History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Jacobean
Jacobean plays comprise the period from 1603 to 1625, during the reign of James I.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) dominated from the Elizabethan to the Jacobean period, the latter defined as the reign of King James I of England (1603-1625), with such tragedies as "Othello" (1603), "King Lear" (1605), "Macbeth" (1606), "Antony and Cleopatra" (1607), and "Coriolanus" (1608), dark comedies such as "All's well that ends well" (1603) and "Measure for measure" (1604), and such tragicomedies rife with fantasy as "The winter's tale" (1609) and "The tempest" (1611). Known for small or medium-sized roles and specializing in older characters, Shakespeare may have played Brabantio in "Othello", Glocester's tenant in "King Lear", the old man in "Macbeth", the soothsayer in "Antony and Cleopatra", Aufidius' lieutenant in "Coriolanus", Rinaldo in "All's well that ends well", Friar Peter in "Measure for measure", the old shepherd in "The winter's tale", and Adrian in "The tempest".
In "Othello', "no play of Shakespeare's has so little variety. Iago has his cynical humour, and there is a clown. But they are both entirely subordinate to the main action which goes relentlessly on, with scarcely a moment’s remission, from the first words to the last. And no one who has ever felt the power of design and composition, of the unity given by form in all the arts, will fail to be conscious of the great gain that comes to 'Othello' from this concentration" (Bailey, 1929 p 167). "The picturesque contrasts of character in 'Othello' are almost as remarkable as the depth of the passion. The Moor Othello, the gentle Desdemona, the villain Iago, the good-natured Cassio, the fool Roderigo, present a range and variety of character as striking and palpable as that produced by the opposition of costume in a picture. Their distinguishing qualities stand out to the mind's eye, so that even when we are not thinking of their actions or sentiments, the idea of their persons is still as present to us as ever. These characters and the images, the stamp upon the mind are the farthest asunder possible, the distance between them is immense: yet the compass of knowledge and invention which the poet has shown in embodying these extreme creations of his genius is only greater than the truth and felicity with which he has identified each character with itself, or blended their different qualities together in the same story" (Hazlitt, 1921, p 33). "Emilia in this play is a perfect portrait from common life, a masterpiece in the Flemish style: and though not necessary as a contrast, it cannot be but that the thorough vulgarity, the loose principles, of this plebeian woman, united to a high degree of spirit, energetic feeling, strong sense, and low cunning, serve to place in brighter relief the exquisite refinement, the moral grace, the unblemished truth, and the soft submission of Desdemona" (Jameson, 1903 p 181). "Admirable is the preparation, so truly and peculiarly Shakespearian, in the introduction of Roderigo, as the dupe on whom Iago shall first exercise his art, and in so doing display his own character. Roderigo, without any fixed principle, but not without the moral notions and sympathies with honour, which his rank and connections had hung upon him, is already well fitted and predisposed for the purpose; for very want of character and strength of passion, like wind loudest in an empty house, constitute his character...[Iago's search for his own motive is viewed as] the motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity (Coleridge, 1884, pp 384-388). A more artful villain than this Iago was never portrayed; he spreads his nets with a skill which nothing can escape. The repugnance inspired by his aims becomes tolerable from the attention of the spectators being directed to his means: these furnish endless employment to the understanding. Cool, discontented, and morose, arrogant where he dare be so, but humble and insinuating when it suits bis purposes, he is a complete master in the art of dissimulation; accessible only to selfish emotions, he is thoroughly skilled in rousing the passions of others, and of availing himself of every opening which they give him: he is as excellent an observer of men as anyone can be who is unacquainted with higher motives of action from his own experience; there is a always some truth in his malicious observations on them" (Schlegel, 1846 pp 402-403). The play “has few persons and virtually a single action. The under-plot is subordinated and closely united to the main action, and there are no delays and new excitements between crisis and catastrophe as in ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Lear’. Nowhere else in Shakespeare is the progress of character, emotion, and deed toward the final event so consecutive and so uninterrupted. This advance in coherence and proportion seems due less to the contributing causes just enumerated than to the explanation of action by character. Accept the unbelievable malignity of Iago- and you do accept it before you have proceeded far- and every step of the appalling chain of intrigue seems a natural outcome of the motives of the persons before us. In consequence of this integration of character and action, the characters are, more than in the other tragedies, distinct and unmistakable...Nowhere, even in Shakespeare, are generosity and greatness of soul more admirable than in Othello, nowhere is villainy more human than in Iago...Hypocrisy, cynicism, cruelty, the absence of human sympathies, the pride and malignity of intellectual superiority have henceforth their symbol in Iago" (Thorndike, 1908 pp 164-165). "Lack of passion rather than some excess of it is the very horror of Iago. He is egotistical, cold, heartless, sensitive to slights, and his grand motive is a longing to satisfy the sense of power. We must acknowledge that perfectly sane people exist in whom fellow-feeling of any kind is so weak that an almost absolute egoism becomes possible to them; and with it the vices of ingratitude and cruelty. And we must acknowledge too that such evil appears to ally itself easily with exceptional powers of will and intellect" (Stewart, 1949 pp 98-99). Bradley (1905) pointed out Othello’s main characteristics: open, trusting, without being observant or inclined to introspection. Othello exhibits great self-control except in the matter of jealousy. Othello and Desdemona misread each other’s emotions in part because of their different races, the white face more difficult to interpret for a black man, a black face more difficult to interpret for a white woman. It is worth noting that Iago enjoys the distress he inflicts on Othello and Cassio but not on Desdemona. “’Othello’ presents a peculiar mixture: it is the most domestic of Shakespeare's mature tragedies, the one dwelling most narrowly on the sometimes intimate details of private life, yet at the same time its hero is the most Homeric of all Shakespeare's characters, the one most devoted to a career of martial adventure and hence most remote from ordinary domestic life...Othello is the most alien to the world he moves in, mismatched with a world of Italianate deception and intrigue...The handkerchief is...part of Shakespeare's overall strategy in 'Othello' of juxtaposing the grandly heroic with the trivially domestic...Iago...operates by exploiting the fact that Othello does not fit into the Venetian community as well as he thinks he does. In particular Iago works upon Othello's potential disorientation as a heroic warrior displaced into a domestic setting” (Cantor, 1990 pp 297-307). “The collocation in his speech of images in the paired terms ‘skillet’ and ‘helm’ represents a new development. They suggest to Othello's mind an impossibility so gross that he can visualize it only as an absurd spectacle, namely, his war helmet converted to kitchen uses. In other words, he is confident that his judgment is adequate to separate his domestic and military obligations...The murder results fromm Othello's perplexity; Othello is perplexed because he cannot demonstrate, in Desdemona's case, his normal capacity, shown in the play, for distinguishing between his domestic and his military duties” (Kliger, 1951 pp 221-224). “There are two accounts of the handkerchief in Othello. In the first, Othello warns Desdemona that it is a love-charm with 'magic in the web' given to his mother by an Egyptian; in the second, he tells Gratiano it was ‘an antique token/ My father gave my mother’...The first version carries conviction...At the end of the play, Othello is speaking in a public rather than an intimate context, and is on the defensive (‘I know this act shows horrible and grim’ (V.ii). He speaks of the handkerchief to Gratiano, Desdemona's uncle. We should scarcely exhibit anything but a natural reluctance to allude to the handkerchief’s magical powers before an audience for whom his belief in such a talisman would be further evidence of his barbarism” (Andrews, 1973 pp 273-282). But Lake (1988) denies the contradiction: it is a gift to [Othello] from his mother (3.4), who had earlier been given it by Othello's father (5.2)...“While the sexual suggestiveness of the strawberries on Othello's handkerchief is obvious, what seems of greater importance is the significance that Othello himself places upon the handkerchief and that he associates it with both parents...Like other talismans, the handkerchief has magic: it will insure Desdemona of the comforts of marriage; it will subdue the husband and make the wife amiable (3.4). To lose the talisman is to lose its magic, its protection. The handkerchief is thus a symbol of parental comfort: the strength and love passed to Othello from his parents” (Lake, 1988 pp 330-331). “Characters without overt racial hostility tend to use Othello's name more often, and when they call him 'the Moor', as they almost all do, they tone down the label's negative connotations by means of positive adjectives, as in Montano's 'the noble Moor' (II.iii)...Desdemona refers to Othello only once by name, four times by epithet, softening it twice in the phrases 'the Moor, my lord' (I.iii) and 'my noble Moor' (III.iv). The only character in the play who restricts himself to Othello's name is the duke, who does so twice in the trial scene, for obviously political reasons: he almost ignores Brabantio's entrance, so intent is he upon securing 'valiant' Othello's assistance in the present emergency. That even the play's sympathetic characters tend to label Othello "the Moor" betrays the pervasiveness of his alienation...Othello finds Desdemona's betrayal horrifying not only because she corrupts herself but because her ‘blackness’ confirms his: ‘[Her] name, that was as fresh/As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black/As mine own face...The most disastrous consequence of racial alienation for Othello is not the hostility or estrangement of the Venetians but his own acceptance of the framework within which they define him." (III.iii)” (Berry, 1990 pp 322-331). “When [Othello] looks at his crime, and when he looks into the heart of darkness deep in European society, he does not recognize the brutal racism of that society. Instead, he accepts it” (Hogan, 1998 p 448).
In "King Lear", "where else in tragedy are the forces that make for ruin so appalling and so irresistible; and where else are suffering and ruin so dreadful and so complete?...It is the extravagant and terrible imprecation of Lear that has for centuries made men's imaginations shudder. Style such as this the drama will never recover” (Thorndike, 1908 pp 170-193). "It is [Lear's] rash haste, his violent impetuosity, his blindness to every thing but the dictates of his passions or affections, that produces all his misfortunes, that aggravates his impatience of them, that enforces our pity for him. The part which Cordelia bears in the scene is extremely beautiful: the story is almost told in the first words she utters. We see at once the precipice on which the poor old king stands from his own extravagant and credulous importunity, the indiscreet simplicity of her love (which, to be sure, has a little of her father's obstinacy in it) and the hollowness of her sisters' pretensions. Almost the first burst of that noble tide of passion, which runs through the play, is in the remonstrance of Kent to his royal master on the injustice of his sentence against his youngest daughter...This manly plainness, which draws down on him the displeasure of the unadvised king, is worthy of the fidelity with which he adheres to his fallen fortunes. The true character of the two eldest daughters, Regan and Goneril...breaks out in their answer to Cordelia who desires them to treat their father well, their hatred of advice being in proportion to their determination to do wrong, and to their hypocritical pretension to do right...It is the absence of this detestable quality that is the only relief in the character of Edmund the Bastard, and that at times reconciles us to him...That which aggravates the sense of sympathy in the reader, and of uncontrollable anguish in the swollen heart of Lear, is the petrifying indifference, the cold, calculating, obdurate selfishness of his daughters. His keen passions seem whetted on their stony hearts. The contrast would be too painful, the shock too great, but for the intervention of the Fool, whose well-timed levity comes in to break the continuity of feeling when it can no longer be borne, and to bring into play again the fibres of the heart just as they are growing rigid from over-strained excitement...The character is dropped in the third act to make room for the entrance of Edgar as Mad Tom, which well accords with the increasing bustle and wildness of the incidents; and nothing can be more complete than the distinction between Lear's real and Edgar's assumed madness, while the resemblance in the cause of their distresses, from the severing of the nearest ties of natural affection, keeps up a unity of interest" (Hazlitt, 1921 pp 119-122). "The Lear whom we have before us in the first scene is the creature of convention, not the man but the king, and what he says and does is less the expression of his own nature than the result of years spent in 'the insolence of office'...In the following scenes we get the beginning of his awakening in those vividly truthful refusals to sec the plain results of his own folly, 'I have perceived a most faint neglect of late', 'No no they would not'. And then, as his eyes are forced open, we have the magnificent and terrific anger which is only possible to a powerful nature. It begins by being private, solely concerned with his own wrongs and his daughters’ crimes. But it already shows its generous side m tolerating from a servant, the faithful fool who had loved and been loved by Cordelia, the bitterest and rudest reminders of his folly and wrong. Then, as actual bodily suffering is added to the miseries of wronged kindness and discovered folly and lost power, as he comes face to face with reality as it is, seldom indeed for kings, but often for much more than half the ordinary people of the world, his sorrow and anger pass beyond himself. He learns to pierce below the differences of rank and wealth to denounce, what he had perhaps himself exhibited, 'the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely' (Bailey, 1929 p 176). "The climax comes when Lear’s daughters abandon him to the storm and Edmund betrays his own father. But it is Regan who plucks Gloster’s beard and Cornwall who blinds him; it is Edmund who gives order for Lear’s death. Such horrors broaden the picture we must contemplate and make it more perplexing. For we are aware that these new crimes are prompted by some extension or displacement of the unfilial passions already exhibited to us, and so we obscurely apprehend that in the world about us the whole 'mass of public wrongs, confused and aided with murder and misdeeds', is but the overflow of evil from where it is most awful" (Stewart, 1949 p 25). Lear’s identity is first determined by the consciousness of being both ‘king’ and ‘father’, as head of state and head of the family. "As early as the first scene, the king initiates the three actions which dissolve his identity in that they annul the conditions on which his identity is founded, the conditions through which alone it is secured...First, Lear abdicates and divides the kingdom...second, he curses his youngest daughter, Cordelia, because she refuses to provide an exaggerated, rhetorical public demonstration of her love for him as his daughter...Finally, Lear banishes the loyal Kent when he tries to prevent him from dividing the kingdom and cursing Cordelia...After the storm on the heath, the king is led to the hovel from which Edgar arose as from the ‘grave’. The ‘topsy-turvy world’ which Lear unmistakably presents to every early seventeenth-century spectator in allowing the fool to go first– something which is only otherwise possible during the Feast of Fools, the feast of the topsyturvy world– shows the suspension of the old order for the first time not as something negative, as the destruction of the old identity, but as a positive thing, too, as the potential for a new, better order. For, amongst other things, it allows Lear to see his fellow human beings independent of his position in the social hierarchy (p 75). In his madness, Lear seeks to bind his new identity with his old one...The growing consciousness of an identity which means that he is both ‘king’ and the ‘bare, forked animal’ opens Lear’s eyes to a wholly new perspective, on the one hand, of kingship, on the other, of the human condition...When he sees Cordelia again, she assures him of her love along with Kent, and Lear is reborn as father and king...But when Cordelia's army is defeated, Lear himself reduces his identity: he relinquishes his role as king and limits himself to the role of father...At the end, the transformed Lear is not incorporated back into society" (Fischer-Lichte, 2002 pp 72-78). Throughout the play, age is in conflict with youth. According to Hauser (1986), in ages of tragedy the old combat the world-view of the young, whereas in non-tragic ages, the young combat the world-view of the old. In defying her father, Cordelia implies that giving love to her husband will take away from the father (Bradley, 1905). Other points raised by Bradley are that Edmund’s delay at revealing his death-warrant on Lear and Cordelia reflects sluggishness to do good and that Lear dies from a false joy at thinking Cordelia is alive. Edmund and Lear exchange no word to each other. Lear is incapable of guile while Edmund thrives on it (Bloom, 2005 p 88). Edmund’s belated attempt to do some good is caused after recognizing that he was ‘beloved’, whereas Lear first manifests anger after recognizing that he was not beloved in an absolute sense. "The fate of Lear finds a parallel in that of Gloucester in the underplot. Like his king, this nobleman has proved an unwise father, favoring the treacherous child and disowning the true. He also is made to pay a fearful penalty for his mistakes, ending in his death. But he is represented as more justly punished, less excusable through the weaknesses of age; and for this reason his grief appeals to us as an intensifying reflection of Lear’s misery rather than as a rival for that in our sympathy" (MacCracken et al, 1920 pp 185-186).
"Shakespeare excelled in the openings of his plays that of 'Macbeth' is the most striking of any. The wildness of the scenery, the sudden shifting of the situations and characters, the bustle, the expectations excited, are equally extraordinary...Macbeth himself appears driven along by the violence of his fate like a vessel drifting before a storm: he reels to and fro like a drunken man; he staggers under the weight of his own purposes and the suggestions of others; he stands at bay with his situation; and from the superstitious awe and breathless suspense into which the communications of the Weird Sisters throw him, is hurried on with daring impatience to verify their predictions, and with impious and bloody hand to tear aside the veil which hides the uncertainty of the future. He is not equal to the struggle with fate and conscience" (Hazlitt, 1921 pp 13-14) Likewise, Lewes (1896) described the protagonist as "a wild, rude, heroic nature, hurried by his passions into crime, but great even in crime- severed from the rectilinear path of honour by the horrible suggestions of the witches coming upon him in the flush and exaltation of victory, and playing on his active imagination, making him its slave. For Macbeth is distinctively a bold soldier, and a man of most impressible imagination" (p 233). Lady Macbeth prevails with her ambitious but fearful husband by appealing to his valor, thus overcoming fear of guilt by fear of losing misplaced honor (Wilson Knight, 1931 p 137). Yet Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have twin ambitions throughout (Bradley, 1905), though Symons (1919) contrasted the influence of the witches’ prophecy on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. “In Macbeth there is a mental conflict, an attempt, however feeble, to make a stand against the temptation. But the prayer of his wife is not for power to resist, but for power to carry out the deed” (p 29). "Why does Lady Macbeth insist that 'time and place' have made themselves now and here at Inverness? It is partly because she sees that Macbeth’s almost hypnoidal state is favourable; he is like a man moving in a blood-drenched trance, subject to visual and auditory hallucinations, uncertain of the boundaries of actuality and dream. And no doubt it is only another of the many ironies in this play that Lady Macbeth, exploiting a disorder akin to somnambulism in her husband now, herself falls a victim to the actual malady later on- when Macbeth himself has come horribly awake and will sleep no more" (Stewart, 1949 p 93). How swiftly things go wrong almost immediately after the deed! Macbeth forgets to leave the dagger with the grooms, a knock is heard at the door in the dead of night, she faints while her husband describes the murder scene, Malcolm, though powerless at first, discovers the deed and becomes the new king. Nature quickly falters when seeking to profit by a great evil. After the murder, even goodness becomes a danger to Macbeth (Speight, 1966). "Fear leads to lack of food and sleep: an interrupted banquet by day, sleep-walking by night. “The foul hags of superstition...seem also to have the attributes of the classical Fates. Novel and effective on the stage, they are the supervisors of Macbeth's destiny. They lay bare the path to his crimes, yet they seem to obey rather than to govern his inclinations. The embodiments of the desires hid in his bosom, they become, like the dagger in the air and the ghost of Banquo, the symptoms of his soul's disease...The virtuous and noble have only minor parts. Lady Macbeth is an instigator and accomplice in crime...The eternal stars never glimmer through the blackness that broods over Macbeth” (Thorndike, 1908 p 174). "The Weird Sisters are...wholly different from any representation of witches in the contemporary writers, and yet presented a sufficient external resemblance to the creatures of vulgar prejudice to act immediately on the audience. Their character consists in the imaginative disconnected from the good; they are the shadowy obscure and fearfully anomalous of physical nature, the lawless of human nature,— elemental avengers without sex or kin" (Coleridge, 1884 edition, p 370). "These repulsive things, from which the imagination shrinks, are here emblems of the hostile powers which operate in nature; and the repugnance of our senses is outweighed by the mental horror. With one another the witches discourse like women of the very lowest class; for this was the class to which witches were ordinarily supposed to belong: when, however, they address Macbeth they assume a loftier tone: their predictions, which they either themselves pronounce, or allow their apparitions to deliver, have all the obscure brevity, the majestic solemnity of oracles" (Schlegel, 1846 p 408). “Lady Macbeth’s criminality is exhausted in the one great act, in which she had labored to promote what she believed to be her husband’s good and his deep through half-expressed desire. She is not directly an accomplice in the death of Banquo...But beyond this she is not the co-agent with Macbeth in anything that follows...Macbeth is rendered more insecure than ever. And the unavailing remorse for the unavailing crime, though it has no power upon his will, yet harrows him profoundly. This fact is brought before us in the great banquet scene, where the apparition of Banquo, with its effect upon Macbeth, produces acme of horror rising far beyond that of Duncan’s murder and forming the main crisis of the whole action. In the sequel, the fears and scruples which shake him drive the usurper further and further into a system of espionage and oppression” (Campbell, 1904 pp 226-230). The exact key to [Lady Macbeth's] character is given by regarding her as the antithesis of her husband, and an embodiment of the inner life and its intellectual culture so markedly wanting in him. She has had the feminine lot of being shut out from active life, and her genius and energy have been turned inwards; her soul- like her ‘little hand'- is not hardened for the working-day world, but is quick, delicate, sensitive. She has the keenest insight into the characters of those around her. She is accustomed to moral loneliness and at home in mental struggles" (Moulton, 1892 p 155). "The ghost's invisibility to everybody, while consistent with the idea of hallucination, does little, if anything, to further the proposition that this must be the case here, already in view of the ghost in Hamlet to the prince alone in his mother's presence. There is nothing anomalous here; in the realm of folklore and superstition, restricted visibility is quite common" (Puhvel, 1993 p 288). “Macbeth frequently addresses his wife in endearing terms: her dialogue, on the other hand, displays no love for her lord and master. What little affection she may have comes from ambition, and it is but as ambition’s slave that she urges her husband on to the bitter end— not that he may benefit, but that she may rule” (Agate, 1947 p 29). "By the fourth scene, Malcolm confirms Cawdor's execution for treason. Reporting on the event, Malcolm declares of Cawdor that 'very frankly he confess'd his treasons,/Implored your highness' pardon, and set forth/A deep repentance"...Not only does Cawdor's execution fail as an educational, hegemonic spectacle, but also, more importantly, the staging of this familiar genre of confession before death complicates the articulation of truth in the play. As a result, the play blends allegedly legitimate sovereignty with treasonous deception, ultimately producing a ruler in Malcolm who combines rather than opposes the knowledge of traitors and monarchs...Malcolm adopts the villainous characteristics of Macbeth's own reign, employing the deceptive mechanisms typical of traitors in order to rule his kingdom effectively...In 4.3 characterizing himself to Macduff as an uncontrolled libertine who would 'pour the sweet milk of concord into hell', Malcolm claims that his own vices are so heinous that 'when they shall be open'd, black Macbeth/ Will seem as pure as snow'...Malcolm's self characterization directly contradicts his own behavior in the play (he is a man who is known more through silence than speech), inverting his identity in a manner parallel to the equation plaguing Scotland: 'fair is foul and foul is fair'. His own statement 'I am as I have spoken' ironically recalls Duncan's belief in authentic speech, invoking the earlier faith in the correspondence of speech and intent as a ruse to expose deceit" (Lemon, 2002 pp 25-40). "Here we can hardly conceive how so very much could ever have been compressed into so narrow a space; not merely external events,- the very inmost recesses in the minds of the dramatic personages are laid open to us. It is as if the drags were taken from the wheels of time, and they rolled along without interruption in their descent. Nothing can equal this picture in its power to excite terror. We need only allude to tho circumstances attending the murder of Duncan, the dagger that hovers before the eyes of Macbeth, tho vision of Banquo at the feast, the madness of Lady Macbeth; what can possibly be said on the subject that will not rather weaken the impression they naturally leave?" (Schlegel, 1846 p 410).
