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On September 18, 1589 Christopher Marlowe fought William Bradley in a street brawl, but Thomas Watson killed Bradley. Marlowe was imprisoned at Newgate for two weeks and was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth. Marlowe shared a room with Thomas Kyd in 1591. On May 11, 1593 Kyd was arrested and tortured because papers denying the deity of Jesus Christ were found in his room. On May 18 the Privy Council issued a warrant for Marlowe’s arrest, and two days later he surrendered; but the Privy Council was not meeting, and he stayed at Thomas Walsingham’s house in Kent. On May 30 Marlowe was at the Deptford Strand inn near London with Ingram Frizier, the double agent Robert Poley, and his colleague Nicholas Skere who may have been involved with Poley in the Babington Plot in 1586. All three men knew Thomas Walsingham, a relative of England’s spymaster Francis Walsingham. After supper Marlowe and Frizier quarreled over the bill, and Frizier stabbed Marlowe in self-defense. Marlowe died on May 30, 1593, and his body was buried on June 1. Frizier was pardoned on June 18. After Marlowe’s death Kyd sent a letter to the Lord Keeper John Puckering stating that the blasphemous papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe. Also in June the informer Richard Baines alleged that Marlowe had spoken treason, blasphemy, and praised homosexuality. He was accused of blasphemy because he had alleged that Jesus and his disciple John the Beloved had a homosexual relationship.
Marlowe wrote his plays in iambic pentameter blank verse and often used prose for lower-class characters, a practice followed by Shakespeare. His Tamburlaine the Great Part 1 and Part II were performed in 1587 and 1588. The Jew of Malta was presented on February 26, 1592 and was played sixteen more times in the next twelve months. Drawing on the conflicts in the 16th century between the Ottoman Turks and the Christians who persecuted Jews, Marlowe apparently created this story himself set in the reign of Sultan Selim II (r. 1566-74).
In The Jew of Malta the famous political strategist Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) speaks the Prologue and describes himself as admired by those who hate him. The Jewish merchant Barabas is counting his wealth, but Malta’s Governor Ferneze demands half the assets of all Jews to pay tribute owed to the Turks. Barabas refuses, and all his wealth is confiscated. His house becomes a Christian convent, but Barabas gets his daughter Abigail to join the nuns and steal his hidden treasure. Spaniards arrive to sell Turkish slaves and urge resistance to the Turks. Barabas buys the Arabian slave Ithamore. The Governor’s son Lodowick and Mathias fall in love with Abigail; but Barabas forges letters, and they kill each other in a duel. Barabas orders Ithamore to poison all the nuns, but Abigail has returned and dies too after confessing her father’s crimes to Friar Jacomo. After Ferneze refuses to pay the tribute, the Turks besiege Malta. The friars inform on Barabas who pretends to become a Christian, and Ithamore helps him strangle the friar Bernardine. Ithamore falls in love with the prostitute Bellamira and blackmails Barabas, who poisons the couple with flowers. The Governor arrests Barabas, who takes a drug to appear dead and is thrown outside the walls. He then helps the Turks take the city, and they appoint him governor. He sets a trap for the Turks at a banquet with explosives; but Ferneze warns them, and Barabas is killed in his own trap. This violent melodrama exposes Christian resentment of Jewish wealth, exploitation of slaves, and the hegemonic struggle between the Christian and Ottoman empires. Barabas managed to get his wealth back and then gain power by serving the Ottoman Empire; but he had murdered many people, and his fall from power followed. The play reflects the anti-Semitism in England where Jews were banned.
On January 30, 1593 the Lord Strange’s Men performed The Tragedy of Guise, which was probably Marlowe’s play The Massacre at Paris, which was played by the Admiral’s Men ten times in the summer of 1594. The only extant text of an octavo edition containing 1,250 lines without a date was found by stylometric research in 2015 to be more similar to the plays of Shakespeare and Anthony Munday than to Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays.
The Massacre at Paris begins in June 1572 with the death of old Queen Jeanne, mother of King Henri of Navarre. The Duke of Guise is ambitious and resents Henri’s marriage to Margaret, daughter of the Queen-Mother Catherine de’ Medici. Guise sends Gonzago to murder the Admiral. During the infamous massacre of Protestants on Bartholomew’s Day (August 24) Guise stabs Loreine to death, and his brother Duke Dumaine sends archers to slaughter a hundred Protestants who took refuge in the river Seine. Henri of Navarre tells Henri of Anjou that all the Protestants are being killed, and Guise kills schoolmasters. King Charles IX dies two years later and is succeeded by his brother Henri III who returns from ruling Poland. In December 1588 Henri of Navarre fights against the Guises who are allied with the Pope and Spain. Guise shoots Mugeroun dead and challenges Henri III. Navarre supports King Henri and sends three soldiers who kill Guise. Henri III claims responsibility, and his mother Catherine curses him. Another Guise brother, Cardinal of Lorraine, is strangled. Dumaine then sends a Dominican friar who assassinates King Henri III with a poisoned dagger on August 1, 1589. The Huguenot King of Navarre became Henri IV the next day. This tragic drama depicted recent events familiar to the English, showing the atrocities of Catholics and the martyrdom and heroism of the Protestants.
Marlowe’s Edward II was probably written by 1592 and was registered on July 6, 1593 and printed in 1594 as The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer. By 1592 Shakespeare had written the three parts of Henry VI based on Holinshed’s Chronicles. Marlowe used the same source and his imagination to write Edward II, and the play covers the period 1307-30.
In Marlowe’s play the young Edward II is in love with Pierce de Gaveston and recalls him from exile as soon as he becomes king and gives him many titles. His father Edward I had banned Gaveston, and several nobles and Edward II’s neglected and jealous wife Isabella do not want Gaveston at court. She turns to young Roger Mortimer who organizes a revolt to get rid of Gaveston. Mortimer and others also believe that the King is neglecting his duty by paying too much attention to his favorite and ignoring other advisors. When the Bishop of Coventry objects to this immoral relationship and demands Gaveston’s exile, Edward sends the bishop to die in the Tower. Mortimer, his father, Warwick, and Lancaster conspire to remove Gaveston and are supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Queen Isabella. Gaveston accuses her of having an affair with Mortimer, and Edward uses this to get her to support Gaveston. He leaves the court, but the Queen persuades the nobles to support the King and allow Gaveston to return. Angry Mortimer wounds Gaveston, and Edward wants revenge, uniting the nobles against him. When Edmund, Earl of Kent, criticizes his brother Edward, the King dismisses him. Hugh Spencer (Despenser) and Baldock remain loyal to Edward and are promoted, and Gaveston has married Edward’s niece Margaret de Clare. Warwick, Lancaster, and others capture Gaveston and order his death.
When Edward learns that Gaveston is dead, he goes to war against the rebels. Queen Isabella and Prince Edward go to Normandy, and she negotiates with her brother Charles IV of France. Mortimer persuades them to replace Edward II with his reluctant son Edward. They move their court in exile to Hainault. Mortimer and Edmund defeat Edward II, and he flees with Spencer and his court to an abbey in Ireland. The Earl of Leicester arrests Spencer and Baldock for treason and takes Edward II to Killingworth Castle. The Bishop of Winchester and Trussel persuade Edward II to abdicate. He does so and is transferred by Mortimer’s order. Mortimer is ruling for young Edward III who wants his father to be king. Mortimer sends Lightborne to murder the miserable Edward II. Edward III shows Mortimer a letter proving his regicide, and he orders Mortimer beheaded. This drama shows how a monarch’s indulgence with a favorite can corrupt and divide a kingdom.
The Tragical History of D. Faustus was published in 1594 after Marlowe’s death. The first recorded performance was on September 30, 1594 by the Admiral’s Men, and they performed it 25 times in the next three years. An expanded version of The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus published in 1616 added more comical scenes from the tricks played by Faustus. The play is based on the 1587 English translation of the life of Johann Georg Faust who enrolled at the University of Heidelberg in 1483.
In his study Doctor Faustus is tired of Aristotle’s logic; as a physician he has helped cities avoid the plague, but medicine cannot make a man eternal. He finds studying law drudgery and thinks divinity is best; but sin is unavoidable and leads to death, and says goodbye to that. The power of magic appeals to him; but a good angel warns him to read the scriptures while the bad angel urges him to command the elements. Faustus chooses magic and the occult arts so that he may conjure. Lucifer appears and assigns his servant Mephostophilis to work with Faustus who learns that Lucifer was an angel, but pride caused his fall. The Earth is part of hell. Faustus offers his soul for 24 years of power, though he realizes he serves his own appetite. The good angel confirms that prayer and repentance will lead to heaven, but the bad angel offers honor and wealth. Faustus writes the contract with his own blood, stating that Mephostophilis will serve him for 24 years in exchange for the body and soul of Faustus. He can have a courtesan every day, and Faustus does not repent. When he calls upon Christ, Lucifer appears and asserts his legal claim. He introduces to Faustus the seven deadly sins who are Pride, Covetousness, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth, and Lechery. Faustus travels to France and Naples and visits the Pope Adrian in Rome, and he frees the heretic Bruno from burning. He becomes invisible and plays tricks on the Pope at a banquet. Faustus visits the German Emperor Charles V. In the last act scholars talk with Faustus, and they pray for him. The good angel leaves him as the jaws of hell open to receive him. Faustus would leap up to God and be saved by Christ, but Lucifer will not spare him. Faustus curses himself and Lucifer, and the scholars find his dead body.
This tragedy is a prophetic parable of humanity turning away from a spiritual life to a life of power over the elements, wealth, pleasures, and materialism. Souls must choose to give in to the deadly sins or not.
Robert Greene (1558-92) earned a B.A. and M.A. at Cambridge and then traveled in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and Denmark. He indulged in debauchery and then repented with religion. He wrote autobiographical pamphlets and prose romances. He turned to plays, and his most successful was the comedy Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay which was produced about 1590 and is based on The Famous History of Friar Bacon.
Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1590) is set in the latter part of King Henry III’s reign (1216-72). Edward, Prince of Wales, falls in love with Margaret of Fressingham and requests the magical skill of Friar Roger Bacon to win her love. Edward also sends Earl Lacy of Lincoln to court her for him, but she falls in love with Lacy. Bacon is working on a head of brass to protect England. King Henri III has received Elinor of Castile who is betrothed to Prince Edward, and with the German Emperor they go to Oxford to meet Friar Bacon who has a magic mirror in which one may see whatever one wishes. Edward changes clothes with the court Fool Rafe, but Bacon sees through the disguise. Lacy visits Friar Bungay and says he is in love with Margaret. They are about to marry when Bacon intervenes with magic. Edward, jealous of Lacy, wants to kill him, but Margaret persuades him to let her marry Lacy. The German magician Vandermast overcomes Bungay but is defeated by Bacon. King Henry orders Lacy to wed one of Elinor’s ladies-in-waiting, and Margaret decides to become a nun. The brazen head comes alive but only says, “Time is; time was; and time is past” before breaking. The squires Lambert and Serlsby are competing for Margaret’s hand but kill each other in a duel. Bacon, feeling responsible for their deaths, breaks his magic mirror and seeks a penitent life. Bungay is haunted by Bacon’s devils and arranges to be a tapster in hell. Finally Margaret decides to marry Lacy, and Edward is to wed Elinor. Bacon prophesies that after many wars England will have peace.
George Peele’s historical drama David and Bethsabe is based on the Second Book of Samuel and was written about 1588, registered on May 14 1594, and printed in 1599. David, King of Israel, sees Bethsabe (Bathsheba) bathing and falls in love with her. He encourages her to visit her husband Urias who is fighting at the siege of Rabbah, but he sends a letter to the commander Joab to put Urias at the front of the war. Meanwhile David’s son Amnon by Ahinoam has raped Tamar, sister of David’s son Absalon by Maacah, and Absalon complains to David who promises to punish Amnon. The prophet Nathan accuses David of killing the Hittite Urias in order to take his wife, and their first child dies. David hopes Bethsabe will bear him another son, and later she gives birth to Solomon. David goes off to lead the fight at Rabbah. Absalon learns that Amnon is conspiring against their father David and stabs him to death. Cusay persuades David to follow his strategy rather than that of Achitophel. Absalon at Hebron has himself proclaimed King of Israel and reigns in Jerusalem. In the battle for the throne Absalon gets his hair caught in a tree, and Joab kills him. David loves his son Solomon, and Nathan predicts he will gain knowledge and glorify his age. Finally David stops mourning the deaths of his sons, and Bethsabe and Joab are glad. This biblical drama portrays some of the faults of David and his sons in contrast to the great promise of Solomon.
