History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Caroline
The Caroline period concerns the reign of Charles I (1625-1649), more precisely 1625-1642, the start of the civil war.
- 1 Ben Jonson
- 2 Philip Massinger
- 3 John Ford
- 4 James Shirley
- 5 Richard Brome
Ben Jonson (1572-1637) continued his mastery of satire from the previous reign with "A tale of a tub" (1633).
"A tale of a tub"
Time: late 16th century. Place: London, England.
Canon Hugh informs Squire Tub that Constable Turf agrees to marry his daughter, Audrey, with John Clay, a tilemaker. The canon receives money from Tub for this information, but, instead of helping his case, he informs Justice Preamble of Tub's desire to marry the woman himself and receives money from him, too. The canon arranges that Tub's servant, Hilts, interrupt the wedding march towards church by pretending that Clay robbed Captain Thums and enjoins Turf to arrest Clay. As Tub takes Audrey away, Preamble shows up with his clerk, Metaphor, presented as a poursuivant, to arrest Tub in the name of the queen's council. Preamble takes Audrey away before Hilts has a chance of frightening Metaphor into confessing he is no poursuivant and therefore has no authority to arrest Tub, who runs off to find Turf and prevent his rival's marriage. Frightened that he may be arrested at any moment, Clay runs away to hide while Tub informs Turf of Preamble's plot to marry his daughter. Alarmed at these news, Turf runs off and prevents the marriage. Nonplussed, Canon Hugh disguises himself as Captain Thums and insists on receiving money from Turf to compensate for his slackness at finding the supposed robber, Clay. Afraid of legal consequences, Turf is forced to agree. He sends Metaphor off to his wife to hand over the money. Keen for more knavery, Hugh enjoins Metaphor to tell Audrey that Clay is found and altogether ready to marry her to him. However, Metaphor, confronted wth Hilts' threats with a drawn sword, reveals Hugh's plot to Tub, who requests him to bring the woman to him instead and share the money with Hilts. Metaphor agrees and achieves his ends, but before Tub can carry her away, his mother, Lady Tub, who dislikes the love-match, insists on his following her and so the Audrey is left with her servant, Pol. Walking with his mother along with Turf's wife, Tub finds Clay hiding in a barn and thereby Turf's wife discovers that Metaphor cheated her of her money while absconding with her daughter. Preamble and the canon worry that Metaphor escaped with the money and even more so when told that Clay has been found. But worse than all this, thinking them to be strangers, Hugh married Audrey to Pol, and so Clay and Tub are left without a wife.
Like Jonson, Philip Massinger (1583-1640) contributed important comedies from the previous period with "A new way to pay old debts" (1625) and "The lovers' progress” (1634), the latter in collaboration with John Fletcher (1579-1625).
Downer (1950) summarized "A new way to pay old debts" as combining "Jonsonian humours with the intrigue of realistic city comedy. A villainous extortioner, Sir Giles Overreach, is cheated out of his ill-gotten gains by a clever deceit practised by Frank Wellborn, his nephew. Wellborn, one of his uncle's victims, pretends to be the prospective husband of a wealthy widow, Lady Allworth, and Sir Giles, blinded with joy at the prospect of robbing the same victim twice, returns his nephew's property and is bilked of his own. It is not an original plot; if Sir Giles had spent more time in the theater and less in his counting-room, he would have realized that he was being cheated as Pecunius Lucre was cheated by his nephew in “A Trick to Catch the Old One” (1605)...Middleton in his opening scene presents Witgood and his mistress discussing their whole plan; Massinger begins his intrigue with a whispered confidence between Wellborn and Lady Allworth, and keeps the audience in the dark as long as possible. A similar device of a secret confidence is employed in the secondary plot as Lord Lovell pretends to woo Margaret while actually assuring her of his assistance in thwarting Overreach...The most conventional situation of the revenge play is employed for denouement as the tool villain turns upon his employer and publicly exposes him...The difference, the originality of Massinger, lies in the changed tone of the play. Watching the machinations of Volpone or Subtle, the audience can take a certain pleasure in the way their (admittedly evil) devices get the best of a series of fools before leading to their own downfall. For Sir Giles there is only loathing; he is not a fox, but a wolf, a vulture, a terrifying figure” (pp 179-180).
The figure of Giles Overreach has attracted many comments from critics. In “the very fine speech in which he replies to the question of the virtuous nobleman, whether he is not frightened by the imprecations of his victims...'Now, for those other piddling complaints/Breath'd out in bitterness, as when they call me/Extortioner, tyrant, cormorant, or intruder/On my poor neighbour's rights or grand incloser/Of what was common to my private use,/Nay, when my ears are pierced with widows' cries/And undone orphans wash with tears my threshold,/I only think what 'tis to have my daughter/Right honourable; and 'tis a powerful charm/Makes me insensible to remorse or pity,/Or the least sting of conscience.’ It is a description of a wicked man from outside; and wickedness seen from outside is generally unreasonable and preposterous. When it is converted, by simple alteration of pronouns, into the villain's own account of himself, the internal logic which serves as a pretext disappears, and he becomes a mere monster. It is for this reason that, as Hazlitt says, Massinger's villains— and he was probably thinking especially of Overreach and Luke in ‘A City Madam’— appear like drunkards or madmen” (Stephen, 1928 edition pp 153-154). One can argue that this critic misses the point. Overreach’s speech shows that, though showing some signs of madness, he is yet able to view himself as others view him after having heard their complaints against him so many times. “Giles Overreach is essentially a great force directed upon small objects; a great force, a small mind; the terror of a dozen parishes instead of the conqueror of a world. The force is misapplied, attenuated, thwarted, by the man's vulgarity: he is a great man of the City, without fear, but with the most abject awe of the aristocracy. He is accordingly not simple, but a product of a certain civilization, and he is not wholly conscious. His monologues are meant to be, not what he thinks he is, but what he really is: and yet they are not the truth about him, and he himself certainly does not know the truth. To declare himself, therefore, is impossible” (Eliot, 1921 p 128). In contrast, Knight (1893) considered the character nearer Marlowe's. "In the conception of this character Massinger seems to have caught a breath of inspiration from Marlowe. Sir Giles Overreach is as implacable as Barabas and as daring as Faustus. He pursues his way to his end with a calm serenity of villainy perfectly diabolic. It is a mistake from the highest standpoint that the end is insignificant. The lust of Faustus for knowledge is in itself noble, though the means he takes to gratify it are unblest, and the crimes of Barabas, like the revenge of Shylock, find a certain element of mitigation in the fact that each in his feelings represents the result of centuries of wrong and oppression. Overreach, however, is bad from a species of innate love of tyrannising over his fellows" (p 180). Symons (1919) deemed the character a high achievement. “In the character of Sir Giles Overreach [Massinger] has made his single contribution to the gallery of permanent illustrations of human nature: a portrait to be spoken of with [Balzac's] Grandet and with [Molière's] Harpagon” (p 193). Despite his repulsive side, “his vigorous personality arouses in us an unwilling respect, as for a force of nature”, his downfall resembling ”a Libyan lion in the toil” (Knight, 1962 p 120).
"A new way to pay old debts"
Time: 1620s. Place: London, England.
