The Spanish Gipsy Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

John Ford, Thomas Middleton, William Rowley

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Swinburne, that avid lover and critic of Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, has described THE SPANISH GIPSY as “one of those half-baked or underdone dishes of various and confused ingredients, in which the cook’s or the baker’s hurry has impaired the excellent materials of wholesome bread and savoury meat.” He meant that the play is uneven; it is both “tragic” and “romantic,” and its structure could have been improved by rewriting. Be that as it may, THE SPANISH GIPSY flows smoothly and to a large extent lacks the bawdiness of other contemporary dramas, such as, for example, Middleton’s own A CHASTE MAID IN CHEAPSIDE. This, however, does not reduce the comic aspect of the play. Much of the humor derives from the antics of Sancho, a gentleman and ward to Pedro, and Soto, Sancho’s man. Sancho and Soto join the gipsies in disguise, as do so many characters in the play; the pair act the fools throughout.

The tone of the play is jocular and pleasant enough that we never really expect it to end tragically. It is filled with songs and festivity. The tragic aspect, such as it is, has parallels to the popular revenge genre; and this is one way the two plots are tied together. Louis wants revenge on Alvarez, who killed his father. Pedro and Maria want revenge on Roderigo, the friend of Louis, who raped their daughter. Further, Cardochia must revenge herself on John because he rejected her advances. As in HAMLET, the best revenge play, THE SPANISH GIPSY employs the play-within-a-play device. Roderigo must play a character not unlike himself, and Alvarez, his father in the play-within-a-play, speaks words that express exactly the sentiments of Roderigo’s actual father: “the anger of a father; / Although it be as loud and quick as thunder, / Yet ’tis done instantly. . . .” Though the plot is at first a bit confusing, we are not surprised that all returns to the comic norm at the end.