Frye (1986) commented that "I don't know what play will look most central in the 21st century, but 'Antony and Cleopatra' is, I think, the play that looks most like the kind of world we seem to be moving into now" (p 122). Thorndike (1908) enthused that “no other dramatist has made Antony in the lures of a strumpet still representative of what is illustrious and magnanimous in mankind, no other has made a woman with the manners and heart of a strumpet the rightful empress of the imagination” (p 176). In the play, there is a fusion of east and west, Dionysian and Apollonian, according to Nietzsche’s dictum in "The birth of tragedy" (1872) (Wilson Knight, 1962 p 82). Since Antony failed as a soldier, so he dies unlike a soldier, as ordinary men would, by missing the heart. Likewise, Symons (1919) pointed out the contrast between the death of Cleopatra and the modest means whereby it comes about: “a poor man bringing death in his basket of figs” (p 19). "In Antony, we observe a mixture of great qualities, weaknesses, and vices; violent ambition and ebullitions of magnanimity we see him now sinking into luxurious enjoyment and then nobly ashamed of his own aberrations,- manning himself to resolutions not unworthy of himself, which are always shipwrecked against the seductions of an artful woman. It is Hercules in the chains of Omphale, drawn from the fabulous heroic ages into history, and invested with the Roman costume. The seductive arts of Cleopatra are in no respect veiled over; she is an ambiguous being made up of royal pride, female vanity, luxury, inconstancy, and true attachment. Although the mutual passion of herself and Antony is without moral dignity, it still excites our sympathy as an insurmountable fascination" (Schlegel, 1846 p 416). "The character of Cleopatra is a masterpiece. What an extreme contrast it affords to Imogen! One would think it almost impossible for the same person to have drawn both. She is voluptuous, ostentatious, conscious, boastful of her charms, haughty, tyrannical, fickle. The luxurious pomp and gorgeous extravagance of the Egyptian queen are displayed in all their force and lustre, as well as the irregular grandeur of the soul of Mark Antony" (Hazlitt, 1921 p 74). Granvile-Barker (1947) pointed out Cleopatra’s “charms for conquest: wit, coquetry, perception, subtlety, imagination, inconsequence”, she is “quick, jealous, imperious, mischievous, malicious, flagrant, subtle; but a delicate creature, too, and the light, glib verse seems to set her on tiptoe"...when she intends to die in the 'high Roman fashion'; “it reveals, not inconsistency, but that antithesis in disposition which must be the making of every human equation"...led by “wantonness, trickery and folly” but to a “noble end”. As to Octavius, “it is his business as politician, to see things as they are, and he knows well enough that his prosaic virtues will never fire the enthusiasms of the Roman mob. He must have the gallant Antony to counter the danger that the gallant Pompey has now become. Not that he under-values himself— far from it! Much as he needs Antony, he makes no concessions to him; insists rather on his own correct conduct" (pp 206-215). "Cleopatra is as little concerned with time as Falstaff, unless hours were to be measured by her means of pleasure. When her companion in the revels has departed, she might as well 'sleep out this great gap of time'. She is more the queen of non-rule than of misrule" (Simmons, 1969 p 495). "Antony is shown at the beginning of the play rejecting news from Rome, action which substantiates the impression conveyed by Philo's opening lines, but later when Antony hears the messenger, we are given insight into the triumvir's honesty and generosity as he treats well a messenger who brings bad news. Some point is made of this attitude in the dialogue: Messenger. The nature of bad news infects the teller. Antony. When it concerns the fool or coward. On/Things that are past are done, with me/'Tis thus, who tells me true, though in his tale lie death,/I hear him as he flattered. (I.ii.92-96). Antony's conduct here gives us a measure of that true self from which Antony is divided at moments throughout the play. When in Act III Thidias comes from Caesar to tempt Cleopatra to betray her lover, Antony flies into a rage that Shakespeare greatly develops from Plutarch's brief description. Antony's behavior with Thidias is so markedly different from his usual behavior with inferiors that it serves as a signal to us of Antony's doom in his loss of rational control and the proper fear a good general should have...Antony's honest and sensible treatment of a messenger bringing bad news also gives us a standard by which to judge the famous scene in which the messenger brings Cleopatra the news of Antony's marriage to Octavia...Our brief glimpse of Ventidius assures us that, like Octavius, he is one of the careful kind that will survive in the divided and treacherous world that is Rome: 'Between th'I could do more to do Antonius good,/But 'twould offend him. And in his offence/Should my performance perish'...(III.vii.70). The constrasting measure of Ventidius' conduct provides emphasizes how fast and loose both Antony and Cleopatra play with their political and military responsibilities...In contrast, Shakespeare makes Caesar's control an every point: Octavius is a calculating man, but Shakespeare emphasizes about him as well his sense of responsibility. Consider how lightly Antony enters into the marriage with Octavia and how deeply concerned about her Octavius shows himself to be both in parting from (III.vi) and in greeting (III.vi) his sister... Even before the war between Antony and Octavius begins, Antony has deserted Octavia. (He has, of course, betrayed Cleopatra to marry Octavia.) Octavius has betrayed and deposed Lepidus (an action he is careful to justify; see III.vi.32-37), and one of Antony's lieutenants has treacherously murdered Pompey. But it is after Actium, when Cleopatra deserts Antony in battle, that the flight from Antony begins in earnest, and treachery becomes a major concern of the play...And so, after Antony's rage cools and he is reconciled with Cleopatra, Enobarbus deserts because he knows that Antony is no longer rationally fearful as a good commander should be. Enobarbus' knavish reason has finally overcome his foolish loyalty. Following Plutarch, Shakespeare gives Antony a wonderful, careless magnanimity in his reaction to Enobarbus' defection- the emperor continues still a Jove and sends Enobarbus' treasure after him. Antony's comment on the desertion, which is entirely Shakespearian, could have come from any Renaissance book on princes: 'O, my fortunes have/ Corrupted honest men'" (Williamson, 1970 pp 242-247). "Octavius is very formidable. His cold determination half paralyses Antony; it is so even in Julius Cæsar. In Antony and Cleopatra Octavius is more than once in the wrong; but he never admits it; he silently pushes his rival a step backward; and, when he ceases to fear, he shows contempt. He neither enjoys war nor is great in it; at first, therefore, he is anxious about the power of Pompey, and stands in need of Antony. As soon as Antony’s presence has served his turn, and he has patched up a union with him and seen him safely off to Athens, he destroys first Pompey and next Lepidus. Then, dexterously using Antony’s faithlessness to Octavia and excesses in the East in order to put himself in the right, he makes for his victim with admirable celerity while he is still drunk with the joy of reunion with Cleopatra. For his ends Octavius is perfectly efficient, but he is so partly from his limitations. One phrase of his is exceedingly characteristic. When Antony in rage and desperation challenges him to single combat, Octavius calls him ‘the old ruffian'. There is a horrid aptness in the phrase, but it disgusts us. It is shameful in this boy, as hard and smooth as polished steel, to feel at such a time nothing of the greatness of his victim and the tragedy of his victim’s fall. Though the challenge of Antony is absurd, we would give much to see them sword to sword" (Bradley, 1965 p 289). "The sword represents both sexuality and martial valor. Italy 'shines o'er with civil swords' (I.iii.45), and Antony swears by 'my sword' (I.iii.82), to which Cleopatra adds 'and target', bringing double entendre to the image. Romans almost always speak of the sword literally, in war imagery, but Agrippa, referring figuratively to Cleopatra, says that 'She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed;/ He plowed her, and she cropped' (II.ii.229-30). "The phallic and military sword represents both worlds, emphasizing the material and temporal roots of sensuality and conquest, Egypt and Rome" (Wolf, 1982 p 330).
"Coriolanus" "has been truly said to be a play without mystery of fate or powers unseen; without atmosphere, either natural or supernatural; without any great inward conflict" (Bailey, 1929 p 192). Hazlitt (1895) commented that the protagonist "complains of the fickleness of the people; yet the instant he cannot gratify his pride and obstinacy at their expense, he turns his arms against his country. If his country was not worth defending, why did he build his pride on its defence? He is a conqueror and a hero; he conquers other countries, and makes this a plea for enslaving his own; and when he is prevented from doing so, he leagues with its enemies to destroy his country...If the great and powerful had the beneficence and wisdom of gods, then all this would have been well; if with greater knowledge of what is good for the people, they had as great a care for their interest as they have for their own; if they were seated above the world sympathising with their welfare, but not feeling the passions of men, receiving neither good nor hurt from them, but bestowing their benefits as free gifts on them, they might then rule over them like another Providence. But this is not the case" (pp 126-127). Wilson Knight (1931) noted that the play starts with citizen “pikes” and ends with soldiers trailing their steel pikes, a “fitting conclusion” in view of numerous references to weapons throughout (p 158). When soldiers acclaim Coriolanus, they "make a sword" of him, equating the man with his weapon as if he were a human sword. A contrast is established between the women. Volumnia is concerned only for her son’s honor, Virgilia only for his life (Bloom, 2005 p 95). [Volumnia's] lofty patriotism, her patrician haughtiness, her maternal pride, her eloquence and her towering spirit, are exhibited with the utmost power of effect yet the truth of female nature is beautifully preserved, and the portrait, with all its vigour, is without harshness" (Jameson, 1903 p 249). “While their pride in class, their blindness to the rights of others, and their failure in patriotism are made apparent, the patricians are treated as the representatives of righteousness and nobility. The plebeians, on the contrary, are depicted without appreciation of their sufferings or rights, as ignorant, imbecile, and the dupes of tricky demagogues” (Thorndike, 1908 p 177). “Menenius was a man of wit and prudence, and is celebrated in history for his fable of the belly and the members, with which he appeased the discordant divisions of the people: Shakespeare, taking advantage of the familiarity of that popular address, has perhaps rendered the language and the manners of Menenius too generally familiar, and given the comedian an opportunity of displaying his merriment rather too broadly but it should never be forgotten that Menenius was not only of the patrician order, a class of men proverbially haughty, but that he was the intimate friend of the haughty Coriolanus, who was the proudest man in Rome and not very likely to associate with buffoons. If Shakespeare, therefore, in his fondness for generalising the character of men, and in his determination to avoid what may be called a chronology of nature, has represented Menenius in the light of a merry old modern nobleman, the actor would show his art and his classical judgment in preventing his mirth from extravagance by every possible temperance of action, so that the man of humour might not entirely overcome the man of rank” (Hunt, 1894 edition pp 47-48).
"All’s well that ends well' is based on day 3, tale 9 of Giovanni Boccaccio's "The decameron" (1353. "To accentuate the idea of decay, Shakespeare places the death of Helena's father earlier than Boccaccio does; the opening dialogue thus becomes a veritable dirge, lamenting not only the death of the old count and the king's disease, but Gerardo's death, too. The keynote is struck in the first line; there is something both morbid and unnatural in the countess' speech: 'In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband.' Only Helena seems unaffected by the idea of death: her preoccupation with her passion for Bertram- Lafew has to remind her to think on her father- appears at first merely a malady of a different sort, but emerges at the end of the long scene as the only healthy thing in it. The contrast is significant: in this way Shakespeare prepares us for Helena's role as the 'providence of the play', to use Dowden's term, or as the dominant restorative force amidst all the sickness...[The] early, repeated reference to the miraculous nature of the king's cure may also explain the 'blackening' of Bertram's character, a problem pondered by all who have compared Bertram with Boccaccio's Beltramo. Bertram is blind to the real virtues of Helena- and in this sense ill, for no one else (except Parolles) fails to recognize her worth. His judgment is corrupted and his idea of nobility, as the king says, diseased: 'Where great additions swell us, and virtue none,/It is a dropsied honour.'" (Halio, 1964 pp 34-37). "In the novel it is the king who offers to give Giletta a husband as a reward for the happily completed cure...In Shakespeare on the contrary...Helena candidly and freely answers his question as to what she would like as a reward: a husband. Why has the poet herein deviated from the novel? Two reasons induced him to do this. First he wishes to show her love in all its strength and irresistibleness, and secondly...like an arrow flying to its goal, Helena pursues her object with directest resolution. She makes as little secret of her love to the king as she did to the countess. Had the poet made her go by crooked ways and screen her intention, he would with difficulty have kept her clear of the suspicion that she was striving after worldly advantages, that she thought more about becoming countess Roussillon, than of becoming Bertram's wife" (Elze, 1874 pp 130-131). "In the sources of All's Well, then, we recognize a Virtue-Story, exalting the devotion of a woman to the man who so far forgets his duty as to treat her cruelly. Analogs of other kinds will occur to the reader immediately; the adventures of Griselda or Fair Annie, in which a husband comes to realize the fidelity of his wife after she has been subjected to the most trying of proofs, the ballad of Child Waters (Child ballad 63), in which the heroine, though pregnant, is forced to follow her lover's horse on foot before the man relents, the Nut-Brown Maid, which exhibits various tests of the woman's fidelity" (Lawrence, 1922 p 436). In "All's well that ends well", "a headstrong and prideful concern with title and social status, originates in the son, not the father. Helena's virtues, the king goes on to argue, 'breed' the very honor that Bertram thinks she lacks; besides, as king, he can bestow wealth and name. This scene reverses the common configuration of New Comedy, where fathers frequently oppose the marriage of their sons to lower-class women...Shakespeare carefully plans his inversion of the New Comedic paradigm. Making Helena poor, unlike the noble Giletta, he focuses on internal honor not on social status...Unlike those impetuous young men in New Comedy, the yearning Philolaches (Mostellaria), Alcesimarchus ('The basket'), Chaerea (The eunuch), or Pamphilus (The woman of Andros), [Bertram] is cold, unmoved, and slow to temptation...At the heart of Shakespeare's new creation is the miles gloriosus, whom both Greek and Latin New Comic dramatists portrayed with dual aspect, that of braggart warrior and boastful lover...Shakespeare embodies the military and amorous aspects of the stereotype in separate characters, Parolles and Bertram, and sets up parallel ordeals and recognitions...In Florence, Bertram takes on precisely the role he refuses earlier with Helena- that of importunate adolescence. Especially noteworthy is Helena's role, which resembles also that of the wives in Menander's 'The Litigants' and Terence's "The mother-in-law', likewise made pregnant by unwitting husbands-to-be. Neither Pamphile nor Philumena take an active part in the process of resolution, however; they are, for the most part, helpless victims, off-stage. Shakespeare here follows Boccaccio's lead who inserted a folk-tale wonder-worker into the New Comedic plot to expose her husband...Plautus and Terence make good use of artificial tokens (e.g. "The basket', 'The rope', 'The mother-in-law' as do many later playwrights. In All's Well, Shakespeare doubles the device as found in Boccaccio, providing two rings and in Helena's as a surprise which begins the process of exposure. Bertram's ring symbolizes the family honor he stands so haughtily on, but, in the heat of passion, proves so unworthy of"(Miola, 1993 pp 27-40). "Unlike the festive comedies, All's Well That Ends Well presents an action in which parental figures are closely and actively involved in the steps that lead to marriage" (Wheeler, 1974-75 p 312). Helena "affects us by her patient suffering : the moment in which she appears to most advantage is when she accuses herself as the persecutor of her inflexible husband, and, under the pretext of a pilgrimage to atone for her error, privately leaves the house of her mother-in-law" (Schlegel, 1846 p 385). "The title All's Well That Ends Well points to a completely unorthodox ethical position; for, on the literal level, it indicates that ends do justify means. Helena's contention...affirms her acceptance of this unconventional moral belief. For her, 'unfit' actions may be used to attain desirable ends; the means are irrelevant if the conclusion is personally satisfactory...Here Shakespeare holds his mirror not up to nature but to the Morality Tradition...As a practitioner of deceit, Helena obtains a deceptive man for her mate; like has drawn to like; and the nature which Helena elects to follow in the first scene has closed the gap in their fortunes"(Godshalk, 1974 pp 62-70). Helena’s exchange with Parolles on the subject of virginity seems in the opinion of the huffily neo-Victorian Tillyard (1965) as “weak and indecent". Truer is his assumption that Helena’s successful treatment of the king's malady is presented as a miracle, not as an efficient result of medical insight transmitted by her doctor-father as in Boccaccio's version. "The persevering gratitude of the French king to his benefactress, who cures him of a languishing distemper by a prescription hereditary in her family, the indulgent kindness of the countess, whose pride of birth yields, almost without a struggle, to her affection for Helen, the honesty and uprightness of the good old lord Lafeu, make very interesting parts of the picture. The wilful stubbornness and youthful petulance of Bertram are also very admirably described. The comic part of the play turns on the folly, boasting, and cowardice of Parolles, a parasite and hanger-on of Bertram's, the detection of whose false pretensions to bravery and honour forms a very amusing episode" (Hazlitt, 1921 p 221). "The mystification by which [Parolles's] pretended valour and his shameless slanders are unmasked must be ranked among tho most comic scenes that ever wore invented: they contain matter enough for an excellent comedy, if Shakespeare were not always rich even to profusion" (Schlegel, 1846 p 386). According to Bernard Shaw (1916), "the play stands out artistically by the sovereign charm of the young Helena and the old countess of Rousillon, and intellectually by the experiment, repeated nearly three hundred years later in 'A doll’s house', of making the hero a perfectly ordinary young man, whose unimaginative prejudices and selfish conventionality make him cut a very mean figure in the atmosphere created by the nobler nature of his wife" (p 27). "Bertram’s physical courage but moral cowardice results in being seen as 'mean and repellent but also pathetic and to be pitied'" (Tillyard, 1965 p ?). "Parolles is an accessory to Bertram's flight from Helena and to his plan to seduce Diana, yet he incites neither, and plays no visible part in the count's other wickednesses: his scornful rejection of Helena, his cold and sneaking farewell from her after their marriage, his smug report to the French lords concerning her death and Diana's supposed dishonor, his broken vows and second flight, and the perjury and slander that he commits in the final scene" (Love, 1997 p 518). "In the lords' unmasking scene of Parolles, when the first lord says: 'I begin to love him for this.' Bertram responds: 'For this description of thine honesty? A pox upon him for me!' (IV, III, 289); he thus misunderstands the lord's meaning..."The thought in the mind of the first lord when he uttered these words was that 'the slanders of the wicked are the commendations of the godly,' as it is phrased in Nathan Field's Remonstrance (1616)" (Tilley, 1915 pp 211-212). "When we are introduced to Lavatch, Shakespeare presents us with Bertram's problem in reverse. No one is forcing the fool to marry and corrupt his bloodline; rather, the fool petitions the countess to allow him to marry so that he can 'have issue o' my body; for they say barnes are blessings' (I.iii). The fool is knowingly driven on by the flesh to marry so he may 'repent'; Bertram is also driven by the flesh to repent, though unknowingly. The countess contends that Lavatch should be married before he is wicked, which again recalls Bertram, who is unfaithful after he is married...It is with the peculiar behavior of the fool that Shakespeare underscores these difficulties and guides critical assessment of the play. The countess's response that Lavatch will 'ever be a foul-mouth'd and calumnious knave' (I.iii.56) uncomfortably echoes how easy it is to relegate him to a role of mere bawdy mockery or simple parody, as the other characters do. Unlike Touchstone and Feste, whose intelligence is recognized by both Rosalind and Viola respectively, Lavatch's relevance is unnoticed, except for Lafew's brief recognition of his shrewdness (IV.v.63). When Lavatch responds to the countess's accusation by saying 'A prophet I, madam, and I speak the truth the next way' (I.iii.58), he seems to know that his remarks, especially when the fool mentions a man at a woman's command, foreshadow Bertram's problems later" (Roark, 1988 pp 245-247). "In the clown, Shakespeare carries the darker implications of class to the extreme. In the first place, Lavatch is the arrantest upstart of all, from his first saucy appearance on stage, in the company of the dutiful steward. He mimics Helena in his marriage plans, Bertram in his sudden courtly contempt for Isbel, and Parolles in his 'O Lord, sir!' He even foretells the death of the countess...At the end of the fourth act, while Helena, Bertram, Parolles, and the king are converging upon Rossillion for what the audience knows will be the climax, he reminds us and Lord Lafew: 'I am a woodland fellow, sir, that always loved a great fire, and the master I speak of ever keeps a good fire; but sure he is prince of the world; let his nobility remain in's court, I am for the house with the narrow gate, which I take to be too little for pomp to enter; some that humble themselves may, but the many will be too chill and tender, and they'll be for the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and the great fire" (IV.v.44-52). As in all of Shakespeare's plays, no one of the characters heeds the fool"(Love, 1977 pp 526-527).
"In the simpler spying situations, the spy may stand safely aloof and watch the process of events; but in 'Measure for measure', as in many spy plays, he utilizes disguise not only to observe but to shape events as well...We find a number of resemblances between Measure for Measure and 'The malcontent'. Shakespeare's deputy and Marston's usurper are both forgiven by the dukes, and wished happiness together with their wives. Each duke deals unmercifully with one villainous character. Each duke compliments a friend and an officer. And each duke is still sentimental enough to take a woman to his heart...In 'The malcontent' the restoration of the duchy is brought about by the arch villainy of Mendoza, and not by any cleverness of Malevole...But in 'Measure for measure' the duke is more than a spy. He is himself the manager of the whole plot. He initiates, directs, and resolves the entire action. And his disguise serves him in his double purpose of spying on scoundrels, and of bringing tragic complications to a happy resolution...In handling disguise Marston does not always show a keen sense of values in stage business. For example, at the end of act IV of the Malcontent, Malevole [reveals] himself in the presence of the usurper. This stage effect is repeated at the end of the play, where Malevole unmasks and spreads terror among the villains. A sudden revelation at the end of a play is as ancient as Aeschylus. But Marston discounts its effectiveness in this play by giving it twice...In act V, scene 1 of Measure for Measure the duke enters the city in his own habit, giving no suspicion that he had been the friar. With comic irony he listens to the complaints of his subjects, and expresses complete confidence in Angelo. He even hears complaints about the friar, who is presumably near at hand. The duke retires and presently the friar enters" (Freeburg, 1915 pp 7-169). "The Duke, in the disguise of a monk, is always present to watch over his dangerous representative, and to avert every evil which could possibly be apprehended we look to him with confidence for a happy result. The duke acts the part of the monk naturally, even to deception; he unites in his person the wisdom of the priest and tho prince. Only in his wisdom he is too fond of round-about ways his vanity is flattered with; acting invisibly like an earthly providence he takes more pleasure in overhearing his subjects than governing them in the customary way of princes. As he ultimately extends a free pardon to all the guilty, we do not see how his original purpose, in committing the execution of the laws to other hands, of restoring their strictness, has in any wise been accomplished. The poet might have had this irony in view, that of the numberless slanders of the duke, told him by the petulant Lucio, in ignorance of the person whom he is addressing, that at least which regarded his singularities and whims was not wholly without foundation. It is deserving of remark that Shakespeare, amidst tho rancour of religious parties, takes a delight in painting tho condition of a monk, and always represents his influence as beneficial" (Schlegel, 1846 p 388). Coleridge wrote that “Measure for Measure is to me the most painful— say rather, the only painful— part of his genuine works. The comic and tragic parts...the one being disgusting, the other horrible; and the pardon and marriage of Angelo not merely baffles the strong indignant claim of justice— (for cruelty, with lust and damnable baseness, cannot be forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented of); but it is likewise degrading to the character of woman” (1884 edition, p 299). Wilson Knight (1949) underlined the correspondences between the play and the Gospels. The title of the play reflects the following sentences: “judge ye not so that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and what measure ye meet, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:1). Until tempted by Isabella’s body, Angelo acts as if man’s flesh is strong, discounting Matthew 26:41: “Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Moreover, the plot of the entire play reflects the parable of the two debtors (Luke 7:41-47). When a creditor forgets two men’s debts because they cannot pay, the one who had the most to pay is judged to love the creditor most. Likewise, when God pardons two men’s sins because of weakness, the one who sinned the most may love God most. The duke behaves with Juliet as Jesus did with the woman taken in adultery (John 8:11). When Escalus pleads for mercy on behalf of Claudio based on whether he had not sinned in such a way, Angelo responds: “’Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,/Another thing to fall.” In contrast, Jesus said: “whosoever looketh at woman to lust after her committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27) Wilson Knight (1949) considered that the duke’s sentence on Lucio is just on the basis of Jesus’ warning: “Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). In contrast, Webster (1961) considered the duke's sentence as a act of “savagery”. Tillyard (1965) pointed out the change in Isabella from exclaiming against Angelo on first hearing of what he intends to do with her: “O faithless coward, O dishonest wretch!/Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?” to submission to the duke when he shows up as a friar, because the duke represents valid authority in the state, which no one can question, whereas by his overture in lustful feelings Angelo represents an invalid one. But when Angelo refuses her brother’s pardon, Isabella accepts the decision as being valid. The duke eventually combines the function of both state and church as does the English king. “We notice how often the action of a Shakespearean comedy begins with some absurd, cruel, or irrational law: the law of killing Syracusans in the Comedy of Errors, the law of compulsory marriage in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the law that confirms Shylock's bond, the attempts of Angelo to legislate people into righteousness, and the like, which the action of the comedy then evades or breaks...In Measure for Measure every male character is at one time or an other threatened with death. The action of comedy moves toward a deliverance from something which, if absurd, is by no means invariably harmless. We notice too how frequently a comic dramatist tries to bring his action as close to a catastrophic overthrow of the hero as he can get it, and then reverses the action as quickly as possible. The evading or breaking of a cruel law is often a very narrow squeeze” (Frye, 1957 pp 166-178). "If we find Angelo to be a puppet and the audience's lust for queer or lurid conduct the strings, we shall probably estimate the play's ending as so much empty sleight, and the forgiveness as insignificant. If, on the other hand, we see Angelo's fall as real we may believe in his redemption, and so be the readier to approve his pardon and even to see a wise handling of the situation in the rather surprising arrangements of the duke. What, then, is the essence of Angelo's case? He is a sincere self-deceiver; sexually he has always believed himself to be cold; and particularly a flaunted sexuality has meant nothing to him. Then like a thunderclap comes overpowering lust for a lady in the habit of a novice" (Stewart, 1949 p 28). "As to Isabella, whether we at best quite understand her or not, we certainly shall never begin to do so if we forget that bringing contracted persons together in any way was, for that age, a virtue and not a vice...Then and long after, as readers of The Vicar of Wakefield and Pride and Prejudice will remember, any sort of marriage, with any sort of villain, was thought a matter for virtuous friends to rejoice over, and, though Mariana is not in such a dire need of the priest as Olivia and Lydia, yet she is betrothed and deserted. And, as to her knowing little of Angelo, how many girls, then and much later, knew anything of their husbands till they had become wives?" (Bailey, 1929 p 161). The character of "Master Barnardine [is] one of the finest (and that's saying a bold word) in all Shakespeare. [William Schlegel] calls him a hardened criminal. He is no such thing. He is what he is by nature, not by circumstance, 'careless, reckless, and fearless of past, present, and to come.' He is Caliban transported to the forests of Bohemia or the prisons of Vienna. He has, however, a sense of the natural fitness of things: 'He has been drinking hard all night, and he will not be hanged that day,' and Shakespeare has let him off at last...We do not understand why the philosophical critic, whom we have quoted above, should be so severe on those pleasant persons Lucio, Pompey, and Master Froth, as to call them 'wretches'. They seem all mighty comfortable in their occupations, and determined to pursue them, 'as the flesh and fortune should serve'. Shakespeare was the least moral of all writers; for morality (commonly so called) is made up of antipathies, and his talent consisted in sympathy with human nature, in all its shapes, degrees, elevations, and depressions. The object of the pedantic moralist is to make the worst of everything; his was to make the best, according to his own principle: 'There is some soul of goodness in things evil.' Even Master Barnardine is not left to the mercy of what others think of him, but when he comes in, he speaks for himself"(Hazlitt, 1895 pp 99-100). "Another rapid variation in the dramatic movement which was a simple matter for the Elizabethans was the creation of very minor characters to provide moments of comedy or pathos. Such characters, who would have no time to 'plant’ themselves on a modern stage, could establish a sudden vivid identity on the open Elizabethan stage without any difficulty. There is Barnardine in Measure for Measure, who comes upon the stage for about three minutes, but is unforgettable" (Drew, 1937 p 72).