"A new way to pay old debts" text at http://www.archive.org/details/newwaytopayoldde00massuoft https://archive.org/details/philipmassinger01massgoog https://archive.org/details/britishdramaaco03unkngoog https://archive.org/details/plays00massgoog
Wellborn, a gentleman, is scolded for leading a riotous life by Tapwell, an alehouse keeper. He had been supported awhile by Sir Giles Overreach, an extortioner, but then abandoned. In frustration, Wellborn beats the keeper, then, in desperate straits, visits Lady Allworth, but, before he can see her, is mistreated by her servants. He reminds the rich widow how he once helped her husband. She acknowledges the good deed by promising to help him regain his good fortune. Overreach tells Marrall, his term-driver, about the extent of his ambition. "I must have all men sellers,/And I the only purchaser," he declares. Hearing of a recalcitrant neighbor, he threatens his very livelihood. "I'll make my men break ope his fences,/Ride o'er his standing corn, and in the night/Set fire on his barns, or break his cattle's legs," he suggests. Marrall visits Lady Allworth's house and is astounded on seeing Wellborn so well treated there. Willing to get on the good side of one who may marry her, Marrall tells Overreach he gave Wellborn money and a horse. In disgust, Overreach knocks him down. Overreach next fixes his attention on Margaret, his daughter, for the purpose of ensnaring Lovell, a lord, in marriage, advising her against all modesty. "If his blood go hot, suppose he offer/Beyond this, do not stay till it cool/But meet his ardor; if a couch be near/Sit down on't, and invite him," he suggests. But when Lovell arrives as a suitor, she points out the unevenness of their social positions. Overreach's plot regarding Margaret is failing. "She neglects my lord/And all her complements applied to Wellborn!" he exclaims. But yet, confident in his ability to extort money from his son-in-law to be, he pays to get rich clothes out of pawn. Thanks to Overreach, Wellborn summons his creditors by drum-roll and pays them all at once, a new way to pay old debts. Lovell tells Lady Allworth that Margaret is right: he should indeed keep to his own social sphere, which she is glad to hear. Unlike what her father thinks, Margaret loves not Wellborn but his friend, Lady Allworth's son and page to Lovell. Overreach is led to believe a marriage with Lovell is still possible, but Allworth tricks him into signing a paper whereby he himself becomes the groom, while Lovell marries Lady Allworth. Although his debts are paid, Wellborn still needs money to live. When Overreach demands securities in exchange for lending him money, Wellborn accuses him of having extorted his father's lands. As Overreach looks for the deeds, he finds all the writings blotted out, the result of Marrall's revenge against his cruelties. Another unhappy surprise awaits him: Margaret kneels for her father's blessing regarding her marriage with Allworth. He is so incensed that he attempts to kill her, but Lovell prevents it. Overreach spits on him and promises to turn his house into "a heap of ashes", or else, he adds, may "hell add to my afflictions." With no power left to accomplish this, he thrashes about with his sword in acts of wildness. "How he foams!" Lovell remarks. "And bites the earth!" Wellborn adds. A parson commands his servants to carry Overreach as a madman inside a dark room.
“The lovers' progress”
Time: Antiquity. Place: Paris, France.
Lisander loves Calista, though she is married to his friend, Cleander, while Calista's brother, Lidian, is a rival to Clarange for the love of Olinda. The latter, unable to decide between the two, declares this injunction: “Go from me both contentedly, and he/That last makes his return, and comes to visit,/Comes to my bed.” Calista receives the visit of her father, Dorilaus, emerging from the woods with his servants, wounded by robbers but saved by an unknown man. Cleander and Calista learn from a servant that the unknown man is Lisander. To eliminate his rival, Lidian challenges Clarange to a duel and Lisander participates as the second to Clarange against Alcidon. Lisander’s servant, Lancelot, comes disguised as a fortune-teller at Calista’s house with money so that Clarinda, her servant, may keep silent as to his master’s visit. In the duel, Clarange wounds Lidian but is encouraged by Lisander, who won his fight, to forbear killing him. Both agreeing to this, Clarange and Lidian separate. At night, Lisander enters Calista’s room but cannot tempt her to bed, so that, in despair, he gives her a pistol to shoot him with, but then quickly leaves before Cleander arrives. The next morning, Calista suspects that Clarinda slept with a man and harasses her for his name until the servant threatens her mistress with exposure concerning Lisander. Affronted, Calista orders her out of the house, but Beronte, Cleander’s brother, mediates her return. Clarinda nevertheless persists in loving her cousin, Leon, who, interrupted by Cleander looking for an intruder in his house at night, stabs him to death. To divert the blame away from her lover, Clarinda places his sword in the hands of his coward rival, Malfort, who fainted after witnessing the murder. However, warned by Clarinda on the suspicions concerning her mistress, Beronte blames Calista for his brother’s death, all the more plausible since the sword once belonged to Lisander. With the help of a friar, Clarange, intending to lead a religious life, misleads Lidian into thinking he is dead, so that he can win Olinda. Dorilaus finds Leon in a wood, who, before the king, confesses to Cleander’s murder. Acceding to Calista’s request for a boon, the king pardons Lisander’s duel with two of Cleander’s kinsmen and accords him leave to marry Calista after a year of grieving.
During the Caroline period, the main tragedian of note was John Ford (1586–1640), author of "'Tis pity she's a whore" (1633) and "The broken heart" (1633). Overall, “John Ford is today considered the outstanding dramatist in the reign of Charles I" (Anderson, 1972 p 13). But the puritan-minded Thorndike (1908) complained that Ford’s “absorption with questions of sex, his searching for new sensation, his attempt to bestow on moral perversion the enticements of poetry correspond with what is most decadent in Fletcher and Shirley. Like his fine-spoken and well-mannered courtiers and impulsive ladies, Ford imagined in an atmosphere of unhealthy emotion. His plays are immoral because their passion is so often morbid and their sentiment mawkish. His power to reveal character and passion, which rank him with the greatest of the Elizabethans, was discovered in his searching the by-paths of the abnormal and pathological. Pathos for him was a flower plucked from a poisonous exotic” (p 229).
Although sounding like the name of a comedy, "'Tis pity she's a whore" is a fatal piece of brother-sister incest. The whore is no whore but a fatally comprised victim of circumstance. Gassner (1954) considered that "the growth of the incestuous passion against which the characters struggle in vain and Annabella’s final change of heart are powerfully realized" (p 258). This play was singled out by Artaud (1938) as being of particular interest in his "theatre of cruelty", rife with cruelty and spectacle. Downer (1950) summarized the entanglement in that “Annabella has three suitors: Soranzo, Grimaldi, and Bergetto. Soranzo has seduced the wife of Richardetto, Grimaldi is a dishonorable murderer, and Bergetto a fool. In their schemes and counterschemes to win Annabella, Giovanni's love is made to appear more honest. It is her beauty and her virtue that awaken his passion, not her social status or her dowry” (p 176). For Boas (1946), "it is subtly suggested that the pair are driven into each other’s arms not by sensual desire but by an irresistible dynamic force...Annabella is to him white in her soul, and to save her fame, and to forestall her husband's cruelty, he kills her upon a kiss with his own hand. From the lovely pathos of their parting it is somewhat disconcerting to turn to the last scene, where Giovanni rushes in among the guests with Annabella's heart upon his dagger, lights with and kills Soranzo, and himself is slain by the husband's retainer...And we feel that his love for her, though outside 'the laws of conscience and of civil use', is a worthier thing in the dramatist's eyes than that of the profligate Soranzo" (pp 343-345). More vehement in moral tone, Stavig (1968) sees Giovanni as “the passionate sinner and the rationalizing fool...In so far as he is ruined by his inability to control his unruly passions, we can pity him...In so far as he justifies himself through twisted logic and pseudo-heroic posturing, he transforms himself into a grotesque and almost ludicrous figure who elicits our shock and at times amusement at his arguments...but [he] never becomes a noble victim...Giovanni’s moral collapse is an example of how passion can corrupt abd degrade even the worthiest individual. Annabella falls, too, but, in contrast to Giovanni, repents and becomes at the end of the play an example of the noble victim...The result is a witty, ironic, often cynical appraisal of man’s capacity for evil and for absurdity, all made delightfully, at times scandalously, sensational by the very outrageousness of the deeds…Instead of proceeding from the admiration of earthly beauty to the worship of God, Giovanni inverts this natural order...glorifies his condition instead of trying to overcome it...He argues illogically that since God has not cured him, Christianity has no validity; hence he is free to love Annabella and blame fate for what he seems to realize will be a tragic end...Atheism and the belief that man cannot control his actions go together in Giovanni...a sick, confused, and irrational sinner rather than a rational rebel...One device Ford uses to accentuate the perversion of their love is to have the amoral Putana comment on what is happening...Giovanni’s jealousy and his preoccupation with the physical are connected...To incest is added adultery, but Giovanni finds ‘no change/Of pleasure in this formal law of sports’...When Annabella tells him of her repentance, he jealously suspects that Soranzo has replaced him in her favors...The revenge can only be on Annnabella herself for her defection from him and to a lesser extent on Soranzo for his treatment of Annabella...Giovanni’s entry into the hall with Annabella’s heart on his sword is the ultimate depravity of a man approaching madness...