Peele’s Edward I was probably produced about 1590 and was registered in 1593 the year a pirated version of the play was printed. The play is based on chronicles by Grafton and Holinshed and depicts the early part of the English King Edward I’s reign that began in 1272. Edward I has returned from the Crusades and insists on paying the maimed soldiers of Christ. The Queen Mother, Queen Elinor, and nobles contribute. Prince Lluellen of Wales is worried that Edward called Longshanks is going to come ashore and prepares for war. Friar Tuck, the friend of Robin Hood, is a prominent character and admits he loves a wench. Balliol and noble Scots agree to be vassals of King Edward. The English and the Welsh fight each other, and Edward and Lluellen negotiate the trading of prisoners. Queen Elinor gives birth to a son named Edward of Carnarvan. In a duel David fights with his brother Lluellen against Mortimer and Edward. The King puts Lluellen down; but David has Mortimer, and they trade. Balioll leads a Scottish rebellion (1296), and Mortimer pursues them. Lluellen is killed in battle in Wales, and David is to be hanged. Balioll is captured in Scotland. Queen Elinor dies (1290). Edward tells her daughter Jone that her father was a friar, and she dies too.
Peele wrote The Battle of Alcazar about 1591, and it was printed anonymously in 1594. The battle was on August 4, 1578 between the army of Portugal’s King Sebastian and Morocco which was part of the Ottoman Empire. The King and his general Tom Stukely were tricked into fighting for Abdallah Muhammad II who was rebelling against his uncle, the Sultan Abd Al-Malik (Abdelmelec), and all four were killed. The Portuguese were greatly outnumbered and had about 8,000 men killed and 15,000 captured. Abdelmelec is the protagonist as the English at this time were opposed to Spain and Portugal. His death in the battle is kept secret by his brother so that they can win the battle.
Thomas Heywood (1573-1641) was educated at Cambridge University and began writing plays in 1596. In the next 45 years he wrote pamphlets, poetry, translations, and claimed that he had a hand in 220 plays, often with others. His first known play in 1598, which is lost, has the interesting title War Without Blows and Love Without Strife.
Heywood’s two-part history play Edward IV was printed in 1599 and reprinted four times by 1626. Based on Holinshed’s Chronicles and Thomas More’s History of Richard III, Edward IV Part 1 begins with Henry VI in prison and the Duchess of York reprimanding her son Edward for marrying the widow Elizabeth Gray while Warwick was arranging a match for him with a French princess. News arrives of a rebellion led by Falconbridge (Thomas Neville) with Spicing, Smoke, and Club on behalf of Henry VI against the “usurper” Edward IV who is supported by London’s Mayor John Crosby, the city’s Recorder Thomas Urswick, the Sheriff Ralph Josselyn, and the goldsmith Matthew Shore who has a beautiful wife named Jane. The Mayor urges the tradesmen to support Edward. Falconbridge has allied with France and desires Jane. Heywood departed from More’s History by portraying the Shores as happily married. The rebels try to take over London, but they are defeated in the second battle. Edward knights several men, but Shore declines the honor.
Edward and Thomas Sellinger meet the tanner John Hobs and say they are the King’s butler Ned and Tom. Ned pretends to favor Henry VI, but Hobs is honest and reprimands Ned for disloyalty; he could accept either Henry VI or Edward IV as king. Ned promises to help Hobs. His son is a thief. Later he is sentenced to be hanged, and Hobs appeals to Ned to intercede with the King to save his son. Edward disguises himself as a jewel merchant and goes to woo Jane Shore. When he reveals who he is, she kneels before him but retains her honor. Her husband recognizes Edward. Mistress Blage advises Jane to accept the King’s love because he has the power to make it right. Shore feels the King is covering over his ugly sin. Edward sends for her and has sport helping Hobs by pardoning his son and giving the tanner money. The first play ends with Edward announcing he is going to war against France.
Edward IV Part 2 starts with King Edward IV negotiating with France’s King Louis XI and the Duke of Burgundy and Constable Count St. Pol. The latter two are in rebellion against Louis, but they also betray Edward and each other. Louis offers peace to Edward, and together they easily defeat the rebels Burgundy and the Constable. Matthew Shore returns to England and uses the name Flud to forget the shame of his wife Jane becoming the King’s mistress, but he is arrested and sentenced to death. Jane helps prisoners but is taken by Queen Elizabeth’s son Dorset to meet with the Queen. Jane submits to her punishment, but they forgive each other. Jane persuades Dorset to let her leave the court. Edward is ill and dies. Richard of Gloucester becomes protector of the young princes Edward and Richard; but instead he has his brother George, Duke of Clarence, put to death and then the two princes, making himself King Richard III. Jane tries to hide by living with her friend Mistress Blage. Richard has Jane and Blage arrested and has Jane stripped of her possessions and doomed to a deserted place with no one allowed to help her on pain of death. Jane also saved Aire’s life, and he gives her money and for that is executed. Eventually Shore reveals himself to his wife Jane, and they both die in misery. King Richard has alienated almost everyone and even refuses to keep his promise to the Duke of Buckingham, making his days numbered as the play ends.
The tragedy A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603) is Heywood’s most popular play and is based on stories from William Painter’s collection The Palace of Pleasure. At the wedding celebration of John and Anne Frankford her brother Francis Acton and Charles Mountford plan to go hunting and bet each other on their falcons and hounds. At the hunt Francis loses the wagers, and their argument turns into a fight in which Charles kills two of Acton’s servants. His sister Susan urges Charles to flee, but he remains and is arrested. Wendoll reports what happened to Frankford who invites him to stay in his home and offers him money and a servant. After his trial Charles is freed, but the case has cost him most of his patrimony. As he leaves jail, Shafton loans Charles £300. Later Shafton offers to buy the estate, but Charles refuses to sell. Shafton demands the loan be paid with interest; when Charles cannot pay, Shafton has a sergeant arrest him. Susan asks for money to get Charles out of jail, but all her relatives and friends turn her down. Yet Francis Acton pays the entire debt and the jail fees, freeing Charles. He asks his sister Susan to give herself to Francis to pay off the obligation, but she refuses to sell her honor, though she does accept his marriage proposal.
Meanwhile Wendoll has fallen in love with Anne and while her husband is away, declares his love for her. The servant Nick sees what is occurring and reports it to Frankford. He changes the locks, pretends to go away at night with Nick, then quietly returns, and finds his wife Anne sleeping in the arms of Wendoll. Frankford chases him out of the house with his sword and banishes his wife to one of his secluded cottages. Anne wants to die and has stopped eating. They gather around her, and Frankford remarries her with a kiss; but then she dies. This domestic drama shows that although he used no violence, Frankford’s kindness was not true forgiveness.
George Chapman (1559-1634) is famous for his translations of Homer that impressed John Keats and added Stoic philosophy to the epic poems. He published the first seven books of the Iliad in 1598 and the complete Iliad andOdysseyin 1616. Chapman was a soldier in the Low Countries before 1594. He dedicated his second book of poetry to Walter Raleigh in 1596 and completed Marlowe’s poem Hero and Leander in 1598. Chapman struggled with debt and was involved with chancery litigation 1617-22.
Chapman’s tragicomedy The Blind Beggar of Alexandria was first performed in 1596 and was printed in 1598. Influenced by Italian commedia dell’arte, the extensive use of disguises popularized this device. His comedy An Humorous Day’s Mirth (1597) introduced the theory of humors as moods which in this play are the over-riding jealousy of Cornelius, the melancholic son Dowsecer, and the Puritan wife Florila. About 1602 in the romantic comedy The Gentleman Usher a Duke finds himself in competition with his son for Margaret and after complications yields to the young couple. Chapman’s Monsieur D'Olive (1605) is another romantic comedy with complications about an earl grieving for his late wife, a manipulating count, and a fop on a diplomatic mission who is satirized along with the excessive knighting of men practiced by King James. Chapman’s Mayday was published in 1611 and is based on Alessandro Piccolomini’s commedia erudita called Alessandro from 1544. In this romantic farce both males and females are involved in cross-dressing. The Widow’s Tears was published in 1612 and is a tragicomedy that takes a hard look at human experience and presents women as lusty and hypocritical. Tharsalio finds a way to seduce and marry the widowed countess while his brother Lysander pretends to be killed and then in disguise persuades his wife to marry him.
Chapman’s most popular comedy All Fools (1604) is based on two plays by Terence, The Self-Tormentor and The Brothers. The honest and simple knight Marc Antonio has a son Fortunio who is in love with Bellanora, daughter of the manipulative and disciplinarian knight Gostanzo, whose son Valerio is in debt and secretly married to Gratiana who has no dowry. Fortunio’s younger brother Rinaldo is disillusioned with women but tells Gostanzo the secret that Fortunio is married to Gratiana. Gostanzo reveals this to Marc Antonio and persuades him to let the couple live in Gostanzo’s house so that he can discipline Fortunio, enabling Valerio to be with his wife and Fortunio to woo Bellanora. Later Rinaldo tells Gostanzo that Valerio and Gratiana are married and suggests they live at Marc Antonio’s house so that Valerio can visit her. Rinaldo and Valerio also increase the jealousy of Cornelio who duels with her suspected lover Dariotto and decides to divorce Gazetta. Cornelio tells Rinaldo that Valerio was arrested for debts, and his father Gostanzo threatens to disown him; but Bellanora has married Fortunio, and Gostanzo accepts his married children. Cornelio explains he only pretended to be jealous to restrain his wife.
Chapman wrote the satirical city comedy Eastward Ho! with Ben Jonson and John Marston. In 1605 Chapman and Jonson were arrested for offending the King’s Scotland, but they were soon released. The goldsmith Touchstone has two apprentices: Quicksilver is prodigal, and Golding is industrious. Touchstone and his wife have two daughters: Gertrude is ambitious and wanton, and Mildred is humble and sober. Gertrude wants to marry the knight Petronel Flash, but Touchstone will give them only her dowry. Touchstone likes Golding and suggests his daughter Mildred marry him. At Gertrude’s wedding Quicksilver gets drunk and behaves so badly that he loses his job and home. Golding gains his freedom enabling him to wed Mildred. Quicksilver moves in with the usurer Security who is a bawd and handles stolen property. They and Quicksilver’s mistress Sindefy take advantage of Petronel by loaning him money on his bride’s estate. Gertrude signs away her land and leaves the wedding in a coach. Petronel uses the money to sail to Virginia with Captain Seagull, Scapethrift, and Spendall. Petronel deceives Security so that he can seduce his wife Winifred into sailing with him. Security learns she is gone and goes looking for her. The ship is wrecked by a storm, and Winifred is rescued and taken to a tavern where her husband finds her. The others are destitute, but Quicksilver uses copper to counterfeit gold. Golding becomes deputy alderman and sends officers to arrest the adventurers. Quicksilver, Petronel, and Sindefy are put in prison. Golding wants to help them, but Touchstone will not visit them. So Golding gets arrested and asks Touchstone for bail. Gertrude, Sindefy, and Winifred also come to the prison. Gertrude realizes her errors, forgives her husband, and pleads with her parents. Golding persuades Quicksilver to marry Sindefy, and Security gives her a dowry as he is reunited with Winifred, realizing he was not a cuckold. This comedy shows the folly of vice and the value of virtue.
Chapman’s Bussy D'Ambois (1607) is a historical tragedy set in the court of France during the reign of Henri III ending with the murder of the courtier Louis de Clermont, Sieur de Bussy D’Amboise in 1579. In the play Bussy is brought to the court by the King’s brother the Duc d’Alençon who is called Monsieur. Bussy is proud, confident, and frank, and he antagonizes the powerful Guise and other nobles while winning over others. Bussy and two friends fight three enemies, and only Bussy is left alive. He is called bravest of the French, and Monsieur persuades the King to pardon the capital offense. Bussy woos Duchess Elenor of Guise while Monsieur courts Countess Tamyra of Montsurry and gives her a pearl necklace. Soon Bussy is intrigued by Tamyra and competes with his patron. A friar shows him the way to her secret room, and she gives him the pearl necklace. At court Bussy serves the King by exposing flatterers and scoundrels. Guise calls him a bastard son of a cardinal, and King Henri works to reconcile them. The Duchess of Guise feels neglected, and Tamyra’s maid Pero tells Monsieur that Bussy has been with Tamyra.