In "The winter's tale", the story of Hermione and Perdita is a variation of the Demeter and Proserpine myth (Frye, 1957 p 138). "The motif of the statue, through which the theme of art enters into The Winter's Tale, was borrowed by Shakespeare from Ovid. In Book X of the Metamorphoses Ovid describes how Pygmalion fell in love with a statue of his own making and how Venus fulfilled his secret wish and turned the statue into a living woman. The conflation of the Ovidian myth with the myth of Alcestis may have been suggested by the presence of a statue motif in Euripides' Alcestis, where the disconsolate Admetus thinks of having a statue made of his wife" (Mueller, 1971 p 232). The revelation that Hermione is alive comprises the only instance in Shakespeare where information is kept hidden from the public, a secret that allows sharing Leontes' gladness (Muir, 1977 p 267). "The play is characterized by its frequent and direct defiance of the senses. Time and space, which constitute the basis of the great world of sensation, seem to be entirely given over to the capricious play of the poet's imagination. Even the so-called truths of the understanding are laughed at in wanton mockery. History, chronology, and also geography, are violated with an audacity which has often called forth the sneers and the ire of pedantic erudition. Christianity consults the Delphic oracle, pagan customs are mingled with those of the English people, ancient Greece is one of the modern European system of states, Bohemia is made a country bordering on the sea. Indeed the understanding becomes utterly confused by the disregard of its facts and its laws, and can make nothing out of the play. It is plain to be seen that there is an utter neglect, or rather an intentional defiance, of all external probability...There are three grand divisions of the drama. The first portrays the guilt of the king of Sicilia, and ends in his repentance; it is the world of strife, contradiction, and wrong, which necessarily causes a separation, a flight from its iniquities. The second division shows the new world called into existence by the tyrannical conduct of the monarch, which is Bohemia, the simple pastoral realm that is free from the tragic conflicts of Sicilia. But it, too, will ultimately develop a collision within itself which will bring about its own dissolution. The third division is the penitent world, in which the king, having repented of his deeds, sees those who were dispersed brought back, and those who were lost restored to himself. The logical movement, therefore, is that guilt produces the second or pastoral world, and repentance the third or the restoration" (Snider, 1875 pp 80-81). The "jealousy of Leontes...is...baseless as Othello’s: and it has far less excuse than Othello’s, for it lacks both a villain to suggest and circumstances to feed the delusion. It is caprice of self-deception, a maggot suddenly bred in a brain not hitherto supposed to be mad" (Quiller-Couch, 1918 pp 288-289). "The jealousy of Leontes is not, like that of Othello, developed through all its causes, symptoms, and variations; it is brought forward at once full grown and mature and is portrayed as a distempered frenzy. It is a passion whose effects the spectator is more concerned with than with its origin, and which does not produce the catastrophe, but merely ties the knot of the piece. In fact, the poet might perhaps have wished slightly to indicate that Hermione, though virtuous, was too warm in her efforts to please Polyxenes; and it appears as if this germ of inclination first attained its proper maturity in their children. Nothing can be more fresh and youthful, nothing at once so ideally pastoral and princely as the love of Florizel and Perdita; of the prince, whom love converts into a voluntary shepherd; and the princess, who betrays her exalted origin without knowing it, and in whose hands nosegays become crowns" (Schlegel, 1846 p 397). "The very unnaturalness of Leontes’ jealous gaze is figured metaphorically in the petrification of his wife. Her stoniness reflects Leontes’ hardened heart and her loveless condition. By literalizing the metaphor and then reversing it through the creative power of theatrical art, Paulina does indeed mend the worst part of human nature. Her 'stone' seems to 'rebuke' Leontes, prodding his heart to soften as his 'evils [are] conjured to remembrance' (5.3.37,40). Fundamentally, Shakespeare revels in the theater’s ability to deceive spectators’ eyes. The multiple deceptions of the final act produce not only wonder, but moral enlightenment, as well, both of which serve to defuse iconoclastic fear and suspicion about art’s powers" (Tassi, 2005 pp 208-209). "An early fixation of his affections upon his friend, [Polixenes], long dormant, is reawakened in Leontes- though without being brought to conscious focus— by that friend's actual presence for the first time since their 'twined' boyhood. An unconscious conflict ensues and the issue is behaviour having as its object the violent repudiation of the newly reactivated homosexual component in his character. In other words, Leontes projects upon his wife the desires he has to repudiate in himself" (Stewart, 1949 p 35). "The character of Hermione exhibits what is never found in the other sex, but rarely in our own...dignity without pride, love without passion, and tenderness without weakness" (Jameson, 1903 pp 159-160). After descending from the pedestal, Hermione does not address her husband and Polyxenes neither her nor her husband (Latimer, 1886 p 50).
The structure of "The Tempest" is based on the masque, in vogue at court in the early 17th century, "a comedy so profound that it seems to draw the whole masque into itself, Stephano and Trinculo are comic humors and Caliban an antimasque figure, and the group shows the transition very clearly. The main theme of the masque involves gods, fairies and personifications of virtues; the figures of the antimasque thus tend to become demonic, and dramatic characterization begins to split into an antithesis of virtue and vice, god and devil, fairy and monster. The tension between them partly accounts for the importance of the theme of magic in the masque. At the comic end this magic is held by the benevolent side, as in The Tempest; but as we move further away from comedy, the conflict becomes increasingly serious, and the antimasque figures less ridiculous and more sinister, possessed in their turn of powers of enchantment" (Frye, 1951 p 558). “In the figure of Prospero we have one of the few approaches to the Aristophanic technique of having the whole comic action projected by a central character” (Frye, 1957 p 44). "Prospero's speeches, till the entrance of Ariel, contain the finest example I remember of retrospective narration for the purpose of exciting immediate interest, and putting the audience in possession of all the information necessary for the understanding of the plot. Observe, too, the perfect probability of the moment chosen by Prospero (the very Shakspeare himself, as it were, of the tempest) to open out the truth to his daughter, his own romantic bearing, and how completely anything that might have been disagreeable to us in the magician, is reconciled and shaded in the humanity and natural feelings of the father" (Coleridge 1884 edition, p 277). Hazlitt (1895) praised the contrast between the characters of Caliban and Ariel, Caliban being "the essence of grossness, but there is not the smallest vulgarity in it. Shakespeare has described the brutal mind of this man-monster in contact with the pure and original forms of nature; the character grows out of the soil where it is rooted, uncontrolled, uncouth, and wild, uncramped by any of the meannesses of custom...Shakespeare has...drawn off from Caliban the elements of everything ethereal and refined, to compound them into the unearthly mould of Ariel. Nothing was ever more finely conceived than this contrast between the material and the spiritual, the gross and delicate" (p 65). “Ariel has in everything the airy tint which gives the name; and it is worthy of remark that Miranda is never directly brought into comparison with Ariel, lest the natural and human of the one and the supernatural of the other should tend to neutralize each other; Caliban, on the other hand, is all earth, all condensed and gross in feelings and images; he has the dawnings of understanding without reason or the moral sense...Caliban talks of the difficulty of finding fresh water, of the situation of morasses, and of other circumstances which even brute instinct, without reason, could comprehend. No mean figure is employed, no mean passion displayed, beyond animal passion, and repugnance to command” (Coleridge 1884 edition, p 142, pp 278-279). “The humour of Caliban (though I think there are many persons to whom this monster appears too much persecuted and too revengeful to be at all humorous) must rise from his roughness of manners and his infinite awe at the divinity of the sailor who had made him drunk; and this roughness as well as awe Mr Emery, [the actor], most inimitably displays, particularly in the vehement manner and high voice with which he curses Prospero, and that thoughtful lowness of tone, softened from its usual hoarse brutality, with which he worships his new deity. Mr Emery, notwithstanding the coarseness of style necessary to the parts he performs, is a truly poetical actor, and in all the varieties of his poet's flight keeps by his side with the quickest observation. In this character he again approaches to terrific tragedy, when he describes the various tortures inflicted on him by the magician and the surrounding snakes that 'stare and hiss him into madness’. This idea, which is truly the ‘fine frenzy’ of the poet, and hovers on that verge of fancy beyond which it is a pain even for poetry to venture, is brought before the spectators with all the loathing and violence of desperate wretchedness: the monster hugs and shrinks into himself, grows louder and more shuddering as he proceeds, and when he pictures the torment that almost turns his brain, glares with his eyes and gnashes his teeth with an impatient impotence of revenge” (Hunt, 1894 edition pp 58-59). "The history of the loves of Ferdinand and Miranda, developed in a few short scenes, is enchantingly beautiful: an affecting union of chivalrous magnanimity on the one part, and on the other other virgin openness of a heart which, brought up far from the world on an uninhabited island, has never learned to disguise its innocent movements" (Schlegel, 1846 pp 394-395). "Ferdinand, travelling the wide seas, is deliberately caught in a vortex and sucked by Prospero’s art and prescience through perilous foam to the island his maid predestined yet (such is the art) so that the wooing, while it thrills us, thrills with a kind of amaze even Prospero, its contriver. That has always seemed to me one of the loveliest inventions in The Tempest and perhaps the most glorious: the manner in which love takes charge of two young hearts and carries them ahead of its contriver, leaving him with his magic at a standstill" (Quiller-Couch, 1918 pp 324-325). "Antonio and Sebastian at first had no...intention [of murder]; it was suggested by the magical sleep cast on Alonzo and Gonzalo; but they are previously introduced scoffing and scorning at what was said by others, without regard to age or situation— without any sense of admiration for the excellent truths they heard delivered, but giving themselves up entirely to the malignant and unsocial feeling, which induced them to listen to everything that was said, not for the sake of profiting by the learning and experience of others, but of hearing something that might gratify vanity and self-love, by making them believe that the person speaking was inferior to themselves" (Coleridge 1884 edition, p 143).
"The whole of Shakespeare’s productions boar the certain stamp of bis original genius, but yet no writer was ever farther removed from every thing like a mannerism derived from habit or personal peculiarities. Rather is he, such is the diversity of tone and colour, which varies according to the quality of his subjects he assumes, a very Proteus" (Schlegel, 1846 p 378).
Time: 1600s. Place: Venice (Italy) and Rhodes.
In love with Desdemona who has left her father's house to follow the fortunes of Othello, a general with a crucial role in defending the Venetian state, Roderigo depends on the advice of Iago on how to win her. Iago pretends to help him while desiring to avenge Othello's nomination of Cassio to a lieutenant's post in his place. To begin plaguing Othello, he and Roderigo loudly awake late at night Desdemona's father, Brabantio, to inform him of her flight, who, in turn, informs the duke and senators at the council chamber on how Othello likely used evil practices to suborn her, but when Desdemona denies this, Brabantio is forced to relent. The duke nominates Othello to head towards Cyprus and defend the state against an attack by the Turks. However, the Turkish ships are dispersed by a storm so that Cyprus is safe. Having failed to impede Othello's marriage, Iago has another plot in mind: make Cassio drunk and stir up a fight incited by Roderigo in a town prepared for war. The plan works. Othello dismisses Cassio of his lieutenantship. A humiliated Cassio desperately heeds Iago's advice of requesting Desdemona's help to return in Othello's favor. She agrees all the more willingly because he had helped her obtain Othello against her father's wishes. When requested to reinstate Cassio, Othello answers: "I will deny thee nothing." Iago seizes the opportunity of revenge by insinuating to his general that her request is guided by a desire to engage in adulterous relations with Cassio. "She did deceive her father, marrying you," he reminds Othello. "And when she seemed to shake and fear your looks,/She loved them most." "And so she did," Othello answers musingly. Yet when he next encounters her, he cannot believe his suspicions to be true. After mentioning he has a pain on his forehead, the cuckold's horn, she offers to soothe it by binding it with a handkerchief he once gave her, but when it falls from her hand, he asks her to follow him without picking it up. Iago's wife, Emilia, notices the handkershief lying on the pavement and tells her husband about it, who discovers yet another opportunity to cause trouble by pretending to Othello that she gave it to Cassio as a gift and adding that he had heard Cassio mumbling in his sleep about his love of her. Othello believes the lie and offers this villain the lieutenant's post. More troubled than ever and having forgotten he had seen her drop it, Othello asks Desdemona for the handkerchief, but she cannot produce it and Emilia says not a word. Seeing Othello's continued frenzy, Iago goes one step further by announcing Cassio's confession of having slept with her, at which Othello falls into convulsions. After awaking, he accepts Iago's suggestion to hide himself while overhearing in secret what Cassio may reveal further. Othello thinks he hears Cassio boast about his conquest while he is speaking about Bianca, a courtesan with whom he entertains superficial relations. Moreover, Othello beholds in Cassio's hand the handkerchief Iago left it in his chamber, which the former had asked Bianca to copy. The jealous Othello is then transformed into the murderous Othello while Iago promises to kill Cassio. The opportunity is given him with the arrival of the unhappy Roderigo, angry that he is no nearer obtaining Desdemona after giving her jewels as gifts, which, unknown to him, Iago never gave her. To rid himself of either or both, Iago convinces him to kill Cassio. He agrees. At night-time, he strikes Cassio in the street but fails to kill him. Cassio wounds Roderigo but is stabbed from behind in the leg by Iago, who escapes in the dark undetected. While Cassio cries out for help amid more confused cries, Iago returns, treacherously murders Roderigo when no one can see him, and before two of Brabantio's kinsmen accuses Bianca of being responsible for Cassio's stabbing. Meanwhile, Othello stealthily approaches his wife's bed and strangles her to death. Emilia arrives to announce the news of the attack on Cassio only to discover Desdemona's dead body. He at first denies knowing anything about it, but then readily admits he murdered an adulterous woman. Emilia believes her mistress was never false and is stunned on his revealing that her husband knew all about Desdemona's supposed treachery, including the business of the handkerchief, because she herself gave it to her husband. When Iago arrives, she exposes his deceit. Unable to quiet his wife, he murders her, attempts to escape, but is easily captured. Having lost everything he ever valued, Othello stabs himself to death.
Time: Antiquity. Place: Britain and France.
King Lear wishes to divides his kingdom among his three daughters, offering the largest share to whoever loves him best. Both Goneril and Regan proclaim they love him best, but Cordelia loves him "according to her bond", the normal father-daughter attachment. As a result, Lear disinherits her. The earl of Kent advises him to "see better", and is thereby banished. Since Cordelia has lost her inheritance, the duke of Burgundy withdraws his suit, but not the king of France, who is accepted. Lear announces he will live alternately with Goneril and Regan and their husbands, the dukes of Albany and Cornwall, respectively. Kent returns disguised and is hired by Lear as a servant. Now that they hold power, Goneril and Regan no longer respect the king. They reduce his retinue of servants. Meanwhile, the earl of Gloucester's bastard son, Edmund, designs to supplant the legitimate older brother, Edgar. Edmund forges a letter seeming to indicate that Edgar intends to seize his father's estate. Gloucester believes him. He is also led to believe that Edmund was attacked by Edgar, and thus, like Lear, he disinherits the wrong person. Kent quarrels with Oswald, a courtier, and is put in the stocks for this insolence by Regan and Cornwall. Lear is astonished to see a servant of his treated in such a fashion, but Regan and her husband along with Goneril dismiss his objections, so that, in mighty anger and disgust, he leaves and is unable to return when a storm rages on the blasted heath. With only his fool to accompany him, he calls on the heavens "to drench the steeple, drown the cocks" and to "strike flat the thick rotundity of the world". Amid the blustering tempest, the fool's comments, his daughters' ingratitude and cruelties, and his measureless rage, the king's wits begin to waver. On his way, he meets Edgar disguised as a madman and takes pity on him. Remembering the bygone days of his prosperity, he comments: "Oh, I have taken too little care of this." Gloucester finds Lear and leads him to his house, but Edmund betrays his father to Cornwall, Regan, and Goneril by showing a favorable letter of his to the king of France, who is ready to invade England. Incensed against Gloucester, Cornwall gouges out one eye. When Gloucester's servant defends his master by killing Cornwall, he is in turn killed by Regan, who reveals to the now completely blinded Gloucester Edmund's betrayal and then sends him out to wander in the heath, where he meets the disguised Edgar, who seems to tempt him into suicide by feigning they are near a cliff. Gloucester jumps and, in his confusion, is told that his fall was miraculously impeded, so that Gloucester becomes partly reconciled to life. While Kent ushers the king towards the French army, Albany leads the British one against them. Meanwhile, Goneril shows dissatisfaction with her husband, Albany, disgusted by the sisters' treatment of Lear and Gloucester's blinding. She prefers instead the bold Edmund, but the widowed Regan also becomes attracted by him. Goneril sends Oswald with letters to Edmund with an order to kill Gloucester, but when the messenger attacks the earl, Edgar slays him, finds Goneril's letter proposing her husband's murder, and shows it to Albany. The British army defeats the French, Lear and Cordelia being captured and targets for Edmund's ambition, who in his desire to be king, sends out orders to kill them. Regan declares she will marry Edmund, but Albany exposes his intrigues. Regan suddenly collapses, a victim of Goneril's poison. When Edmund defies Albany, Edgar fights him in a duel and succeeds in stabbing him to death. Goneril is unable to respond to the contents of her letter and commits suicide. Edgar reports that Gloucester is dead, for when he revealed himself, his father's joy was so great that it killed him. Edmund's order of execution against Cordelia is not prevented in time, Lear killing her executioner and then collapsing. With Lear dead, Albany assumes the throne.
Time: 11th century. Place: Scotland.
After defeating a rebel army on behalf of Duncan, king of Scotland, two generals, Macbeth and Banquo, meet three witches, who prophesy to the first that, though without knowing it, he is the thane of Cawdor and will be king. Astonished, Macbeth ponders on what he hears, while Banquo, intrigued, asks what the future may hold in store for him. He is answered that he will beget a line of kings. The witches suddenly disappear. Soon after, Macbeth learns that he is indeed the new thane of Cawdor. While King Duncan is a guest at Macbeth's castle, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to murder him for his crown. Though hesitant, Lady Macbeth's thoughts accord with his own. He stabs Duncan to death and Lady Macbeth places bloody daggers next to two sleeping servants she has drugged. A warning bell is heard, Macbeth crying out that something terrible has occurred. Alarmed, Macduff, the thane of Fife, discovers that the king has been murdered. Macbeth re-enters Duncan's room and in feigned anger kills the two servants. Macduff and Duncan's two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, are immediately suspicious of Macbeth's words and deeds and flee to England and Ireland, respectively, which in the minds of most makes them the culprits, so that Macbeth is pronounced king. The witches' prophecies have been fulfilled, except for one Macbeth would not like to see fulfilled: Banquo as the begetter of a line of kings, so that he sends three men to murder him and his son. Banquo is killed but the son escapes. At a royal banquet, Macbeth receives apart the good and bad news, but on the way back sees Banquo's shape among the guests. Raging, to the guests he seems to speak to an empty chair. Anxious of what her husband may reveal further, Lady Macbeth ushers them away. Macbeth visits the witches to obtain more prophecies. They have three more: "beware Macduff", "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth" and that he will never be never vanquished "until great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him". But what "destroys my sight," says Macbeth, is to behold the supernatural procession of Banquo as the begetter of a line of kings. Macbeth is unable to reach Macduff, but orders the death of his wife and children. Having left them at his castle, Macduff is wracked with guilt on learning of his loved one's deaths. Malcolm attempts to raise his spirits and to stimulate feelings of manly pride: "Have a full man about you," he cries. Macduff joins Malcolm's English army, helped by defections of Scottish nobles away from the tyrant. Attempting to assail Macbeth's castle on Dunsinane hill, Malcolm's soldiers cut down greenery and march with it, so that, to Macbeth's horror, Birnam wood seems to come to Dunsinane hill. Lady Macbeth, tormented by guilt and unable to sleep, commits suicide as Macbeth prepares to fight. In the field of war, Macbeth faces Macduff. Being born by Caesarean section, Macduff is not born of a woman and kills Macbeth, so that Malcolm becomes the new king of Scotland.
"Antony and Cleopatra"
Time: 30s BC. Place: Rome, Italy and Alexandria, Egypt.
Roman soldiers worry as Marc Antony remains idle in Cleopatra's arms. At first, he is indifferent: "Let Rome In Tiber melt and the wide arch/Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space." But then his wife, Fulvia, dies and Sextus Pompeus has dared to battle his fellow of the triumvirate, Octavius Caesar. To reconcile their differences, Agrippa, a soldier-friend of Caesar's, proposes that Antony marry Octavia, Caesar's sister. Antony accepts. When Cleopatra receives the news that her lover has married a second time she is so incensed that she unreasonably hales the messenger up and down for bringing such bad news: "Hence/Horrible villain, or I'll spurn thine eyes/Like balls before me. I'll unhair thy head." Nevertheless, after sealing a pact with Sextus Pompeus, Antony soon wearies of Octavia and returns to Egypt. Octavius is unhappy at this decision. He also thinks Antony's stay in Egypt compromises Rome, as Antony has given her out of lovesickeness Egypt as well as Syria, Cyprus, and Lydia. The result is war between Octavius and Antony. Against the advice of Enobarbus, a worthy soldier who fears she will distract his general during the battle and who points out that her ships are badly manned, Cleopatra joins her lover with sixty ships near Actium. The result is catastrophic, since Antony, against his better judgment, follows Cleopatra, fearfully backing off as Caesar's ships advance. When Octavius' messenger, Thidias, negotiates with Cleopatra while flirting with her, Antony becomes incensed and has the fellow whipped even to whining. But then he regains his senses, promising to offer battle against Octavius. "The next time I do fight/I'll make death love me, for I will contend/Even with his pestilent scythe." Enobarbus loses confidence in his leader and crosses over to Octavius' camp, but soon grows remorseful and passively sinks to the earth in death. Though at first victorious, Antony's fleet yields to the foe. Fearing for her life in view of Antony's rage against the one who started his downfall, Cleopatra flees to her monument. To soothe her lover, Cleopatra spreads a false rumor whereby she is said to have died, but the plan backfires. In despair at losing her, Antony stabs himself with his sword, but botches the work. In a dying swoon, he is carried to the monument and lifted to Cleopatra, since she dares not go down in fear of being taken captive by Octavius. When he dies, Cleopatra has only thoughts of her own demise. As Octavius intends to bring her to Rome as a spectacle to the populace, she commands an aspic to be brought to her. "Give me my robe; put on my crown. I have/Immortal longings in me," she says to her sorrowful attendants. She poisons herself with its sting. A frustrated Caesar orders their funeral. "No grave upon the earth shall clip in it/A pair so famous," he states admiringly.
Time: 5th century BC. Place: Rome and Volscian territories.
As a result of increasing famine, the common people of Rome rebel against their rulers. To appease the dangerous uprising, Menenius Agrippa, a patrician, confronts the rebels with soothing words and the patricians grant them tribunes of the people, Brutus and Sicinius, to defend their interests. At the same time, the Volscian people declare war against Rome. The latter emerges victorious in the conflict due in large part through the efforts of a great general, Caius Marcus, surnamed Coriolanus for quelling the ambitious Volscians and their chief city of Corioli. As a reward, Coriolanus is proposed for the position of consul to the state. To support his candidacy, Comminius, his fellow general, lauds his military skill against the Volscians: "From face to foot/He was a thing of blood, whose every motion/Was timed with drying cries." The senate names him consul, but he must first present himself before the common people in a garb of humility. Though unwilling to humble himself in this way and despite thinly disguised sarcasms, he passes the test. Hating Coriolanus for his pride and indifference to the people's sufferings, Brutus and Sicinius scold the people for accepting Coriolanus so easily. "Did you perceive/He did solicit you in free contempt/When he did need your loves, and do you think/That his contempt shall not be bruising to you/When he hath power to crush?" Brutus insinuates rhetorically. Together the tribunes persuade the people to change their minds, to the dismay of the patrician party and Coriolanus' disgust. Knowing Coriolanus' uncompromising attitude and contempt of the rabble, the tribunes continue to stir trouble until the patrician party abandons any further attempt at protecting Coriolanus, who is banished from Rome. "You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate/As reek o'the common fens, whose loves I prize/As the dead carcasses of unburied men/That do corrupt the air, I banish you," cries Coriolanus to the crowd in great pride and wrath. Out of feelings of revenge, he joins his previously declared worse enemy, Tullus Aufidius, ruler of the Volscians and together they raise an army to attack Rome. In fear of this powerful army, Cominius is unable to convince him to lay down his arms. Likewise, Coriolanus dismisses Menenius. As a final resort, the patricians send his mother, Volumnia, to plead their cause and avoid the sack of Rome. In the presence of his wife and son, she successfully appeases him. Secretly enraged by this piece of treachery and in jealous hate of his long-term enemy, Aufidius hires conspirators to attack and kill Coriolanus before he has a chance of defending himself.
"All's well that ends well"
Time: 14th century. Place: France and Italy.
Bertram, count of Rossillion, is off to serve the king of France at court. Bertram's mother wishes him well. Helena, taken up in her household as an orphan, weeps, not because of her father's death but at Bertram's departure. Eventually, the countess of Rossillion discovers that Helena loves her son. Helena acknowledges her rank is far below her son's. "Thus, Indian-like,/Religious in mine error, I adore/The sun, that looks upon his worshiper/But knows of him no more," she admits. Yet as daughter to a physician, she conceives a plot whereby she might stay near Bertram, namely attempting to cure the king of a fistula in his foot. When Helena is presented before the king, he at first doubts her ability but is then impressed by her confidence. Should she fail, she dies; should she succeed, she requests the following: "Then thou shalt give me with thy kingly hand/What husband in thy power I will command." He accepts and is soon able to dance into a room with her. When asked to select her prize, she chooses Bertram for a husband. Bertram is stunned and resists, the king is offended. "Thou knows't she has raised me from my sickly bed," the king reminds him. "But follows it, my lord, to bring me down/Must answer for your raising?" he counters. Though the king's anger forces Bertram to wed her, he steals away as a officer in the army of the duke of Florence against Siena, refusing even to kiss his wife despite her humble looks and leaving her this note: "When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband." Upset that because of her he is risking limb or life, she leaves her step-mother's house disguised as a pilgrim and heads for the shrine of St James of Compostella, where she befriends a poor widow and her daughter, Diana, who has been courted by Bertram. Helen proposes to pay the widow if her daughter pretends to accede to Bertram's lust while she takes her place in bed. Diana also is to ask Bertram for his ring and give him Helena's. The ruse works. Before returning to the countess' palace, she spreads a false rumor of her death. Though much regretting Diana's supposed death, the king forgives Bertram and proposes he marry the daughter of his main counselor, Lafew, which this time he agrees to enthusiastically. However, Lafew, the king, and the countess notice Helena's ring on his finger and suspect he murdered her. Continuing to follow Helena's instructions, Diana writes the king a letter to inform him of Bertram's betrayal her and beg his help. When the widow and mother present themselves to the king, they show him Bertram's ring as proof he seduced her, but when Diana admits she gave him hers, the deeply suspicious king is fearful that both women are somehow involved in Helena's death. Everything is resolved when Diana shows up alive. "I'll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly," promises a contrite Bertram.
"Measure for measure"
Time: 1600s. Place: Vienna, Austria.
Vincentio leaves his dukedom temporarily to the charge of Angelo, known for his probity. Under the duke's government, laws against fornication had been feebly enforced. That is changed by Angelo to a much harsher course when it is found that Claudio, a nobleman betrothed but not yet married to Juliet, fornicated with her and is therefore condemned to die. Claudio's friend, Lucio, pleads with Claudio's sister, Isabella, a novice nun, to intercede with Angelo on Claudio's behalf. Though disgusted by the crime, Isabella pleads for her brother's life, which Angelo accepts, provided he and she sleep together, an offer she declines, preferring death of her brother's body to death of her soul. In prison, Isabella advises her brother, to his despair, to "be absolute for death". At this time, Vincentio returns to Vienna disguised as a friar to spy into what is going on inside his dukedom. He discovers Angelo's misdeed. To thwart Angelo, he counsels Isabella to change her mind about his offer, except that she will be secretly replaced in bed by Mariana, whom Angelo once betrothed but refused to marry when her dowry was no longer available. After sleeping with the woman he thinks is Isabella but is actually her substitute, Angelo nevertheless orders Claudio's execution, yet another abuse of power countered by the duke, when Angelo is shown a bearded prisoner's head resembling Claudio's. Thinking that her brother is dead, Isabella joins Mariana to raise a public outcry against Angelo as a hypocrite and tyrant. Angelo denies the charges and sends both women to prison. The disguised friar is revealed at last as the duke and Angelo, though contrite, is sentenced to death. Nevertheless, both women plead for his life. Vincentio yields, but compels Angelo to marry Mariana and compels Lucio to marry a whore, for slanders pronounced against his person when he was disguised.
"The winter's tale"
Time: Antiquity. Place: Sicilia, Italy.
