Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
James Shirley was lauded by some as “the last of the Elizabethans” and by Charles Lamb as “the last of a great race.” He edited the first collected edition of the plays of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher in 1647, and he had the distinction of writing the last tragedy to be performed before the upheaval of the Civil War began: THE CARDINAL (1641). Indeed, he could probably be called the savior of the English drama—for it is his dramatic skill that provided some continuity between the Elizabethan and Restoration periods. His play THE TRAITOR made its contributions to this end by perpetuating some of the qualities of the early Elizabethan revenge tragedy.
It had been the practice of earlier Elizabethan dramatists to introduce integral subplots that gave the play full, world-view importance. The plot of THE TRAITOR incorporates the state, but there is no international involvement; and the involvement of the spiritual and allegorical worlds—represented by the presence of the Furies and Lust—is almost negligible. The reduction of involvement in a multiple number of spheres also brought about the appearance, in later Elizabethan plays, of fewer places of action. In the twelve scenes of THE TRAITOR, for example, only two are exterior scenes—one in a street, one in a garden. The remaining scenes are restricted to rooms within the homes of different individuals and to one rather large hall.
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