Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Frank Wellborn

Frank Wellborn, an impoverished gentleman who has wasted much of his inheritance and been defrauded of the rest by his uncle, Sir Giles Overreach. His fortunes are at their lowest ebb when young Allworth discovers him as he is being evicted from a tavern for refusing to pay his bill. He proudly refuses to accept aid from the boy and plans instead to avenge himself on his unjust uncle. A shrewd judge of character, he wins Lady Allworth’s assistance by reminding her of his generosity to her late husband and plays on Marall’s natural greed to further his plot against Sir Giles. When he regains his fortune, he rejects his prodigal past entirely and, hoping to win back his lost reputation, asks Lord Lovell for a company to command.

Sir Giles Overreach

Sir Giles Overreach, Wellborn’s miserly, tyrannical uncle. Although he vows that he is ambitious only for the sake of his young daughter, he gathers without scruple the wealth and rank he desires for her, destroying whoever stands in his way. His greed, accurately assessed by Wellborn, brings about his downfall; he has mentally confiscated Lady Allworth’s property before he makes certain that his nephew is really to be her husband. The most crushing blow to his aspirations is his daughter’s elopement with young Allworth, a marriage facilitated by his eagerness to make her Lady Lovell.


Margaret, Sir Giles’ daughter, fortunately...

(The entire section is 607 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Ball, Robert Hamilton. The Amazing Career of Sir Giles Overreach. New York: Octagon Books, 1968. A detailed stage history. Offers a biography of Sir Giles Mompessen, on whom Overreach is based. Examines the play’s production history in Great Britain and the United States.

Clark, Ira. “Massinger’s Tragedies and Satiric Tragicomedies in Their Social and Family Settings.” In The Moral Art of Philip Massinger. Cranbury, N.J.: Bucknell University Press, 1993. Opposes critics who see the play as a conservative attack on social mobility. Finds the play validates a social hierarchy based on gratitude, community service, and ability.

Leonard, Nancy S. “Overreach at Bay: Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts.” In Philip Massinger: A Critical Reassessment, edited by Douglas Howard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Characterizes the play as a revenge comedy, in which both Overreach and the nobility appeal to ideological positions to rationalize self-serving displays of power.

Neill, Michael. “Massinger’s Patriarchy: The Social Vision of A New Way to Pay Old Debts.” Renaissance Drama, n.s. 10 (1979): 185-213. Argues for a conservative reading of the play, which characterizes the patriarchal hierarchy as a supportive family. Overreach, a combination of biblical patriarch and Renaissance “new man,” threatens this ideal by treating social relationships as financial transactions.

Thomson, Patricia. “The Old Way and the New Way in Dekker and Massinger.” The Modern Language Review 51, no. 2 (April, 1956): 168-178. Contrasts Massinger’s play with The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1600) and finds the difference between them rooted in the sociopolitical developments of Stuart England. Offers valuable background insight into Massinger’s life.