Leontes, king of Sicilia, has enjoyed entertaining his boyhood friend, Polixenes, king of Bohemia, and asks him to stay longer, but is unable to. When his wife, Hermione, unexpectantly succeeds in doing so, he immediately becomes suspicious and asks his consellor, Camillo, to murder him. Certain that his master has no cause of jealousy, Camillo informs Polyxenes of the plot against him and both run away to Bohemia. On discovering their escape, Leontes becomes all the more convinced of Hermione's treason and orders her arrest. To make all sure, he orders two servants to consult Apollo's oracle at Delphos. While in prison, Hermione is delivered of a baby girl, but when Paulina shows her to the king, his first thought is to burn the presumed bastard. He charges Paulina's husband, Antigonus, to depose the thing "to some place where chance/May nurse or end it". Hermione is put on trial and found guilty. When the two messengers arrive from Delphos, Leontes is taken aback but undeterred of his purpose when the message states she is innocent. Immediately afterwards, news arrive that their son, which he ackowledges his, dies, followed by his wife. He concludes that the heavens have struck his foolish jealousy with a double calamity. "Once a day, I'll visit/The chapel where thy lie, and tears shed there/Shall be my recreation," the humbled king promises. Meanwhile, Antigonus leaves the baby on a wild shore. As soon as he does so, he is pursued by a bear and eaten alive. However, the baby survives, picked up by chance by a shepherd and his son. Sixteen years later, Perdita, the baby left to the hazard of fate, is courted by Florizel, son of Polyxenes. The couple intend to marry but are thwarted by Polyxenes, who does not wish for a daughter-in-law of such a low estate. Once more, Camillo takes the matter at hand by shielding innocence from the king's wrath. The shepherd and his son are extremely worried about a possible punishment for their rash presumption, all the more so when a strolling peddler, Autolycus, cons them into believing he is an important courtier. Pretending he does not know to whom he is speaking, he says: "He has a son who shall be flayed alive; then, 'nointed over with honey, set on the head of a wasps' nest, then stand till he be three quarters and a dram dead; then recovered again and with aqua vitae or some other hot infusion; then, raw as he is, and in the hottest day prognostication proclaims, shall be set against a brick wall, the sun looking with a southward eye upon him, where he is to behold him with flies blown to death." However, both are rewarded instead when Florizel and Perdita beg Leontes' protection, the two kings becomes reconciled, and the couple free to marry. Paulina, judging that Leontes is now free of jealousy, shows him a statue of Hermione. Unexpectantly, the statue moves and the living Hermione is revealed to the king's joy.
Time: 1610s. Place: A desert island.
Prospero, duke of Milan, has been stranded on an island with his daughter, Miranda, for twelve years, after his brother, Antonio, and Alonso, king of Naples, revolted against his reign. Prospero is served by Ariel, whom he rescued from a witch, the airy spirit being promised eventual freedom for his services, and also by Caliban, a primitive monster in human shape, promised nothing, who first taught Prospero how to survive on the island. After attempting to rape his daughter, Caliban is compelled by Prospero to work as a slave and often punished. Prospero raises a tempest to cause a shipwreck, yet, with Ariel's help, allows his enemies to survive: Alonso with his brother and their advisers, Sebastian and Gonzalo, respectively, as well as Antonio, all these separated from Alonso's son, Ferdinand, along with the noblemen's followers, Stephano and Trinculo. When Stephano and Trinculo encounter Caliban, all three plot to assassinate Prospero and live as virtual kings. When Ferdinand meets Miranda, both love at first sight. But to test Ferdinand's loyalty and willingness to live chastely, Prospero compels him to work like Caliban on menial tasks such as carrying logs for fire. When Antonio speaks to Sebastian apart from the other two, he conspires for a second time to overthrow the rightful ruler, this time by killing Alonso and Gonzalo and make his friend king of Naples. The plots of Stephano and Trinculo, on one hand, and those of Antonio and Sebastian, on the other, are defeated by Prospero and Ariel. Ferdinand is proven to be true. Before a masque prepared to entertain the lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda are revealed playing chess, signifying an intellectual as well as a loving bond between the two. Prospero holds power over all. When her father's enemies and Gonzalo are presented before her, Miranda expresses great wonder at seeing so many men at once, exclaiming: "O brave new world/That has such people in't!" As his final command, Ariel prepares the vessel taking Alonso, Antonio, and the followers back to Naples, with Ferdinand and Miranda to be married there. Ariel is set free as Prospero promised. As for himself, Prospero says: "I'll drown my book of magic," expecting that "every third thought will be my grave."
Ben Jonson (1572-1637) figures as another main dramatist of the Jacobean period, especially in the comedies of biting wit: "Volpone" (1605), "The alchemist" (1610), and "Bartholomew Fair" (1614).
Of "Volpone", Coleridge criticized that “this admirable, indeed, but yet more wonderful than admirable, play is from the fertility and vigour of invention, character, language, and sentiment the strongest proof how impossible it is to keep up any pleasurable interest in a tale in which there is no goodness of heart in any of the prominent characters. After the third act, this play becomes not a dead, but a painful, weight on the feelings. Zeluco is an instance of the same truth. Bonario and Celia should have been made in some way or other principals in the plot; which they might have been, and the objects of interest, without having been made characters. In novels, the person in whose fate you are most interested is often the least marked character of the whole. If it were possible to lessen the paramountcy of Volpone himself, a most delightful comedy might be produced, by making Celia the ward or niece of Corvino, instead of his wife, and Bonario her lover” (1884 edition, pp 414-415). More modern critics also display such nicety. "It is undeniable that there have been examples of perverse indulgence in wickedness for wickedness* sake, which, rare as they are, go far to justify the creation of Volpone. But the unredeemed villany of the hero, with whom it is impossible in any way to sympathise, and the sheer brutality of the fortune-hunting dupes who surround him, make it easier to admire than to like the play. I have little doubt that Jonson was to some extent sensible of this, for the comic episode or underplot of Sir Politick and Lady Would-be is very much more loosely connected with the centre interest (it is only by courtesy that it can be said to be connected at all), than is usual with him, and this is an argument in favour of its having been introduced as a makeweight" (Saintsbury, 1894 p 181). “This savage comedy is a masterpiece of robustious writing; if it did not possess so great an intellectual scope, if it were not so full-blooded and biting, it would be gross. It is a veritable onslaught of vehement action, torrential verbiage and truculent laughter. Jonson’s target is not merely avarice or the pursuit of gain but man’s inability to resist their effects: ‘All the wise world is little else in nature but parasites or sub-parasites’ (Clurman, 1966 p 140). The world of "Volpone" "is a fiery, vital, various world, full of glaring contrasts, bustle, cruelty and laughter, but there is something arid aboutit. After the third act, when even the two leagued rogues turned on each other with the ferocity of wild cats, I began to feel as parched as if I were in a sandstorm. I was dazzled and delighted, but the marrow of my humanity was scorched within me. All the characters, with the exception of a too docile wife and a too filial son, are what Carlyle would have called 'unspeakably unexemplary mortals'. It is no relief that terrible punishments are meted out at the end all round" (MacCarthy, 1940 p 151). "Laughter so savage and pursued with such concentration of purpose is rarely to be found elsewhere in the annals of the theatre; it was conceived in prison and written under the same cloud of disillusionment that hovered over Shakespeare’s tragic period. In outlook 'Volpone' is not basically a comedy but a lacerating morality play, and it is fortunate only that Jonson is capable of extracting a fantastic kind of mirth from the materials of his indignation. Although it is incredible that so brutal an exposure of the cupidity of man should be amusing, the fact remains that it is vastly entertaining; the sinister elements of the comedy are too egregious not to be ridiculous. Moreover, Jonson had the wisdom to dilute his acid with the milder humor of a subordinate story in which Sir Politic and Lady Would-be, 'my madame with the everlasting voice', are representatives of folly rather than of vice" (Gassner, 1954a p 244). Gassner's comments on the "sinister elements" are debatable, as some critics view them as all the more apt to increase the play's potency. Boas (1946) pointed out that "never did Jonson display greater virtuosity than in Act IV, v and vi, where the four avocatori or magistrates are persuaded against their better instincts to condemn the innocent pair, though their sentence is deferred. The cut and thrust of the dialogue in court between all concerned in the trial is an outstanding proof of how flexible an instrument blank verse could be made. But the decisive argument with the magistrates is the apparently impotent silence of 'the old gentleman', Volpone, when he is brought in as a witness, and is 'returned with care'” (p 108). "The Fox is a colossal figure of vice portrayed with a Renaissance zest foreign to the classical sources of Lucian and Petronius on which Jonson drew for his story of the cheater of legacy-hunters. Volpone is represented as a luxurious Venetian, poet, artist, and sensualist...The dwarf, eunuch, and hermaphro- dite who wait upon him are signs of his degenerate taste in seeking out strange and unnatural manifestations of human life, expensive to obtain and curious to observe. His ability as an actor becomes apparent in his pretense of sickness when the birds of prey who hope to inherit his estate are received at his bedside. The Vulture, the Raven, and the Crow are as greedy as the Fox, but they lack his stature and versatility. One cannot help sharing in Volpone’s pleasure when, with the aid of his henchman Mosca, or the Fly, he cheats men no more noble and far less clever than himself...The point at which Volpone finally overreaches himself is in trusting his affairs unreservedly to Mosca...Justice can only be maintained when thieves fall out, as they do in the last act of 'Volpone' where a new element is introduced into the play, turning it from a brilliant satire on the love of money into an exciting theatrical duel between master and man, like that which had been the subject of 'Sejanus' (Perry, 1939 pp 98-99). “’Volpone’ ends with a great bustle of sentences to penal servitude and the galleys, and one feels that the deliverance of society hardly needs so much hard labor; but then Volpone is exceptional in being a kind of comic imitation of a tragedy, with the point of Volpone's hybris carefully marked” (Frye, 1957 p 165). "In Mosca Jonson paints a monumental portrait of the parasite, as he may possibly have existed at the worst courts in the most debased epochs of civilisation. Plausible, ingenious, pliant to his master's whims, loving evil for its own sake, Mosca glides through the dangerous and complicated circumstances of their common plots with the suppleness and quickness of a serpent. But when he sees the way to build up his own fortunes- on Volpone's downfall, he turns round suddenly, implacably, upon his patron. With the same cold cynicism which he had used against Corbaccio to tickle the Fox's fancy, he now lays his fox-trap. (Symonds, 1898 p 72).
Regarding "The alchemist", Coleridge (Table talk, 1835) commented that "I think the Oedipus Tyrannus, the Alchemist, and Tom Jones, the three most perfect plots ever planned." Of Epicure Mammon, Charles Lamb wrote that "the judgment is perfectly overwhelmed by the torrent of images, words, and book-knowledge with which Epicure Mammon (Act 2, scene 2) confounds and stuns his incredulous hearer. They come pouring out like the successive falls of Nilus. They 'doubly redouble strokes upon the foe'. Description outstrides proof. We are made to believe effects before we have testimony for their causes. If there is no one image which attains the height of the sublime, yet the confluence and assemblage of them all produces a result equal to the grandest poetry" (1895 edition p 222). The play is “a by-product of the genuine scientific movements of the Renaissance period...where there was an intensified development of such medieval legacies as astrology, wizardry, and alchemy. Such practitioners as John Dee and Simon Forman gave alchemy in particular a repute in the highest quarters, and they had camp-followers who were more purely charlatans than themselves, and who were always ready to fish in troubled waters...As a masterpiece of design, within the compass of the classical unities, 'The alchemist' takes its place at the head of Jonson's comedies. And its sparkling variety of interest and characterization stands out in relief against the sombre uniformity of 'Volpone'” (Boas, 1946 pp 113-116). “The Alchemist...is a work of bizarre scholarship...It is...Jonson’s scholarly temperament which enables him to display...alchemical learning far beyond anything on medicine we find in Molière...Most comic writers who mock learning are not sufficiently interested to go beyond superficial caricature. But there is a tradition of perverse scholarship tuned to the benefit of a sort of fantastic dead-pan comedy which runs at least from Rabelais to Joyce and it is in this tradition that Jonson belongs...Surly...is cynical about everything except his own role as cynic...Surly can play his alchemist part in all sorts of different moods and styles...yet it is basically the same role...We sense that he has half begun to believe in his own powers, or at least to take for granted the awing effects of his persona...Face...by contrast can double and treble...Face is ironically faceless because each successive mask is equally plausible...The language of alchemy is closely related to the language of mystical religion...The alchemist was part scientist, part philosopher, but also part mystic” (Grene, 1980 pp 86-90). "Both the deceivers and deceived supply a fund of entertainment, only the author enters too deeply into the learning of alchemy. Of an unintelligible jargon very short specimens at most ought to be given. In comedy, and it is best that they should also have a secondary signification, of which the person who uses the mysterious language should not himself be aware; when carried to too great a length, the use of them occasions as much weariness as the writings themselves which served as a model" (Schlegel, 1846 p 465). "In order to make this subject worthy of high comedy, it was needful to elevate the Alchemist into a type of all practisers by fraud on human folly. And herein Jonson succeeded. His hero, Subtle, and the confederates, Face and Doll, personify the scientific charlatan and solemn knave, with his indispensable accomplices, who will continue to flourish so long as nature is mysterious and mankind is gullible. In our age we find the breed plentifully represented by spiritualists, clairvoyants, theosophists, and thought-readers. Jonson, therefore, attained the object of comic satire. While exposing a contemporary phase of imposture and its corresponding credulity, he painted a picture which, deducting purely local colouring, remains true to the permanent fact so of human roguery and weakness. And this he did by dwelling on the passions of Subtle's dupes. He shows how the desire to become suddenly rich, blending with hypocrisy, lust, stolid stupidity, vulgar craft, and mean ambition, bring the Puritan, the city knight, the grocer, the lawyer's clerk, and the little country squire severally into the sharper's clutches...Subtle has to act the part of charlatan, alchemist, astrologer, quack-doctor, chiromantist, metoposcopist, and what not. Face takes upon himself a double office. Inside the house, he is Subtle's under-strapper, familiar, bellows-blower, drug-preparer, varlet, Ulen-Spiegel. Outside, he assumes the character of one of those dubious captains who then infested taverns, ordinaries, play-houses, and the aisles of St Paul's, on the beat for simpletons to fleece" (Symonds, 1898 pp 98-99). “Its theme is perennially apt: greed and the gullibility of the money minded” (Clurman, 1966 p 178). "The characters who suffer most are those who have neither physical nor spiritual contentment...Dapper, the lawyer’s clerk, the stupidest of all the dupes, is very nearly a pathetic figure. Abel Drugger, an ambitious tobacco-man, is punished more severely than dapper for his desire to increase his business by necromancy and consulting almanacs. The most avaricious person in the play is Sir Epicure Mammon, who dominates the other characters by the range of his sensuous imagination and the glory of the words in which he clothes it...Sir Epicure has the redeeming trait of taking pleasure in his vain illusions. Except for his avarice, he is the exact opposite of the mean-spirited Puritans, Ananias and Tribulation Wholesome...The two brethren from Amsterdam are nicely differentiated: Tribulation Wholesome is the more practical of the two and concerns himself with the legality of their operations; Ananias, a subtler type, is busy with the details of religious observance, such as saying 'Christ-tide' instead of the Popish 'Christmas” (Perry, 1939 pp 104-105).
The history behind "Bartholomew Fair" is that "during the Middle Ages all the shops in London were forced to close during fairtime and set up booths in the Fair if they wanted to continue to do business. Such legislation was a standard accompaniment of the legal privilege of holding a fair. But by 1614 the Fair no longer swallowed up the whole city, no longer was the city in a holiday mode; it now seemed an appendage of its commerical life, and its national and international role as a hub of trade had perhaps begun to decline, though this decay did not become serious until the Restoration. The commercial fair maintained its festive character, and as late as the Commonwealth could invent new customs that perfectly expressed the festive mode" (Haynes, 1984 p 648). " "Bartholomew Fair" is a pure farce, conceived in the spirit of rollicking mirth, and executed with colossal energy. It is no satire either of manners or of individuals, but a broad Dutch painting of the humours of a London Carnival, such as only a man bred from boyhood to the town could have produced. The personages are admirably studied and grouped together with consummate insight into dramatic effect. The proctor, with his pretty wife and puritanical mother-in-law, the sleek minister from Banbury who woos the widow, the squire from Harrow, and his watchful attendant, the justice of the peace, for ever blundering in his preposterous disguises, the ginger-bread women and toy-shop people, the greasy cook who sells roast pig and carries on more questionable business, the bailiffs, watchmen, sharpers, and bullies who abound in every booth, the puppet-show, the ballad singer, the madman, and the miscellaneous crowd of costermongers, porters, pickpockets, and passengers, compose one varied ever-moving kaleidoscope of human beings" (Symonds, 1898 p 111). "Elizabethan life bustles and capers at the fair which is the scene of the comedy, and pious hypocrisy was never to be more gaily unmasked in the theatre except in Molière's Tartuffe. Jonson's puritan 'of a most lunatic conscience', Rabbi Zeal-of-the-Land Busy who has acquired a reputation for piety and has forced himself into the puritanical household of Mistress Purecraft, is a veritable oracle. When her daughter, Win-the-Fight, who is [pregnant], develops an insatiable craving for pork, it is Busy who must first be consulted. This diet is forbidden by his sect, which affects the observation of Old Testament regulations. But there is a time for everything, and when Mistress Purecraft pleads 'Think to make it as lawful as possible', the pious opportunist gives his consent, provided her daughter eats the tidbit with 'a reformed mouth'! At the fair, after imbibing more liquor than is seemly he becomes such an interfering nuisance that he is put in the stocks. These adventures, well supported by those concerning the whole crew of merrymakers, produce one of the most riotous satiric farces of the theatre" (Gassner, 1954a p 245). "The gentry is represented in the wellborn Grace,the middle classes classes in the citizen wife, Win, and the widow, Purecraft, the lower classes and the underworld in Ursula and Joan Trash. The moral range is equally encompassing, moving from the firm goodness of Grace to the easygoing virtue of Win and Mistress Overdo to the clear but sympathetically delineated culpability of Trash and Ursula" (Juneja, 1978-1979, p 342). "At Smithfield Quarlous is completely in his element, roaring, brawling, and baiting the pig woman as bravely as any of the fair's permanent inhabitants. More importantly, the fair enables Quarlous to use its madness for his own profit...What makes Wasp, Busy, and Overdo ludicrous is...that they are so consistently off center in their attacks upon [the fair]...The fair not only eludes the narrow legalism of its opponents but turns their own objections against them. As each of these figures raises his voice in protest, he unwittingly contributes to the melee at Smithfield, aiding the fair in its systematic flouting of law for profit. The same belligerence that motivates Wasp's assault on the fair involves him in Knockem's game of vapors, where he loses Cokes' marriage license as well as his own cloak and is clapped in the stocks for disturbing the peace. Busy falls victim to his own world of diabolic symbols" (Kaplan, 1970 pp 147-150). “The three characters who are placed in the stocks: Busy, Wasp, and Overdo, are the pretenders to authority…the kill-joys of the fair…all tyrannous abusers of their authority…The central interest in the play is the effect of the fair and the fair-people on the visitors. After each group has made an initial appearance as a group, we watch it begin to dissolve with couples and individuals breaking away until no two characters from one group are left together” (Grene, 1980 pp 3-5). The form of the play has kinship with the Old Comedy of Aristophanes. "All of Aristophanes' plays but one, The Clouds, ends with an exit to a marriage feast. However the Old Comedy marriage is not the romantic resolution of New Comedy; it is rather the establishment of a new and better order...In Jonson the marriage of the exodos is the reunification of all the characters and particularly of Adam Overdo and his wife in common humanity. This unification is represented in the final feast of reconciliation to which all of the characters are invited...The agon, the most important element in the Old Comedy, is a debate between the protagonist and the antagonist on the theme of the play...In Bartholomew Fair the agon is fought between Busy, the antagonist who argues for the hypocritical morality of the visitors to the fair, and the puppet Dionysius who argues for the sanity and intelligent realism of the people of the fair" (Potter, 1968 pp 292-293). "The emphasis is on debunking the claim to authority in the name of religion and the law which becomes laughable because it is shown up as being informed not by reason, which is the operative principle behind genuine authority, but by self-inflated meddlesomeness. Busy's 'inspired' denunciations of the Fair represent one kind of 'singularity', while Justice Overdo's pompously magisterial, but no less irrational attempts at rooting out 'enormities', represent another" (Ferreira-Ross, 1994, p 47). "Quarlous describes Zeal-of-the-land Busy as practicing his faith as a 'seditious motion' (1.3). Because motion is also another word commonly used for a puppet play, Quarlous is equating Busy to a puppet and his display of faith to the debased biblical stories traditionally associated with the Bartholomew Fair puppet theatre. Quarlous continues to set the stage for the later confrontation between Busy and the puppets by stating that Busy 'defies any other learning than inspiration' (1.3). Busy claims he is the recipient of divine inspiration, an inspiration with which he interprets the world, including Bartholomew Fair, for the Puritan brethren. The Puppet Dionysius, also a self-proclaimed recipient of true inspiration, counters Busy by announcing that he also 'speak[s] by inspiration as well as [Busy]' and has 'as little to do with learning as does Busy' (5.5). Quarlous's charge against Busy also sets the Puritan interpreter of the fair against Lantern Leatherhead as an interpreter of the puppet show. Busy is called on to interpret the fair and its meanings to Dame Purecraft, Win, and Littlewit in contrast to Leatherhead who interprets the puppet play for both of its audiences: the one onstage and the one offstage. After Littlewit discloses his authorship of a play for the 'motion man', Win describes Littlewit's puppet play as 'profane' (1.7). This brings together the connotations of the worldly, irreverent, and secular nature of Littlewit's profane motion (or play) with the description of Busy's 'seditious motion' (1.3). Even before the appearance of the puppets in 5.3, therefore, the audience sees two related and conflicting models of the construction of self. First, Busy's social construction of himself as one called by God to zealously preach against the sins of the fair conflicts with his gluttonous physical appetites and bad manners. Second, his equally conflicting material and spiritual inspirations equates him with the material and profane inspirations of the puppets. Consequently, and not surprisingly, when Winwife comments on Busy's impudence as Busy calls on 'his zeal to fill him against a puppet', Grace responds to Winwife's incredulity with 'I know no fitter match than a puppet to commit with an hypocrite' (5.5). The puritan and the puppet are interchangeable" (Caton, 2013 p 65). "Cokes goes through a series of unlucky accidents, which show up the Fair for what it is, but which make no impression upon him. At the end of the play he is taking as much pleasure in the puppets as if he had not had his pocket picked twice, lost his sword, cloak, and hat, and had his marriage license stolen. He finally loses his fiancee also, but there is not enough action in these episodes to make a smoothly running plot. The amount of attention given to Cokes is one reason for the lack of proportion that disfigures Bartholomew Fair...Busy, Numps, and Overdo are the most clear-cut figures in this comedy, but they are quite overpowered by the number of photographic personages who swarm across its stage" (Perry, 1939 pp 106-107). Other critics grasp the importance of Bartholomew Cokes. “Bartholomew Cokes, the prodigal, sinks happily into the fair, spending his money uncontrollably on trifles; as the play progresses, he is systematically cheated and stripped in the conventional manner; but, unlike conventional prodigals, he remains unchastened and uneducated by the experience, and at the end of the play, when everyone troops home to justice Overdo’s house for supper, he insists on bringing the puppets along. It is not the prodigal but the moral agents who are corrected. Justice Overdo, spying in disguise on the enormities of the fair, treating the measuring of custards and other such trifles as matters of grave public consequence, is really feeling the sense of his own importance. Wasp, the servant whose job it is to keep Bartholomew under control, is equally self-important” (Leggatt, 1973 pp 44-45). "Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream celebrates the special transforming power of a madness that is induced by love and poetry. In the majority of Jonson's plays, on the other hand, the characters most prey to imagination and fantasy are neither cleansed nor purified by their mid-day flights into unreality...Shakespeare wrought his magic in the hazy half-light of an enchanted forest. Jonson's fairyland is the dusty, noontime chaos of Smithfield hucksters, pickpockets and bawds. In his unique style, and in his unique setting, Jonson finally accepts the transforming and regenerative powers of the comedy of forgiveness. The daylight comic magic of Bartholomew Fair works wonders almost equal to the eye-drops and confusions mischievously administered by the invisible Puck" (Colley, 1977 p 63).
“The reputation of Jonson has been of the most deadly kind that can be compelled upon the memory of a great poet. To be universally accepted; to be damned by the praise that quenches all desire to read the book; to be afflicted by the imputation of the virtues which excite the least pleasure; and to be read only by historians and antiquaries— this is the most perfect conspiracy of approval...Probably the fault lies with several generations of our poets. It is not that the value of poetry is only its value to living poets for their own work; but appreciation is akin to creation, and true enjoyment of poetry is related to the stirring of suggestion, the stimulus that a poet feels in his enjoyment of other poetry. Jonson has provided no creative stimulus for a very long time consequently we must look back as far as Dryden precisely, a poetic practitioner who learned from Jonson— before we find a living criticism of Jonson's work...Whereas in Shakespeare the effect is due to the way in which the characters act upon one another, in Jonson it is given by the way in which the characters fit in with each other. The artistic result of ‘Volpone’ is not due to any effect that Volpone, Mosca, Corvino, Corbaccio, Voltore have upon each other, but simply to their combination into a whole. And these figures are not personifications of passions; separately, they have not even that reality, they are constituents...In the first hundred lines or more of ‘Volpone’ the verse...looks like mere ‘rhetoric’, certainly not ‘deeds and language such as men do use!' It appears to us forced and flagitious bombast. That it is not ‘rhetoric’, or at least not vicious rhetoric, we do not know until we are able to review the whole play. For the consistent maintenance of this manner conveys in the end an effect not of verbosity, but of bold, even shocking and terrifying directness...Jonson employs immense dramatic constructive skill: it is not so much skill in plot as skill in doing without a plot...In ‘Bartholomew fair’ it is hardly a plot at all; the marvel of the play is the bewildering rapid chaotic action of the fair; it is the fair itself, not anything that happens to take place in the fair...If we dig beneath the theory, beneath the observation, beneath the deliberate drawing and the theatrical and dramatic elaboration, there is discovered a kind of power, animating Volpone, Busy, Fitzdottrel, the literary ladies of Epicaene even Bobadil, which comes from below the intellect, and for which no theory of humours will account. And it is the same kind of power which vivifies Trimalchio, and Panurge, and some but not all of the ‘comic’ characters of Dickens" (Eliot, 1921 pp 95-107).