[The friar’s] departure serves a double function: it prepares us for the tragedy of the final act and it suggests that the entire society of Parma has been corrupted beyond hope of restoration” (pp 96-120). It might also indicate that the friar fears for his life. Although ’’Tis pity she’s a whore’, which presents incest not unfavorably, probably should be called decadent, most of Ford’s other plays, including ’The broken heart’, should not” (Anderson, 1972 p 14). Since Orgilus’ dilemma is the same as Giovanni’s in not being able to marry the woman he loves and that both respond with murder, the objectionable part in Anderson's view is not the murder but the incest. "Ford has been called decadent, aristocratic, and analytical. Each of these labels are warranted but not without qualification...Some commentators have felt that Ford portrays incest too sympathetically by making Giovanni and Annabella attractive; some even see the playwright as flaunting the conventions of society and as being decadent. Others, however, view Ford as essentially conservative, for Giovanni and Annabella do pay for their love with their lives. But surely…the play falls between these two extremes. On the one hand, Giovanni has great dramatic appeal...On the other hand, his arguments (to the friar) for incest are specious, his love becomes tainted with jealousy, and eventually he is guilty of atheism and murder. Annabella is more sensitive and less selfish than her brother, but her penitence is vitiated by her insolence toward her husband and by her continued acceptance of her brother as her lover...Incest remains a burning issue [throughout the play], probably Ford’s greatest drama, for [the others] do not have such intensity...To have an incestuous adulterer seek vengeance upon the cuckolded husband surely is a remarkable variation on a familiar theme, but the playwright makes it credible; the same impulsiveness, daring, and selfishness that have motivated the lover account for the murderer...We feel no sympathy for Soranzo as a wronged husband, for he has ruined the marriage of Richardetto and Hippolita, mistreated his own wife, and helped plan the murder of Giovanni. Soranzo is also degraded by his association with the brutal, heartless Vasques...Although the friar implores Gioavanni to [evade Soranzo’s murderous intent]...and leaves in despair, we react with awe rather than revulsion at such an impetuous and death-defying commitment...In brilliant fashion, the playwright fuses his two themes of lust and revenge into an unforgettable love-death that is emblematized by Annabella’s heart” (Anderson, 1972 pp 94-104). “The handling of the main plot of is entirely successful, but the introduction of three underplots, though they are skillfully woven together with some ingenuity, overloads the play and leads to confusion by their too frequent intrusion into the main story, and the necessity for the winding up each in turn. The introduction of Richardetto and Philotis is, in this way, particularly unhappy...When [Annabella]...yields so readily to [Giovanni’s] entreaties, she does not, as he does, try to convince herself that she is acting in accordance with any principles of rational morality or religion. It is that her love is stronger than either her morality or her religion...Her subsequent remorse and penitence are a natural result of her real religious and ethical beliefs, which she has never given up...Giovanni has aimed at the practice of rational morality, and therefore when he cannot resist temptation he will not believe that he is committing a sin” (Sargeaunt, 1966 p 69, 93-96). Like Middleton’s “Women, beware women” (1622), “’Tis pity she’s a whore' has been described as a city tragedy, “characterized by its emphasis on a whole social group...rather than on the tragic individual as in the Elizabethan era...The failings of a specific urban community provoke the tragedy of the protagonists...Giovanni’s spiritual agony and Annabella’s patient suffering in a Parma too mundane either to understand the lovers or offer them any alternative to each other. Their isolation from the rest of humanity becomes the more poignant for their being set in the midst of an ordinary urban community delineated in all its bustling variety...Ford evokes a city of busy thoroughfares where swordfight of Grimaldi and Vasques and the murder of Bergetto represent the all-too familiar street violence...Ford’s characters...conform...to the gamut of urban types who populate city comedy merchant, scholar, doctor, nobleman, braggart soldier, clever servant, rich fool, nubile girl, adulteress...The fast pace of these scenes, the dramatic logic of their development, and the way in which the four plots are made causally dependent on one another, create an atmosphere of excitement and suspense...The wedding feast and the birthday feast- festivities that in comedy promise renewed life to the individual and his society- are transformed into tragic ceremonies of death and destruction” (Foster, 1988 pp 181-192).
“The theme of ‘The broken heart’ is that marriage should be based on love. Though not denying the authority of father and brother, Ford emphasized that enforced marriage has tragic consequences” (Anderson, 1972 pp 64-65). “The Ford of ‘The broken heart’ is indeed the Ford of Swinburne’s sonnet, hewing hard marble the figures of Orgilus, and Ithicles, and Calantha. They all have a statuesque quality of cold restraint, and are in the popular sense of the word truly ‘Spartan’” (Sargeaunt, 1966 pp 144-145). Less outraged than he was in “’Tis pity she’s a whore”, Stavig (1968) sees the language in “The broken heart” as more “elevated and formal than any other play by Ford...To emphasize the characters’ weakness in being unable to solve their problems is to underestimate the extent of the original tragedy. Orgilus, Penthea, and Clantha cannot be expected to forget relationships that have given their lives their deepest meaning” (pp 145-146), which the critic refuses to allow for the incestuous Giovanni. Like Giovanni, Orgilus suffers from his opinion that “Physic yet never found/A remedy to cure a lover’s wound”. Orgilus’ “insistence that he has the right to decide whom Euphranea is to marry is a repetition of Ithocles’ fault in determining Penthea’s marriage partner for her...Since Orgilus has seen the tragic results of Ithocles’ interference, his attitude is even less defensible...[When Ithocles asks his sister to forgive him], he hopes that will not only mollify the guilt he feels for marrying her to Bassanes but also...give him an ally for his courtship of Calantha...Later it becomes clear that Ithocles is worried about Orgilus, too,...and it may be that he hopes that peace with Panthea will lead to better relations with the dangerous Orgilus...Ithocles is full of plans for his own advancement and seems to be interested in the people around him primarily as means to his own largely selfish ends...Penthea has struggled…to remain rational...but the combination of a tyrannous brother, a jealous husband, and a doting former lover is too much for her to bear, and her reason is destroyed...In the final act, [Calantha] bravely but somewhat naively tries to carry out her responsibilities as the DSpartan queen. When she is told of the deaths of three of her loved ones, she shows no outward emotion and goes on with the festive wedding dance, but...her strength was a deception…a direct result of her attempt to live according to a rigid Spartan code instead of expressing her natural human reactions” (pp 148-164). Calantha’s dance is a “visual expression of the principles, so sacred to the Renaissance, of order, proportion, and harmony” (Hopkins, 1994 p 167), which, in this case, cracks asunder. Boas (1946) remarked that "it is the heart of Calantha that is broken, and Ford’s portrayal of her in the last act of the play ranks among his finest achievements. But her fate would touch us more had more been made of her living love for Ithocles and had not the sorrows of Orgilus and Penthea so long been in the foreground" (p 347). Lamb remarked: "I do not know where to find, in any play, a catastrophe so grand, so solemn, and so surprising as in this. This is indeed, according to Milton, to describe high passions and high actions. The fortitude of the Spartan boy who let a beast gnaw out his bowels till he died, without expressing a groan, is a faint bodily image of this dilaceration of the spirit, and exenteration of the inmost mind, which Calantha, with a holy violence against her nature, keeps closely covered till the last duties of a wife and a queen are fulfilled...Ford was of the first order of poets. He sought for sublimity, not by parcels, in metaphors or visible images, but directly where she has her full residence in the heart of man,- in the actions and sufferings of the greatest minds. There is a grandeur of the soul above mountains, seas, and the elements" (1895 edition, pp 216-217).
"'Tis pity she's a whore"
Time: 1630s. Place: Parma, Italy.
