John Ford Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to his plays, John Ford published two long poems and three prose pamphlets. Fame’s Memorial: Or, The Earl of Devonshire Deceased (1606) is an elegy praising Charles Blount, who had married Penelope Devereux (on whom Sir Philip Sidney based his Stella) after her divorce from Lord Rich. Christ’s Bloody Sweat: Or, The Son of God in His Agony (1613) is a religious poem on the efficacy of repentance. Honor Triumphant: Or, The Peer’s Challenge (1606) argues four propositions in mock style; The Golden Mean (1613) praises Stoicism; and A Line of Life (1620) describes the Stoic conduct of a man, a public man, and a good man.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Many critics have acclaimed John Ford as the outstanding dramatist of the Caroline Age (1625-1649), and his plays give ample evidence of the justice of this claim. Today, almost any full-year course on the drama surrounding William Shakespeare will include The Broken Heart, ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, and Perkin Warbeck. These plays are being produced and evoke a positive response from modern audiences. Although he is not known for innovation, Ford creatively employed such common forms of the age as tragicomedy, revenge tragedy, and the visual elements of the masque. His plays are rich in resonances from other dramatists of the period (particularly William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and John Webster), but what he borrows, he transforms for his own use. In no way is Ford a surface dramatist. He was deeply interested in Burtonian psychology, but he was never a slave to its formulas. In his drama, he was continually probing into the depths of personality, and he was particularly interested in exploring the human psyche in relationship to or confrontation with other human beings.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Anderson, Donald K., Jr. John Ford. New York: Twayne, 1972. A general biography and handbook.

Anderson, Donald K., Jr., ed. “Concord in Discord”: The Plays of John Ford, 1586-1986. New York: AMS Press, 1986. Rich in insights into Ford’s dramaturgy and imagery, this well-written study provides a sensitive, balanced understanding of all Ford’s plays and poems.

Champion, Larry. Tragic Patterns in Jacobean and Caroline Drama. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977. This excellent book on the changing societal values of later Renaissance drama discusses plays by William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Cyril Tourneur, John Webster, Thomas Middleton, and Ford. Readers interested in Ford’s place among his literary peers and in the ways the dramas of the age “effectively capture the spiritual uncertainties of an increasingly analytical age” should consult Champion’s book.

Clark, Ira. Professional Playwrights: Massinger, Ford, Shirley and Brome. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992. Examines Ford in comparison to his peers.

Clerico, Terri. “The Politics of Blood: John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore.” English Literary Renaissance 22 (1992). Ford’s most famous play is examined.

Dyer, William D. “Holding/Withholding Environments: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Ford’s The Broken Heart.” English Literary Renaissance 21 (1991). A specialized interpretation of an important play.

Farr, Dorothy. John Ford and the Caroline Theatre. London: Macmillan, 1979. Farr studies Ford’s plays and their suitability for the specific theaters where they were first staged, but such a narrow-sounding topic should not deter the general reader. Farr writes effectively about many aspects of Ford’s art.

Foster, Vera. “Ford’s Experiments in Tragicomedy: Shakespearean and Fletcherian Dramaturgies.” In Renaissance Tragicomedy: Explorations in Genre and Politics, edited by Nancy Klein Maguire. New York: AMS Press, 1987. A comparative approach to Ford’s dramatic structure.

Neill, Michael, ed. John Ford: Critical Re-Visions. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Eleven essays cover topics such as stage history, imagery, use of melodrama, the question of decadence, metatheater in Love’s Sacrifice, and gender in Perkin Warbeck.

Sanders, Julie. Caroline Drama: The Plays of Massinger, Ford, Shirley, and Brome. Plymouth, England: Northcote House, in association with the British Council, 1999. Sanders examines the works of Caroline Age dramatists Philip Massinger, James Shirley, Richard Brome, and Ford. Includes bibliography and index.

Sensabaugh, George F. The Tragic Muse of John Ford. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1944. This famous study presents Ford as a modernist in temperament, someone who celebrates “scientific determinism” and “unbridled individualism.”