In Coleridge's view, “the characters in his plays are, in the strictest sense of the term, abstractions. Some very prominent feature is taken from the whole man, and that single feature or humour is made the basis upon which the entire character is built up. Ben Jonson's dramatis persona are almost as fixed as the masks of the ancient actors; you know from the first scene— sometimes from the list of names— exactly what every one of them is to be. He was a very accurately observing man; but he cared only to observe what was external or open to, and likely to impress, the senses. He individualizes, not so much, if at all, by the exhibition of moral or intellectual differences, as by the varieties and contrasts of manners, modes of speech and tricks of temper...I ought very particularly to call your attention to the extraordinary skill shown by Ben Jonson in contriving situations for the display of his characters. In fact, his care and anxiety in this matter led him to do what scarcely any of the dramatists of that age did— that is, invent his plots. It is not a first perusal that suffices for the full perception of the elaborate artifice of the plots of the Alchemist and the Silent Woman- that of the former is absolute perfection for a necessary entanglement, and an unexpected, yet natural, evolution. Ben Jonson exhibits a sterling English diction, and he has with great skill contrived varieties of construction; but his style is rarely sweet or harmonious, in consequence of his labour at point and strength being so evident. In all his works, in verse and prose, there is an extraordinary opulence of thought; but it is the produce of an amassing power in the author, and not the growth from within. Indeed a large proportion of Ben Jonson's thoughts may be traced to classic or obscure modern writers, by those who are learned and curious enough to follow the steps of this robust, surly, and observing dramatist” (1884 edition, pp 396-397). In Oscar Wilde's view, "Jonson’s characters are true to nature. They are in no sense abstractions; they are types. Captain Bobadil and Captain Tucca, Sir John Daw and Sir Amorous La Foole, Volpone and Mosca, Subtle and Sir Epicure Mammon, Mrs. Purecraft and the Rabbi Busy are all creatures of flesh and blood, none the less lifelike because they are labelled" (1919 edition p 39).
Time: 1600s. Place: Venice, Italy.
Volpone wakes in an enthusiastic mood: "Good morning to the day, and next, my gold!" When Mosca, his servant, draws the curtain, he continues rapturously: "Hail the world's soul, and mine!" He lies in bed, pretending to be dying. In hope of eventually becoming his heir, Voltore, a lawyer, gives him plate, Corbaccio, an old gentleman, a bag of chequins, and Corvino, a merchant, a pearl and a diamond. To eliminate the other two from the competition, Corbaccio disinherits his son, Bonario, while Corvino offers to Volpone his own wife, Celia. Volpone is near raping her but she is saved by Bonario, who stabs Mosca while taking her away. The incident leads to an investigation before the senate, Voltore as the lawyer defending himself and Corvino against Bonario, described as a "lascivious youth", and Celia, "a close adulteress". Voltore wins the case. Meanwhile, Peregrine, wearied of Sir Politic Would-be's pretentious knowledge of state policies, tricks him into believing the authorities are after him for treason. Hiding beneath a tortoise shell to avoid detection, he is found out by some merchants, who laugh at his disgrace. Volpone and Mosca continue to stuff their pockets with their victims' credulity. Then Mosca has the idea of declaring himself as Volpone's heir, walking about in rich robes after robbing him. Thinking Volpone dead, the three victims complain to the senate about Mosca's cheats. Seeing himself robbed and threatened with a whipping for falsely accusing Mosca, Volpone reveals he is still alive. At last, the senate members discover the true culprits and punish them all: Mosca is to be whipped and sent to the galleys for the remainder of his life, Volpone's properties to be confiscated and he sent to prison, Voltore barred from practicing as a lawyer, Corbaccio to lose his properties to Bonario and he sent to a monastery, because he is told: "since thou knew'st not how to live well here,/Thou shalt be learned to die well", Corvino rowed about Venice "wearing a cap with fair long ass' ears" and then placed inside stocks.
Time: 1600s. Place: London, England.
Face, servant to Lovewit, and his confederate, Subtle, cheat Dapper, a clerk, by promising supernatural help to win at gambling, so that he may become "the darling of the dice". A second victim enters next, Abel Drugger, a seller of tobacco, who also seeks supernatural help by necromancy to know how to dispose of his new shop and make it thrive. He is followed by Sir Epicure Mammon, seeking the philosopher's stone to turn every object to gold, enough for him to own a seraglio. He is accompanied by Surly, suspicious of Subtle and Face's promises. Mammon sees Dol Common, the duo's confederate, at a window, and lusts after her. Tribulation and Ananias, exiles from Holland, also seek supernatural help to gain money for the Puritan cause. All these are cheated by Subtle, Face, and Dol appearing in various guises. They are followed by Kastril, seeking help in learning how to manage quarrels, together with his sister, Dame Pliant, looking for a husband. Kastril is tempted to marry her to a Spanish don, actually the disguised Surly, returned to investigate the suspicious doings inside Lovewit's house. Surly speaks Spanish, seemingly to court Dame Pliant. As Mammon advances to take Dol to bed, an explosion is heard, and Face enters very distressed, saying that "All the works/Are flown in fumo, every glass is burst!" In the house garden, Surly reveals himself to Dame Pliant, warning her about where she has fallen, among "a nest of villains". Surly then confronts Subtle and Face, who begin to feel the game is up, all the more so when the master of the house arrives, astonished from his neighbors' accounts of the many persons seen to enter and leave his house when he had left Face alone, who is eventually forced to ask his master's pardon, while Subtle and Dol escape by jumping over a wall. All the victims return, only to find out they have been cheated in various ways.
Time: 1610s. Place: London, England.
Winwife and Zeal-of-the-Land-Busy, a Puritan, court the same rich widow, Dame Purecraft, mother of Win Littlewit. John Littlewit, her husband, makes much of her and acts as a proctor in preparing the marriage licence between Bartholomew Cokes, a simpleton, ward to the irascible Wasp, and Grace Wellborn, a prepared marriage much to her displeasure. Win Littlewit is pregnant and longs to feed on pig at Bartholomew Fair. She fools her Puritan mother into thinking her health is in danger without it. Busy also agrees to go to the fair and eat pig: "To express our hate and loathing of Judaism," says he. Adam Overdo is a justice of the peace who enters Bartholomew Fair disguised as a fool, to discover suspected crimes committed there. Tents of the fair are being put up by various tenants, such as Ursula, the pig-woman, who enters sweating from roasting pig, so that she seems to "melt away to the first woman, a rib again". While Cokes is listening to a ballad on the dangers of tobacco chanted by a thief, Nightingale, his purse is stolen by his confederate, Edgworth. Nonplussed by his loss, Cokes boasts while waiving about an even richer purse that he is not likely to be robbed again, much to the disgust of Wasp. But yet while Nightingale sings of the dangers of a life of thievery, Cokes is robbed a second time by the same perpetrators, viewed by Winwife and his friend, Quarlous. Having marriage designs on Grace, Quarlous asks Edgworth to steal Cokes' marriage license kept by Wasp. Winwife and Quarlous flirt with Grace, who, in despair over the follies of Cokes, encourages both rivals by asking them to write a word-name on a piece of paper, whereby the next person she meets with that name becomes her husband. In his usual irritated mood, Wasp quarrels with the disguised Overdo while Busy pulls down Joan Trash's gingerbread figures as an "idolatrous grove of images". All three are arrested and punished in the stocks. Wasp escapes by putting his hand inside instead of his shoe and the other two escape when law-officers are distracted by Trouble-all, who went mad some time ago after being fired by Overdo. While a puppet-show of the "Hero and Leander" legend is prepared, Overdo enters disguised as a porter. He intends going beyond the call of duty to help humanity, as a Christ-like figure: "Wherein, cloud-like," he says, "I will break out in rain and hail, lightning and thunder, upon the head of enormity." Trouble-all is the first person Grace meets, whereby she reveals that Winwife has won the contest. Meanwhile, having only pretended to be a religious woman all this while, Dame Purecraft reveals her love to Trouble-all, but he is actually Quarlous disguised as the madman, who wishes to marry her for her money. At the puppet-show, Win Littlewit meets Edgeworth, who asks her: "Is this not a finer life, lady, than to be clogged with a husband?" "Yes, a great deal," she admits. The puppet-show is interrupted by Busy, who cries out: "Down with Dagon, down with Dagon," in his hate of all play-shows. At last, Overdo reveals himself in his true shape as magistrate. Ready to expose the many enormities he was witness to, he is cut short by the presence of his wife in a nauseous state and in ambiguous company. Instead, he invites everybody to his house for supper.
John Webster (1580ca-1634) is best known for two tragedies: "The white devil" (1612) and "The duchess of Malfi" (1612-13).
In "The Elizabethan world picture" (1958), Tillyard wrote that “all the violence of Elizabethan drama has nothing to do with a dissolution of moral standards; on the contrary, it can afford to indulge itself just because those standards were powerful.” But according to Jack (1949), this does not apply to Webster’s plays. He says that the moral sentences evoked have nothing to do with the action of the plays, constituting their “fundamental flaw”. “Degree and order were not real enough to Webster to stir his imagination". Moreover, Jack accused Webster of “artistic insincerity” in Vittoria’s “innocence-seeming boldness”. Also, “an irruption of real humor of the Shakespearian sort would knock Webster’s waxworks into a cocked hat.” This critic does not take into account the redeeming quality of black humor. In contrast, Mulryne (1972) discussed the aesthetic effects resulting from a reader's uneasiness of his plays. However, according to him, the plays also display the debatable if not dubious point of “moral and emotional anarchy".
"To descend from Shakespeare to Webster is to walk out of air into the grave, to leave the workaday world of good and evil for the charnel house of perfect corruption. In the blackest of Shakespeare’s tragedies you still feel that there is a heaven, and that God is in it. But in such a play as The White Devil there is no heaven for God to be in; evil by becoming normal has ceased to be extravagant, and goodness no longer is" (Agate, 1926 p 38). "Vittoria is a remarkable woman, all fire and spirit. That she should turn from a tepid marriage to a clandestine love is inevitable... When Vittoria is brought to trial, she makes her defense with all the resourcefulness of a woman who is fighting for her love and her self-respect. In the jealous quarrel with Brachiano, she is not a passive mistress; sure of her love and unbowed in spirit she gives him strong words and creates perhaps the most exciting lovers’ quarrel in all dramatic literature. She also dies uncowed, troubled only by the reflection that her love had to be stained with crime...Brachiano’s personality is almost equally splendid. Although he allows the officious Flamineo to rid him of Vittoria’s husband and of the duchess, he is neither a tyrant nor a lecher but a passion-swept man. The corruption is not in him but in the age, and it is far more apparent in Florence's diabolical plot against him and in the cynical behavior of Vittoria’s brother. But even the latter is not a stock character. He was a scholar who discovered that innocent intelligence and decent behavior left men out in the cold. He therefore applies his intellect to the profitable employment of pandering to his sister and the duke. However, he never represses his individuality or his mordant satire of the society that has warped his talents...The innumerable telling moments of the play, its passion and anguish, its exposure of men’s depravity and society’s hypocrisy, the explosiveness of the dialogue, and the sense of the horror of life and its end that reaches its climax in the famous dirge 'Call for the robin-red-breast and the wren' and in the death of the lovers— these qualities belong to the highest reaches of tragedy" (Gassner, 1954a pp 261-262). "In the trial scene the defiant haughtiness of Vittoria, entrenched in her illustrious birth, against the taunts of the Cardinal, making one think of Browning's Ottima, magnificent in sin, excites a sympathy which must check itself if it would not become admiration. She dies with the same unconquerable spirit, not shaming in death at least the blood of the Vitelli that ran in her veins" (Lowell, 1992 p 75). "Vittoria has been as beautiful as she has been evil; the dramatist has maintained towards her a moral ambivalence, and when she dies with courage and defiance, preserving her integrity of life to the very last, we share imaginatively in a sense of heroism, of pride in the human condition, be it what it may. This sense of the heroic partially counteracts the feeling of despair created by the vision of an uncertain and chaotic world we have beheld; it generates a pride in life itself...Vittoria's integrity of life is the source of pride, and this pride growing out of evil is a reflection of the paradox in the play's title, that there may be good implicit in the darkest evil" (Ribner, 1961 p 109). "This white devil of Italy sets off a bad cause so speciously, and pleads with such an innocence-resembling boldness, that we seem to see that matchless beauty of her face which inspires such gay confidence into her, and are ready to expect, when she has done her pleadings, that her very judges, her accusers, the grave ambassadors who sit as spectators, and all the court, will rise and make proffer to defend her in spite of the utmost conviction of her guilt...I never saw anything like the funeral dirge in this play, for the death of Marcello, except the ditty which reminds Ferdinand of his drowned father in 'The tempest'. As that is of the water, watery, so this is of the earth, earthy. Both have that intenseness of feeling which seems to resolve itself into the element which it contemplates" (Lamb 1895 edition pp 214-215). "The real charm of The White Devil is the wholly miraculous poetry in phrases and short passages which it contains. Vittoria’s dream of the yew-tree, almost all the speeches of the unfortunate Isabella, and most of her rival’s, have this merit. But the most wonderful flashes oft poetry are put in the mouth of the scoundrel Flamineo, where they have a singular effect. The famous dirge which Cornelia sings can hardly be spoken of now except in Lamb’s artfully simple phrase 'I never saw anything like it', and the final speeches of Flamineo and his sister deserve the same endorsement" (Saintsbury, 1894 p 276). In Flamineo, we have “the perpetrator of villainy [as] its most caustic critic: he is a 'criminal moralizer'” (Wilson Knight, 1962 p 104). Unobtrusive moments of the play are discovered in performance. “Flamineo has murdered his brother, and his mother, repenting her sudden anger, offers to the assembled lords and ruffians who compose the play's cast an explanation that lets him out. Then, treading on silence, a page, whom I had not noticed before, and was not to notice again, quietly says these five words: ‘This is not true, madam.’ That is all. As this play counts noise, it is hardly more than a whisper. Am I right in thinking that the name of the actor who plays the page is not even mentioned on the programme? Yet for me it was the most striking moment in a performance in which such moments are not few” (Hobson, 1948 pp 59-60).
In "The duchess of Malfi", "the threads of the plot are ingeniously interwoven so that the criminals become unwillingly the agents of retribution on one another. Bosola kills in the dark Antonio, whom he meant to save, and then wounds the cardinal, who, by warning the household to disregard cries in the night from the frenzied duke or from himself, has cut himself from rescue. Ferdinand, roused by the struggle, gives death-wounds to his brother and Bosola, but the latter kills him before dying himself. It is not however in the tragic loading of the stage that the main significance of the finale lies. It is in the chill spirit of hopeless melancholy of which each actor in turn is spokesman. Antonio’s dying cry is: 'Pleasure of life what is’t?/Only the good hours of an ague.' Ferdinand in his distraction accounts the world but a dog kennel. The cardinal’s last prayer is ‘to be laid by and never thought of’. Bosola, in an echo from Sidney’s Arcadia, laments: 'We are merely the stars’ tennis-balls struck and bandied/Which way please them' (Boas (1946) p 202). Charles Lamb described the protagonist thus: "She speaks the dialect of despair; her tongue has a snatch of Tartarus and the souls in bale. To move a horror skilfully, to touch a soul to the quick, to lay upon fear as much as it can bear, to wean and weary a life till it is ready to drop, and then step in with mortal instruments to take its last forfeit,— this only a Webster can do. Inferior geniuses may 'upon horror's head horrors accumulate', but they cannot do this. They mistake quantity for quality; they 'terrify babes with painted devils', but they know not how a soul is to be moved. Their terrors want dignity, their affrightments are without decorum" (1895 edition p 214). “The duchess has the innocence of abundant life in a sick and melancholy society, where the fact that she has 'youth and a little beauty' is precisely why she is hated. She reminds us too that one of the essential characteristics of innocence in the martyr is an unwillingness to die. When Bosola comes to murder her he makes elaborate attempts to put her half in love with easeful death and to suggest that death is really a deliverance. The attempt is motivated by a grimly controlled pity, and is roughly the equivalent of the vinegar sponge in the Passion. When the Duchess, her back to the wall, says ‘I am the duchess of Malfi still', ‘still’ having its full weight of ‘always’, we understand how it is that even after her death her invisible presence continues to be the most vital character in the play. The White Devil is an ironic parody-treatment of the same phase” (Frye, 1957 pp 219-220).
"The extraordinary force and beauty of the scene where the duchess is murdered; the touches of poetry, pure and simple, which, as in the The White Devil, are scattered all over the play. The fantastic accumulation of terrors before the climax and the remarkable character of Bosola justify the high place generally assigned to the work. True, Bosola wants the last touches, the touches which Shakespere would have given. He is not wholly conceivable as he is. But as a plain dealer gone wrong, a malcontent (Webster's work on that play very likely suggested him) turned villain, a man whom ill-luck and fruitless following of courts have changed from a cynic to a scoundrel, he is a strangely original and successful study. The dramatic flashes in the play would of themselves save it: ' I am duchess of Malfi still', and the other famous one 'Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young' often as they have been quoted, can only be quoted again. They are of the first order of their kind, and, except the 'already my De Flores' of 'The Changeling' there is nothing in the Elizabethan drama out of Shakespeare to match them" (Saintsbury, 1894 pp 278-279). “The duchess, tormented by Bosola before her death, cries out: ‘I could curse the stars’...His answer is a perfect Jacobean summation: ‘Look you, the stars shine still’. The verse is justly famous: it chills by its glimpse of a universe without human affinities, without place for values and virtues, with only the ultimate malignity of mechanical indifference” (Herndl, 1970 p 198).
"The white devil"
Time: 16th century. Place: Italy.
Flaminio, brother to Vittoria Corombona, pretends to intercede on behalf of Camillo, her neglected husband, when in reality he panders for the duke of Brachiano. Flaminio's mother, Cornelia, grieves at this sight and, to his irritation, interrupts their discourse. Francisco de Medici, duke of Florence and brother to Brachiano's wife, Isabella, as well as the cardinal of Monticelso complain of Brachiano's treatment of his wife, accusing him of adultery with Vittoria. More softly than these, Isabella appeals to her husband. "You have oft, for these two lips,/Neglected cassia, or the natural sweets/Of the spring-violet: they are not yet much wither'd," she says. But in reply, he accuses her of complaining to the "corpulent duke" and only agrees to kiss her hand, vowing never to sleep with her again. To avoid further animosities between husband and brother, Isabella pretends to be impatient at her husband and vows never to lie with him, so that the blame may fall on her. Impatient at being accused, Brachiano commands Camillo's death by Flamineo and Flamineo's brother, Marcello, and Isabella's death by a doctor. Though she only suggested the matter to her lover in the form of a dream, Vittoria is accused of her husband's murder, along with Camillo and Marcello. Francisco and Monticelso sit as judges at Vittoria's trial. Unable to find evidence of murder, they nevertheless confine her to a house of penitent whores. Flamineo pretends to be mad to escape from being interrogated more closely. He meets Lodovico, recently recalled from banishment, and proposes that they become more "sociably unsociable". As a cynical answer to this proposal, Lodovico calls his sister a whore, whereby Flaminio strikes his face. They are separated before they kill each other. As a first step to exact revenge for his sister's murder, Francisco writes to Vittoria as if he were her suitor, a message deliberately made known to Brachiano. He is immediately incensed: "I'll cut her into atomies,/And let th' irregular north wind sweep her up,/And blow her in his nostrils: where's this whore?" He shows her the letter, exclaiming: "How long have I beheld the devil in crystal!" Grieving and angry, she describes her present state of mind. "I had a limb corrupted to an ulcer,/But I have cut it off; and now I'll go/Weeping to heaven on crutches," she declares until he regains his senses and they are reconciled with the help of Flamineo. "Oh, sir," he says to him, "your little chimneys/Do ever cast most smoke," and proposes to her that she dress like a page and escape with her lover to Padua. Monticelso, now elected Pope Paul IV, meets Lodovico and seems at first to scold him on moral grounds" "Dost thou imagine, thou canst slide on blood/And not be tainted with a shameful fall?/Or, like the black and melancholic yew-tree,/Dost think to root thyself in dead men's graves,/And yet to prosper?" he thunders, but yet sends him payment to pursue Camillo's murderer. At last, Brachiano marries Vittoria and in their revels welcome what they consider a mere a soldier, Mulinassar, but actually the vengefully minded Francisco in disguise, accompanied by Lodovico and others. Marcello quarrels with Flamineo about his keeping Zanche as a mistress, because of which the latter stabs his own brother to death before their mother's face. As Brachiano dons his helmet to fight at a tournament, he begs his servants to take it off, the beaver being poisoned by Lodovico, but they do so too late. He warns Vittoria not to kiss the poison. While lying on his death-bed, Brachiano is visited by Lodovico and another man, both dressed like Capuchins carrying crucifix and candle. Finding his death-throes too long, Lodovico strangles him to death. Meanwhile, Zanche foolishly admits her hand in Isabella's death to Mulinassar and as penitence plans to rob Vittoria's money and jewels and escape with him. The new duke following Brachiano's death, Giovanni, orders Flamineo out of court. Flamineo goes to his sister to understand what she intends to do with him. She turns him away. He leaves the room but then returns with pistols to kill both her and Zanche. The women manage to convince him that he should die first, but the pistols go off without bullets. All three are surprised by the sudden arrival of Lodovico and a comrade. Flamineo begs to let him kill Vittoria, but Lodovico and the comrade stab all three. In turn, both are surprised, shot at, and captured by Giovanni's followers, then led out to torture, of which Lodovico feels indifferent. "For my part,/The rack, the gallows, and the torturing wheel/Shall be but sound sleeps to me: here's my rest;/I limn'd this night-piece, and it was my best," he declares.
"The duchess of Malfi"
Time: 16th century. Place: Italy.
Text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2232 http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Duchess_of_Malfi https://archive.org/details/duchessofmalfipl00websuoft https://archive.org/details/duchessofmalfitr00webs https://archive.org/details/duchessmalfiapl00websgoog
For an inexplicable reason, Ferdinand, duke of Calabria, and his brother, a cardinal, will not permit their young widowed sister, the duchess of Malfi, to remarry. They plant a malcontent, Bosola, to spy on her activities under the guise of the provisorship of her horses. She promises both brothers she will abide by this, but yet is secretly married to Antonio, her steward, an act Cariola, her servant, considers "fearful madness". Bosola suspects the truth but is unable to prove it. To distract the household from discovering her imminent delivery, Antonio pretends that jewels and plate have been stolen and must be found. To his friend, Delio, Antonio is in a frenzy of worry for himself but mostly for the duchess: "She's exposed/Unto the worst of torture, pain and fear," until she is delivered, which Bosola discovers when Antonio involuntarily drops a paper on the boy's nativity. Delio proposes to Julia, mistress to the cardinal, to be his mistress as well whenever away from her husband, Castruccio. She answers: "Sir, I'll go ask my husband if I shall,/And straight return your answer." When the brothers find out the truth about the duchess, Ferdinand is incensed, but the cardinal succeeds in calming him down. Several years later, the duchess is generally known to have three children. Ferdinand proposes a husband for her, Count Malateste, but she disapproves of this match. In response, Ferdinand gives her a knife and swears she will never see him again. To free herself from the anguish of being suspected and to send him away so that she may join him later, the duchess accuses Antonio if robbing her. Bosola discovers the lie and also that Antonio is her husband and the father of three children. Antonio is sent to Ancona where she promises to join him, but by the cardinal's order he is banished from that city. While Antonio leaves with his oldest son, Bosola seizes the duchess with her two youngest, kept in house imprisonment. Because of his vow, Ferdinand comes to her in the dark of night, offering not a friendly but a dead man's hand. Bosola next visits her to show her what seem to be the dead bodies of her husband and children, but actually wax-figures of them. While she despairs and raves, Bosola remarks: "Look you, the stars shine still." Her nights become disturbed by the "hideous noise" of madmen placed near her house. She asks them to come in. Bosola enters with them, disguised as an old man, a fatal bellman, to tell her: "I am come to make thy tomb." Horrible antics are presented for her entertainment, but she does not sink under: "I am duchess of Malfi still," she announces. Next, executioners enter with coffin, cords, and bell. Bosola remarks : "This cord should terrify you," to which she responds: "Not a whit:/What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut/With diamonds? or to be smothered/With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?/I know death hath ten thousand several doors/For men to take their exits; and 'tis found/They go on such strange geometrical hinges,/You may open them both ways: any way, for heaven-sake,/So I were out of your whispering." They strangle her to death, as well as Cariola and two of her children. Though he himself had ordered his sister's death, Ferdinand turns to Bosola to ask: "Why didst thou not pity her?" As a reward, to Bosola's despair, he merely pardons him the murder, then begins to lose his senses, displaying symptoms of lycanthropia, the belief he is being transformed into a wolf. Meanwhile, the cardinal, beginning to weary of Julia, confesses his part of the duchess' murder and then kills her with a poisoned Bible. Bosola kills Antonio by mistake and, suspecting the cardinal intends to kill him, stabs him in the melee. Wandering in madness and suspecting everyone as his enemy, Ferdinand stabs both the cardinal and Bosola. Though wounded to death, Bosola manages to stab Ferdinand. All three die. Antonio's elder son is the new duke of Malfi. Delio enjoins the nobles by declaring: "Let us make noble use/Of this great ruin; and join all our force/To establish this young hopeful gentleman/In's mother's right. These wretched eminent things/Leave no more fame behind 'em, than should one/Fall in a frost, and leave his print in snow;/As soon as the sun shines, it ever melts,/Both form and matter."
Like Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton (1580-1637) wrote comedies and tragedies of a high order. Comedies include "A trick to catch the old one" (1605) and "A chaste maid in Cheapside" (1613), tragedies include "The revenger's tragedy" (1606) and "The changeling" (1622), the latter in collaboration with a William Rowley (1585ca-1626), a specialist in madman scenes. One senses in Middleton a conservative and strongly Protestant bent, especially critical of young gallants and old fools, similar to the later Restoration stage, but more poetical, and, unlike the Restoration period, women's unchaste behaviors lead to disaster. "The revenger's tragedy" was first attributed to Cyril Tourneur (1575-1626), a notion that seems doubtful now.