Friar Bonaventura is horrified on learning that his pupil, Giovanni, intends to mate with his own sister. "These are no school points; nice philosophy/May tolerate unlikely arguments,/But heaven admits no jest," he remonstrates. Nevertheless, Giovanni declares he loves his sister, Annabella, at first abashed. "If this be true, 'twere fitter I were dead," she asserts. He attempts to persuade her of the legitimacy of his feelings. "Nearness in birth and blood doth but persuade/A nearer nearness in affection," he says. After some hesitation, she accepts him as a lover. "Live; thou hast won/The field and never fought: what thou hast urged/My captive heart had long ago resolved." They kiss and later join as one. "Come, Annabella, no more sister now,/But love, a name more gracious; do not blush,/Beauty's sweet wonder, but be proud to know/That yielding thou hast conquered, and inflamed/A heart, whose tribute is thy brother's life." Meanwhile, Hippolita seeks revenge on her former lover, Soranzo, who dismissed her after hearing of her husband's death, Richardetto, but, unknown to everyone, the latter is alive and returns disguised as a doctor, also seeking vengeance on Soranzo, his wife's lover but also a suitor for Annabella's hand. Richardetto tells Grimaldi, another rival for Annabella's love: "I'll find a time when he and she do meet,/Of which I'll give you notice; and, to be sure/He shall not 'scape you, I'll provide a poison/To dip your rapier's point in." Richardetto discovers Annabella is pregnant, so that her father, Florio, feels it all the lore urgent that she marry at once his choice for her husband: Soranzo. After hearing of Soranzo's love and Bonaventura's pleadings and threats, and reflecting on her condition, Annabella feels cornered to accept Soranzo. At night, instead of his intended victim, Soranzo, Grimaldi by mistake stabs to death a suitor to Richardetto's niece, Philotis, the foolish Bergetto. Yet, protected by a cardinal, Grimaldi is not to be arraigned by anyone in Parma. During the wedding ceremony, Hippolita poisons Soranzo's cup, but, his servant, Vasques, poisons hers instead. She dies cursing both. On his wedding night, a furious Soranzo discovers Annabella's pregnancy and drags her about by the hair. "Now I must be the dad/To all that gallimaufry that is stuffed/In thy corrupted bastard-bearing womb!" he exclaims. He insists to know the father, but, while he hales her about, she sings, until, begged to withhold by Vasques, he at last desists. To help his master, Vasques interrogates her guardian, Putana, who names Giovanni as the culprit. Aghast, Vasques commands his bandit cronies to put out Putana's eyes for having passively allowed in moral blindness such horrid incest. Meanwhile, Giovanni and Annabella continue their secret relations. "Let poring book-men dream of other worlds;/My world, and all of happiness, is here,/And I'd not change it for the best to come:/A life of pleasure is Elysium," he swears. But then he receives Annabella's letter stating that her husband has discovered their secret. Suspecting a trap, Giovanni nevertheless dares to present himself at Sorenzo's birthday-feast, where, invited by Soranzo to see his sister, he stabs her to death, then heads towards the feast with her heart on his dagger, the sight of which kills his father. Giovanni fights with Soranzo and stabs him to death as well, then challenges Vasques, who, with the help of his bandits, surrounds Giovanni and stabs him to death in reprisal. The cardinal commands that the blinded Putana be burnt alive and banishes Vasques. He concludes thus on Annabella's case: "Of one so young, so rich in nature's store,/Who could not say 'tis pity she's a whore?"
"The broken heart"
Time: Antiquity. Place: Sparta, Greece.
Orgilus asks permission of his father, Crotolon, to go to Athens. He has lost his love, Penthea, because her brother, Ithocles, a worthy soldier, forced her into marrying Bassanes. Before leaving, Orgilus extorts an oath from his sister, Euphranea, to remain single until his return. "It shall be my first care to see thee matched/As may become thy choice and our contents," he says. But, to spy on "Penthea's usage and Euphranea's faith", Orgilus disguises himself as a scholar under the guidance of Tecnicus, a philosopher, and, to his grief, sees walking arm in arm and whispering with Prophilus, a friend to Ithocles. Unaware of who he is, Prophilus asks Orgilus to be the go-between between himself and her and Orgilus readily accepts. He next turns his attention towards his lost love, Penthea. "No horror should deface that precious figure/Sealed with the lively stamp of equal souls," he says to her while throwing off his disguise, but she discourages him from ever approaching her again and, resigned, follows her husband. "In vain we labour in this course of life/To piece our journey out at length, or crave/Respite of breath; our home is in the grave," she affirms. She heads for Ithocles' sick-bed, a man who pines for Calantha, daughter to King Amyclas and promised to Nearchus, prince of Argos. Brother and sister are interrupted by a raging, jealous Bassanes with his dagger out, accusing them of incest. Penthea appeases him with the help of Prophilus. In view of this insane rage, Ithocles decides to keep his sister at his house, telling the husband: "I dare not trust her to your fury." Because the king favors Euphranea's marriage to Prophilus, Orgilus is forced to accept his judgment. "Sister,/Thou pawnest to me an oath, of which engagement/I never will release thee, if thou aimst/At any other choice than this," he declares, to which she happily submits. Despite the planned marriage with Nearchus, Penthea speaks on Ithocles' behalf to Calantha, who answers: "Lady,/Your check lies in my silence." Nearchus asks for a ring of Calatha's, but she, considering it too cheap, throws it away, picked up by Ithocles, both angry at this gesture. Acting as a soothsayer, Tecnicus warns the affronter: "Ithocles,/When youth is ripe, and age from time doth part,/The lifeless trunk shall wed the broken heart." To Orgilus he warns: "Let craft with courtesy a while confer;/Revenge proves its own executioner." Pining for her lost Orgilus, Penthea's melancholy has made her distracted. "No falsehood/Equals a broken faith; there's not a hair/Sticks on my head but, like a leaden plummet,/It sinks me to the grave: I must creep thither;/The journey is not long," she avows. When King Amyclas starts to feel ill and is perhaps in danger of dying, Calantha at last reveals her secret: she prefers Ithocles' love to Nearchus'. The king grants her wish to marry him and also commands court revels for the marriage of Prophilus with Euphranea. Still melancholy because of love for Orgilus, Penthea dies, Orgilus and Ithocles keeping a mourning vigil until the latter notices his chair enclosing him, thus ripe for Orgilus' revenge for keeping him apart from the dead woman. Orgilus stabs Ithocles to death. While courtiers dance, a series of awful news succeed one another to Calantha's grief: the king her father's death, Penthea's death, Ithocles' death, yet after each successive wave, Calantha commands that the dance continue. She asks by whose hand was Ithocles murdered. "By mine," Orgilus declares, who chooses to bleed to death. While he pierces one arm, Bassanes, blaming him for his wife's death, pierces the other. Orgilus sinks contentedly away. "Welcome, thou ice, that sitest about my heart,/No heat can ever thaw thee," he says. Calantha places a wedding ring on Ithocles's dead finger, proclaiming: "Oh, my lords,/I but deceived your eyes with antic gesture,/When one news straight came huddling on another,/Of death! and death! and death! still I danced forward;/But it struck home, and here, and in an instant./Be such mere women, who, with shrieks and outcries,/Can vow a present end to all their sorrows,/Yet live to court new pleasures, and outlive them:/They are the silent griefs which cut the heartstrings;/Let me die smiling." Tecnicus' prophecies are fulfilled: the lifeless trunk of Ithocles has wed Calantha's broken heart and Orgilus' revenge has become its own executioner. With King Amyclas dead, Nearchus is declared the new king of Sparta.
Two major court-tragedies of the Caroline period were written by James Shirley (1596-1666): "The traitor" (1631) and "The cardinal" (1641). Though less complex than the best Jacobean tragedies, they feature powerful scenes rife with spilled blood. Shirley also wrote two masterful comedies: "The opportunity" (1634) and “The constant maid” (1640). The author "claims a place amongst the worthies of this period, not so much for any transcendent talent in himself, as that he was the last of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language and had a set of moral feelmgs and notions in common. A new language, and quite a new turn of tragic and comic interest, came in with the Restoration" (Lamb 1895 edition).