Bussy talks with Monsieur about his royal ambitions and offers to do anything except kill a king, but then they insult each other. At a royal banquet Tamyra and Bussy pretend they do not know each other, and Henri leaves with Bussy. Monsieur implies that Count Montsurry is a cuckold, but the count refuses to accept his letter. Bussy and the friar visit Tamyra. They use magic to learn the future, and they see the jealous count stab Pero for bringing Tamyra’s note. Montsurry asks Tamyra who is the go-between and demands she write an invitation to her lover, but she refuses. The count then stabs her and puts her on the rack. The friar comes back with a sword and kills himself, and she confesses that he was the go-between. She writes in blood to Bussy. The friar’s ghost warns Bussy. Montsurry hires murderers and dresses as the friar. After Bussy kills one murderer and forgives the others, they kill him. Tamyra forgives the count but promises not to see him until her wounds are healed. This tragedy satirized the French court as corrupt with lust and intrigues.
The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1610) is a sequel, and in the dedication Chapman wrote,
Poor envious souls they are that cavil at truth’s want
in these natural fictions; material instruction,
elegant and sententious excitation to virtue,
and deflection from her contrary,
being the soul, limbs, and limits of an authentical tragedy.1
Clermont D’Ambois takes on the responsibility of avenging the murder of his brother Bussy by the Earl of Montsurry even though he is a stoical Christian and states in act 3, “Never private cause should take on the part of public laws.”2 Clermont’s sister Charlotte strongly supports his promise to revenge Bussy’s ghost, and she married Baligny only after he promised to help. Tamyra has returned to live with her husband Montsurry but wants him dead. Montsurry is barricaded in his house. Clermont sends Baligny to Montsurry who declines to duel Clermont. Baligny works for King Henri III, but the Duke of Guise is Clermont’s best friend and shares his philosophy. Baligny persuades Henri to have Clermont arrested at Cambrai where the countess is his mistress. Baligny blames Guise for his role in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Baligny sends Maillard to arrest Clermont while he is inspecting troops. Charlotte’s warning letter makes Clermont suspicious. Yet he goes with Maillard and resists but is captured by disguised soldiers. The countess sends him jewels and cries herself blind. The Duke of Guise convinces King Henri to release Clermont, and Henri’s brother Monsieur has died. At the house of Guise the ghost of Bussy urges his brother toward revenge. Baligny encourages the King to have Guise killed, and royal agents murder Guise while he is visiting Henri. Tamyra helps Clermont get into Montsurry’s house where Charlotte is disguised as a man. Clermont gets Montsurry to duel by saying Tamyra would stab him, and after forgiving each other Clermont kills him in the duel. The ghosts of Bussy, Monsieur, the Duke of Guise, Cardinal Guise, and Chatillon dance around the corpse. When Clermont learns that his friend Guise is dead, he takes his own life. Tamyra and Charlotte say they will do penance in a cloister. In fact the murder of the Guise brothers led to the assassination of Henri III himself seven months later.
Chapman wrote The Conspiracy of Byron and The Tragedy of Byron who was Marshal of France. Shakespeare portrayed Charles de Gontaut, duc de Biron (1562-1602) as Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost in 1595. Chapman’s plays were performed and published in 1608. The French ambassador Antoine Lefevre was offended by the Queen slapping the King’s mistress and complained to King James who banned the plays. When they played again, James stopped all theatre plays for a time and put three boys in prison briefly. In Chapman’s tragedies the Duke of Byron is a proud soldier who can be manipulated by France’s enemies. King Henri IV forgives him and sends him to England to observe a good government, and The Conspiracy of Byron concludes with his submission to the King. In The Tragedy of Byron he conspires against Henri IV again and is put on trial and executed for treason.
Chapman’s The Tragedy of Chabot, Admiral of France is set during the reign of François I and portrays Philippe de Chabot who died in 1543. The play was not registered until 1638 after it was revised by James Shirley. Admiral Chabot is portrayed as incorruptible, and he refuses to enforce a new law he considers unjust. King François has him investigated, but they can find no wrong. Nonetheless the King has them convict him and then pardons him. Chabot declines the pardon because he believes he is innocent; but he is so shocked that he dies. Some believe this play reflects the career of Earl Robert Carr of Somerset who lost his position to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, in 1615 and was prosecuted in 1630.
Under the title of his Roman tragedy Caesar and Pompey (c. 1613) Chapman placed the proposition “Only a just man is a freeman.” Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar have brought their armies near Rome. Marcus Cato, his son Porcius, Marcus Brutus, and the kings of Iberia, Thessaly, Cicilia, Epirus, and Thrace support Pompey. Some people try to keep Cato out of the Senate. Caesar is backed by Marc Antony and the tribune Metellus who says that the people’s voices are the voices of the gods. Pompey’s army has celebrated three triumphs for conquering Africa, Europe, and Asia, but now Romans do not want his army to enter Rome. Caesar blames Cato for causing factions and wants him imprisoned. Pompey calls upon those who love Rome to follow him as he leaves the Senate. Ruffians call for war. Caesar sends Vibius to Pompey to urge a meeting. In a battle 2,000 soldiers are slain. Cato advises not sacking any city nor putting to death any Roman citizen. Two consuls bring Brutus to Pompey, and they are joined by the five kings. When they meet at Pharsalus (48 BC), Caesar has an army of 22,000, but Pompey’s forces are twice that. Caesar leads his army into battle on the right wing. When Pompey’s army gives way, Caesar orders his to pursue them. Pompey realizes he has lost his worlds in one day, and Antony tells Caesar that only 6,000 men were killed. Brutus surrenders to Caesar who welcomes him, but Cato takes his own life. Three murderers bring the head of Pompey to Caesar. (Actually this occurred in Egypt later.) This tragedy dramatizes an early stage of the famous Roman Civil War, and later phases are depicted in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.
Thomas Dekker was born in London and wrote dozens of plays and collaborated with others. His first big success was The Shoemakers’ Holiday (1599) which portrays the “gentle craft” of cobblers and is a romantic comedy. The Earl of Lincoln gets his nephew Rowland Lacy appointed colonel in the English army going to fight in France. Lacy is in love with Rose, daughter of London’s Mayor Roger Otley, and sends his cousin Askew in his place, disguises himself as Dutch-speaking Hans, and gets a job working for the shoemaker Simon Eyre whose wife Margery is friendly and talkative. Hans gets along well with Simon and his lively journeymen Hodge, Firk, and Ralph, who has recently married Jane and has to go with the troops to France. The well-off gentleman Hammon goes hunting with Mayor Otley and falls in love with his daughter Rose, but she rejects him. Ralph returns from the war crippled and hears that Jane has remarried. Hodge gives Ralph work and helps him look for her. Simon is elected mayor and declares Shrove Tuesday a holiday for shoemakers. Hammon tries to get Jane to marry him by showing her Ralph’s name on a casualty list. Ralph recognizes a shoe he gave Jane, hears she is to be married, but instead they are re-united. Lacy weds Rose. Henry V visits the shoemakers’ feast, and the fathers Lincoln and Otley appeal to him. The King pardons Lacy, saying, “’Twas not a base want of true valour’s fire that held him out of France, but love’s desire,” and he tells the Earl of Lincoln and Otley that love does not respect blood nor difference of birth or state. This realistic comedy shows the rising middle class in London symbolized by a shoemaker being elected mayor.
Old Fortunatus (1599) by Dekker is an allegorical farce based on a German legend and a play by Hans Sachs (1553). Old Fortunatus is poor and lives frugally in the forest when he meets the goddess Fortune who has been cursed by unhappy kings and emperors while praised by the successful. She offers Fortunatus one choice from six gifts—wisdom, strength, health, beauty, long life, or riches. Ignoring the warnings of kings and others, he selects wealth and is given a purse from which he can take ten gold coins whenever he wants for as long as he or his sons are alive. His son Ampedo inclines toward virtue, but his brother Andelocia prefers vice. Fortune plants trees of good and evil on Cyprus. Fortunatus travels to Babylon where the sultan covets the purse. The old man offers him one like it and tries on a hat that takes one wherever one wishes and escapes to Cyprus. After living in luxury Fortunatus is near death. The brothers agree to alternate using the purse and the hat each year. Andelocia with the purse goes to the court of King Athelstan (r. 924-27) in England. He tries to woo Princess Agripyne, but she drugs him and takes the purse. Andelocia goes back to Cyprus and steals the hat to return to England where he abducts Agripyne, wishes them to a desert, and tries to seduce her; but she steals the hat and returns to England. Andelocia eats the pleasant apple of vice that makes him a horned beast. Fortune arrives, and Virtue offers to cure him. He eats the bitter apple that becomes delicious and is reformed. He wants the purse and hat, and Fortune transports him to England where his brother Ampedo wants to burn them. Agripyne and two suitors have eaten the apples of vice and are horned. Andelocia, disguised as a doctor, provides apples of virtue to cure them. He takes the hat and purse, abducts the princess, and goes to his brother. Ampedo burns the hat. The two courtiers find them, take the purse, and put the brothers in the stocks where they die in misery. Fortune reclaims the purse.
Dekker’s The Honest Whore Part 1 (1604) was given some assistance in early scenes by Thomas Middleton and was printed three times by 1606. The first scene is a funeral for Infelice, daughter of Gasparo Trebazzi, Duke of Milan, who because of a feud refused to let Count Hippolito marry her. Hippolito is grieving and has to be held back by his friend Matheo, and he vows to mourn in solitude. However, Infelice had been given a sleeping potion and recovers. Viola’s husband, the draper Candido, is a patient and indulgent husband who is tested by his shrewish wife. Young people also attempt to disrupt the store and Candido, but he is tolerant and declines to take more than one drink. They take his gown, and he has to use a table-cloth to attend the Senate. Viola’s seafaring brother Fustigo arrives, and she has him try to provoke jealousy in Candido by kissing her and using their money and supplies. Fustigo then confesses the prank and is welcomed by Candido.
Young courtiers visit the harlot Bellafront, and Matheo brings Hippolito to her. The count lectures her on constancy and the deceit in her profession. She falls in love with him, resolves to be honest, and tries to stab herself with his sword; but Hippolito returns to prevent her suicide. Reformed Bellafront even sends away her first lover Matheo and writes a love song to Hippolito. Disguised as a page, she takes a letter to Hippolito who says he still loves Infelice. The senior apprentice George wears Candido’s gown, and apprentices treat George as the master. They cudgel knaves pretending to shop. Viola thinks Candido has gone mad and has officers take him to the Bethlem Monastery for the insane. The physician Benedict tells the duke that Hippolito has been poisoned, but the doctor arranges for the count to wed Infelice at the monastery. Repentant Viola asks the duke to release her husband, and the duke learns of his daughter’s wedding. They all meet at Bethlem Monastery where Friar Anselmo has married Hippolito and Infelice. Bellafront was disguised as a friar, and she reveals the couple and Matheo to the duke. She agrees to marry Matheo, and Candido preaches about the spiritual value of patience.
In Dekker’s The Honest Whore Part 2 (1605) Matheo has killed a villain in a fair fight, and his wife, the former prostitute Bellafront, asks Count Hippolito to appeal to his father-in-law Milan’s Duke Gasparo Trebazzi. Orlando Friscobaldo has not seen his daughter Bellafront for seventeen years because she was a whore, and he calls on Hippolito who informs him that she is reformed and is suffering poverty because of her husband Matheo’s crimes and gambling. The draper Candido has just married a young woman because his wife Viola has died, and at their wedding breakfast his friends offer to help him tame her. Matheo is released, and Orlando pretends to be his own servant Pacheco and gives his daughter Bellafront £20 and offers to serve them. Hippolito has been trying to seduce Bellafront with gifts, but she is no longer infatuated and resists temptation. Pacheco goes to Hippolito’s wife Infelice and gives her the presents which she uses to show Hippolito evidence of his guilt. Matheo loses more things gambling. Candido’s new wife also declines to be seduced, and Candido continues to be tolerant of bad customers. Orlando visits his daughter as himself and rebukes the prodigal Matheo who makes his wife beg money from her father. While Matheo and Pacheco go out to try to rob Orlando, Hippolito tries to seduce Bellafront who flees. Pacheco appeals to the duke who perceives he is Orlando and sends him with an officer to arrest Matheo. The duke also orders prostitution curtailed. Many courtiers and even Candido are taken to Bridewell prison. Governors guide the Duke, Infelice, and courtiers on a tour of the prison, and Hippolito comes to see Bellafront. Matheo accuses her of infidelity with Hippolito who pleads both are innocent. Orlando verifies this, and Bellafront forgives her husband.