"A trick to catch the old one" is "representative of Middleton’s early group of comedies. They introduce us into the world of middle-class London life, portrayed with a light-hearted cynicism, where youth is chiefly given over to dissipation and age makes a god of money. The characters are, for the most part, types rather than individuals, and their fortunes do not move us deeply. But agreeable entertainment is provided by well-contrived, swiftly moving plots and by easy and vivacious, though not highly polished, dialogue...The whole of this imbroglio in Acts III and IV is very skilfully managed by Middleton, who carries along the action at breakneck pace and turns his knowledge of legal detail to deft use. But the disclosure of the widow’s real identity in the short final act is too forced and abrupt" (Boas, 1946 p 222-223). Gassner (1954a) summarized "A trick to catch the old one" as a "pungent farce in which a thriftless nephew imposes on his grasping old uncle. The play is alternately salacious and satirical, and it owes a great deal of its interest to that gusto for creative colloquial speech which is presented in the work of most Elizabethans but which strikes us as so remarkable whenever we come across it in the plays of our own time. Old man Hoard, believing himself to have been deprived of a business deal, exclaims that it was unfair for his rival 'to come in the evening of the bargain, and glean all my hopes in a minute; to enter, as it were, at the back door of the purchase.' When a character separates the bellicose old men, he declares regarding them that 'when the fire grows too unreasonably hot, there’s no better way than to take off the wood'" (p 255). “Middleton’s character drawing is manifest in the villain-miser Hoard, [who] has an irrepressible animal vigour and lusty, crude high spirits which are attractive; when winning over the courtesan, whom he believes rich, his businessman’s cynical sense of humour is undeniably attractive and truthful...The sequence ridicules Hoard’s vanity, greed and folly while simultaneously revealing his energy, courage and sheer animal gusto” (Gibbons, 1968 pp 162-163). “Middleton is very careful to preserve the comic tone against the satiric, the bitter, and the black that could easily take over. For one thing, Hoard has asked for it; no trap had been set up for him...On learning the truth, he begins to look at things pragmatically...The effect is that of an ironic reversal, of a new adaptation to reality, rather than of bitter defeat or a nasty new stock-piling of resentment, peace instead of a feud. Middleton has Witgood restrain from triumph and try to make defeat bearable to Hoard. The covetous uncle Lucre gets in a laugh or two, but his triumph is small, for he was equally taken in by the rich widow hoax and, gratified by the vision of more money in the family (if Witgood married the widow) he had restored to Witgood some funds that he had not snatched from him. Witgood goes out of his way to assure Hoard about his new wife...and, instead of gloating over his successful game, criticizes his debauchery and declares himself reclaimed” (Heilman, 1978b pp 164-165). Downer (1950) pointed out that there is no moral justification for Witgood's success, unless it be that Uncle Lucre deserved “punishment for keeping from Witgood the wherewithal for continuing his dissolute course. But the moral issue is not raised, in part because Lucre is as vicious an old man as Witgood a young one, and in part because this is a picture of reality and not a comment or satirical attack on it” (p 145).
Boas (1946) complained of the "sorry picture" of "A chaste maid in Cheapside". "For grossly cynical audacity there is nothing in Stuart drama that can outdo the speech in I.ii in which Allwit glories in the advantages of being a cuckold. And when the child is born ‘a fine plump black-eyed slut’, he congratulates himself on merely having to bid the ‘gossips’ for the christening, while the expense of the feast, of nurses, and charwomen falls upon Whorehound. The scene (III.ii) after the christening in Mistress Allwit’s bedroom, where the gossips and Puritan neighbours gather to chatter and to partake of comfits and wine not wisely but too well, is painted with coarse Skeltonic realism" (p 225). Other critics in no wise consider this a "sorry picture" and would substitute "gross" and "coarse" for "earthy". “Middleton’s satire focuses on those characters who, devoid of all religious and moral conviction, uninterested in morality, do not recognize the existence of love between man and woman, father and son, father and daughter. All human relationships are conceived in terms of financial contract...Tim’s attitude to his sister is precisely the same as his attitude to the plate and her father, Yellowhammer, regards his daughter as a marketable commodity...It is the financial concern of Touchwood Senior which prevents him fathering a family while it is precisely for financial and property reasons that Kix wishes for children. It is insistence that financial considerations are the sole valid considerations that leads Allwit to submit to the boorish domination of Sir Walter Whorehound, and it is such considerations which drive Allwit to prevent Sir Walter from marrying. One of the neatest ironies in the plot is that Allwit’s selfishly acquisitive motives result in a situation where the sexually acquisitive desires of Young Touchwood find satisfaction instead” (Gibbons, 1968 p 167). “In giving up his responsibilities, [Allwit] has given up his authority. His servants refer to Sir Walter as their master...Human beings are described in terms that reduce them to beasts, inanimate objects, or salable commodities...When Moll Yellowhammer seems on the point of death, her brother’s words reflect the way her parents intended to use her: ‘Gold into white money was never so changed/As is my sister’s colour into paleness’...When it becomes apparent that the knight’s usefulness is at an end, Allwit orders him out of the house with a speech that would be hard to match for breathtaking audacity...Yellowhammer is allowed to speak the last lines of the play, a function usually reserved for sympathetic or reformed characters” (Leggatt, 1973 pp 140-143).
On "The revenger's tragedy", Lamb, cited in Matthews (1895), wrote that "the reality and life of the dialogue in which Vindici and Hippolito first tempt their mother, and then threaten her with death for consenting to the dishonour of their sister, passes any scenical illusion I ever felt. I never read it but my ears tingle and I feel a hot blush overspread my cheeks, as if I were presently about to proclaim such malefactions of myself as the brothers here rebuke in their unnatural parent, in words more keen and dagger-like than those which Hamlet speaks to his mother. Such power has the passion of shame truly personated, not only to strike guilty creatures unto the soul, but to 'appal' even those that are 'free'" (p 213). "With (in Swinburne’s phrase) the ‘fiery jet’ of its ‘molten verse’, its revealing flashes of dialogue, its mastery of stage situations, and its unflinching presentation of an intellect and will consecrated solely to revenge, it stands in the front rank of Stuart drama" (Boas, 1946 p 219).
“The changeling" "has the true Elizabethan flame that flares even if it smokes...a powerful psychological drama, and although it is tinged with reflection and is full of the pity of human frustration it moves with breathless intensity" (Gassner, 1954a p 256). Plot and subplot reflect each other in tragic and comic responses. The plot "entails empathy: to the extent that we can regard Beatrice, De Flores, and Alsemero as creatures like ourselves, their version of the story will appear threatening and pitiful, or at least morbidly fascinating. The subplot provokes the second response, which assumes that we will feel superior to its characters in intelligence, or regard them as somehow unreal, or feel that the outcome of their intrigues will not cause them much harm (or all three attitudes together)" (Pentzell, 1975 p 5). "The girl, with her southern recklessness of anything but her immediate desires, and her southern indifference to deceiving the very man she loves, is sufficiently remarkable, as she stands out of the canvas. But De Flores,—the broken gentleman, reduced to the position of a mere dependant, the libertine whose want of personal comeliness increases his mistress’s contempt for him, the murderer double and treble dyed, as audacious as he is treacherous, and as cool and ready as he is fiery in passion,— is a study worthy to be classed at once with Iago, and interior only to Iago in their class. The several touches with which these two characters and their situations are brought out are as shakesperian as their conception, and the whole of that part of the play in which they figure is one of the most wonderful triumphs of English or of any drama" (Saintsbury, 1894 p 270). "The moral action demonstrates how Beatrice becomes the 'deed's creature' and how De Flores becomes eventually a 'wondrous necessary man'. They are lovers and they deserve each other, but the interest of the play lies not so much in character as in the changeling idea, by which a character like Beatrice- empty, charming, and seemingly innocent when the play begins- comes to perceive her own damnation. De Flores has a difficult time convincing her of her share in the murder of Alonzo. Through her own complicity, she must become like De Flores, who will possess her as his only reward for the murder...No Elizabethan tragedy is more steeped in double entendre, with Beatrice's own sense of her fall from grace. To her unbelieving father at the end, she draws away in self-loathing" (Charney, 1979 pp 332-333). “The most powerful scene [occurs when] Beatrice-Joanna is forced to yield to De Flores, [which] distinguishes the play from all but the greatest of its contemporaries...One by one they are trapped, not by a desire to do evil, but by a desire for that which in any other situation might be good” (Downer, 1950 p 173-174). "It is highly paradoxical that one of the most grimly powerful of Stuart tragedies should take its title from a character in a farcical underplot which has the loosest relation to the main action...The dialogue in which without loss of dignity she enlists for her fell purpose the man whom she has hitherto spurned like a cur is a masterpiece of economical dramatic construction...It is the unfaltering ruthlessly logical sequence of every word and act of Beatrice and De Flores that places them in the very forefront of Stuart dramatic creations" (Boas, 1946, pp 241-245).
"A trick to catch the old one"
Time: 1600s. Place: London, England.
Witgood is a rioter who has consumed much money on a courtesan, but it is by her means he seeks to help redress his fortunes. Having mortgaged his lands to his Uncle Lucre, Witgood spreads a rumor about that he has a chance to marry a rich widow, in reality the courtesan in disguise. Impressed and willing to help his nephew obtain her, Lucre offers him a house with rich furnishings. Expecting their money back, a band of three creditors are also impressed and eagerly await this marriage. They help him by giving him even more money. Hoard, Lucre's mortal enemy, cannot believe his ears that such good fortune could fall on "the spume of a brothel-house" and decides to marry the widow himself. In cahoots with Witgood, the courtesan pretends to love Hoard and goes off with him. On learning that his enemy has carried her off, Lucre is incensed and chases after her. So do Witgood's creditors. They catch up to her, Lucre offering to give his nephew back his mortgage, the creditors more money. She answers: "When I hear this done/I shall soon yield to reasonable terms." Yet she remains with Hoard, and the creditors' patience ends, so that Witgood is arrested for debts. When he seeks to attract pity on his situation by asking them: "What good will my carcass do you?" one of them responds: "We that are used to keep birds in cages, have the heart to keep men in prison, I warrant you." In view of Witgood's arrest, the courtesan opts to marry Hoard. Lucre goes to law to pursue her for breach of marriage contract. To rid themselves of this attack, she asks her husband to pay Witgood's debts, which he does. Free at last, Witgood reveals to his uncle that his enemy has married a whore, news conveyed eventually to the despondent Hoard. Witgood promises Hoard: "I have banished myself forever from her" and so the new husband must rest content.
"A chaste maid in Cheapside"
Time: 1610s. Place: London, England.
Yellowhammer, a goldsmith, seeks to marry his daughter advantageously to the son of Sir Walter Whorehound. Moll, Yellowhammer's daughter, wants instead to marry Touchwood. Walter arrives to renew adulterous relations with Mistress Allwit, to the complete and absolute approval of Master Allwit, a lazy wittol (complaisant cuckold), whose main revenue is Walter himself, father of his seven children. Walter also wishes to bind in marriage his supposed niece, actually his whore, to Yellowhammer's son, Tim, a university student with a penchant for quoting Latin. Moll and Touchwood try to elope together, but she is captured by her parents and sent back home. Walter, angry at Touchwood for attempting to foil the planned marriage, crosses swords with him, with the result that both are wounded. Touchwood is reported to have died in the duel. The same applies to Moll, out of grief of her thwarted love. Afraid to die, more especially anguished over his moral state in the after-life as a result of his immoral relations with the Allwits, Walter cries out in despair: "Her pleasing pleasures now hath poisoned me/Which I exchanged my soul for." He curses both. As a result, they dismiss him from their lives. During the funeral ceremonies in memory of Touchwood and Moll, the news of their death are revealed to be false and the couple may joyfully marry. Tim marries Walter's companion, but the rumors about her wealth are then discovered to be false.
Time: 1620s. Place: Alicant, Spain.
Alsemero and Beatrice-Joanna wish to marry, but her father, Vermandero, prefers Alonzo, and intends to force his choice on her. Alonzo's brother, Tomazo, notices that she appears not to love him in any way, but Alonzo considers her attitude maidenly modesty. Desperate to avoid the clog of an unloving marriage, Beatrice-Joanna turns to her father's ugly servant, De Flores, hoping to convince him to murder Alonzo in return for money. In love with Beatrice-Joanna but with no hope of marrying her because of his low social position, De Flores accepts, but does not speak of payment. While taking Alonzo for a tour of Vermandero's castle, De Flores suggests they remove their swords in a narrow pass, after which he treacherously murders him and steals a precious ring by cutting off his finger. When De Flores assures her he has killed the unwanted husband and shows her the cut finger, Beatrice-Joanna hands him the money she thought was agreed on, but she is frightened on seeing him affronted. He does not want money; he wants her. When she pleads him to consider the social distance between them, De Flores shrugs it off. "Push, fly not to your birth," says he, "but settle you/In what the act has made you." Afraid to be found out, she unwillingly submits to his embraces. With Alonzo dead but not discovered, Vermandero befriends Alsemero and intends him as his daughter's husband. Though joyful at this turn of events, Beatrice-Joanna is worried about her husband's attitude should he discover her loss of virginity. She discovers a magic potion in his room, capable of revealing whether a woman is a virgin or not. She tests the potion on her servant, Diaphanta, and, finding she is one, proposes she take her place on the bridal night. Diaphanta joyfully accepts, to obtain both bodily pleasure and enough money for a sizeable dowry. Meanwhile, Tomazo accuses Vermandero of ridding himself of his brother, which the latter denies. Still seething, Tomazo goes on for the same reason to challenge Alsemero to a duel on his wedding day. Alsemero's friend, Jasperino, becomes suspicious of Beatrice-Joanna on hearing her in secret talk with De Flores, a man she has always professed to hate. When Alsemero tests her virginity with the potion, she, knowing the symptoms in advance, succeeds in convincing him she is one. That night, Diaphanta, enjoying her role, delays in returning to Beatrice-Joanna as promised. De Flores proposes to help his mistress a second time: start a fire in the servant's room, then kill her while pretending to clean the chimney. Very quickly the servants yell "fire". Diaphanta hurries out from the master's room, scolded by her mistress for her tardiness, then is burnt to death in her room when De Flores triggers an explosion from the chimney. The next morning, Vermandero reveals to Tomaza he thinks to have discovered the murderers of his brother: two men escaped from his service and hiding in a hospital for fools and madmen, actually two men pretending to be mad in order to seduce the master of the hospital. Meanwhile, Jasperino continues to assure Alsemero that his wife and De Flores still suspiciously meet together. An angry Alsemero calls her "whore", so that she divulges her guilt in Alonzo's murder, performed for his sake. "Oh, thou shouldst have gone/A thousand leagues about to have avoided/This dangerous bridge of blood," he cries out in anguish. He pushes her inside a room and locks it, then reveals to De Flores his wife has confessed to Alonzo's murder. He lets him inside so that he can kill her. He then reveals to her father the true culprit as De Flores comes out with the wounded Beatrice-Joanna, admitting he has stabbed "that broken rib of mankind". To prevent Tomazo's wrath, he stabs himself as Beatrice-Joanna dies of her wounds after asking for forgiveness to all.
"The revenger's tragedy"
Time: 1600s. Place: Italy.
Vindici has been waiting seven years to avenge the death of his love by a corrupt ducal court. Hippolito, his brother and a courtier, proposes to disguise himself as a malcontent and serve Lussurioso, eldest son of the duke. At court, Junior, youngest son of the duchess by a previous marriage, is accused of raping the wife of a prominent lord, Antonio. The duchess begs her husband for Junior's life, but he leaves the matter undecided, sending him back to prison. This angers her: "Indeed, 'tis true an old man's twice a child./Mine cannot speak; one of his single words/Would quite have freed my youngest, dearest son/From death or durance, and have made him walk/With a bold foot upon the thorny law,/Whose prickles should bow under him: but 'tis not,/And therefore wedlock, faith, shall be forgot." To avenge herself on him, she seduces Spurio, his bastard son from a previous marriage. Meanwhile, unconscious of his true identity, Lussurioso gives Vindici gold to act as a pander to Vindici's sister, Castiza. He accepts, to test both her and their mother, Gratiana. Not recognizing her disguised brother, she strikes his face after hearing Lussurioso's offer. Thankful for that, he says: "It is the sweetest box/That e'er my nose came nigh,/The finest drawn-work cuff that e'er was worn." But, to his grief, Gratiana is far more pliant, agreeing to convince her daughter of the financial necessity of serving the duke, but Castiza cannot believe her ears and flatly rejects the idea. Vindici conveys these news to Lussurioso, then tells him of Spurio's relation with his stepmother. Incensed, Lussurioso draws his sword in the duke's bedchamber, thinking to catch Spurio in the act, but instead he finds the duke in bed with his wife and is arrested for attempted murder and treason. Ambitioso and Supervacuo, two more sons of the duchess' previous marriage, pretend to defend Lussurioso, but the duke pierces through their shallow words. To serve their ambition of being the duke's only remaining sons, Ambitioso and Supervacuo send a false message to law-officers pronouncing a death-sentence on the part of the duke against their own brother. Meanwhile, Lussurioso is released on his father's order. The law-officers mistakenly believe the warrant concerns Junior, who is executed. Meanwhile, Vindici puts poison on the mouth of his love's skeleton, disguised to make her appear as a courtesan for the duke's pleasure. The duke tells his gentlemen he is about to ride out of the court privately, but instead advances towards the skeleton and kisses it. He immediately feels the effects of the strong poison, Vindice and Hippolito on either side tormenting him, revealing their identities, and letting him overhear before stabbing him to death the sight of the adulterous and incestuous Spurio and his duchess wishing for his death. Believing Lussurioso to be dead, Ambitioso and Supervacuo are stunned on seeing him enter the room and abashed on learning of Junior's death. Lussurioso is angry at the disguised Vindici for the mistake in his father's bedroom, wishing his ruin. To counter this threat, Hippolito proposes to Vindice that he return to his original form and so be hired to murder himself on Lussurioso's order. Vindici wraps the duke's corpse in the clothes of his previous disguise, so that Lussurioso is led to believe he is witnessing his murder, but then corpse of his father is discovered. Consoled by the thought that he is now the new duke, Lussurioso orders courtly revels after banishing his mother. In the banqueting hall, Vindici, Hippolito, and two other revengers dance as masquers before the duke and three noblemen and then kill all four at table, Vindici crying out: "When thunder claps, heaven likes the tragedy." Seeing Lussurioso dead, Ambitioso and Supervacuo quarrel on who is to be the new duke and stab each other to death. Amid the massacre, Antonio is now head of state, towards whom, thinking to obtain his approval, Vindici foolishly reveals himself as the old duke's murderer. He is promptly sentenced to death along with his brother: "'Tis time to die when we are ourselves our foes," concludes the rueful Vindice.
John Marston (1576-1634) wrote satires with savage elements, most famous for "The malcontent" (1603) and "The Dutch courtesan" (1605).
"A spirit of derision pervades 'The malcontent'... and while satire...is present in much of the tragedy of the period, here it exists at purely independent levels as well, informing not merely a character but the artistic vision itself...Progressively we come to recognize Altofronto's essential virtue, despite his stated intention, and to develop a basic sympathy with him, while our antipathy for Mendoza increases as his ambition grows more brazen and his methods more sinister and destructive. Pietro, whose villainous act of usurpation is precedent to the play and whom, no doubt, the spectators initially expect to fill the role of antagonist, is instead in the early acts a relatively passive individual acted upon by others...For the spectators and for Altofronto alike the critical scene in the revelation of his true nature is III.v in which, commanded by Mendoza to murder Pietro (and thus achieve the revenge he demanded at the opening of the play), he not only spares his life but acts as his spiritual counsellor as well. He refuses a second opportunity to dispatch Pietro by the villain's order in IV.iv, proclaiming anew that Mendoza is guilty of the 'rankest villainy' but acknowledging again his determination to await heaven's pleasure in dealing with him. The play's original revenger, then, chooses not to destroy but to save his intended victim, meanwhile intimating that he has become God's minister awaiting the proper moment to move against yet another. The spectators, observing Altofronto's actions against the foils of the machiavellian Mendoza on the one hand and the time-serving Bilioso on the other, thus come fully to ratify the actions of the protagonist, a relationship all the stronger for his refusal to act in passion beyond the laws of conscience in dealing with either Pietro or Mendoza...This stage world may well also feature in Pietro the first genuinely three-dimensional, dynamic character in comedy. Convincingly motivated, he in the course of the action comes to repudiate his sinful actions, both political and personal, and to seek purgation in penitential isolation from society...The process of Pietro's spiritual journey, in contrast to Aurelia's off-stage conversion from harlot to penitent, is carefully and convincingly drawn" (Champion, 1985 pp 368-376). In the opinion of Boas (1946), Marston is "a master at times of dear and cogent expression. But when Malevole in his disguise as an observer of court affairs begins to rail at all men and all things, the unmeasured violence of his invective becomes fatiguing and goes far to defeat its own end" (pp 137-138). But for Gassner (1954a), "the drama of a duke who loses his duchy and learns to hold humanity in contempt anticipated Molière’s Misanthrope and Wycherley's The Plain Dealer. Its cynic’s words, 'this earth is the only grave and Golgotha wherein all things that live must rot; ’tis but the draught wherein all heavenly bodies discharge their corruption; the very muck-hill on which the sublunary orbs cast their excrements,' express an anguish that man is not yet able to exorcise" (p 252).
Gassner (1954a) considered "The Dutch courtesan" a "strong if unpleasant study of physical passion" (p 252). The view of Boas (1946) is more positive in that "with his customary ingenuity and command of stage resources Marston so develops the plot that Malheureux, though he only pretends to murder his friend, is arrested, imprisoned, and condemned to execution...These complications excite more interest than Freevill’s courtship of the somewhat colourless Beatrice, who is eclipsed by her spritely sister, Crispinella, who has something in her akin to the other Beatrice of 'Much ado about nothing', but with a far freer tongue. When her sister cries, ‘Fie! you speak too broad,' she retorts in words which might serve as a justification for Marston’s own extreme frankness: 'I consider nature without apparel, without disguising of custom or compliment; I give thoughts words, and words truth, and truth boldness.’ How aptly here and elsewhere maxims of Montaigne are made to flow from Crispinella’s lively lips! But there is still a livelier figure in Cocledemoy, the ‘knavishly witty companion’ who is the centre of the underplot...The parallel entanglements and solutions of the serious and the comic plots are a striking piece of stage craft" (pp 142-143). “Essentially, ‘The Dutch courtesan’ differs from Marston’s earlier comedies in its reliance on a strong main plot, that of the whore Franceschina’s attempted murder of Freevill..The intelligently handled theme of the play- the ambiguous nature of sexual desire and its tortured relationship with public morality- is fully integrated in the history of Franceschina...too profoundly human to function as a mere disembodied Morality Vice” (Gibbons, 1968 pp 118-120). “It is Malheureux who, in play’s early scenes, speaks with the accents of conventional morality, seeing sexual questions as matters of absolute good and evil...He assumes...that vice will have a repulsive appearance to match its inner nature; he is baffled and disturbed to find that Franceschina is beautiful...Malheureux’ conversion is slow, difficult, painful- much more so than Freevill’s...Only when the murderous treachery of the whore has been directed against him does he completely reject her” (Leggatt, 1973 pp 120-123).
Time: 1600s. Place: Italy.
Malevole, apparent fool and malcontent at the court of Genoa but actually the banished legitimate duke, Altofront, announces to Pietro, the usurping duke, he is a "cornuto", because his wife, Aurelia, is conducting an adulterous relation with Mendoza, though this man once favored his marriage with the duke of Florence's daughter, permitting Altofront's banishment and the imprisonment of his wife, Maria, in the citadel. "Affliction to my blood's root!" Pietro cries out. Aurelia feels slighted by Mendoza and dismisses him in favor of Ferneze. Ignorant of this development, Pietro approaches Mendoza with his sword drawn. To ward off the danger, Mendoza tells him Ferneze is the traitor he should kill, advising him to force his way without warning in her bed-chamber to learn the truth. At night, as Ferneze flies from the duchess' bed-chamber to escape the duke, Mendoza stabs him. To protect herself, Aurelia returns to Mendoza, using these words as an excuse of her behavior: "Ferneze swore thou lov'dst Emilia;/Which to advance, with most reproachful breath/Thou both didst blemish and denounce my love." He denies ever having said so. Feeling she has forever lost her husband's favor, she suggests they should murder him. Malevole discovers that the wounded Ferneze is still alive and carries him away. Being the duke's heir, Mendoza proposes that Malevole kill him, to which he pretends to respond enthusiastically. "My heart's wish, my soul's desire, my fantasy's dream, my blood's longing, the only height of my hopes!" he exclaims. That done, Mendoza will marry Maria. As his followers hunt deer, Malevole finds the Pietro alone and informs him of Mendoza's treachery. To Mendoza and Aurelia, Malevole, accompanied by Pietro disguised as a hermit, announces the false news of the duke's death. Mendoza is declared the new duke. He instantly banishes Aurelia and commands Malevole to speak to Maria. "Tell her we love her;/Omit no circumstance to grace our person : do't." As Malevole pretends to be on his way to act as pander to his own wife, Mendoza requests the disguised hermit to poison him. "It shall be laid/Upon Maria, who yields love or dies-" he says. To complete a circle of villainy, Mendoza requests Malevole to kill Pietro. No harm done: Malevole and Pietro divulge their deadly mission against each other on the way towards the citadel. The hermit intercepts Aurelia's march towards banishment and wishes to convey her to his cell, but Mendoza changes his mind and orders her to stay at court. "Do not weep, kind cuckold," Malevole sarcastically consoles Mendoza, "take comfort, man; thy betters have been beccos: Agamemnon, emperor of all the merry Greeks, that tickled all the true Trojans, was a cornuto; Prince Arthur, that cut off twelve kings' beards, was a cornuto-" Pietro then finds Ferneze alive and repents his follies. To Malevole's relief, Maria will not be tempted to marry Mendoza. Male vole assures Mendoza that the hermit is dead. As a reward, Mendoza attempts to poison him, but he only pretends to die. Mendoza further presses his suit, but Maria rejects him. To avenge himself of this rejection, he orders her death for murdering the hermit. Malevole, Pietro, and Ferneze enter masked for festivities, surprise Mendoza, and remove him from power.
"The Dutch courtesan"
Time: 1600s. Place: Lodon, England.