Steeped in Victorian morality, Swinburne (1919) considered that "the main plot of "'The traitor'...is very neatly and happily interwoven with a story which at first sight recalls that of the fatal marriage and breach of promise through which the name of Buondelmonti had attained a significance so tragical for Florence three hundred and twenty-two years earlier...The unreal unselfishness of unnatural devotion and the sentimental vehemence of moral paradox, which mark the decline of English tragedy from the level of Shakespeare's more immediate followers, are flagrant in the folly of such a conception as this of a lover who insists on resigning his mistress against her will to a friend already betrothed or pledged in honour to another woman...But it must be allowed that this perverse and preposterous improbability is skilfully and delicately adapted to bring into fuller relief the most beautiful figure on all the overcrowded stage of Shirley's invention. His place among our poets would be very much higher than it is if he could have left us but one or two others as thoroughly realized and as attractively presented as the noble and pathetic conception of Amidea...The swiftness and sharpness of suspicious mtuition, the promptitude and impudence of intelligent hypocrisy, which distinguish the conduct of Shirley’s ideal conspirator, are far above the level of his usual studies or sketches of the same or similar kind. Nor is there, if I mistake not,so much of really beautiful writing, of pure and vigorous style, of powerful and pathetic simplicity, in any earlier or later work of its author...We are reminded of Fletcher at his best by the cry of sympathy with which Amidea receives the assurance that the rival who has unwittingly and reluctantly supplanted her is also the victim of her lover's infidelity and ingratitude: 'Alas, poor maid/We two keep sorrow alive then.' This indeed, if I may venture to say so, seems to me a touch not unworthy of Webster himself— the nearest of all our poets to Shakespeare in command of spontaneous and concentrated expression for tragic and pathetic emotion" (Swinburne, 1919 pp 287-290). “Lorenzo’s machinations test the moral strength of individuals in a community whose air is infected...At the end of the play, there are four corpses” (Lucow, 1981 pp 82-83). “In the interrelating of the several actions and in the high effectiveness of individual scenes, this play is conspicuously well constructed...In Lorenzo...Shirley has created a notable villain: resourceful, daring, plausible of tongue...In Sciarrha, Shirley has created another powerful figure: direct, fiery, easily deceived, yet ultimately capable of matching himself in subtlety even against the intrigues of Lorenzo...In Lorenzo...we have...a powerful character becoming ever weaker through the unnerving effect of his own villainy, in Sciarrha a character attaining even greater self-control and insight through suffering and struggle. No such development appears in Shirley’s duke...he merely vacillates” (Nason, 1915 pp 198-207).
In the view of Swinburne (1919), "if the treatment of character and passion had been equal to the development of interest and the management of the story, the vigorous and well-built tragedy of 'The cardinal' might have been what its author avowedly thought it, the flower of his flock. It is indeed a model of composition, simple and lucid and thoroughly well sustained in its progress towards a catastrophe remarkable for tragic originality and power of invention with no confusion or encumbrance of episodes, no change or fluctuation of interest,no breach or defect of symmetry. But the story is more interesting than the actors; and the points of resemblance between this play and 'The duchess of Malfi' are consequently as noticeable as the points of resemblance between Macedon and Monmouth. There is a wicked cardinal in each, and the principal victim of his crimes is an innocent duchess" (pp 303-304). “The coolness, even coldness, of Shirley’s distancing from the action in ‘The cardinal’ neutralizes passionate conflict” (Lucow, 1981 p 135). The countess Rosaura is a character who grows. “From a timorous maiden, hiding her heart from Columbo and the world, she becomes first the woman that dares command her freedom, appeal to the king, and hurl defiance at the cardinal, and then, widowed of d’Alvarez and crushed beneath the three-fold power, the woman that dares to draw Hernandez to her aid against Columbo and, by feigned insanity, so to entrap the cardinal that she may be ‘d’Alvarez’ justicer’...In Columbo, Shirley has depicted a commander that makes his very impetuosity a means to victory, and that thinks to take a wife as he would a town...He vents his rage against the duchess with the same brutality as his revenge upon d’Alvarez...Against this valiant brutality...Shirley paints the valiant nobility of Hernando. He pictures Hernando’s wisdom at the council board, his self-control in the face of Columbo’s accusation, his brave devotion at the dead d’Alvarez and to the living duchess, his victory in the duel, his rescue of the duchess from the cardinal, and his self-inflicted death...In the creation and delineation of character, as is the mastery of plot and scene, we have found reason highly to recommend the work of Shirley in ‘The cardinal’”(Nason, 1915 pp 350-361). Boas (1946) commented that "there is nothing more effective in the whole play than the scene (III, ii) in which the duchess’s servants get ready to act a comedy before her and the king on the wedding night, and make a fuss about the beards, heads, and doublets in which they are to play their parts. It calls back a similar making-up scene before the catastrophe in Kyd’s 'The Spanish tragedy', and, like it, is a prelude to fatal doom. But the comedy is not acted, for Columbo and five accomplices enter as masquers, dance, beckon D Alvarez to go out with them and return with his dead body. Columbo confesses the murder and makes a sophistical defence of it as an act of justice which does not prevail with the king who, however, afterwards at the cardinal’s instigation, pardons him" (p 376). As in "The cardinal" where the protagonist is trapped on his own engine, “The doubtful heir” (1640) shows Shirley as a master in depicting reversals of fortunes. After much ado, Ferdinand is crowned as the rightful king, then thrown down by Leonario, prince of Aragon, the dismissed lover of the previous sovereign, Olivia, after she named Ferdinand as her consort king, then Ferdinand is crowned again with Rosania after Alfonso, her father, heads an army from Valencia, not Aragon, as Leonario thought.
“The opportunity” “contains more disguises, mistaken identities, and impersonations than any other of Shirley’s plays...The doctrine of privilege prevails, yet more than a hint of its vulnerability informs the characterization of the comic figure, Pimpiano. In his impersonation of a member of a privileged class playing the fool at an inn, Pimpiano expresses a worms-eye view of grandeur dissociated from honor” (Lucow, 1981 pp 92-93). "The Opportunity is a lighter and slighter piece of work, but as lively, ingenious, and amusing in its complications and solutions, its intrigue and its results, as any comedy of accidents and errors not glorified by the sign-manual of Plautus, Shakespeare, or Molière. The night-scene under the balcony is as dexterously contrived as the night-scene in [Molière's] George Dandin, and more plausible as well as more decorous in its arrangement and its upshot" (Swinburne, 1919 p 298). “’The opportunity’ is a capital little comedy, fairly bubbling over with clever situations and charming character...It has a zest, a joyous freshness that gives life even to time-worn situations- yes, even to mistaken identity!...The men especially receive a pronounced individuality. Masterly is the character of Mercutio...The jealous Ursini, the cynical Pisauro, the imperious duke, the clown Pimponio are figures that stand forth more sharply than [the play’s source, a play by Tirso de Molina]” (Nason, 1915 pp 263-269).
“The constant maid” “rivals and almost matches ‘The opportunity’ for the distinction of most contrived and cluttered comedy in Shirley’s canon. The development of the plots and ‘cross-plots’ in ‘The constant maid’ features eavesdropping, feigned madness, disguise, espionage, gulling and duping, testing of lovers’ faithfulness, misunderstandings, and last-act revelations” (Lucow, 1981 p 103). “Aside from the figure of the foolish Startup, the interest results solely from the rapid and unexpected twists and turns of fortune. The setting and characters are those of the comedy of London life and manners; but the use of surprise upon surprise is almost the method of Fletcherian romance” (Nason, 1915 pp 317-318). "The Constant Maid is a comedy of some spirit, but a mother’s attempt to win or to test the affections of her daughter’s lover is a revolting if not a ridiculous mainspring for the action of a play. A farcical character which may remind the reader of Bob Acres will only increase his appreciation of Sheridan’s superior art and intelligence though there is some crude and rough-hewn humour in Shirley’s caricature of a loutish lover. But the two plots are so badly mixed that any reader or spectator would have supposed it the first attempt of an awkward and ambitious novice in comedy" (Swinburne, 1919 p 301).