John Marston (1576-1634) had an Italian mother and graduated from Oxford in 1592 but gave up law school after his father died. After publishing his verse satires he began writing plays. His collaboration with Thomas Dekker on Satiromastix in 1601 provoked a “war of the theaters” against Ben Jonson who responded with his Poetaster which satirized Marston as a pretentious poet. After reconciliation Marston dedicated his dark comedy The Malcontent to Jonson in 1604. The next year he fled when his Eastward Ho! collaborators Chapman and Jonson were jailed. In 1608 Marston was imprisoned and retired from theater. He turned to religion, was ordained in December 1609 and served as a priest at Christchurch, Hampshire from 1616 until 1631.
The Malcontent is a satire of royal courts, particularly the new English court of Scottish King James. Before being presented at the Globe Theatre by the King’s Players an induction and additional passages were provided by John Webster. Duke Pietro Jacomo and his Florentine wife Aurelia have taken over the court of Genoa, but the former duke Giovanni Altofronto has disguised himself as the jester Malevole, who uses his position to criticize the immoral courtiers, flattering knaves, and licentious women-in-waiting by frankly revealing their faults. Only Celso is honest and virtuous, and he knows who Malevole is. Altofronto’s wife Maria is imprisoned. Mendoza arranged Pietro’s marriage alliance and the coup, and he is having an affair with Duchess Aurelia. Ferneze bribes the bawd Maquerelle and wins Aurelia’s favor. When Pietro challenges Mendoza with his sword, the latter blames women and Ferneze and with the Duke plans to kill him. Mendoza and Pietro spy on Ferneze and Aurelia in her chamber, and Mendoza stabs Ferneze with his sword. Mendoza reprimands Aurelia and offers to help her murder her husband with help from Florence. Yet Ferneze is alive, and Malevole gets him a surgeon and hides him.
Pietro sends his marshal Bilioso to Florence to complain about Aurelia. Mendoza asks Malevole to kill Pietro so that he can marry Maria and become duke. Malevole says he agrees but advises Pietro to disguise himself as a hermit. Malevole and the hermit report that the Duke is dead, and courtiers acclaim Mendoza as duke. He banishes Aurelia. Mendoza confides in the hermit and asks him to poison Malevole so that he can blame Maria and make her love him. Mendoza tells Malevole the hermit is dangerous and asks him to poison him. Pietro and Malevole talk and realize Mendoza’s treachery. Aurelia repents and goes to her cell while Pietro weeps. Bilioso returns with news that the Duke of Florence wants Aurelia killed, Pietro banished, and Altofronto restored as duke. Pietro renounces the dukedom and dedicates himself to prayer. Malevole reveals he is Altofronto and is supported by Pietro, Celso, and Ferneze. Malevole releases Maria and tells Mendoza that the hermit is dead and hands him a box of poison. When Mendoza opens the box, Malevole smells it and collapses. Maria resists Mendoza’s attentions, and he threatens to kill her. In a masque Malevole and his three allies dance as dukes in Mendoza’s celebration but then surround him and force him to recognize Malevole as Duke Altofronto.
Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan (1605) is based on Bandello’s story of the Countess of Celant that had been translated by Painter and Fenton and another story by Masuccio also put into English by Painter. Young Freevill has broken off his affair with the Dutch courtesan Francheschina to become engaged to virtuous Beatrice, and as a consolation he introduces his friend Malheureux to Francheschina. Cocledemoy has stolen goblets from the vintner Mulligrub. Freevill and Malheureux are visiting Francheschina who asks for the ring that Beatrice gave to Freevill, but he will not give it to her. She tells Malheureux that he will not enjoy her unless he kills Freevill and brings her the ring. Cocledemoy disguises himself as a barber, shaves Mulligrub in his home, and steals £15. Malheureux tells his friend about the courtesan’s demand, and they agree to pretend to quarrel and then give out that Freeville was killed in a duel. Cocledemoy contrives a scheme to steal a cup from Mulligrub and his wife.
At a masque Freevill and Malheureux stage their quarrel and leave to fight. Malheureux takes the ring to Francheschina, but instead of going to hide at the jeweler’s Freevill disguises himself to see what happens. The courtesan listens to Malheureux but puts him off for two hours while she, accompanied by Freevill pretending to be a pimp, tells Freevill’s father Lionel and Beatrice. Lionel and Beatrice’s father Hubert Stubboys find constables and go to Francheschina’s and hide behind a curtain. That night Mulligrub sees Cocledemoy who flees, leaving behind his cloak, but then he returns with police and has the vintner put in the stocks for stealing the cloak. Cocledemoy disguised as a bellman gets a bribe from Mulligrub to be his witness but then tells constables he is a cutpurse and a bawd, and they take Mulligrub to prison. When Malheureux returns to Francheschina, the constables hear him confess to murdering Freevill and take him to prison. She has the pimp take the ring back to Beatrice and later tells her that Freevill’s love for herself is ten thousand times greater. At the prison Malheureux tells officers that Freevill is hiding at the jeweler’s. Mulligrub is convicted of stealing, but Cocledemoy gets him released. Francheschina is to be whipped in jail. Freevill and Beatrice are to marry while her witty sister Crispinella is to wed Tysefew. Malheureux has learned that lust is folly and cannot be virtuous; Freevill knows that love is the center of being; and the poet’s point is that love in marriage is better than lust with courtesans.
Benjamin Jonson (1572-1637) graduated from Westminster School but was taken out of St. John’s College to be an apprentice bricklayer. He volunteered to fight as a soldier in the Netherlands before returning to London in 1592. Jonson became an actor and then a writer. He married about 1595 and had children but sometimes lived apart from his wife. The lost play The Isle of the Dogs, which he wrote with Thomas Nashe in 1597, was so scandalous that he and two other actors were arrested, and the London theaters were closed for a time. On September 22, 1598 Jonson killed the young actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel. In prison he became a Catholic, but he was released after pleading “benefit of clergy” and proving he could read the Latin Bible. He was branded on the thumb. His collected plays were printed in a folio in 1616, and he wrote an encomium for Shakespeare’s first folio in 1623.
Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour (1598) was presented at least one year after George Chapman’s An Humorous Day’s Mirth, but the latter’s printed text is corrupt. Neither play really elucidates the particular emotions associated with the humors. Only melancholy was studied in depth by Robert Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy. In Jonson’s play Matthew and Stephen admit to having melancholy, and Edward Kno’well agrees that Captain Bobadill is melancholic too. Kitely suffers from jealousy which could be choleric as angry and melancholic as suspicious. The comedy has much talk and little action of any consequence. Old Kno’well reads a letter Wellbred wrote to his son Edward Kno’well and thus suspects he is keeping bad company, and the servant Brainworm reveals the secret. Matthew is a fool, Captain Bobadill a bragging soldier, and Downright speaks frankly. Well-bred is cynical and likes to make fun of fools. Kitely suspects his wife is having an affair, and she becomes jealous of him. Brainworm pretends to be a veteran soldier. Stephen is a lovesick poet while Matthew is a poetaster (bad poet) who plagiarizes. Cob criticizes the use of tobacco, and angered Bobadill thrashes him. Cob then gets a warrant from Justice Clement to arrest Bobadill. When Clement learns it was over tobacco, he has Cob put in jail; but Old Kno’well gets him out. The sister of Downright and Wellbred is married to Kitely, and Downright objects to her letting Wellbred use Kitely’s house for meetings. When Downright asks them to leave, servants and Kitely prevent a sword fight. Later Downright disarms and beats Bobadill. The Kitelys try to catch the other in adultery and accuse each other. Stephen picks up Downright’s cloak. They all end up in a courtroom before Justice Clement. Brainworm removes his disguise and is forgiven by Old Kno’well whose son Edward has married Kitely’s sister Bridget. Stephen gives back the cloak, and Clement invites them to celebrate.
Jonson’s historical tragedy Sejanus His Fall (1603) is based on the histories of Tacitus and Dio Cassius, the life of Tiberius by Suetonius, Seneca's “On Tranquility,” and Juvenal’s tenth satire. The play takes place in Rome 23-31 CE. The Roman Aelius Sejanus is not of noble birth but has risen from a servant to become the favorite of Emperor Tiberius and governs for him. His ruthless ambition is opposed by the senators Arruntius, Caius Silius, and Sabinus. Sejanus seduces Livia, wife of the Emperor’s son Drusus. After a statue of Sejanus is erected in Pompey’s theatre, Drusus quarrels with Sejanus and hits him in the face. Sejanus, Livia, her physician Eudemus, and the eunuch Lygdus conspire to poison Drusus, and Sejanus divorces his wife Apicata. He also sends the spies Satrius and Natta into the home of the widow Agrippina where his enemies gather. After Drusus dies from the poison, Tiberius asks the Senate to guard Agrippina’s sons Nero and Drusus. Sejanus persuades Tiberius to approve attacks on the senators Silius and Cremutis. Consul Varro with help from Afer in the Senate prosecutes Silius who denies the charge but stabs himself to death. Satrius and Natta go after Cremutis who is imprisoned, and books he wrote are burned. Sejanus asks the Emperor if he can marry Livia. Tiberius opposes her marriage to a commoner; but when he retires in the country, he assigns Macro to watch Sejanus. Macro advises Agrippina’s son Caligula to live with Tiberius. Sejanus has his spies bring about the execution of Sabinus. Nero and Drusus are charged with treason in the Senate, and Gallus is imprisoned. Tiberius sends messages to all senators to meet at Apollo’s temple. Macro gets control of the guards and tells Sejanus he is to be made tribune. Sejanus is unpopular, and the omens are bad for him. In the temple a letter from the Emperor is read, and Sejanus is ordered arrested and is executed. A report comes that the people in fury have torn apart the body of Sejanus and taken his organs. The play is surely meant to be a warning against tyranny. Coincidentally while these events occurred in Rome, Jesus was teaching and executed by the Romans in Jerusalem.
Jonson created his comedy Volpone, or the Fox (1605) with help from Satyricon by Petronius and The Praise of Folly by Erasmus. Set in Venice, old Volpone has no living relatives and uses this to promise others he will name them his heir. These “clients” bring him gifts and money, hoping to get much more back when he dies. To increase their hopes he pretends to be ill. His main targets are the lawyer Voltore (vulture), miserly Corbaccio (crow), the merchant Corvino (raven), and Lady Would-be who is married to Sir Politic Would-be. Volpone’s accomplice in this scheme is his parasite Mosca (fly) who manipulates them by telling each one he is the only heir. In the second act Volpone puts on a disguise as the mountebank Scoto of Mantua to sell his medicinal elixir in St. Mark’s Plaza. Celia attends and is restrained by her jealous husband Corvino, and Volpone lusts for her. Mosca persuades Corvino to bring Celia to a feast at Volpone’s house. On the street Mosca tells Bonario that his father Corvino is disinheriting him.
Lady Would-be visits the ailing Volpone and chatters incessantly, but Mosca gets her to leave by informing her that her husband is in a gondola with a courtesan. Corvino brings Celia to treat Volpone. When the fox is about to take her by force, Bonario, who has been hiding to spy on his father, comes forth to rescue his mother. Mosca tells Corbaccio that Bonario is trying to get Volpone to change his will, and the crow disinherits his son. Voltore overhears this, and Mosca tells him that Bonario made Celia make the accusation. Voltore suggests a legal investigation. Sir Politic tells fellow traveler Peregrine about his sharp business practices while his wife Lady Would-be looks for his courtesan. Voltore accuses Bonario in the Senate, arguing he is ungrateful and that Celia is his lover; Mosca, Corvino, and Corbaccio testify against Bonario and Celia. Volpone arrives on a stretcher.
