within the context of the Buggery Statute, therefore, is to become sharply attuned to the complex socio-sexual dynamic which ensures that in the society Ford depicts, even married monogamy can prove socially detrimental to its practitioners. Despite its lack of obvious deviancy, Perkin Warbeck can thus be seen to share the concern of the rest of the Ford canon with the desperate tension which all his characters experience between social and sexual status. The princely pretender, despite his fine language and (conceivably) even his high birth, finds, like so many of Ford's characters, that he inhabits a world where it is impossible to succeed both socially and sexually;62 metaphorically at least, it is his sexuality which is directly implicated in his inexorable progress to Tyburn, just as it was a heady mixture of sexual and social transgression which brought about the downfall of Castlehaven, of Hungerford, and of the upwardly mobile Boleyns. (If, as B.R. Burg argues, there was also a religious agenda at work in the prosecution of the Catholic Castlehaven, that too would surely have been of interest to Ford, many of whose circle and family showed interest in the Old Religion.)63

If Ford was indeed hinting at Perkin's possession of royal blood, he may also have been suggesting that even this cannot guarantee security of identity, since all selfhood is presented as being ultimately performed.64 Performance is, in itself, inherently associated with buggery in Prynne's fulminations that “Players and Playhaunters in their secret conclaves play the Sodomites”;65 in one sense, we are indeed invited to imagine the actor playing Perkin buggering the actor playing Katherine. It is also possible that Ford's membership in a circle residually adhering to the values of the Earl of Essex would have encouraged him to favour a Tacitean approach to historiography in which worldly success always eluded the noblest.66 By situating his ostensibly blameless hero within the context of scandalous sexual deviancy, he perhaps creates a parallel implication that in the society of which he write—indeed perhaps in all human social organisation—purity of essence can always be socially received as corrupt. To hint at Perkin's legitimacy, and yet simultaneously to taint him with the whiff of illegitimate practices, is to create for his hero a character pertinent not only to the conventions of the history play, but to those of tragedy, and to situate the apparent dramatic anomaly of Perkin Warbeck firmly within the concerns of the rest of the Ford canon.


  1. For Ford's usual attraction to such exploration, see Babb.

  2. Though Comus was not published until 1637, the title page of the first edition states that it was performed at Michaelmas, 1634. Perkin Warbeck was published in 1634. Andrew Varney terms “the non-appearance of sexual material in the so-called Stage Copy of Comus … a dog that does not bark” (315-16).

  3. This was first suggested in Breasted.

  4. Dolan, 80.

  5. See Cutts.

  6. See Starr, 803.

  7. McCormick, 51; Somerset, 53-54.

  8. Armstrong, 237. For the probable sophistication of the Caroline audience, see also Neill and Leech. (I am indebted to Derek Roper for initially drawing my attention to these articles.) Gurr, however, argues that analogies with contemporary events were more likely to be detected when reading plays than when watching them; interestingly, the particular reader whom he (following Tricomi) cites as reading analogically was Philip, 4th Earl of Pembroke, one of Ford's own dedicatees.

  9. James Touchet was also the name of Castlehaven's heir, who had initiated the prosecution against his father. The other references to Audley in the play are at 1.3.133, 3.1.48, and 3.1.75.

  10. Griffiths, 243, n. 35, and 244.

  11. Thomas, 407.

  12. Cope, xi.

  13. Ibid., 66.

  14. Hopkins, 1994a, chaps. 1 and 2.

  15. On Shakespeare's generally cavalier attitude to geography, see particularly Hoenselaars, 100-10.

  16. Patterson, 86.

  17. Howard, 272-73.

  18. See Hopkins, 1994b, chap. 1.

  19. This suggestion was first put forward by Sherman. For a recent, extended exploration of the parallels, see Foster and Foster.