Time: 1630s. Place: Florence, Italy.
Grateful to Lorenzo for having protected him from the duke’s anger, Pisanio’s servant, Petruchio, has encouraged his master to abandon Amidea for Oriana, the latter being Cosmo’s love. By such means, Lorenzo, cousin to the duke of Florence, hopes to prune Cosmo’s fortune since the lady is rich. Pisanio’s remorse goes for nought, since Cosmo relinquishes her to his friend. At court, Duke Alexander is shown a letter from Castruchio, an exile, accusing Lorenzo as a traitor to the state, but Lorenzo successfully defends himself before the duke, who proposes to “revel this night with Amidea”. However, Lorenzo informs her brother, Sciarrha, of the duke’s intention to copulate with her, even worse to propose paying off Sciarrha as her procurer. Enraged, Sciarrha proposes that they murder the duke, to which the traitor agrees, pretending that care for the freedom of the state against a tyrant is his motivation. Sciarrha pretends to conduct Amidea to court in front of their brother, Florio, but since both resist the offer, he declares he only tested their honors. Amidea next receives the visit of Pisanio, who confesses that he wants to annul their contract, leaving her in tears. Florio is angry, but his sister counsels him to avoid speaking of the matter for a time to Sciarrha, for “there’s danger in his knowledge of it,” she says. Cosmo admits to Oriana that he considers himself unworthy of her love and proposes instead Pisanio as being worthier. Thinking that he is only testing her fidelity, she answers: “Why, sir, did you ever think/I was so taken with your worth and person/I could not love another lord as well?/By your favor, there be many as proper men/And as deserving ; you may save your plea./And be assured I need no lesson to/Direct my fancy. I did love Pisano/Before, but for your sake I mean to place him/A great deal nearer.” But it is no test and her mother, Morosa, also enjoins her to accept Pisanio. “I've heard too much,” Oriana affirms. “Do with me what you please,/I am all passive, nothing of myself/But an obedience to unhappiness.” In his house, Sciarrha presents a masque for the duke’s entertainment, but, gazing on his sister, his grace fails to notice Lust being taken away by Death. When Amidea and Florio understand his purpose, they stand aghast. Amidea surprises her brother by proposing that she receive the duke inside her room. Sciarrha agrees, but tells Florio that should she yield to the duke, he will kill both. The duke arrives to invite her to bed. “I'll laugh at all the fables of the gods/And teach our poets, after I know thee,/To write the true Elysium,” he says. She declines the offer and, to prove her willingness to die rather than submit, stabs her arm with a knife, which cools his lust at once, so that Florio attends to her wound while Sciarrha discloses that Lorenzo and he intended to kill him. To prove the charge, he requests the duke to hide behind the arras and listen to Lorenzo rejoice at his death, but is surprised when devious Lorenzo pretends to grieve. The duke bids them to be friends again. Later, Lorenzo learns that Pisanio rejected Amidea for Oriana and informs the surprised and angry Sciarrha of this, so that the latter can either be killed or kill and be condemned for killing. Lorenzo also informs the duke that Sciarrha is vulnerable and that he may yet win Amidea.“I feel my natural warmth returned,” the duke admits. As Pisanio and Oriana head for church to marry, Amidea, informed that Sciarrha knows she has been thrown over and still grieving for her lost love, yet warns Pisanio of his danger, a warning he dismisses to his misfortune, for the enraged brother stabs him to death, a deed soon discovered by Lorenzo and his guard, who take him as a house-prisoner. Lorenzo proposes that Sciarrha keep his life provided he allow the duke to enjoy his sister. He refuses, but pretends to change his mind when Lorenzo avers that the duke may rape her after his death. To prevent that awful fate, Sciarrha kills her. When Florio bursts into the room after hearing alarming noises, he finds a grieving brother asking: “Cannot thy tears and mine preserve her, Florio?/If we want brine, a thousand virgins shall/Weep every day upon her, and themselves,/In winter, leaning round about her monument,/Being moist creatures, stiffen with the cold/And freeze into so many white supporters.” To cheat the duke, Florio guides him to Amidea’s bed, where he prepares for pleasure but discovers death, all the more so when Lorenzo and his new servant, Petruchio, rush in. Lorenzo kills him and calls forth Sciarrha to share the dukedom with him. But while Florio holds the door to keep Petruchio out, Lorenzo and Sciarrha kill each other, so that Cosmo becomes the new duke and orders Petruchio to prison for murder.
Time: 1640s. Place: Navarre and fields of war.
Rosaura, a widowed duchess, wishes to marry Alvarez, not Columbo, the king's choice and the cardinal's nephew. Before Columbo has a chance to win her, he must fight as a general in the war against the kingdom of Aragon. Away from Navarre, he receives a letter from the duchess. "She writes, and counsels/Under my hand, to send her back a free/Resign of all my interest to her person,/Promise, or love; that there's no other way,/With safety of my honour, to revisit her." He answers in a letter his apparent submission to her will, with which the duchess goes to the king and asks permission to take Alvarez as her husband, which he now condones. The cardinal is displeased but unable to shake her resolution. Columbo becomes a successful general during the battles, but in the cardinal's mind: "He has not won so much upon the Aragon/As he has lost at home; and his neglect/Of what my studies had contrived, to add/More lustre to our family by the access/Of the great duchess' fortune, shoots his triumph/And makes me wild." During the wedding celebration, a disguised Columbo dances along with other masquers, then speaks to Alvarez apart. Columbo returns with Alvarez' dead body. The king calls his guards to seize the masquers, but they escape. Columbo says he can justify the act: "I have but took his life,/And punished her with mercy, who had both /Conspired to kill the soul of all my fame." He shows the king the duchess' letter and says his submission was feigned, only meant to test her. Despite these explanations, the king is affronted by such a bloody act and commands Columbo's arrest, a decision which makes the duchess conclude: "This shows like justice." However, courtiers soon discover that "this is the age of wonders", for, influenced by the cardinal, the murder becomes forgotten and only the general's deeds remembered. But Columbo's revenges go further. He warns the duchess thus: "Live, but never presume again to marry;/I'll kill the next at the altar, and quench all/The smiling tapers with his blood-" Yet another rival steps forth in the shape of Hernando, seeking vengeance on Columbo for insulting him and pitying the dead Alvarez. Hernando offers the duchess to kill Columbo if she promises her hand in marriage. She accepts and in the meantime, considers herself safer from Columbo by pretending to be mad. Hernando challenges Columbo and kills his second during the duel, while Columbo kills his. Hernando then kills Columbo and escapes. Since the duchess appears mad, the king names the cardinal as her guardian. Angered at being impeded of his will, the cardinal "spreads his nets" to capture the missing Hernando. The duchess' servant, Antonio, pities her case, stating: "Some pleasure would do well: the truth is, I/Am weary of my life, and I would have/One fit of mirth before I leave the world." Hernando returns disguised to deliver a letter to the duchess. He is recognized by the approving Antonio, and thankfully received by the duchess. The cardinal invites the duchess to supper and entertains her, but not with church music. While Hernando hides nearby, the cardinal attempts to seduce her. Angered at this affront, Hernando stabs him and then thinking he cannot escape, stabs himself to death. Believing himself near death, the cardinal confesses he gave her poison to drink, but offers her the antidote, tasting it first. The duchess gladly drinks what she thinks is the antidote but is actually the poison and dies from it. When told his wounds were not so mortal as he thought and that he poisoned himself for nothing, the cardinal concludes: "I have caught myself with my own engine."
Time: 1630s. Place: Italy.