Volpone has it announced that he is dead so that he can watch his clients come to claim the inheritance; but Mosca shows them the will that makes him the heir. Peregrine accuses Sir Politic of trying to sell Venice to the Turks. Mosca traps the fox by taking over his estate. When Volpone presents himself alive, a judge sentences both of them for fraud and confiscates their goods. Voltore is disbarred and banished; Corbaccio is ordered to give his estate to his son and enter a monastery; and Corvino is mocked and put in a pillory. Thus the greedy are punished.
Jonson created the plot for his comedy The Alchemist (1610). During a summer plague Lovewit leaves his butler Jeremy, who is called Face, in his London house. Face lets the alchemist Subtle use the house with his partner Doll Common. After the two men argue, the three agree to set up a laboratory and share the proceeds. Many people come to have their fortunes told or lives improved by magical means. The law clerk Dapper is given a familiar spirit so that he can win at every game of chance. Abel Drugger has a tobacco shop and is advised how to organize his store. Sir Epicure Mammon is promised the alchemical process using the philosopher’s stone that turns base metals into silver and gold. Pertinax Surly comes with him and is skeptical, but Mammon tells him about things he can buy with gold. Subtle and Face use complicated language to explain their craft. The Puritan Ananias uses religious terms, but his Brethren of Amsterdam want to see results. Drugger brings a gift of tobacco. The rich young widow Dame Pliant arrives with her brother Kastril, who has just inherited £3,000 a year and wants to learn how to argue well. Drugger, Subtle, and Face desire Pliant. Ananias comes back with the elder pastor Tribulation Wholesome, and they agree to buy supplies from Mammon for the alchemy. Subtle offers them Dutch coins, and they discuss if casting money is lawful.
Dapper has fasted and put on a clean shirt, hoping to meet the Queen of Fairy played by Doll. When Mammon arrives, they gag Dapper and hide him in the privy. The knight talks with Doll while Subtle and Face woo Dame Pliant. Surly comes disguised as a Spaniard, and he tries to win over Pliant by persuading her brother. Subtle complains that Mammon’s lusty conversation is delaying the philosophical work. Surly proposes to Pliant and reveals himself to expose the alchemists. Drugger brings damask cloth, and Ananias announces that the Brethren decided casting dollars is lawful. Doll informs them that the owner of the house has returned. Lovewit learns from neighbors what has occurred, but Face says the place was locked up for three weeks. Surly and Mammon accuse the cheaters, and Kastril wants his sister back. Face promises Lovewit a rich widow. Dapper accepts the Queen of Fairy as a familiar spirit, and Drugger goes out to find a parson who will marry him to the widow. Subtle and Doll want to leave with their takings, but Face has the keys and says the money belongs to Lovewit. As officers arrive, Subtle and Doll escape. Lovewit has married Pliant and lets the officers search. Lovewit asks for certificates of how they were tricked before returning their goods.
After the assassination of France’s Henri IV in 1610, Jonson renounced his Catholic faith and returned to the safer Anglican Church. Still concerned about the Gunpowder Plot of 1606, he wrote the historical tragedy Catiline His Conspiracy which was performed and printed in 1611, though it was not popular until later. Blending history from Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae and Cicero’s In Catilinum with the Roman History of Dion Cassius and Plutarch’s Lives, Jonson presented an accurate synthesis in dramatic form.
Sulla’s ghost represents Sallust’s view that this leader caused moral degeneration in Rome. Cethegus and the senators Lentulus and Curius conspire at the home of the patrician Catiline to take over Rome, and they drink the blood of a sacrificed slave mixed with wine. Four men have withdrawn from the election of two consuls so that only Catiline, Antonius, and the new Cicero are running. Sempronia loves Catiline and persuades her friend Fulvia to talk with her former lover Curius, and she learns about the secret plot. Antonius and Cicero are elected consuls. Cato likes Cicero, but Julius Caesar does not. Catiline is disappointed and plans a rebellion, but Fulvia informs Cicero about the conspiracy. Caesar advises Catiline but does not join his plot. Cicero gives a speech in the senate about the conspiracy led by Catiline, warning against his ambition. Caesar tells Catiline that petty crimes are punished but that great ones are rewarded and considered virtues and that nothing great ever came about without violence or fraud.
Catiline puts Longinus and Statilius in charge of setting fires in Rome, and Curius and Vargunteius volunteer to kill Cicero. Fulvia warns Cicero that they plan to murder him, and the attempt fails. When Catiline sits down in the Senate, Cato and other senators move away from him. Cicero gives a long speech describing the fires and rebellion. As consul he orders Catiline to leave the city. Cato thanks Cicero for saving the city. Catiline meets with the conspirators and joins his army outside Rome. Cicero tells the Senate that Antonius is in charge of the army, but later his gout leads to his being replaced by Petreius. Cato warns Cicero about Caesar and Crassus, but the consul declares they are safe. Ambassadors from the Allobroges help gather evidence against the conspirators. Cato wants all the rebels executed, and Cicero orders the death of Lentulus, Cethegus, Statilius, and Gabinius, though Caesar wanted their lives spared. Petreius arrives and announces the conspiracy is defeated and that Catiline is dead. Cicero thanks him and the immortal gods.
Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (1614) depicts the English celebrating at the annual fair on August 24 and shows a contrast to the infamous massacre of Protestants that took place in France in 1572. Jonson’s satire of Puritans and others is fairly harmless while human follies are exposed. Proctor John Littlewit wants to eat pork and see a puppet show he has written secretly and persuades his wife’s Puritan family to go to the fair. He has given permission for Bartholomew Cokes to wed Grace Wellborn, daughter of Justice of the Peace Adam Overdo, and they are on their way to the fair. Ned Winwife and the Puritan Busy, who has zeal for land, are competing for the hand of widow Purecraft, Littlewit’s mother-in-law, and they all hope to eat pig at the fair where there are diverse wares in booths and stalls, bawds, and cutpurses.
Falstaffian Ursula sells ale and roast pork, and Lanthorn Leatherhead has toys and a puppet show. Justice Overdo is in disguise looking for criminals, and he blames ale and tobacco. Cokes is listening to him when Edgeworth steals his purse. Cokes has another purse and buys toys and gingerbread. When this purse is also taken, Overdo is put in the stocks where he hears others criticize his harsh judgments. Waspe, the servant of Cokes, gets the box with Cokes’ marriage license from Overdo, but Winwife and Quarlous blackmail Edgeworth and Nightingale to steal the box. Busy rails against toys and gingerbread men as idols and is put in the stocks for preaching without a license. While Cokes is scrambling for pears, Nightingale holds his hat, coat, and sword and runs off with them. Grace is disgusted with Cokes and is wooed by Winwife and Quarlous. To avoid a fight she suggests a lottery for her attentions. During another fight Edgeworth steals the license from Waspe and hands it to Quarlous. Waspe is arrested for rioting and joins Overdo and Busy in the stocks; but his escape frees the other two. Quarlous learns that Winwife won Grace and considers marrying Dame Purecraft. These people are watching the puppet show when Busy criticizes it with Puritanical zeal until he is shown the puppets are neither male nor female. Justice Overdo denounces the rascals. Quarlous is engaged to Purecraft, informs Overdo that Nightingale is not innocent and persuades him to forgive everyone. Overdo agrees and invites them all to his home for supper.
The Staple of News (1626) is a satire and reflects the early development of newspapers. News had been printed on single folio sheets as early as the reign of Henry VIII, and they grew into small pamphlets on a single news event during the Elizabethan era. By 1621 Nathaniel Butter was publishing The Courant, or Weekly News from Foreign Parts, and in August 1622 he announced a series of weekly news pamphlets. Jonson wrote the masque News from the New World which was performed in January 1621. For The Staple of News Jonson drew from the comedies Plutus and Wasps by Aristophanes and Lucian’s comic dialog Timon, and he had personified money in his 1600 comedy Cynthia’s Revels. In 1605 Butter had published The London Prodigal as a comedy by William Shakespeare, but Jonson used this play so much that he was probably its main author.
During the prologue of The Staple of News the critics Mirth, Tattle, Expectation, and Censure come on stage, and they make more sarcastic remarks about the story between acts. Pennyboy Junior has just inherited £2,000 a year, and the well educated barber Tom tells him a Staple of News has been established in his building. Pennyboy goes there with a vagabond, who is his miserly father Frank Pennyboy in disguise. Junior sees them reading and storing different kinds of news, and for £50 he purchases a clerkship for Tom. The attorney Picklock is one of their reporters and tells Pennyboy that the proprietor Cymbal is courting Lady Pecunia, ward of his uncle Pennyboy Senior the usurer. He is protecting her from several suitors, and Junior wants to eliminate his rivals. His uncle welcomes him, and young Pennyboy takes her to the Staple of News. Picklock urges his associates to court Pecunia. They hear astonishing news of extraordinary inventions. Her four women attendants (Mortgage, Rose Wax, Statute, and Band) manage to keep Cymbal and other suitors away from her, and they go to dine at the Apollo.
Cymbal calls on the usurer and says he has £6,000 a year and offers half his profits in the Staple if Pecunia will live there; but they get into an argument. At the Apollo the vagabond Frank jeers at the suitors, but young Pennyboy foolishly persuades Pecunia to kiss them. The usurer arrives to take her home; but she refuses and criticizes his treatment of her, and the usurer is thrown out. Frank Pennyboy becomes so disgusted that he throws off his disguise, takes charge of the lady, and reprimands his son for his behavior. He advises him that money cannot buy virtue, and he gives his rags to his son. Junior learns that the Staple is bankrupt. Picklock has been managing the father’s estate for the son and tries to ruin both, but Junior uses a trick to take possession. The usurer is upset that he lost Pecunia and is jeered by Cymbal and others, but Pennyboy and his father drive away the abusers and restore his sanity. Picklock is pilloried, and the usurer makes Pennyboy Junior, who is to marry Pecunia, his heir.
Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) attended Oxford for a couple years while writing poetic satires, and one of these books was burned by the Anglican Church. He married the sister of an actor in 1603 and began writing plays. His satirical plays took aim at the sins of the merchant class. He collaborated with Thomas Dekker and William Rowley as he turned from comedies to tragicomedies and tragedies which depict moral corruption. In 1620 Middleton was appointed chronologer for the city of London.
In Middleton’s city comedy A Trick to Catch the Old One (c. 1605) young Theodorus Witgood has squandered his fortune and mortgaged his estate to his miserly uncle Pecunius Lucre. Having spent much on a courtesan, Witgood gets her help and disguises her as the rich widow Jane Medler. Lucre invites them to his home and flatters his nephew. Witgood’s creditors are eager for him to marry Jane, and the miser Walkadine Hoard and other suitors come to court her. Witgood hopes his uncle will give him money to marry the widow, but he actually prefers Hoard’s niece Joyce and sends her a letter. Witgood urges Hoard to wed Jane who promises to elope with him. She admits to Hoard that she is not wealthy, but he does not believe her. Witgood tells his uncle Lucre that Hoard is going to marry a prostitute. When Witgood’s creditors hear that Jane has married Hoard, they get a bailiff to arrest Witgood, who persuades them to go to Hoard’s house. There Witgood tells Hoard that he has a previous marriage contract with Jane that cannot be broken without his consent. Jane persuades Hoard to win her by paying Witgood’s relieved creditors as Witgood relinquishes any claim to the widow’s property. Hoard is happy and invites Witgood and Lucre to his wedding feast, and Witgood informs Hoard that his new wife is actually a poor whore. Meanwhile Lucre gives up the mortgage on his nephew’s estate so that he can marry the widow; but Witgood plans to marry Joyce. At Hoard’s wedding feast his brother recognizes the bride as Witgood’s former mistress. She says she will be a good wife for an old man, kneels before him, and promises to reform. Hoard accepts her. Witgood announces that he hopes to marry Joyce and says he will reform his ways.
The Revenger's Tragedy (1606) had been attributed to Cyril Tourneur, but now most scholars believe it was written by Middleton. The plot is similar to Queen Marguerite d’Angouleme of Navarre’s account in the 12th novel in her Heptameron of Duke Alessandro di’ Medici who murdered his nephew Lorenzino in January 1537.