Malheureux tries to prevent his friend, Freevill, from associating with a Dutch-born prostitute, Franceschina, but is unable to, and still worse: he himself becomes smitten by her charms. After seeing Franceschina, Freevill has no qualm about visiting his love, Beatrice, to whom he promises eternal love. "I am sworn all yours," he affirms. "No beauty shall untwine our arms, no face/I my eyes can or shall seem fair." "I give you faith," she answers. For his part, Malheureux is unsure whether Freevill will be offended if he accosts Franceschina. "I resign her freely," Freevill answers. They encounter Cocledemoy, who has just robbed Mulligrub, a vintner, of several goblets and is now preparing other tricks. He asks a barber, Holifernes, Mulligrub's godson, whether he can borrow some of his instruments, to which the latter agrees. Disguised as a barber, Cocledemoy accosts Mulligrub and shaves him. While his face is covered with suds, the false barber steals from him a bag of money and escapes. "He has polled and shaved me," Mulligrub moans. "He has trimmed me." Meanwhile, Franceschina discovers Freevill has received a ring from Beatrice and wants to obtain it. "I care not for thy jealousy," he retorts." "God's sacrament, ick could scratch out her eyes and suck the holes," the angry courtesan declares. Malheureux seizes the opportunity of courting her in his friend's place. She agrees to be his love provided he murder his friend and show her the ring as proof of the deed. Malheureux immediately reveals the courtesan's proposal to Freevill, who has a plan of his own to counter it: the two will pretend to quarrel in a masque during a banquet to celebrate his marriage to Beatrice. "Protest me surely dead/Show her this ring, enjoy her, and, blood cold,/We'll laugh at folly," he proposes. Eager for more thievery, Cocledemoy next accosts Mulligrub's wife. Pretending to be the servant of a man who sold her husband a cup, he delivers salmon to her and says her husband wants the cup back to engrave it. The unsuspecting wife hands it over to Cocledemoy, who loses not time in vanishing. When her husband shows up, he discovers the theft. "I will never more say my prayers," he says grieving on his way out. To her surprise, Cocledemoy immediately returns to say that her husband was joking and wansts her to deliver him the salmon. Yet again the unsuspecting wife hands it over to Cocledemoy, augmenting her husband's sorrow. During the banquet, Freevill and Malheureux pretend to quarrel and challenge each other to a duel. They then deliver the ring to Franceschina, who promptly denounces Malheureux' deed to the family members of Freevill and Beatrice. The courtesan tries to stir up hate in Beatrice's heart against Freevill, but is unable to. Freevill, disguised as as pander, is a witness to his lover's patience and begins to regret his behaviors. Emerging from the brothel late at night, Cocledemoy meets Mulligrub and flees while leaving his cloak behind. When he crosses the watch, he informs them that Mulligrub just stole his cloak. The constables nab Mulligrub and haul him to the stocks, towards whom Cocledemoy, disguised as a bellman, offers encouragement and receives money from him to plead his case with the constables. Instead, the trickster denounces Mulligrub as a thief, so that they drag him shouting towards prison. With the the lovers' family hiding behind a curtain, Malheureux reveals to the courtesan how he murdered his friend. They immediately pounce on him and haul him off to prison in front of the disguised Freevill, who accepts the ring back from the courtesan and promises her to torment Beatrice. Instead, he lifts off his disguise to his love to show himself alive, but hurry off on hearing that Malheureux is condemned to die with Mulligrub. On his way to the gallows, Cocledemoy, disguised as a sergeant, picks Malheureux' purse, but at least his life is spared when Freevill reveals to all he is alive, at which the courtesan is sent to prison. Now Milligrub is on the same way Malheureux was. Having joined with Milligrub's wife i adultery, Cocledemoy nos asks whether he can count on her in the future. "I have a piece of mutton and a featherbed for you at all times," she answers. But when Cocledemoy hears Milligrub forgive him for his tricks and is assured he will not prosecute him, he reveals his true identity and that all was done for "emphasis of wit".
Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
John Fletcher (1579–1625) and Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) teamed up with a series of distinguished tragicomedies: "Philaster" (1609), "The maid's tragedy" (1609), and "A king and no king" (1611) and teamed together with Massinger in “Love's cure” (1612).
In "Philaster", "the audience cannot know that Bellario is a disguised girl. The suspense of the spectator is not a speculation whether Bellario is a girl or a boy, but whether Philaster can be convinced of Arethusa's innocence or not. And as to the latter question the suspense is perfectly motivated regardless of disguise. When the disguise is revealed, it is a complete surprise, but it is also a complete denouement. Disguise in a play of this type is an organic but hidden motive which performs the important function of resolving the plot...This new method had...its disadvantages...It did not permit appreciation of ironical situations or dramatic misunderstandings. For example, in Philaster one could not realize at the first performance the irony in Dion's false accusation of a page who was really his own daughter and because of sex could not be guilty of the charge made...In fact neither the fundamental cause of the tragic action nor the pathetic situation of the love-lorn and unrewarded maiden at every turn of the play could be more than half appreciated by one who did not know of the disguise" (Freeburg, 1915 pp 86-87). Nevertheless, the plot "is ingenious and never loses interest, though it transports us into the ‘escapist’ atmosphere removed from realities, which pervades the tragicomedy of Beaumont and Fletcher. Philaster himself, though sound at heart, is too impulsive and credulous to be a very sympathetic figure. But in Arethusa and Bellario-Euphrasia the dramatists created two figures that justify Swinburne’s eulogy on 'Philaster' as 'the loveliest though not the loftiest of tragic plays which we owe to the comrades or successors of Shakespeare’. If I may repeat with full conviction words that I used many years ago of Bellario, she is ‘one of the most exquisite children of the lyric muse that has ever strayed from her native haunts into the dramatic sphere. She lives and moves in an atmosphere of ideal beauty, and her lips are musical with the very quintessence of silvery eloquence’. Hers is in its perfection the limpid diction which sheds its charm over the play as a whole" (Boas, 1946 p 260). "Beaumont and Fletcher have drawn pure women. Both Bellario and Arethusa are so. So is Aspatia. They had coarse and even animal notions of women, it is true, but we must, in judging what they meant their women to be, never forget that coarseness of phrase is not always coarseness of thought. Women were allowed then to talk about things and to use words now forbidden outside the slums" (Lowell, 1892 p 108). “The she-page Bellario is simply the loveliest and most interesting of all dramatic hermaphrodites from Shakespeare's Viola down to Wycherley's Fidelia: it is curious and significant that Beaumont and Fletcher could never create a man or a woman so attractive as this fantastic and pathetic figure, whose unquestionable and inimitable charm of perfect purity and more than manly womanhood threw so strange a fascination over the stage that it was a less outrageously than pardonably extravagant exaggeration of the truth which Lamb allowed himself in the assertion that for many years after the date of Philaster's first exhibition on the stage scarce a play can be found without one of these women pages in it” (Swinburne, 1919 pp 148-149). How marvelous [Beaumont and Fletcher] are in depicting an aristocratic grief that never overtly loses control and only delicately suggests the chaos within! Beaumont and Fletcher's heroines are a triumph of art. Arathusa's sweetly lyric melancholy after she has been deserted by Philaster reminds us of Imogen's equally dulcet resignation...There is something unreal about Arathusa's devotion, and suggests that she already considers herself to be in another life. She is heartsick but eloquent, so that her direct grief is mitigated by her tenderness" (Charney, 1979 pp 334-335).
Downer (1950) was puritanically offended by the scene in "The maid's tragedy" when “Evadne is being prepared for her wedding night by her ladies. The first dialogue, between the bride and Dula, is the inevitable bawdy jesting. Into this gay, if smutty, atmosphere, Aspatia is introduced, the slighted maiden, to sing her beautiful dirge: 'Lay a garland on my hearse'" (p 166). In this critic's view, thoughts of sex on a wedding day are smutty and thoughts of death beautiful. Downer downgraded such plays relative to Jonson's comedy of humors: “the comedy of humours deals in universals, with the eccentrics of the world-at-large; the comedy of manners is concerned with its own small world, as artificial and as isolated as the special world of tragicomedy” (p 182). In the opinion of Donne (1858), the play "has indeed striking stage-effects and passages of brilliant declamation. But, with the exception of Aspatia, a poetic rather than a dramatic creation, its characters are uninteresting and even heartless. Melantius is not a better stage soldier than Pierre in 'Venice Preserved'. Nay, Pierre has public wrongs to avenge, where Melantius's grief, although profound, is selfish. The king is an ordinary despot of the Italian novel; and Amintor, who at first offends us by his fickleness in love, finally disgusts us by a ceremonious and fantastic loyalty, utterly disproportioned to the wrong he has undergone. Evadne claims about as much sympathy as Milkwood in 'George Barnwell'. Her sin is rank; her repentance is worse" (pp 64-65). But in Swinburne’s (1919) view, “Evadne is the one thoroughly credible and thoroughly realized figure in the play: a bad woman who might not have made so bad a man. Of the two heroes it can only be further said that Amintor is abject and Melantius absurd; the king is now and then as theatrical in villainy as they in virtue, and Aspatia is not so much a woman as a mouthpiece and a subject for poetry incomparable in its kind. Shakespeare and Webster did not find it necessary and did not feel impelled to make their heroines talk so lyrically and evoke from other and minor figures such effusion of elegiac eloquence. In the earlier scenes she says now and then something that could not have been bettered by Webster or even by Shakespeare: but she never has enough of life and truth in her to stand beside one of Shakespeare's women- or of Webster's” (p 150). At bottom, the figure of Amintor offended Donne (1858) and Swinburne (1919) in putting loyalty to the king above loyalty to the sacred institution of marriage. "Evadne in The Maid's Tragedy shows a sexual sophistication and complexity entirely missing in Shakespeare. The king, whose mistress she is, has fobbed her off on the unsuspecting Amintor. On their wedding night, the corrupt Evadne gradually reveals that she is not a virgin and that she is forbidden forever from making love with her husband. Evadne's hardness and cynicism shock Amintor, who has all this while been interpreting her reluctance as the coyness of a maiden bride" (Charney, 1979 pp 339-340).
In “A king and no king”, “Arbaces is composed of opposites: magnificence and egregious self-regard. Yet he is really a rudimentary character, a simple and mechanical juxtaposing of conventional valor and vainglory. He speaks of heaven having ‘laid his punishment upon pride’, but his vainglorious humor is structurally irrelevant. It adds emotional complication but has no connection whatever with the genesis of his tragic situation; it contributes nothing to the causes of his misery or the threat of his destruction. In his tragic relation to Panthea, he is innocent and noble; it is not his excessive pride which is attracted to her virtue and beauty” (Herndl, 1970 pp 242-243). "The degree to which Fletcher’s characteristics are physical and psychological realities is illustrated by Arbaces in “A king and no king”. With Tigranes, Spacoma, and Panthea, Arbaces is involved in a variation of what has been described...as the 'rival friend dilemma' where love-rivalry is complicated by consanguinity. In a Cavalier play the love of Arbaces for his sister Panthea would show as the merest 'straw man' of an emotion, foreordained to yield, after a forensic display, to the prior claims of magnanimity and ethical rectitude. Not so in Fletcher. The infatuation of Arbaces is all too convincing, the reader is protected by no sheen of unreality, no metaphysical elevation...When he pulls out the heroic stop to the full, there is likely to be a suggestion of satire in his tone- as in the familiar portrait of Arbaces in 'A king and no king'. Arbaces is a ranter but is 'no king'. Fletcher and his fellows usually employ heroic rant for adverse characterization, or even caricature, and the villains, not the heroes, as in the heroic plays, are most addicted to it" (Harbage, 1936 pp 43-57). Swinburne (1919) misread a “A king and no king” as a play in which “all serious study of character, all rational or moral evolution of conduct, is wantonly if not shamelessly sacrificed to the immediate effect of vehement if not sometimes galvanic sensation or surprise...That any soldier king was ever such a blatant braggart and swaggering swashbuckler as Arbaces might surely have been questioned, as now perhaps it may not be, in the days of the poets who decked out his crazy and feather-headed vanity with the splendid plumage of rhetorical rhapsody which, as Macaulay long since observed, so singularly anticipates the discoveries of modern mechanism...The veriest horse-play of farce in the broadest scenes of Beaumont and Fletcher has more of good-humour and harmless or, anyhow, spiteless merriment than is to be looked for in the elaborate and deliberate brutality of such an unsavoury masterpiece as [Jonson's] The Silent Woman" (pp 152-154). Boas' (1946) opinion of the play is more favorable, particularly in the scene when Arbaces declares: 'My power/Is like the sea that is to be obeyed/And not disputed with', "it is a masterly presentation of the effect of delirious passion on a nature already intoxicated with the sense of absolute power. Nor does it refrain from inconsistencies. When Tigranes, overcome by Panthea's charms even in Spaconia's presence, salutes her as his queen, Arbaces orders him to prison for changing words with her whom he now proclaims 'my hope, the only jewel of my life/The best of sisters, dearer than my breath.' He seals these words with kisses which so inflame his senses that in self-protection he commits the bewildered girl to prison in her chamber...Beaumont and Fletcher have many offences to answer for at the bar of an outraged moral sense, but I at least cannot count among these their treatment of the love between Arbaces and Panthea, or take the view that it could only have been justified by a tragic outcome. The struggle of Arbaces between his nobler impulses and the passion that whirls him towards what he believes to be the fulfilment of incestuous desire is treated throughout with unfaltering dignity. And there are subtle suggestions even before the secret is disclosed that the 'horror naturalis' is not in truth being violated in the love of Arbaces and Panthea. From the violent tension of the main plot, relief is afforded by the poltroonery of Bessus, colleague and foil to Mardonius. One of the most contemptible variants of the 'miles gloriosus' he helps to win a battle by taking flight with his company so precipitately that he charges into the enemy. Though he thus gains a false reputation for valour he lets himself be beaten by the king and kicked by a lord. Two swordsmen to whom he puts the question of his honour decide that injuries from a royal hand must be regarded as favours, and that the kicking may be overlooked because he laughed during it. Thus by the crazy dialectic of the duelling code the honour of Bessus is saved" (pp 264-266). "A King and no King has a very serious plot; and the loves of Arbaces and Panthea are most lofty, insolent, and passionate. But the comedy of Bessus and his two swordsmen, which is fresh and vivid even after Bobadil and Parolles (I do not say Falstaff, because I hold it a vulgar error to consider Falstaff as really a coward at all), is perhaps more generally interesting" (Saintsbury, 1894 p 261).
In “Love's cure”, "honor helps throw Clara into the arms of Vitelli and honor helps a man of Lucio when he comes to the defense of his father. Social courtesies of a conventional sort between woman and man prompt the kisses and clasps that arouse Lucio's 'sleeping manhood'. Codified conduct shapes the conditions within which natural propensities can do their work, much as clothing alters roles for the flesh it covers...The Lucio action turns cross-dressing into a resource for both acknowledging and curing male anxiety about masculinity. Nurtured by his mother, trained in female skills, and garbed as a frail sister, Lucio nonetheless rises to an occasion. Pricked by paternal honor, he wields his sword, pricked by love, he discovers the use of another weapon. Lucio's conversion reassures the male members of the audience that effete cowards can become brave and that sexual desire can restore social position as long as one is properly equipped beneath one's costume. The givens of sex restore the privileges of gender" (Berek, 2004 pp 364-365).
Schlegel (1846) murmured that Beaumont and Fletcher "express every thing bluntly in words; they make the spectator the unwilling confidant of all that more noble minds endeavour even to bide from themselves. The indecencies in which these poets indulged themselves go beyond conception. Licentiousness of language is the least evil. Many scenes, nay, even whole plots, are so contrived that the very idea, not to mention the beholding of them, is a gross insult to modesty" (p 470). Likewise, Thorndike (1908) complained of "their lack of moral purpose” (p 210). Likewise, Gayley (1914) objected to the lack of moral judgment in Beaumont and Fletcher plays, ascribed mostly to the latter, for example while criticizing “The coxcomb” (1612), “a comedy in which the wittol-hero successfully conducts the cuckolding of himself is nauseating" (p 340). In “A wife for a month” (1624), the same critic objected to the ugly premise of the king’s command and also Evanthe’s advances on her wedding night: “She makes them not only without dignity but with an unmaidenly persistence and persuaviness of which any abandoned baggage or Russian actress of today would be ashamed" (p ?). Golden (1890) also accused Beaumont and Fletcher of a lack in taste and morality: "great moral defects and grossness, a most lamentable stain on their poetic renown, are visible in nearly all, if not all, their works. They seem to have no conception of feminine purity. This immorality is the more grievous, since Beaumont and Fletcher were unconscious of it and believed themselves to be reformers. It is a manifest sign of the depravity of the times" (pp 137-138). More of the same is read in Donne (1858), who complained of the "bias of Fletcher's mind to prurient sentiments and images, his fondness for the debatable ground between virtue and vice, his microscopic trials of a foible or an emotion...We do not arise from the perusal of Beaumont and Fletcher much the happier or the wiser. They deal too much with the merely concrete and conventional to be genuinely humorous or earnest. Their flashes of wit and fancy, their crowded incidents and startling contrasts, even the voluptuous music of their verse, are things of sense and of the scene, not echoes from the fontal deeps of humanity. Their works may enliven or soothe a vacant hour; but they are not for seasons when the mind would enter into its secret chambers and commune with the verities of sadness or mirth. 'Beaumont and Fletcher,' Schlegel appropriately remarks, 'were men of the most distinguished talents: they scarcely wanted anything more than a profounder seriousness of mind, and that artistic sagacity which everywhere observes a due measure, to rank beside the greatest dramatic poets of all nations. But with them poetry was not an inward devotion of the feelings and imagination, but a means to obtain brilliant results.'...Fletcher...was rather eloquent than impassioned; rather ingenious then inventive; and more studious of effect than of consistency or even probability" (pp 38-59).
Time: Antiquity. Place: Sicily.
Philaster's father was unlawfully deposed by the present king of Sicily, who, because he enjoys the people's favor, allows him to walk freely about. Arethusa, daughter to the king, is to be married to Pharamond, prince of Spain. At these news, Philaster warns Pharamond of evil days to come: "When thou art king, look I be dead and rotten/And my name ashes-" But Arethusa loves Philaster, saying she wishes "thy love: without which, all the land/Discovered yet, will serve me for no use,/But to be buried in." When Pharamond suggests to her premarital delights, Arethusa refuses. "The constitution of my body will never hold out till the wedding; I must seek elsewhere," reflects Pharamond alone. He woos Galatea without success, but another waiting woman, Megra, is all to keen to meet him at his lodging. Galatea tells Arethusa of the proposed meeting, who in turn tells the king. He and his guard discover Megra in the prince's lodging. Avenging her shame, Megra slanders Arethusa by saying she plays with Bellario, Philaster's servant, doing service with his mistress, because "I will not fall alone," she says. Philaster's friends believe Megra's invention and reveal the news to him. At first, Philaster refuses to believe such news of her or him. One of these friends, Dion, argues with him on that point: "Oh, noble sir, your virtues/Cannot look into the subtle thoughts of woman." He goes further to prove his point by lying that he saw the pair in bed together. Philaster is incensed, exclaiming: "The winds that are let loose/From the four several corners of the earth/And spread themselves all over sea and land/Kiss not a chaste one. What friend bears a sword/To run me through?" Philaster notes that Arethusa has bought Bellario fancy clothes. To test him, he pretends having said to Arethusa that he expected her to enjoy his favors. Bellario assures him that he is abused. Deeply suspicious, the king meets Arethusa and commands her to put Bellario away. Arethusa tells Philaster this and grieves so heavily at losing Bellario that Philaster is more suspicious of her than ever, saying of all women: "How you are, being taken all together/A mere confusion, and so dead a chaos/That love cannot distinguish." Philaster dismisses Bellario from his service. In the woods during the king's hunting, Philaster by chance finds Arethusa with him. Pilaster first asks Bellario to kill him, but Bellario refuses. Pilaster then threatens Arethusa, wounding her in the breast, but a country-fellow saves her, wounds Philaster, succeeds in moving him away, then asks her for a kiss as a reward. Pharamond discovers that his intended has a breast-wound, but she does not denounce Philaster. Later, Philaster finds Bellario sleeping and wounds him, by which token Pharamond believes Arethusa was attacked by Bellario until Philaster reveals he is now convinced of Bellario's probity. For wounding his daughter, the king sends Philaster to prison, to be judged by his daughter. But instead of sentencing him to death as he hoped, to his astonishment she chooses to marry him. The king is incensed: "Blood shall put out your torches-" he threatens. But the people, loving Philaster and fearing for his safety, take Pharamond prisoner and revolt. Since the king is unable to subdue the rebellion, he begs Philaster's help to save him. Pharamond is threatened to be mutilated and tortured by the people till saved by Philaster, who would like to send him on his way to Spain with Megra in his arms. As a second attempt at revenge, Megra accuses Arethusa of dishonesty. Unsure of Arethusa, the king commands Bellario to be tortured, which Philaster in despair cannot prevent. To counter the charge, Bellario at last reveals herself as Dion's daughter, in love with Philaster, though, as she says to him, "past hope/Of having you," wishing only to be near him. Thankful for her service, Arethusa accepts her as a servant.
"The maid's tragedy"
Time: Antiquity. Place: Rhodes.
Though not his initial choice, in obedience to the king's command, Amintor is to marry Evadne, sister to his friend, Melantius, dismissing from his thoughts Aspatia, his troth-plight wife, grieving for her loss. On her wedding night, Evadne refuses to enter Amintor's bed, saying: "I sooner will find out the beds of snakes,/And with my youthful blood warm their cold flesh,/Letting them curl themselves about my limbs/Than sleep one night with thee." Not from a virgin's fears but because "I do enjoy the best, and in that height/Have sworn to stand or die: you guess the man." He does not. She tells him: it is the king! Knowing that, he does not wish to lie with her any more, but recommends for her honor's sake to sin secretly. The next morning, the king greets him thus: "Amintor, joy on joy fall thick upon thee!" He takes Evadne apart, wishing to hear from her mouth she did not yield to her own husband. She says she did not, but he does not believe her. Worried, Evadne asks Amintor to admit he did not touch her. Profoundly humiliated, Amintor turns to the king and calls him tyrant. And yet continues Amintor: "As you are my king,/I fall before you, and present my sword/To cut mine own flesh, if it be your will." The king is satisfied and expects things to go his way: "Thou may’st live, Amintor,/Free as thy king, if thou wilt wink at this,/And be a means that we may meet in secret." Amintor meets Melantius, who wishes to know why his friend appears so sad. Very hesitantly Amintor delivers the news that his sister "Is much to blame,/And to the king has given her honour up,/And lives in whoredom with him." Amazed and in disbelief, Melantius first challenges Amintor to draw his sword, then seeks to inquire further. When Melantius swears revenge against the king, it is Amintor's turn to challenge him to draw, which his friend refuses to do, advising him instead to "Be merry, then". With this piece of knowledge in hand, Melantius grimly goes to visit his sister. He locks the door and seizes her, threatening her thus: "Speak, you whore, speak truth!/Or, by the dear soul of thy sleeping father,/This sword shall be thy lover!" At last she admits being the king's mistress. He recommends her to kill the king, which she finds too fearful a deed, to which he counters: "You are valiant in his bed, and bold enough/To be a stale whore, and have your madam’s name/Discourse for grooms and pages; and, hereafter,/When his cool majesty hath laid you by,/To be at pension with some needy sir/For meat and coarser clothes; thus far you know/No fear. Come, you shall kill him." Fearfully, she swears to do it and to say nothing to anyone about their plan. Aspatia's father, Calianax, seeking vengeance on Melantius for her daughter's unhappiness, he being held responsible for Amintor's defection, says to the king that Melantius intends to kill him. Challenging Melantius, the king is unable to shake him. From the defeated Calianax Melantius obtains entry to the fort. Amintor, hearing the king calling for his wife, tells Melantius that they should kill him at once, which he refuses, for "Let your reason/Plot your revenge, and not your passion." Evadne advances towards the king's bed, telling herself: "I must not/Thus tamely do it, as he sleeps; that were/To rock him to another world: My vengeance/Shall take him waking, and then lay before him/The number of his wrongs and punishments." She ties his arms and says he must bleed, then, with his soul prepared, stabs him several times to death. The king's brother, Lysippus, discovers the murder and proclaims himself as the new king, while Melantius takes possession of the fort, declaring to Lysippus that he acknowledges him as the king, seeking only his pardon. Deeming her "fatal hour" come, Aspatia dons a man's attire and presents herself before Amintor as her brother. She strikes him, then kicks him. Incensed, Amintor draws his sword, and stabs one who never sought to defend herself. Evadne enters with a knife, her hands bloody. When learning that she killed the king, Amintor exclaims: "Those have most power to hurt us, that we love;/We lay our sleeping lives within their arms." Amintor is horrified, and, turning away from her, beholds her stabbing herself to death. While Aspatia groans her life away, despairing Amintor says: "My soul grows weary of her house, and I/All over am a trouble to myself." He discovers Aspatia's brother is in reality Aspatia. At first she thinks she'll live, as "A kind of healthful joy wanders within me." Then at the moment where she may have him again, she dies. He rubs and bends her body to revive her, and, when all is lost, stabs himself to death, discovered by Melantius, who cries out: "I never did/Repent the greatness of my heart till now;/It will not burst at need." He offers to kill himself, but is prevented. Calianax is also struck with grief on finding his dead daughter. Melantius will not so easily be prevented, saying to Amintor's spirit: "His spirit is but poor that can be kept/From death for want of weapons./Is not my hand a weapon sharp enough/To stop my breath? or, if you tie down those,/I vow, Amintor, I will never eat,/Or drink, or sleep, or have to do with that/That may preserve life! This I swear to keep."
"A king and no king"
Time: Antiquity. Place: Iberia and Armenia.
Arbaces, king of Iberia, has captured Tigranes, king of Armenia. To help conciliate the two kingdoms, Arbaces proposes to him his sister, Panthea, in marriage. Though without ever having seen her, Arbaces admits: "she can do as much in peace as I in war". Yet Tigranes is troubled, being already attached in amorous bonds to Spaconia, a lady of his own country. Arbaces then learns that an attempt on his life has been perpetrated by his mother, Arane, prevented by Gobrius, protector of the realm. When Arbaces presents Panthea to Tigranes, both kings immediately fall in love with her, to Spaconia's despair. Tigranes takes her aside, promising that "nations will own you for their queen". Arbaces is tormented and deadly jealous as he notices Tigranes taken by Panthea's charms. When Arbaces asks the worthy soldier, Mardonius, to act as go-between with his sister, he refuses. When Arbaces asks the unworthy soldier, Bessus, the same thing, he answers: "Oh, you would have a bout with her. I'll do't, I'll do'it, i' faith." So casual is the response that Arbaces dismisses him. Gobrius arrives to ask for Panthea's release, "cloistered up" as a result of the king's indecisions. At last Arbaces meets Panthea alone, revealing his love to her, as she does hers to him, though both are tormented by the nature of their relation. When Arbaces asks: "What should we do?" she answers: "Fly, sir, for God's sake." To which he counters: "So we must; away. Sin grows upon us more by this delay." Meanwhile, Spaconia's father, Ligones, arrives with a letter aimed at liberating Tigranes from imprisonment and to find out about his daughter's situation. He assumes the worst, namely that she is Bessus' whore. Ligones confronts Bessus and beats him. Next he assumes that she is Tigranes' whore, and confronts him as well, but is relieved on hearing that he promises to make her his queen. Arbaces enters with his sword drawn in a desperate state of mind: "I must begin/With murder of my friend, and so go on/To an incestuous ravishing, and end/My life and sins with a forbidden blow/Upon myself." He threatens Gobrius with death for facilitating his feelings towards his sister, until the man reveals he is his father. Bewildered, Arbaces asks how can this be. Arane enters to confirm the story: living with an old king, she despaired of having any child and so pretended to be pregnant, accepting Gobrius' baby son as her own. But before the king died, she had a legitimate one: Panthea. Knowing that Arbaces is not her son, she attempted to kill him, but he was protected by his natural father, whose main wish was to see him united with Panthea. The euphoric Arbaces, a king but now no king, is free to marry her.