Aurelio is surprised by cheerful greetings from three Urbino citizens who think they recognize him as Borgia, son of Mercutio, the latter being also fooled into believing him to be his son and presenting him as such to the duchess. Although the true Borgia killed his brother many years ago and was banished to Milan for it, Ursini is content that the widowed duchess pardoned him. But while the duchess has eyes only on the false Borgia, the latter has eyes only for Cornelia, Borgia’s sister, so that, distraught when Ursini asks the supposed brother for her hand in marriage, Aurelio declares she is already promised to Aurelio of Milan, but will seek to disengage her in gratitude for his service. Ursini thankfully embraces him. The enamored duchess awards to the false Borgia the post of secretary. Meanwhile, Aurelio’s servant, Pimponio, laden with money from his master at the inn, pretends to be a prince of Spain arrived as a suitor to the duchess. When Aurelio’s friend, Pisauro, beholds the trick, he subscribes to it in fear that the servant will reveal Aurelio’s identity at the ducal court. Disguised as his own ambassador to spy on the duchess' mores before marrying her, the duke of Ferrara is affronted by her neglect in favor of Aurelio, but nevertheless encouraged by his cousin, Ursini, to remain at court. Aurelio informs Pisauro that both the duchess and Cornelia show signs of loving him. At night outside the ducal palace, the duke spies on Aurelio. At her window and seeing Aurelio, Cornelia pretends she is the duchess and requests that he look no higher than the post of secretary as well as announcing her intention to marry Ferrara. At this false piece of news, the overjoyed Ferrara leaves the scene intent on abandoning his disguise. Cornelia hears a noise, discovers the duchess, and quickly leaves. Recognizing that Cornelia pretended to be the duchess’ person and frightened Aurelio from ever courting her own person, the duchess pretends in turn to be Cornelia intent on marrying Ursini, so that Aurelio is left with nothing and discloses his identity. Believing that Aurelio will marry the duchess, Pisauro courts Cornelia. “You dote upon your brother,” he declares. “Come, ‘tis impious./Purge, purge betimes, your blood is foul- I’m plain-/There’s some on’t in your face now, that would blush.” Though in love with Aurelio, the shaken Cornelia denies the imputation. Having no reason to stay, Aurelio tells the duchess that he intends to leave the court. Distraught and suspecting he might love another woman, the duchess insists on knowing who she is. Cornelia interrupts their talk by announcing the arrival of the duke of Ferrara. The irritated duchess roughly sends her away, so that Aurelio, by these signs, recognizes she is jealous of Cornelia. However, his confidence decreases when Ursini reveals that the duke of Ferrara has arrived to marry the duchess, reminding him he is still waiting for his promise to marry his supposed sister. Anxious about his supposed son’s courting the duchess, Mercutio intends to choose a wife for him and is aghast at hearing Aurelio’s response: “I will marry/None but my sister, take my word.” The panicky Mercutio requests him to take ten bags of gold from his coffers and let Cornelia marry Ursini. When Ferrara reveals his true self, he is again dismayed at the duchess’s coolness towards him. He turns to Aurelio as a witness of her promise at her window to marry him, but Aurelio denies that. Cornelia then reveals herself as the impersonator of the duchess’ voice. Encouraged by a servant at the inn, Pimponio enters as a Spanish prince. For further amusement, Pisauro advises him to announce himself as the duke of Ferrara. When he does so, the real duke is affronted and told by Ursini that Aurelio is responsible. “We are displeased,” the duchess remarks. “Hence with that fellow and whip him.” Officers arrive to remove Pimponio’s shirt. Then she will have him hanged. He trembles almost naked until an officer kicks him out of the court. Still willing to please Aurelio, the duchess names Mercutio as the controller of her household. When Aurelio asks her whether she loves him, she pretends at first to be angry but then requests him to write a letter in which she reveals her love for an unnamed man in such as way that Aurelio recognizes it as meant for himself. But yet when Ferrara confronts him, the intimidated Aurelio hands over the letter as if meant for him to meet the duchess in the garden, where she requests Mercutio to guard the entrance and to let no one enter except Aurelio. But no longer opposed against his being made a duke, Mercutio lets in Ferrara wrapped in a cloak, mistaking him for his supposed son. Mercurio is then dumbfounded at seeing Aurelio himself request entrance into the garden. With the duchess’ letter in Ferrara’s pocket, all hope is gone. “I am undone, this minute I am blasted,” Aurelio groans. “It was the duke, upon my life.” Meanwhile, Pisauro renews his courtship of Cornelia, again advising her to abandon hopes on her own brother and specifying how he may even deny he is her brother. When Aurelio discloses his true identity with Ursini hiding behind a curtain, she laughs, believes Pisauro’s lie, and yields her hand to Ursini. Recognizing Aurelio’s lack of confidence in himself, the duchess announces that Ferrara is hers to marry.
"The constant maid"
Time: 1640s. Place: London, England.
Hartwell and Frances love each other, but he is too poor for her widowed mother, Bellamy, to consider a marriage between the two. For her part, Bellamy is courted by Hornet, but has no interest in marrying the old usurer. Instead, she wants Hartwell as a husband, who recoils aghast but is advised by his friend, Playfair, to pretend that he loves the mother and thereby have access to the daughter. This conversation is overheard by the household nurse, who favors the mother’s choice of a rich country clod, Startup, as Frances’ husband. Playfair wishes to marry Hornet’s niece under the tutelage of this usurer, who will lose a great deal of money if she marries. To distract Hornet from his charge, Playfair’s cousin impersonates a doctor who certifies that she is mad, while a servant impersonates a pursuivant who announces that the king requires his presence at court. Hornet worries about a possible loss of money. “I see my chattels seized,” he moans, “This chest is ransacked, and that bag deflowered,/My door sealed up, and with this hungry messenger/I am already marching to the fleet.” Meanwhile, the nurse warns Startup about his rival, Hartwell. To expose his supposed treachery, Startup and Frances hide while overhearing Hartwell convincingly play her mother’s suitor. Instead of thanking Startup, the unhappy Frances dismisses him. “Die and be forgotten,” she cries out while hurrying away. At the house of Sir Clement, Playfair’s uncle and a justice of the peace, Playfair’s cousin impersonates the king and servants various lords. The supposed king confers a knighthood on a Hornet led to believe he has become great and in favor with his royal majesty. Meanwhile, Hartwell’s servant, Close, learns from the nurse that she intends to let in Startup for her mistress, so that Hartwell enters Frances’ room in the country gentleman’s clothes. Recognizing her lover’s voice and meaning to test him, Frances pretends to accept Startup’s marriage proposal. Hartwell is all the more distressed. “Oh, who shall lead me to a world where are/No women?” he wonders. Close frightens Startup into escaping from the house into the night by suggesting that Hartwell intends to cut his rival’s throat. While hiding inside a ditch, he is arrested by a constable and his watchmen for suspicious activity. At her house, Bellamy receives the visit of a countryman who, to her dismay, informs her that Startup previously agreed to a marriage contract with his daughter and he intends to make him keep his word. This event prompts Bellamy to reveal her love of Hartwell to her even unhappier daughter. But when Bellamy beholds her daughter still constant, she backs off. “I loved him but for thee,” Bellamy suggests. “Dispose thyself to be his bride.” Yet Hartwell in his rival’s clothes is arrested by officers as a possible murderer. In his depressed state, he does not deny it. When Hornet returns home, he discovers that his niece has fled. Playfair’s cousin promises to help find him, provided he forget a debt he owes plus additional cash. Hornet is forced to agree. Playfield and his love marry and reach Sir Clement’s house, where officers bring the dejected Hartwell ready to be tried until other officers bring in Startup. Nothing further prevents Hartwell from marrying Frances and Startup from marrying the countryman’s daughter.
Another main comedy of the Caroline period, "A mad couple well matched" (1639), was written by Richard Brome (1590-1653), "one of the merriest of the many playwrights whose names immortalize the theater of Renaissance England” (Shaw, 1980 p 17).