Vindici wants revenge against the Duke who killed his father and poisoned Vindici’s mistress Gloriana because she would not give in to his lechery. The Duke’s son Lussurioso asks Vindici’s brother Hippolito to help him get to their sister Castiza. The Duchess is in love with the Duke’s bastard son Spurio, and her youngest son has raped Antonio’s wife who then poisoned herself. After a trial the son is kept in prison. Vindici disguises himself as Piato and is hired by Prince Lussurioso to procure Castiza. He offers his mother Gratiana money to help, and Castiza refuses; but Piato tells the Prince to visit her that night. Spurio learns about this and plans to kill Lussurioso. Piato prevents this by informing the prince of the incest of the Duchess. Angry Lussurioso enters her bedroom and shouts at her. The man in bed is the Duke, and suspecting the Prince wants to murder him, he has Lussurioso put in prison. The Duke gives the younger brothers Supervacuo and Ambitioso his ring with an execution order, but then he changes his mind and orders the Prince released. When the brothers arrive at the prison, Lussurioso is gone; but the guards execute the other son. Piato and his brother bring the Duke to an assignation, have him kiss a poisoned skull of Gloriana, show him Spurio with the Duchess, and then Vindici stabs him to death.
Lussurioso tells Hippolito he wants to kill Piato and replace him with Vindici. The brothers promise to kill Piato for corrupting their sister. They dress the Duke’s body in Piato’s clothes and say that Piato killed him and fled. Then they try to expel the devil from their mother. Lussurioso becomes Duke, and the brothers with other nobles plot against him. Lussurioso condemns Spurio and his stepbrothers and banishes the Duchess. During festivities Vindici, Hippolito, and two others assassinate Lussurioso before his stepbrothers can do so. They quarrel, and Spurio kills Ambitioso; then a noble dispatches Spurio. Antonio and a guard take control, and Antonio becomes Duke. When Vindici and Hippolito brag about having killed the old Duke, Antonio orders their execution.
Middleton wrote the realistic comedy The Roaring Girl (1611) with Thomas Dekker. The play is set in London and dramatizes the life of Mary Frith known as Moll Cutpurse, and the dialog is loaded with sexual innuendo. Sir Alexander’s son Sebastian is in love with Guy Fitz-Allard’s daughter Mary, but Alexander wants a larger dowry. So Sebastian pretends to be in love with Moll Cutpurse who likes to dress as a man and cooperates with the trick. Alexander pays Trapdoor to spy on Moll. Laxton wants to seduce the apothecary’s wife Prudence Gallipot; Jack Dapper wants to make it with the featherer’s wife Mistress Tiltyard; and Goshawk tries to make Mistress Openwork jealous so that she will seek revenge against her husband by pleasing Goshawk. Moll knows them all and tempts them with sexual delights. Sebastian says, “If a man have a free will, where should the use more perfect shine than in his will to love? All creatures have their liberty in that.”(The Roaring Girl Act I, scene ii, lines 1-3.)
Laxton uses Prudence’s affection to get money. Sebastian woos Moll who puts him off and says she does not want to marry. Alexander reprimands his son and calls Moll a whore. A duel between Moll and Laxton is avoided, and Trapdoor becomes Moll’s servant. Prudence tells her husband that Laxton was betrothed to her in their youth, and Gallipot is blackmailed into giving him £30. Davy Dapper tries to teach his son Jack a lesson by having him arrested, but Moll and Trapdoor help him escape. Alexander and Trapdoor try to entice Moll into stealing without success, and she hires disguised Mary to be her page so that she can meet with Sebastian. The wives make fun of the men for not understanding women. Master Openwork exposes Goshawk as a lying lecher. Laxton demands £100 from the Gallipots who expose him, forcing Laxton to pay back the £30 he extorted. Moll fires Trapdoor, and he and Tearcat pretend to be maimed veterans; but Moll exposes them. She knows the underworld and protects people from cutpurses. Alexander hears that his son is going to wed Moll and in desperation risks half his wealth to stop it. Sebastian arrives with veiled Moll who is wearing a dress for a change; but then Guy shows that the actual bride is his daughter Mary, and the relieved Alexander approves the marriage and gives them half his land. Moll affirms she will never marry.
Middleton wrote the tragedy The Changeling (1622) with William Rowley. The main plot is based on a story in The Triumphs of God’s Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Wilful and Premeditated Murther by John Reynolds published the previous year. The doctor Alibius and his assistant Lollio have been correlated with Dr. Hilkish Crooke and his steward who were involved in fraud and neglect of patients at the Bethlehem Hospital in London for years before they were finally prosecuted in 1632. The story is set in the port of Alicante on the east coast of Spain.
Governor Vermandero’s beautiful daughter Beatrice Joanna attracts the attention of Alsemero after church but is frequently irritated by her father’s servant De Flores whom she finds repulsively ugly. She is recently betrothed to Alonzo de Piracquo, but now she prefers Alsemero. The old physician Alibius treats the mentally ill and is married to young and beautiful Isabella, He relies on his servant Lollio to protect her from relatives visiting his patients. Vermandero’s servants Antonio and Franciscus are pretending to be mentally ill in order to woo Isabella. Antonio is called a changeling because he appears to be an idiot. Alsemero sends letters to Beatrice who gets her wedding postponed for three days.
Alsemero wants to challenge Alonzo, but Beatrice is afraid Alsemero will be killed. Instead she asks De Florio to kill Alonzo, and De Florio wants her love so much that he slays him with his sword. For proof he cuts off the ring finger with the engagement ring. She is horrified and tries to pay him off with the ring and money, but De Florio refuses to accept them or to flee. He says she is equally guilty; unless she gives in to him, he will accuse her. Franciscus and Antonio flirt with Isabella. Lollio sees this and tries to blackmail her into loving him, and then he urges Antonio and Franciscus to kill each other.
Since Alonzo has disappeared, Beatrice is allowed to marry Alsemero. Alonzo’s ghost shows his maimed hand to De Flores. Since Beatrice has lost her virginity, she pays her maid Diaphanta to take her place in the wedding bed; but first she makes sure she is a virgin. Tomaso de Piracquo suspects Antonio and Franciscus of killing his brother Alonzo. Isabella disguises herself as a madwoman to avoid her seducers. After Diaphanta stays too long in bed with Alsemero on the wedding night, De Flores sets her room on fire and kills her. Alsemero and his friend Jasperino see Beatrice with De Flores in the garden, and Alsemero confronts them. Beatrice confesses to her crimes and says she did them so she could wed Alsemero. De Flores confirms this. When Vermandero accuses Antonio and Franciscus, Alsemero exposes the murderers. De Flores then stabs Beatrice and himself, killing both.
This tragedy explores the psychology that can lead to murder. A physically ugly man wants a beautiful woman’s body, and she desires to get rid of a fiancé. Thus both are led to become sinful murderers.
Middleton also wrote the tragicomedy The Spanish Gypsy (1623) with Rowley, Dekker, and John Ford based on two Exemplary Novels by Cervantes, “The Little Gypsy Girl” and “The Power of Blood.”
Middleton’s last play A Game at Chess was registered by the Master of Revels on June 12, 1624 and was performed to large audiences nine times in August by the King’s Men before being closed by order of King James I. Britain had a law against portraying a living Christian king on the stage, and the Privy Council started a prosecution against the author and players on August 18. Middleton was acquitted because of the registration, but the play was banned. Except for the ghost of Ignatius of Loyola the players were only identified as chess pieces. The White King represented James I of England, the Black King Felipe IV of Spain, the White Knight Prince Charles, the White Duke his friend George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, the Black Queen Princess Maria Anna of Spain, the Black Knight the Spanish ambassador Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, Conde de Gondomar, the Black Duke Gaspar de Guzman, Count-Duke of Olivares, the Black Bishop the Father-General of the Jesuits, the White Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, daughter of James, the White Bishop the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Fat Bishop Marc Antonio de Dominis, the Bishop of Spalato, and the pawns depicted others. The play portrays the attempt to arrange a marriage between Prince Charles and Princess Maria Anna; but it fell through, and on March 23 James I cancelled his treaties with Spain. Charles and Buckingham may have pushed through the registration because they favored war against Spain.
Cyril Tourneur wrote The Atheist's Tragedy which was published in 1611. Two years later Tourneur became a soldier, and he died of illness in Ireland in 1626.
In The Atheist's Tragedy Lord D’Amville is an atheist and seeks wealth for his family. His servant Borachio has studied nature. D’Amville persuades his nephew Charlemont to go to war for honor, and he loans him 1,000 crowns. His fiancé Castabella is left behind, and D’Amville plots to get her parents Belforest and Levidulcia to marry Castabella to D’Amville’s oldest son Rousard even though he is not well. At the wedding feast Borachio, disguised as a soldier, reports that Charlemont was killed in battle at Ostend. His father Montferrers then changes his will and makes his brother D’Amville his heir. D’Amville and Borachio get the servants of Montferrers drunk and kill him, making it look like an accident. D’Amville’s younger son had opposed Castabella’s marriage and is seduced by her mother Levidulcia who also flirts with the servant Fresco. The ghost of Montferrers appears to his son Charlemont in his camp but advises him to leave revenge to God. D’Amville supervises the funerals of his brother and nephew. Charlemont returns and learns his fiancé is married to Rousard and that his father disinherited him. He calls on D’Amville who acts as if he is a ghost. His son Sebastian fights Charlemont who is restrained by his father’s ghost, though Sebastian is wounded. D’Amville has Charlemont put in prison and gives Sebastian 1,000 crowns which he uses to get Charlemont out of prison.
D’Amville says he is Charlemont’s guardian and offers to help him, and they learn that the marriage of ill Rousard and Castabella has not been consummated. Levidulcia has an assignation with Sebastian. D’Amville gives Borachio a pistol to kill Charlemont while he tries to seduce Castabella to beget a child. At midnight in a churchyard Boroachio’s pistol misfires, and Charlemont kills him in self-defense. Nearby the Puritan Languebeau Snuffe in a disguise is meeting with Soquette. Snuffe leaves behind his false beard and wig as they flee; but Charlemont picks them up. D’Amville brings Castabella to the churchyard, and hiding Charlemont frightens him away. D’Amville and Snuffe come back and find the lovers laying together and take them to prison. Belforest catches Sebastian and Fresco with his wife, and in the fight Belforest and Sebastian are killed. Then Levidulcia stabs herself. The ghost of Montferrers warns D’Amville who learns that Sebastian is dead, and then Rousard dies. D’Amville takes his sons’ caskets to the trial of Charlemont and Castabella. Charlemont is sentenced to be beheaded by D’Amville, who accidentally wounds himself and confesses his crimes before he dies. Charlemont and Castabella are finally united with wealth and honors. This drama suggests that an atheist who is selfish and unethical may come to a bad end, not by the revenge of the good but by God.
Little is known about John Webster other than his collaborating with Heywood, Dekker, Marston, Middleton, Ford, and others, and the three plays he wrote himself discussed below.
The White Devil (1612) by John Webster is based on events in Italy during ten years ending with the murder of Vittoria Accoramboni on December 22, 1585. In the play Vittoria Corambona is in an unhappy marriage with old Camillo, and while visiting them Paulo Giordano Ursini, Duke of Brachiano, falls in love with her. He is married to Isabella, sister of Francisco de Medici, Duke of Florence, but Brachiano is tired of her. Vittoria urges him to kill his wife and her husband, and her ambitious brother Flamineo is eager to help. Vittoria’s mother Cornelia overhears this but is unable to dissuade them. Isabella with her young son Giovanni goes to Rome and stays with her brothers Francisco and Cardinal Monticelso. They condemn Brachiano’s adultery and urge him to reform, but Brachiano will only promise not to have sex with his wife Isabella, who also refuses reconciliation. Camillo is sent to fight the pirates led by banished Count Lodovico. Brachiano gets the charlatan Julio and Flamineo to do the killing. They poison the portrait Isabella kisses every night, and Camillo breaks his neck while exercising. Francisco and Monticelso arrest Vittoria as an accomplice. The Cardinal prosecutes her, and she is convicted and sent to a convent for repenting prostitutes. Flamineo pretends to be mad and quarrels with Lodovico who was in love with Isabella.