  20. Quoted in Nichol Smith, 30.

  21. Howarth, 78.

  22. Cornforth, 64.

  23. Warnicke, 244.

  24. Clark, 14.

  25. Thomas, 408.

  26. See Hopkins, 1994b.

  27. That Ford knew Shakespeare's plays well is sufficiently evidenced by his repeated adaptations from them; that he also knew Fletcher is clear from the late Jeremy Maule's recent discovery of an elegy by him on Fletcher's death. I am very grateful to Maule for the opportunity to see the poem, and his comments on it, before publication.

  28. Warnicke, 229.

  29. Flugel 133, 139-40; Forker 154-57. I am grateful to the Renaissance Quarterly reader for drawing my attention to both authors.

  30. Mazzola, 163.

  31. Warnicke, chap. 8, argues that Anne was delivered of a deformed fetus, which laid her open to charges of witchcraft, incest, and adultery.

  32. Recent historians have suggested that Lady Katherine was in fact the daughter not of Annabella Stewart but of Huntly's subsequent marriage, but Ford could have had no access to this speculation.

  33. Warnicke, 194-95.

  34. See Hopkins, 1994a.

  35. Warnicke, 194. Anthony Bacon, brother of Francis, was charged with sodomy while serving as ambassador in France (I am indebted to the reviewer of this article for this information).

  36. Ibid.

  37. Howard, 273.

  38. Ibid., 269.

  39. Ibid., 272.

  40. Ibid., 262.

  41. See for instance Hopkins, 1995a, and Anderson.

  42. See Anderson.

  43. For the links between Edward II and Richard II, see for instance Charney and Brooke. The historical Edward II and Richard II were also closely associated; Richard II campaigned for his predecessor's canonization, compiling and sending to Rome a book of his supposed miracles, and he also had his device of the white hart painted on the columns flanking Edward's tomb (Gordon, 18).

  44. See Hoy.

  45. McCabe, 241.

  46. Clark, 5.

  47. Thomas, 404.

  48. See for instance Bartels, 171.

  49. This is Bartels' contention throughout her chapter on the play. The prosecutor at Castlehaven's trial called sodomy “a Crime not to be named among Christians” (Bredbeck, 5).

  50. There would have been need for special caution here since two of Ford's own dedicatees, Doncaster and Montgomery, as well as the father of a third, Lennox, were or were reputed to have been favorites of James (Somerset, 43 and 45).

  51. Hill.

  52. Howard, 270.

  53. Ibid.

  54. Ibid., 275.

  55. Jardine, chap. 1; Levine.

  56. See Hopkins, 1994b, chap. 2.

  57. Hammond, 48.

  58. Valerie Traub argues that “[s]odomy was not … sexually immoral in and of itself; whatever immorality accrued to it was by virtue of its power of social disruption” (95).

  59. Along rather similar lines, Graham Hammill suggests that “sexual acts themselves are never proof of sodomy. Sodomy designates sexual acts that need not have ‘actually happened’” (324).

  60. I have argued elsewhere (1994b, chap. 2) that Ford may well have believed in Perkin's legitimacy, as various other writers, including Horace Walpole and Mary Shelley, have done since. Nevertheless, he will have been well aware of the alternative identification of Perkin with the apprentice of a Flemish merchant, which is now almost universally accepted by historians.

  61. Arthurson.

  62. Howard comments that “the wives of James and Henry do not seem to exist” (269), though this of course betrays an unfortunate misunderstanding of the plot (also evidenced on 265), since she thinks that it is James's child, rather than the king himself, who is to be married to Margaret Tudor at the end.

  63. Burg, 73; see also McCormick, 51.

  64. See Hopkins, 1995b.

  65. Burg, 76-77.

  66. Hopkins, 1994b, chap. 2. The best account of the Tacitean school is to be found in James.

I am grateful for the comments and questions of Richard Dutton, Scott Wilson, and Alison Findlay when an earlier draft of this article was read to the Lancaster Renaissance Seminar, and for the very detailed and helpful suggestions of the Renaissance Quarterly reviewer.


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Ford, John (Drama Criticism)