Steeped in Victorian morality, Swinburne (1919) found "A mad couple well matched" "very clever, very coarse, and rather worse than dubious in the bias of its morality; but there is no fault to be found with the writing or the movement of the play; both style and action are vivid and effective throughout. That a new language and quite a new turn of comic interest came in with the Restoration will hardly be allowed by the readers of such plays as this. That well-known and plausible observation is typical of a stage in his studies when Lamb was apparently if not evidently unversed in such reading as may be said to cast over the gap between Etherege and Fletcher a bridge on which Shirley may shake hands with Shadwell, and Wycherley with Brome. A more brutal blackguard, a more shameless ruffian, than the leading young gentleman of this comedy will hardly be found on the stage of the next theatrical generation. Variety of satirical observation and fertility of comic invention, with such vigorous dialogue and such strong sound English as might be expected from a disciple of his master's, give to this as to others of Brome's comedies a quality which may fairly and without flattery be called Jonsonian and one of the minor characters is less a reminiscence of Juliet's nurse than an anticipation of Miss Hoyden's. No higher praise could be given, as no higher could be deserved" (p 265).
Instead of discovering the play as a mordant satire, as recent a critic as Steggle (2004) found the play “immoral...Careless expresses some concern for Phoebe, whom he has seduced and ruined but [his] feeling...do not stop him from being attracted to other women, including his own aunt...His very nastiness seems to make him magnetically attractive to women, including Mistress Crostil, a rich vintner’s widow whose humour is to enjoy being mistreated, who wishes to marry him...Careless’ lack of sexual continence...is entirely typical of his society...Lord Lovely has a conspicuous lack of moral authority, [whose] previous sexual conquests include Amy...disguised as...Bellamy...and Alicia, the promiscuous wife of an uxorious merchant, Saleware...[who] has had a one-night liaison with...Sir Valentine Thrivewell, although both are married...Alicia would also like to seduce...Bellamy...the plot devices that ought to indicate an underlying moral order in comedy...are subverted one by one: for instance, the letter, the bed-trick, the woman disguised as a servant, the good-hearted action, and the deserted heroine...In Act 3, Careless writes two letters...What appears...to be a comic plot leading to a reversal of fortune in fact does nothing of the sort...Act 4 features...two bed-tricks...one designed by Bellamy...one designed by Lady Thrivewell...Neither of them is successful...Another betrayed romantic convention relates to Amy, [whose] device...is familiar to ‘Twelfth nights’ (1600) Viola [but who winds up with money, not marriage]. A further convention...is destroyed [when] Careless reveals...that the rescue of his uncle...was not good-hearted...The wronged Phoebe, who up till now has been speaking in the manner of pathetic deserted heroines...turns out [to have been sleeping] with master and servant...Hence, the end of the play is bitterly ironic...The point is that Careless is not punished at all for the crimes he has committed [and his parting shot of ‘I shall be [Sir Valentine’s] heir in spite of the devil and all his works and mine’...calls into question...the whole mechanism of comic causality” (pp 142-147). Thus, this critic is upset that adultery and promiscuity are left unpunished as in real life.
“Brome’s main satiric trust is clearly against the aristocratic code and those who would pretend to it. Saleware’s stupidity at accepting such an artificial relationship is linked first to the mercer’s pretentions to courtly behavior and then to his uxoriousness and, finally, to his avarice...Saleware is linked with Sir Valentine Thrivewell. Both are guilty of their own folly and are easy dupes to the plots of wife and nephew...As for Careless, there is no sign of regret for past action or declaration of future virtuous intent whatsoever...The conclusion is very much within the Jonsonian tradition: vice is exposed and the implication of a moral norm only implied by inversion” (Shaw, 1980 pp 89-92).
"A mad couple well matched"
Time: 1630s. Place: London, England.
Careless is at his wit's end because he can no longer count on his uncle, Lord Thrivewell, to defray his debaucheries. His servant, Wat, suggests opening a male-brothel, but he dismisses this idea as being too low an occupation for a gentleman. His uncle's friend, Saveall, says that all may yet be saved, since the uncle has yet to engender an heir. Careless' mistress, Phoebe, complains to Wat of Careless' conduct, a man who first promised marriage and then ignores her. Her cousin, Saleware, defends her point of view. Meanwhile, Thrivewell has something bothering his mind and his wife must know it. He confesses having lain with Mistress Saleware, a shopkeeper, for the price of 100 pounds. His wife laughs away this information. Thrivewell and his nephew become reconciled, the former exclaiming: "George, here’s a lodging for you in this house, and my table has a place for you." Lady Thrivewell goes over to Mistress Saleware's shop and buys from her over 100 pounds-worth of cloth, pretending that the 100 pounds her husband gave her was merely a loan and adding this warning: "Take heed you do not by your sullenness make me suspect another kind of good turn, or that you did my husband any to my injury, nor deny the receipt of his money, lest I take up a violence that will not become me, nor you be able to bear." After Lady Thrivewell leaves, Bellamy enters the shop, a pander to Lord Lovely but hopeful, it seems, to land Mistress Saleware on his own bed. She agrees to this provided he lie first in Lady Thrivewell's arms. As Master Saleware enters, she complains of her shopkeeping duties, but calms herself after being promised money to buy fancier clothes. She tells him she sold material for over 100 pounds, but already bought clothes with the money. Meanwhile, Careless is getting comfortable at his uncle's house. Willing to convince his uncle he intends to lead a settled married life, he conveys via Saveall's hands a letter to a rich widow, Crostill, but it is a letter of abuse, not love. When Saveall confronts Careless for having misled him, he explains that he gave him the wrong letter, meant for a whore named Phoebe. When Lady Thrivewell arrives, Careless tries to seduce her, to which she recoils, he being her husband's nephew. He shrugs off any thought of impropriety in this case: "No man living, madam, can do it for him more naturally and less sinfully. I am of the same flesh and blood, and bring his youth to your pleasure." To convince her further, he says that Saveall has pimped for her husband more often than she ever slept with him. She does not believe him, crying out: "Was this the best construction you could make of my love to you, or a fit requital, to make me an incestuous whore?" After sending him off on an errand, Lady Thrivewell finds Saveall with the weeping Phoebe, who received Careless' letter but sent it back, as if meant for another. Lady Thrivewell promises to help her. Mistress Saleware hears a rumor whereby Bellamy is supposed to have been successful in regard to Lady Thrivewell, who appears thankful to Mistress Saleware for having sent over Bellamy to her. Meanwhile, Lord Lovely recommends that Bellamy marry Widow Crostill. To her, the lord lies about Bellamy's sexual prowess: "He has no less than five old gentlemen’s/Young wives with child this moon, but got all in/One week." Saveall then enters with Careless, the latter still a viable suitor for the widow. Careless adopts a bold attitude towards her, Bellamy a bashful one. The widow appears to prefer the bashful. Meanwhile, Lady Thrivewell renews her intention to help Phoebe regain Careless' love by placing her deceitfully in her own bed while being wooed by him. In another part of the city, Saleware has heard a rumor whereby his wife was seen inside one of Lovely's houses, but cannot believe this of her. He is led by Bellamy to her bed, where, despite obvious signs of her amorous feelings for Bellamy, he refuses to credit his own ears, considering all this a trick to make him jealous. Thinking to have lain with Lady Thrivewell, but actually with Phoebe, Careless wishes for one more bout with her. When Phoebe refuses, he threatens to expose her. Suddenly, Thrivewell appears, but is eventually appeased after discovering that the woman in his wife's bed is not his wife. To keep both Lord Lovely and Bellamy as her own, Mistress Saleware challenges her husband to prove to the lord she has been attempted by Bellamy, but to her surprise, the husband has found the letter she thought lost, warning him of his wife's adultery, written in Bellamy's hand. Meanwhile, Careless, angry at being bed-tricked, reveals to Thrivewell his wife's adulterous relation with Bellamy. Moreover, he admits that the reason he first entered in his uncle's good graces, namely preventing a robbery, was a trick plotted by himself and Wat. Lastly, he admits having injured Phoebe and is prepared to make amends by marrying her, but this plan is thwarted by Widow Crostill, who agrees to accept him as a husband and to give Phoebe 100 pounds, which she refuses until Wat reveals he has lain with the widow as often as his master did with her. Having been accused by Careless and Mistress Saleware of adultery with Bellamy, Lady Thrivewell is shown to be innocent when Bellamy is revealed to be a woman, so deeply in love with Lord Lovely as to serve as his pander just to be near him, which the lord rewards with a sum of 200 pounds per year for her entire life.