Duke Francisco wants to avoid a war and secretly hires pardoned Lodovico to kill Brachiano. He also sends a love letter to Vittoria but arranges for it to be intercepted by Brachiano’s men to make him jealous. Brachiano helps Vittoria escape and marries her. Monticelso is elected Pope and excommunicates the couple. He also learns of and condemns Lodovico’s revenge plot; but Francisco sends Lodovico 1,000 ducats as if it were from the Pope. Francisco disguises himself as a Moorish knight and goes with Lodovico and Gasparo as knights of Malta to Brachiano’s palace in Padua. Flamineo quarrels over Vittoria’s Moorish maid Zanche with his brother Marcello and kills him. Lodovico poisons Brachiano’s helmet, causing madness. Lodovico and Gasparo dress as Capuchin monks and instead of giving him his last rites they strangle him. Brachiano’s ghost haunts Flamineo, who threatens ungrateful Vittoria and Zanche with pistols. The women scream, and Lodovico and Gasparo rush in and stab to death all three. Prince Giovanni leads a posse that wounds and arrests Lodovico who implicates Francisco. Giovanni promises to bring all the guilty to justice.
Webster’s dark tragedy The Duchess of Malfi (1613) is based on incidents that occurred in Italy 1505-13. Matteo Bandello told the story in his Novelle collection in 1554, and Webster drew from several translations and other works including the Palace of Pleasure by William Painter. Lope de Vega’s tragedy The Duchess of Malfi’s Steward was written about 1605.
The Duchess of Malfi is a widow, and her brothers Duke Ferdinand of Calabria and the Cardinal do not want her to marry again. Ferdinand arranges for her cavalry commander Daniel de Bosola to spy on her. Concerned that Bosola is “too honest,” the Cardinal uses her steward Antonio Bologna. The brothers warn her about marrying again and go home. The Duchess admires the virtues of Antonio and falls in love with him. While her maid Cariola is hiding behind an arras, the Duchess proposes marriage to Antonio and then has Cariola come forth as a witness. Bosola confirms that the Duchess is pregnant when she eats apricots. She goes into labor, and Antonio has her secluded in the palace and has her son’s horoscope cast. Bosola finds it and writes a letter to her brothers in Rome, but they don’t know who the father is. The Duchess also bears another boy and a girl. Ferdinand suggests she marry Count Malateste, but she refuses. He urges her to kill herself and goes back to Rome. She pretends that Antonio is cheating on her accounts and sends for officers while she urges him to flee to Ancona where she will meet him. Now she reveals her secrets to Bosola and asks him to bring money and jewelry to Ancona.
The Cardinal becomes involved in the Church’s wars and banishes the Duchess, Antonio, and their children from Ancona. Antonio and the oldest son flee to Milan, but the Duchess and Bosola are captured and imprisoned in her palace. Ferdinand swears he will never see her again, but in the dark he brings her a dead hand with a ring he says is Antonio’s. Then he shows her wax figures of Antonio and her children and says they are dead. He releases eight madmen from a hospital who interrupt her sleep by dancing at the full moon. Executioners bring a coffin and strangle the Duchess, Cariola, and two of her children. Bosola and Ferdinand now start feeling guilty. Ferdinand suffers from lycanthropia. The Cardinal sends Bosola to kill Antonio, and the Cardinal’s mistress Julia learns of the murders. She falls in love with Bosola and to please him tries to discover why the Cardinal is melancholy. The Cardinal confesses to ordering the murders but has Julia kiss a poisoned book, killing her. Bosola learns everything. Antonio wants to reconcile with the Cardinal, but his wife’s ghost warns him. He goes to the Cardinal anyway and overhears the plot to kill him. The Cardinal stabs him in the dark, ironically the one he wanted to save as atonement. Bosola finds the Cardinal who screams for help. Ferdinand joins the fight, and all three are mortally wounded. Delio, the loyal friend of Antonio, tells the court and hopes that the surviving son of Antonio will establish his mother’s right, concluding, “Integrity of life is fame’s best friend, which nobly, beyond death, shall crown the end.”
Webster’s tragicomedy The Devil's Law Case is based on events in 1610 and was produced about 1618. The merchant Romelio is wealthy and confident and considers the noble but indebted Contarino naïve. Contarino and the knight Ercole are courting Romelio’s sister Jolenta. Romelio urges her to marry Ercole, but she loves Contarino. He appeals to her mother Leonora who also likes him. The judge Crispiano is in a disguise looking for his prodigal son Julio. Ariosto is an altruistic lawyer and reprimands Julio. Contarino provokes a quarrel with Ercole that leads to a duel in which both appear to be mortally wounded. Romelio has lost three ships, and a Capuchin friar prays for the dead duelers. Prospero reports that Contarino survived, and Leonora is concerned that her son Romelio is plotting to benefit from his death. Ercole is also alive. The Capuchin considers it a miracle and hopes that Contarino will marry Jolenta. Romelio has sired a child by a nun, and the Capuchin urges him to reform his ways. Crispiano tells Ariosto he is in disguise to expose arrogant women.
Romelio pretends to be a Jewish physician and stabs dying Contarino. The surgeons stop him, and the opened wound helps him to live. Romelio schemes to make Jolenta heir of Ercole and Contarino. When he boasts of killing Contarino, Leonora gets angry because she loves him. Leonora spills Romelio’s secret to Ercole and the Capuchin and is planning a lawsuit against her son. The law clerk Sanitonella offers her case to Ariosto who rejects the brief, but Contilupo takes the case. Leonora tries to disinherit Romelio as a bastard; but her claim fails because she says the father was the judge Crispiano, who is replaced by Ariosto and disproves it. Ercole is accused of killing Contarino and challenges Romelio, who has locked up Contarino with the friar. During the duel Romelio sends for the friar who reveals that Contarino is alive. Judge Ariosto orders Romelio to pay Contarino restitution and to wed the pregnant nun, who with Leonora and Jolenta is to build a monastery. Contarino accepts the wealthy Leonora.
Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) was the son of a judge and studied law. He was influenced by Ben Jonson, turned to poetry and theater, and wrote The Knight of the Burning Pestle before he began about 1607 collaborating with John Fletcher on six or more plays. In 1613 Beaumont married an heiress, but that year he had a stroke and stopped writing plays. The Knight of the Burning Pestle is an innovative comedy that satirizes the chivalry in romantic novels such as Don Quixote by Cervantes first published in Spanish in 1605. Although not yet translated into English, word spread about its humor. This play satirized the London playgoers by portraying them on the stage watching the play “The London Merchant” that is interrupted so that they can also show the knight played by the apprentice grocer Rafe. The two different stories proceed and sometimes interact, offering comic perspectives on Londoners and errant knights.
John Fletcher (1579-1625) was the son of a bishop and studied at Cambridge University. About 1607 he began collaborating with Beaumont, and in 1613 he succeeded Shakespeare as the chief playwright for the King’s Men, contributing to Shakespeare’s last play Henry VIII. After Beaumont retired, Fletcher wrote plays on his own and collaborated with Massinger and others; many of these plays were later published as works by Beaumont and Fletcher.
One of the best plays by Beaumont and Fletcher is the tragicomedy Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding (1609). The fictional story is set in the kingdom of Sicily. The King of Calabria has usurped the throne held by the late father of Prince Philaster. The King intends to marry his daughter Arethusa to the Spanish prince Pharamond. Philaster objects to this marriage and is supported by the noble Dion and many others. Arethusa and Philaster meet and declare their love for each other. To keep their secret he sends his page Bellario to be her servant and their messenger. Bellario is actually Dion’s daughter Euphrasia in disguise, but no one knows this. Pharamond tries to seduce the court lady Galatea but has more luck with Megra. Galatea reports their affair to Arethusa, and the King finds Megra in Pharamond’s apartment. Megra counters by accusing Arethusa of being involved with Bellario. Philaster does not believe the rumor at first, but the affection Bellario shows for his new mistress provokes Philaster’s jealousy. The King orders his daughter to discharge the page, and Philaster decides to renounce the throne and become a hermit.
During a hunt in the forest Arethusa disappears and faints. The hermit Bellario finds her and revives her; but she wants to die. Philaster finds them together, wants them to kill him, and orders Bellario to kill himself. When he refuses, Philaster wounds Arethusa, is attacked by a country fellow, and then flees. Bellario is captured and confesses to attacking Arethusa. Philaster comes forward, and the King sends both to prison. Arethusa gets custody of them from her father, and she and Philaster are betrothed, causing the King to disavow her. Meanwhile the Sicilians are so concerned about the execution of Philaster that they abduct Pharamond and threaten to revolt. The King repents for having seized the crown and gives Arethusa permission to marry Philaster provided that he can calm down the citizens. Philaster assures the people he will rule them and rescues Pharamond. The King orders Bellario tortured, but Philaster objects. The page reveals that she is actually Euphrasia and was secretly in love with Philaster and wanted to be near him, and Arethusa accepts her as a lady-in-waiting.
Fletcher wrote the comedy The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed by himself, and it was probably first performed about 1610. When revived in 1633, the deputy Master of the Revels Henry Herbert insisted on extensive censorship of its numerous sexual references. The play was performed at court on November 28 two days after Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, to which it is considered a sequel or turnabout. According to Herbert Fletcher’s play was liked even more than Shakespeare’s.
In The Woman's Prize Petruchio is a widower who has just married Maria. Her sister Livia is being wooed by the rich but elderly Moroso and young Rowland whom she loves and wants to marry; but she wants her father’s permission so that she will not lose her marriage portion. Maria is determined to turn the tables on Petruchio by taming him as he had tamed the late Katherine, and her strategy is to barricade herself in the upstairs room. On their wedding night Maria is joined by her cousin Bianca. Petruchio is denied the pleasures of the wedding bed until he signs articles she demands. He refuses and says he will starve her out. Livia offends Rowland so that Moroso will be encouraged; but she won’t let him kiss her. Livia brings provisions for a month and joins the strike upstairs. Women in the town support the ladies by bringing household utensils, and they celebrate by drinking wine and dancing.
Petruchio accepts Maria’s terms, and Moroso agrees that Livia will not be forced to marry. Now they all celebrate together. Yet Maria demands a new gown, horses, and wall hangings for the house. She also wants a new house in a better place. When she flirts with other men, Petruchio becomes jealous, angry, and morose, wanting to die. Rowland returns gifts to Livia, but a farewell kiss makes him doubt his resolve to leave her. Saying her husband has the plague, Maria has the furniture removed. Petruchio protests he is not sick, but his friends desert him and put him under guard. Maria blames him for rejecting her and warns him that if he strikes her, she will cuckold him. Livia’s father Petronius assures Rowland that he will marry Livia who is pretending to be ill; but Bianca tells Moroso that Livia has given up Rowland and will accept him. They gather around Livia’s sickbed, and she asks Rowland to renounce any claim on her by signing a paper which he discovers is a marriage contract. In this way she tricks Moroso and her father into giving her dowry for her marriage to Rowland. Petruchio tells Maria he is leaving, and she hopes it will improve him. Finally he gets into a coffin and has it carried home. Maria weeps but says it is because he was misguided and foolish. Petruchio sits up and admits defeat. Maria embraces him and announces that he is under her control. Now that he has been tamed, she will be a good wife. Petruchio forgives her.
The sexual immorality that includes incest in Beaumont and Fletcher’s tragicomedy A King and No King (1611) is considered to be a warning against absolute monarchy.
Philip Massinger (1583-1640) was educated at Oxford until his father’s death in 1606. By 1613 he was writing plays and contributed to about twenty plays by Beaumont and Fletcher. In 1625 Fletcher died during a plague, and Massinger succeeded him as the primary playwright for the King’s Men until his death, writing about sixty plays by himself and with others.
On May 13, 1619 the Dutch leader Johan van Oldenbarneveldt was executed for treason, and witnesses of this event reached London three days later. Fletcher and Massinger wrote the tragedy Sir John van Olden Barnavelt, and the Master of Revels George Buck removed Barnavelt’s speech in his defense at the trial, lines criticizing monarchy, and 14 lines in the first scene about prostitutes at London theaters. John King, the Bishop of London, objected to the Arminian ideas on freewill and tried to stop production on August 14; but King James allowed the play for its historical value even though he favored Prince Maurice of Orange and opposed Barnavelt and the Arminians. The King’s Men opened the play on August 16, 1619. A good manuscript of the play prepared by Ralph Crane survived, but Sir John van Olden Barnavelt was not printed until 1883.