Time: 1610s. Place: Seville, Spain.
At the siege of Ostend, Lucio’s military skill was such that the infanta of Spain asked the king to pardon his father, Alvarez, banished twenty years ago for killing Vitelli’s brother. But Lucio is not Alvarez’ son but his daughter, Clara, disguised since an infant to prevent Vitelli’s revenge on his family, while the real Lucio has been living disguised as Clara in the house of his mother, Eugenia. But there is no further need of subterfuge. “Now our mutual care must be/Employed to help wronged nature to recover/Her right in either of them, lost by custom,” says Alvarez returning home to his wife. “To you I give my Clara, and receive/My Lucio to my charge; and we'll contend,/With loving industry, who soonest can/Turn this man woman, or this woman man.” However, Bobadilla, the steward, is unable even to make them don their proper attire much less turn Lucio into man, Clara into woman. In anger at his criticism, she beats him with a truncheon, helped by Lucio’s kicks. Alvarez arrives to avenge, but, once informed of Clara’s feats, is smitten with her and requests a favor to be worn by him. Impressed by his eloquence, she hands over her sword. Bobadilla has recourse to Piorato to cure Lucio and mentions in passing that he serves as messenger for Clara’s letters to Vitelli, whose mistress, Malroda, Piorato shares. Piorato asks Bobadilla to keep the letters and instead deliver one of his to Clara. At Malroda’s house, Piorato informs her that Vitelli intends to marry Clara. He luckily steals away while she distracts Vitelli’s attention on a painting made of her. She then abuses him because of Clara, but he calms her with the gift of a jewel. Bobadilla returns Clara’s letters and reveals that Vitelli keeps a whore. Eugenia ushers in a suitor for her, Syavedra, who courts her while she stitches, an aggravating activity for her, the suitor being more aggravating still. Meanwhile, Alvarez is aggravated at looking on Lucio’s poor fencing with his master, Piorato. Under the father’s orders, Piorato aggressively charges Lucio, but is defended by Clara who thrusts him hard. Shaken but willing to serve, Piorato conveys Clara at night to Vitelli and his mistress and yields to her his sword while she watches the lovers’ quarrel, reconciled with a bag of gold and jewels. Before they go to bed, a greedy constable and members of the nightwatch, including Piorato, hoping for loot, rush in to seize them, but Clara scares them away. A repenting Vitelli promotes love’s cure of her deviency. “Love, true love,/Hath made a search within me, and expelled/All but my natural softness, and made perfect/That which my parents' care could not begin,” she says. “I will shew strength in nothing but my duty/And glad desire to please you, and in that/Grow every day more able.” Walking in the dark of the streets, Alvarez is so disgusted by his son’s fears that he challenges him to hit the first man they meet or rape the first woman. When Lucio crosses one of Vitelli’s men, Lamoral, he announces he will hit him and asks to see Genevora, Vitelli’s sister, for an hour. Lamoral strikes him and another strikes Alvarez while four of the watchmen steal what they can. Seeing his father down, Lucio’s courage rises at last, successfully defending him and following Genevora. The constable and other officers enter to break up the fight. The constable pretends to take his henchmen prisoners, but his knavery is discovered by the governor, whose officers lay hold on them. Farther along, Genevora and Lucio like each other so well that she gives him her glove as a token, but when Lamoral shows up, to her disgust, he yields it to him. She challenges him to recover it for her love. They fight and Lucio disarms him, taking from him glove, hat, and sword. Yet Lamoral receives a second chance when Vitelli announces that the king allows a duel between the two and Alvarez’ side. But the duel is broken up by Clara, Genevora, and Eugenia, who convince them to lay down their arms. The feud is ended by promised marriages between Lucio and Genevora, Vitelli and Clara.
Philip Massinger (1583-1640) shone brightly with "The duke of Milan" (1623).
Some 19th century critics were bewildered at the main character's contradictions. “The most spirited and effective passage in the play is the scene in which he is brought as a prisoner before Charles V, and not only extorts the admiration of his conqueror, but wins his liberty by a dignified avowal of his previous hostility, and avoidance of any base compliance. The duke shows himself to be a high-minded gentleman, and we are so far prepared to sympathise with him, when exposed to the wiles of Francisco- the Iago of the piece. But, unfortunately, the scene is not merely a digression in a constructive sense, but involves a psychological inconsistency. The gallant soldier contrives to make himself thoroughly contemptible. He is represented as excessively uxorious, and his passion takes a very disagreeable turn of posthumous jealousy. He has instructed Francisco to murder the wife whom he adores, in case of his own death during the war, and thus to make sure that she could not marry anybody else. His affection returns in another scene, but only in order to increase his jealousy, and on hearing Francisco's slander he proceeds to stab his wife out of hand. It is the action of a weak man in a passion, not of a noble nature tortured to madness. Finding out his mistake, he of course repents again, and expresses himself with a good deal of eloquence which would be more effective if we could forget the overpowering pathos of the parallel scene in 'Othello'. Much sympathy, however, is impossible for a man whose whole conduct is so flighty, and so obviously determined by the immediate demands of successive situations of the play, and not the varying manifestation of a powerfully conceived character. Francisco is a more coherent villain, and an objection made by Hazlitt to his apparent want of motive is at least equally valid against Iago; but he is of course but a diluted version of that superlative villain, as Marcelia is a rather priggish and infinitely less tender Desdemona” (Stephen, 1928 edition pp 149-151). One can argue that there is no inconsistency in that a man may be both a “gallant soldier” and subject to “posthumous jealousy”.
Symons (1919) also complained of the play compared with Othello and was offended by the language of Massinger's female characters. “Marcelia, in The Duke of Milan, supposed to be a woman of spotless virtue, utters language full of covert licence; for Massinger seems to see virtue in women mainly as a sort of conscious and painful restraint” (p 188). The so-called "covert licence" clashed with early 20th century, not Jacobean, usage. "If as Arthur Symons has concluded 'Sforza is after all but a second-rate Othello, Marcelia is certainly a very shrewish Desdemona, and Francisco a palpably poor Iago', "it is largely because Massinger's Sforza is neither honorable nor noble, his Marcelia is innocent only in the sense of remaining chaste, and his Francisco is not a trusted friend at all, but a man whose loyalty has been bought with bribes of wealth and position. Francisco is a villain less diabolically evil than lago, as has often been noted, not merely because Massinger motivates his malignancy, but because Massinger distributes Iago's functions and values among most of the characters in his play, creating, as a result, a world quite unlike Shakespeare's Venice. It is a world in which no character is truly noble or honest, a world in which love is 'merely a lust of the blood' (Othello,I.iii) and honor only an illusion, a world in which corruption of language and moral weakness reinforce each other to produce a tragic conclusion far different from that produced by Othello" (Thorssen, 1979 pp 313-314).
"The duke of Milan"
Time: 16th century. Place: Milan, Italy.
Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan, has an ardent desire of celebrating the birthday of his wife, Marcelia, in grand style. Jealous of her many honors, the duke's mother, Isabella, and sister, Mariana, refuse to appear, but the court-favorite and Mariana's husband, Francisco, convinces them to attend the ceremonies for the sake of the duke if not for hers. During the celebrations, Sforza is worried over his decision of supporting the French king, Francis I, in his war against the Spanish emperor, Charles V. He receives the horrible news that Charles has won. Deeply fearing an invasion, he summons Francisco and offers him a choice between killing Marcelia or dying himself. The stunned courtier agrees to the murder provided his master signs a written statement of the command. Courtiers are next shocked to learn that the duke has abruptly left the palace without a retinue. In the absence of her lord, Marcelia orders the end of all festivities, but, to taunt her, Isabella and Mariana order their favorite, Graccho, to accompany fiddlers playing happy tunes beneath her window. An incensed Marcelia warns them to stop, supported by the duke's representative, Francisco, who commands Isabella and Mariana to be sent to prison and Graccho to be whipped with the fiddlers. However, Marcelia interposes herself on behalf of her two enemies and leaves them at liberty. Alone with her, Francisco seeks revenge of the duke who, before marrying Marcelia, slept with his sister, Eugenia, and promised marriage only to deceive her. Francisco attempts to seduce the duke's wife and embraces her, but she rejects him. Smarting from the rejection, he shows her the duke's warrant for her death. Marcelia swoons in horror, but nevertheless rejects him a second time, daring him to kill her. Sforza presents himself to the emperor without much hope of retaining his ducal crown. But his promise to serve him is accepted. He retains his crown and rewards Charles' soldiers. Humiliated from his punishment, Graccho witnesses Francisco trying to gain access to Marcelia and reports it to Mariana. Alone again with Marcelia, Francisco shows signs of repenting his rash attempts at seduction. He reveals that the duke only meant to take her life should he himself die at the hands of the emperor. When Francisco offers to stab himself, she prevents him. The report affects her deeply. When the duke's unexpected return is announced, she receives him coolly. Sforza is stunned and abashed at her demeanor. "We will have sports of all kinds," he promises his courtiers. "And propound/Rewards to such as can propose us new,/Unsatisfied though we surfeit in their store/And never think of cursed Marcelia more." However, he cannot make merry and only thinks of her. Graccho hopes to curry favor with Francisco by disclosing that his wife knows about his courtship of Marcelia. However, Francisco surprises him by threatening him with tortures unless he foments belief in the rumor. Francisco continues to see Marcelia, but this time to announce the duke suspects her loyalty. She is affronted. Courtiers spread the use that Marcelia's coldness derives from her love of Francisco. Isabella and Mariana scold the duke for his patience. But his patience ends when Francisco reveals that Marcelia has attempted to seduce him, a lie still prompted by his desire of revenge for his sister's shame. Marcelia enters angrily and is confronted with a husband at his wit's end. To test her loyalty, he pretends to have killed her supposed lover. "The bloodier villain thou," she answers. "But 'tis not to be wondered at: thy love/Dost know no other object." Incensed at what he believes is a confession, he stabs her. However, when a courtier announces that Francisco has hurriedly left the palace, they realize too late that this is his doing. She discloses Francisco's attempt at seducing her before dying. Francisco rejoins Eugenia, who considers Marcelia's death a poor revenge for her wrongs, because she wants more, no less than Sforza's death. Knowing that he is closely pursued, Francisco heeds Graccho's advice of returning inside the palace but rewards him by having servants bind him. He and his sister appear disguised as physicians pretending to offer help to the grieving and self-incriminating Sforza. Alone with Marcelia's corpse, he smears poisoned cosmetics on her face and hands to incite false hopes in the duke's heart and kill him. The deceived and frenzied Sforza kisses the corpse. Set free after bribing the servants, Graccho appears too late except to behold Francisco arrested and sent to tortures while, before dying, Sforza orders that Eugenia be sent to a convent.
Fletcher and Massinger teamed up with Nathan Field (1587-1620) to write "The knight of Malta" (1616).
"The Knights of Malta were founded in 1099 after the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. At this time a hospital, originally under Benedictine control, became the center of the Order of the Hospitallers of St John. The foundation of the Order, dedicated as it was to works of charity and to the service of the poor and of pilgrims, was confirmed in 1113 by Pope Paschal III. The Order adopted the Augustinián rule which required its members to take vows of obedience and chastity. The appointed dress for the Knight, who had to be of noble birth to belong to the Military Knights of Justice, the highest rank, was a black robe with an eight-pointed, white cross. The eight points of the cross symbolized the eight beatitudes, while the four arms symbolized Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice...The Knights exercised their military function by serving as the chief Christian bulwark against the Turks...Suleiman. The Knights...established themselves on Malta through a grift of Emperor Charles V in 1530. The Knights achieved their great victory over the Turks in 1565, which provides the historical background for...'The knight of Malta'...When Mountferrat swears his lustful purpose by the sacred emblem of his Order, the juxtaposition of the cross and his sinful intent reveals the extremity of his villainy...After Mountferrat's oath, Fletcher introduced a miraculous sort as the cross falls from Mountferrat's robe, a sign clearly indicating his foul lust and his alienation from the true spirit of the Knights. Also the fact that Oriana is Valetta's sister adds an historical touch since Valetta was John Parisot de la Valette, the Grand-Master of Malta at the time of the Turkish attack in 1565...Miranda's probationary status leads to two strong sexual scenes in which his virtue is sorely tested. In the first of these scenes, Lucinda, a Turkish captive, appeals to the rule of the Order to prevent Miranda from raping her. When the scene reaches a peak of excitement, the anticipated rape is averted by Miranda's startling revelation that he has only been testing Lucinda. The second scene occurs just prior to Miranda's formal induction into the Order. Before an altar, set with tapers and a book, Miranda tells Oriana of his love for her and urges her to leave her elderly husband, Gomera. Oriana, though, convinces Miranda to forsake his suit by arguing the higher worth of their spiritual union...Fletcher's use of the rule and rubrics of the Knights is particularly evident at the close of the play where he employs the ceremonies of expulsion and investiture to shape a tragicomic ending wherein virtue and vice are justly rewarded. Mountferrat is stripped of his habit, forced to marry Zanthia, his black concubine, and then they are both banished. When this is concluded, Miranda is received into the Order...Fletcher adheres closely to the actual ceremonies used by the Knights. Mountferrat, for example, is subjected to a reverse investiture rite as he is deprived of his sword, spurs, the mantle with its eight-pointed, white cross, and finally of the knotted cord tied around his neck...When Miranda, in turn, is invested in the Order, he is first questioned so as to determine whether he has made other vows or has been married, because if it were learned that a Knight had done either, then the rule called for the guilty Knight's losing his habit for all time...These are the characteristic elements of Fletcherian drama that have led Eliot in our time to use an organic metaphor, as did Coleridge, to describe the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher: 'the blossoms of Beaumont and Fletcher's imagination draw no sustenance from the soil, but are cut and slightly withered flowers stuck into sand'...because they lack inner vitality and are devoid of any larger purpose that transcends simply the creation of intense theatrical moments" (Mullany, 1973 pp 298-310).
Boas (1946) thought striking the part when Oriana swoons before her husband's charge of adultery and winds up in a vault. "In impressive scenes reminiscent of 'Romeo and Juliet' she is buried in the family monument in the Temple of St John and rescued by Miranda. In the finest scene of the play (V i), which on metrical grounds must be assigned to Massinger, Miranda pleads for her love, but she forbids him to offer her even a kiss, which is now ‘due to my lord, to none else'. Miranda confesses himself overpowered: 'Husband! wife!/There is some holy mystery in those names/That sure the unmarried cannot understand.' Oriana responds with a rapturous declaration of a super sensual communion of souls...The play has a spectacular close in the expulsion before an altar of Mountferrat from the Order of St John and the admission into it of Miranda, welcomed in song as ‘fair child of virtue, honour’s bloom’" (p 288).
"The knight of Malta"
Time: 16th century. Place: Malta.
Despite his vow of chastity as a member of the knights of Malta, Mountferrat pursues Oriana, sister to Valetta, grand master of the order, but she repulses him. Two candidates to become knights of Malta are presented: Miranda and Gomera, but both decline the honor, the former because of his youth and feelings of unworthiness, the latter because of his love of Oriana, a match approved by Valetta. Smarting with jealousy, Mountferrat engages Oriana's black servant, Zanthia, to forge a letter stating that her mistress accepts a marriage proposal from the basha of Tripoli, an act of treason to the Maltese state at war with the Ottoman Empire. Gomera considers this a slander and offers to defend Oriana in a trial by combat against her accuser. While engaged in warfare with the Turks, Miranda captures a prisoner, Lucinda. He seems to desire her, but she rejects his advances, which he secretly approves of. After learning of the combat at arms in preparation, he visits Mountferrat and pretends to believe his story of Oriana's treachery. After learning Gomera insulted him, he offers to replace him. Unwilling to risk death for such a cause, Mountferrat accepts. Gomera defeats the disguised Miranda, but when the latter's visor is lifted, he claims to have won as well as Gomera for having deliberately lost the fight to expose Mountferrat's cowardice and likely forgery. Valetta is convinced and orders Mountferrat's arrest. He pronounces Miranda fit to become a knight of the order and accepts Gomera as brother-in-law. Still willing to further Mountferrat's cause, Zanthia encourages Gomera's fits of jealousy concerning his wife and Miranda, whom she admires but does not love. He violently accuses her of betraying him: "For thy sake, vile creature,/For all I have done well in my life,/I have digged a grave, all buried in a wife;/For thee I have defied my constant mistress/That never failed her servant, glorious war,/For thee refused the fellowship of an order/Which princes, through all dangers, have been proud/To fetch as far as from Jerusalem:/And am I thus rewarded?" In consternation over this violently unjust diatribe, she faints. Zanthia pretends to help revive her mistress, but instead administers such a potent sedative that she is believed to be dead and exposed in a crypt inside a church prior to burial. At night, Mountferrat and Zanthia head towards the crypt to abduct her. However, Miranda arrives first, along with his friend, Norandine. They discover Oriana as she wakens and take her away. Finding the crypt empty, Mountferrat and Zanthia hurry out to find her. When Gomera also finds the supposed corpse removed, he hurries to find Mountferrat. When he does, he attacks him. While they fight with swords, the treacherous Zanthia takes out a pistol and shoots Gomera in the arm. However, the shot warns Norandine and the accompanying officers of the law, who arrest her along with Mountferrat. Oriana gives birth to a son and is reunited with her husband. So is Lucinda with the lover she knew prior to her capture by Miranda. Mountferrat is stripped of his membership as a knight of Malta, the title given instead to Miranda.
George Chapman (c1559-1634) elevated the English form of French history in Bussy D'Ambois" (1605).
In "Bussy D'Ambois", the main character, 'nobly born out of wedlock', is introduced at court by the scheming Monsieur, brother of the king, who has designs upon the throne. At once he reveals himself as a pertinacious undoer of great ladies and an invincible swordsman; but he displeases his patron when his bluff honesty, wins him the affection of the king. Monsieur plots against his favourite, and Bussy is done to death in an ambush in which his mistress has been compelled, by torture, to play her part. In Chapman's hands all goes pretty well through two acts and more. Some things are revealed in action, but the soliloquies are at least strong and clear. The messenger's account of Bussy's triple duel is more epic than dramatic, recalling manifestly the combats of the Iliad; but Chapman can cite in his defence the messengers of Greek tragedy. The equivocation of Tamyra, countess of Montsurry, with the friar who plays pandar to her ungoverned lust, and with the husband she has deceived, is so richly done that if we saw these scenes played as excerpts we might marvel at our neglect of Chapman. Unhappily, as the play goes on, the reason for that neglect becomes only too evident. A wordy fog descends, lifting a little, it is true, for an admirable exchange of plain speaking between Bussy and his treacherous patron. What happened to the play at this point is a matter of conjecture. Perhaps it was the theatre people who reminded Chapman that apparitions, blue fire and rackings were indispensable if his tragedy was to draw the town. Perhaps it was in response to their representations that he not only bedevilled a sufficient plot with unnecessary nonsense of that kind, but threw in some unconscionable rant" (Bridges-Adams, 1961 p 241).
“There is a bright and fiery energy throughout, a vigour of ambitious aspiration, which is transmitted as it were by echo and reflection from the spirit of the poet into the spirit of his hero. The brilliant swordsman of the court of Henri III, who flashes out on us as the joyous central figure of one of the most joyous and vigorous in all the bright list of those large historic groups to which the strong swift hand of Dumas gave colour and life, has undergone at the heavier hand of the old English poet a singular transfiguration. He is still the irresistible duellist and amorist of tradition instead of the grace and courtliness proper to his age and rank. Chapman has bestowed on him the grave qualities of an epic braggart, whose tongue is at least as long as his sword, and whose gasconades have in them less of the Gascon than of our ‘Homer-Lucan’ himself, who with all his notable interest in the France of his time and her turbulent history had assuredly nothing of the lighter and more gracious characteristics of French genius. But in the broad full outline of this figure, and in the robust handling of the tragic action which serves for environment or for background to its haughty and dilated proportions, there is more proof of greatness than Chapman had yet given. His comic or gnomic poetry may be better or at least less faulty in its kind, but in that kind there is less room for the growth and display of those greater qualities which not infrequently struggle through the hot and turbid atmosphere of his tragic writing, and show by a stormy and cloudy illumination the higher reaches of his real genius...There is no depth or delicacy of character discernible in any of the leading parts; in some cases indeed it is hard at first to determine whether the author meant to excite the sympathies or the antipathies of his audience for a good or for a bad character; the virtue of the heroine collapses without a touch, and friends and foes change sides with no more reason shown than that the figure of the dance requires it. But the power of hand is gigantic which shifts and shuffles. There are passages of a sublime and Titanic beauty, rebellious and excessive in style as in sentiment, but full of majestic and massive harmony” (Swinburne, 1919 pp 73-82).
In the view of Boas (1946), Bussy resembles Marlowe's overreaching characters, except for "an element of coarseness in speech and action which robs him of the sympathy that goes out to Marlowe's protagonists, whatever their extravagances. Yet to the end his superb vitality makes him a dominant stage-figure and draws all eyes...It is one of the virtues af 'Bussy d'Ambois' that here as in his most distinctive comedies Chapman skilfully draws together threads of different origin...The affray, with three combatants on either side, in which Bussy and Barrisor are the protagonists, so vividly described by the messenger in Act II i, springs from Barrisor's suspicion that Bussy is beginning to court Tamyra...whom he has for long wooed. Thus Bussy's earlier gasconading exploits are related to the fatal climax...And, as in his comedies, the dramatist gives a unity to the action by making one of the characters pull most of the strings. Here it is the duke of Anjou who is represented as raising Bussy...and afterwards, when he had grown jealous of his favour with the king, conspiring with the duke of Guise for his overthrow. Anjou, moreover, has vainly sought the favours of Tamyra which she has granted to Bussy, and in revenge it is he...who shows the count the paper that proves his wife's guilt, and who, with the Guise, suggests the stratagem by which she is forced to decoy her lover to his doom. From first to last the play is pitched in a high key, with action and passion both at fever heat...[Chapman] never spins out words to hide a poverty of ideas; the difficulties of his style in the play spring from excessive condensation, and from the plethora of illustrations by way of simile, metaphor, and other figures of speech. Even so there are not infrequent passages of crisp dialogue, of sustained and vital narrative, as in the messenger’s report of the Bussy-Barrisor encounter, or of stately soliloquy as when d'Ambois, fatally wounded, resolves to die standing" (pp 30-32).
"When Chapman is fine, it is in a way all his own. There is then an incomparable amplitude in his style, as when, to quote a phrase from his translation of Homer, the Lightener Zeus 'lets down a great sky out of heaven'. There is a quality of northwestern wind in it, which, if sometimes too blusterous, is yet taken into the lungs with an exhilarating expansion" (Lowell, 1892 pp 92-93).
Time: 16th century. Place: France.
Monsieur, King Henry III's brother, attracts Bussy d'Ambois, a soldier, in his sphere of influence. Another courtier, Maffe, comes in to fool Bussy by giving him on behalf of Monsieur 100 crowns instead of 1,000, but Bussy guesses at the deception and strikes him. Monsieur introduces him at court, where he quickly courts the wife of the duke of Guise, who threatens to cut his throat, which Bussy dismisses. When found among a group of courtiers, he chafes on suspecting he is their object of derision. One of these, Barrisor, asks him sarcastically: "Do you think yourself such a singular subject for laughter that none can fall into the matter of our merriment but you?," to which Bussy replies: "We shall meet where your buffoonly laughters will cost ye the best blood in your bodies." The result is a duel with rapiers between 3 of Bussy's friends and 3 of Bussy's enemies, Barrisor, L'Anou, and Pyrhot, in the latter group, Melynell and Brisac in the former. All six die, but not Bussy. Despite the law against dueling, the king pardons him. Meanwhile, Monsieur attempts to seduce Tamyra, wife to count Montsurry. She tells Monsieur she will be loyal to her husband, to which he replies: "archers ever/Have two strings to a bow; and shall great Cupid/(Archer of archers both in men and women)/Be worse provided than a common archer?" To tempt Tamyra even more, he hands her a rope of pearl as a present, but she refuses it. Bussy arrives with a friar to dispel the rumor that Barrisor was killed because of Tamyra's love of him. She thanks Bussy and accepts his version as they go out to bond together. Back at court, Bussy quarrels a second time with the duke of Guise, but they are reconciled by the king, who especially loves the former. A jealous Monsieur now has second thoughts about Bussy, wondering: "What had my bounty drunk when it rais'd him?" He and the Guise decide to trap him, with Tamyra used as bait. Pero, Tamyra's treacherous female servant, reveals to Monsieur she saw Bussy and Tamyra together late at night. To provoke Montsurry, Monsieur makes horns at him as a sign he is a cuckold. Montsurry suspects the worst and confronts his wife, who swoons at his accusation. He asks her pardon, admitting that his only proof is Monsieur making horns at him, which Tamyra is glad of, the information surely springing from an evil source. Tamyra then warns Bussy of Monsieur's discovery, a danger he as usual makes light of. "What cold dull Northern brain, what fool but he/Durst take into his Epimethean breast/A box of such plagues as the danger yields/Incurr'd in this discovery?" he asks amazed. To find out what Monsieur knows, the friar conjures Behemoth and other spirits, by which means Bussy discovers that Monsieur advises Montsurry to trap Bussy. Presuming his wife guilty, in a fit of anger Montsurry stabs Pero, but Monsieur saves her life by sending for his surgeon. In a further fit, Montsurry drags Tamyra about by her hair, and tries to force her into writing down the names of the adulterer and pandar. Tamyra refuses, "Hide in some gloomy dungeon my loath'd face/And let condemned murderers let me down/(Stopping their noses) my abhorred food./Hang me in chains, and let me eat these arms/That have offended: bind me face to face/To some dead woman, taken from the cart/Of execution, till death and time/In grains of dust dissolve me-," she cries. He stabs her and presses her further. "Till thou writ'st/I'll write in wounds (my wrong's fit characters)/Thy right of sufferance," he threatens. Since she still resists, he commands his servants to place her on the rack. The friar, alarmed by her cries, bursts inside the room to prevent further harm, but without warning falls and dies. Tamyra admits the friar was her pander and writes down her lover's name in her blood. Montsurry takes up the friar's garment and dons it as a disguise to fool Bussy. However, Bussy sees the friar's ghost, and thereby knows he is dead. He raises Behemoth, who warns him to disobey his mistress' next summons. The disguised Montsurry enters with the summons, to which Bussy obeys despite the devil's warning, considering him the prince of lies. Tamyra, forewarned by the friar's ghost, warns Bussy to stay away, but he comes nevertheless. A band of hired men enter to kill Bussy, but all of them except one are scared off by the ghost. The bold one is stabbed to death by Bussy. Encouraged by Montsurry, the other men re-enter. Bussy beats Montsurry down, yet spares his life, but is shot to death by one of Montsurry's servants. As a result of these distressing events, Montsurry and his wife decide to live separately.