Sir John van Olden Barnavelt Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger

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Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

SIR JOHN VAN OLDEN BARNAVELT, though billed as a historical tragedy, really was not based on a historical event by Philip Massinger and John Fletcher, the authors; rather, it was based on an event contemporary with their own times. SIR JOHN VAN OLDEN BARNAVELT, the famous Advocate of Holland, as letters of his contemporaries prove, was executed in May of 1619. A little more than a year later in August of 1620, the play SIR JOHN VAN OLDEN BARNAVELT was being performed by the King’s Men—but not until withstanding the tests of censorship in script and on stage. Sir George Buc, Master of Revels, censored the script in 1619; and, during one of the first performances—if not the first performance—given between August 14 and 27, 1619, the play was stopped by the Bishop of London. The actors, however, were soon allowed to perform the play again.

The attempt by Massinger and Fletcher to place the play in front of an audience that had the event still fresh in its mind, led to some dramatic weaknesses that can be assigned to their haste. With the exception of Barnavelt and Grave Maurice, the characters are not well developed; and, there may be, for the reader, a flaw in the character of Barnavelt with his repeated and lengthy demonstrations of constancy as he faces death. With good utilization of the stage, however, this flaw may have been eliminated. There is also a triple repetition of Leidenberch’s suicide and far too many scenes with sorrow-laden children. Because of the problems of censorship, an undertone of disparity arises between what appears in the text and what apparently the playwrights would liked to have had appear in the text. The last-minute attempt in Act V to reverse the previous stand on Barnavelt and try valiantly to make him more sympathetic seems to be evidence of this.

There are also, on the other hand, some scenes of strong interest in SIR JOHN VAN OLDEN BARNAVELT . One is in Act...

(The entire section is 496 words.)