Most of Sir John van Olden Barnavelt takes place at The Hague. The elderly Barnavelt is advocate of Holland and West Friesland and resents the power of Prince Maurice of Orange. Barnavelt is supported by Leidenberch who is Secretary of the States of Utrecht, jurist Hugo Grotius, and Modesbargen, who warns him that his hurt pride is not worth trying to overthrow the state. English troops are supporting the Prince of Orange, and Barnavelt dismisses a captain. He and another captain plan to bribe Barnavelt’s wife and son. Barnavelt meets with the Arminian Hogerbeets and urges him and Grotius to recruit soldiers to fight Orange’s garrison at Utrecht. Modesbargen objects to using religion in politics. Guards keep Maurice out of the Council Chambers. His supporters want to break in, but he talks with Barnavelt, realizes he is dangerous, and wins over Bredero and Vandort who had locked him out. At Utrecht the party of Barnavelt realizes Orange’s men are disbanding Barnavelt’s new companies, and the English companies are staying with the Prince. Four Dutch women urge English women to assert their rights. English soldiers open the gates for the Prince’s forces. They have taken the port and defeat the rebels. Leidenberch is sent to The Hague for trial, and Modesbargen escapes to Germany.
Bredero and Vandort at The Hague are ashamed that Barnavelt is suspected of treason. Barnavelt’s son urges his father to surrender, but he says he would prefer to die. The Prince tells the Council he will let Barnavelt keep his seat if he is loyal, and he sends men to arrest Modesbargen secretly. Leidenberch’s son is allowed to help him in prison, and Vandort is to investigate the rebellion. Barnavelt visits Leidenberch in prison and berates him for confessing, and Leidenberch agrees to kill himself. Grotius meets with Hogerbeets, and they consider burning the statehouse if Barnavelt is imprisoned. While his son is asleep, Leidenberch stabs himself. The son wakes and finds his father dead. Soldiers capture Modesbargen in Germany while he is hunting. At home with his family Barnavelt is depressed until he learns of Leidenberch’s death and realizes that he cannot testify against him. He invites friends over to celebrate, but officers arrive and arrest him. The Prince plans to give Modesbargen amnesty for his testimony against Barnavelt. Some citizens show support for Barnavelt. Vandort puts Barnavelt on trial, and Modesbargen confirms the charges. Barnavelt admits that Modesbargen may be guilty but claims his own innocence. He declares the evidence presented is false. Barnavelt’s wife is not allowed to visit him. Her family and French ambassadors plead for him before the Prince. Vandort warns that Barnavelt is gaining support and announces he will be executed the next day. Leidenberch’s body is displayed, and Barnavelt after mentioning his accomplishments is beheaded.
This tragedy and the next one are considered commentaries on King James having sent Lewis Stukeley to arrest Walter Raleigh on July 19, 1603, though he was not beheaded until October 29, 1618.
Fletcher and Massinger wrote another historical tragedy The False One in 1619 or 1620, telling the story that followed Julius Caesar’s defeat of Pompey the Great’s army during the Roman Civil War at Pharsalus in 48 BC and Pompey’s flight to Egypt where he was murdered by one of his soldiers Septimius. Hoping for a reward, he presents the general’s head to the ruling child Ptolemy XIII, who had his older sister Cleopatra VII held captive. Septimius is criticized by the Egyptians Achillas and Anchoreus, but he offers his services to the governing authority Photinus. Septimius complains about being neglected and offers to do anything including betraying a noble friend. Septimius is ignored by the Egyptians and appeals to Caesar’s lieutenants but is scorned as a hired coward. Scaeva suggests that Septimius go hang himself. Insulted by others, Septimius repents and gives away his gold and fine clothes. Meanwhile Caesar rescues young Cleopatra, puts her on the throne as his vassal, and falls in love with her. Septimius falsely promises the displaced Egyptian leaders that he will kill Caesar, but instead he leads them to where they can be captured by the Roman soldiers. However, Caesar rejects “the false one” and orders him hanged for betraying his friends.
Massinger wrote The Bondman: An Ancient Story by himself in 1623 based on Plutarch’s Life of Timoleon, Diodorus (book xxxiv), and Seneca the Elder’s Controversiae vii.6. In 344 BC Syracuse is threatened by an invasion from Carthage and obtains the services of Corinth’s general Timoleon. He agrees when given control and reprimands the Sicilians for their laziness. He orders private money confiscated, upsetting the rich, but the Praetor’s daughter Cleora successfully appeals to their honor and patriotism. The Syracusans want to use their slaves for the army. Timoleon rejects this, but Cleora persuades men to volunteer. Leosthenes, who hopes to marry Cleora, wants to win military glory so that he can persuade her father. With her father and brother Timagoras going with Leosthenes he is afraid her chastity will be violated. They agree to bind her eyes, and she promises not to speak until he comes back. The army leaves behind old men, women, children, and slaves. Rich Cleon’s son Asotus is called a coward and mistreats his slaves as does his stepmother Corisca. She is lonely and offers to help Asotus learn about courtship by role-playing with him. They are enjoying this when Cleon returns.
Meanwhile the Theban noble Pisander has fallen in love with Cleora and has sold himself as a slave to her father Archidamus so that he can be close to her. He understands the slaves’ suffering and leads a rebellion that enables them to take over Syracuse. Pisander’s sister Statilla also disguises herself as a slave. She tells Cleora that the victorious slaves are raping the women, but Pisander assures Cleora he will not violate her. Cleon and Asotus are unhappy, but Corisca repents her promiscuous life and accepts Stoic philosophy. Leosthenes acts heroically, and Timoleon’s army defeats the Carthaginians. The citizen soldiers return to find the slaves in control of the city. Pisander demands liberation of the slaves, but Timoleon rejects that and attacks. The slaves fight back; but after Timoleon orders his soldiers to use whips instead of swords, the slaves to surrender. Leosthenes is afraid that Cleora has been raped, but she and Statilla persuade him she was not because of Pisander, making Leosthenes jealous. Pisander is captured, imprisoned, and is to be tortured. Cleora appeals to her father, and they go to the prison followed by Leosthenes and Timagoras who wants to kill his sister. Praetor Archidamus takes them to court. There Leosthenes accuses Pisander who declares his love for Cleora. Timagoras wants the slave whipped, but Pisander reveals his nobility and explains that he came to Syracuse to kill Leosthenes for having abandoned his promise to Statilla. Cleora agrees to marry Pisander, and her father approves. Leosthenes and Statilla are reunited, and the slaves are pardoned.
Massinger’s most popular play is the city comedy A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1625) which is similar to Middleton’s A Trick to Catch the Old One. Massinger’s New Way is set in Nottinghamshire. Giles Overreach is clever and ruthless with money; but his nephew Frank Wellborn is extravagant, and Giles has reduced him to common borrowing. Wellborn still has a friend in Tom Allworth whose late father was also ruined by Giles. Tom is in love with his daughter Margaret Overreach, but he is poor and works as a page for Lord Lovell, who commands soldiers headed for the Netherlands. His stepmother Lady Allworth has suitors. She offers Wellborn £100 which he declines, though she agrees to meet his secret request. Wellborn goes to his uncle who will not see him. Giles has his solicitor Jack Marall urge Wellborn to commit suicide, but he invites Marall to dine with him at the Allworth home where he is led to believe that the widow is eager to marry Wellborn. Marall reports this to Giles who is always scheming to make more money. Overreach also hopes to improve his social status through the marriage of his daughter Margaret.
Giles invites Lovell to a dinner supervised by gluttonous Justice Greedy. Margaret wears jewelry, and Giles instructs her in courtship. Left alone with Lovell, she notes the difference in their ages and social status. Giles is glad they are whispering, and Tom Allworth is jealous; but Lovell has agreed to help Tom wed her. A coach brings Lady Allworth and Wellborn. Giles hopes that he can get at her wealth if his nephew marries her. Before leaving with Lady Allworth, Lovell kisses Margaret and promises to write to her daily. Giles to help his nephew marry the wealthy widow redeems Wellborn’s fine clothes from a pawnbroker and gives him £1,000 to pay his debts. Giles finds Lovell at Lady Allworth’s and promises him a valuable dowry with Margaret and even the Allworthy estate he hopes to gain. Lovell disapproves and wants to punish Overreach. Lady Allworth and Lovell agree to marry. Young Allworthy and Margaret meet secretly, and her father is tricked into approving their marriage with a letter. Marall has property deeds of Giles erased so that they still belong to Wellborn. When Giles learns this and that Margaret is married to Allworthy, he goes crazy, tries to kill his daughter, and is taken away to Bedlam. Lovell promises to return Wellborn’s land, and Wellborn joins his regiment.
Massinger considered the historical tragedy The Roman Actor (1626) his best work. Based on histories by Suetonius, Dio Cassius, and Tacitus, the play is set in Rome during the reign (81-96) of Emperor Domitian. The actors Paris, Latinus, and Aesopus discuss the degenerating condition of theater in competition with circuses and lower forms of entertainment, and their troupe prospers only because of the Emperor. Aretinus Clemens spies for Emperor Domitian and summons these players to the Senate for having satirized him. Charged with slander and treason, Paris eloquently defends the value of theater that exposes evil and inspires virtue. Domitian returns from a military campaign and releases them. Then he celebrates his victory by ordering the captives tortured and killed. Aretinus tells Domitian that people are unhappy about his poisoning Agricola, executing Paetus Thrasea, and his incest with his niece Julia. Domitian has his freedman Parthenius bring him beautiful Domitia, and then he has her husband Aelius Lamia executed. Two other Stoic senators are tortured but refuse to scream.
Domitia becomes the Emperor’s wife and is proclaimed Augusta. The father of Parthenius was urged to reform by seeing The Cure of Avarice and was counseled by Domitian, who disregards pleas by Parthenius and has his father put to death. Domitia has a play about a rejected lover presented and becomes so enamored by the performance of Paris that she tries to stop his suicide on the stage. Then she sends him a letter and tries to seduce him. Aretinus and the discontented imperial women Domitilla, Julia, and Caenis send a petition about this to Domitian. Domitia declares her love for Paris, and the Emperor sees them kiss. Domitian still loves her and has her confined to her room. Then he has Aretinus executed and the three women imprisoned. Domitian commands Paris to do a play in which he participates and kills Paris with a sword. The Emperor forgives Domitia. After she refuses to respond to his love and taunts him, he condemns her. Domitian is haunted by the ghosts of the two dead senators, and omens are bad. Parthenius plots to assassinate Domitian, and an astrologer predicts the time of his death. The astrologer says he himself will first be eaten by dogs, and so Domitian orders him burned; but a storm puts out the fire, and the astrologer’s predicted death takes place. Parthenius tells Domitian the hour of his predicted death has passed, though it has not. The tyrant dismisses his guards, and Parthenius and his conspirators kill him.
John Ford was born in 1586 in Devonshire and died there about 1639. He studied and practiced law but turned to writing plays in 1620 and is best known for his tragedies.
The Witch of Edmonton (1621) was written by Ford, Thomas Dekker, William Rowley, and maybe John Webster. On April 10, 1621 Elizabeth Sawyer was executed for witchcraft. The play is based on Henry Goodcole’s pamphlet The Wonderful Discovery of Elizabeth Sawyer, a Witch and was performed later that year. Sir Arthur Clarington has made his maid Winifred pregnant and persuades Frank Thorney to marry her. Old Thorney has threatened to disinherit his son, and Winifred lives with her uncle. Arthur still wants to have relations with her, but she reforms from “a loose whore to a repentant wife.”
Living near Edmonton is a poor and deformed crone called Mother Sawyer who is scorned and hated. Old Banks does not like her gathering firewood from his land and calls her a witch. She decides she might as well become one and wants a familiar spirit. She gets the black dog Tom who tells her he is a devil. She orders him to kill Old Banks. He cannot murder someone who is not cursing and swearing, but he will kill cattle and damage wheat. The son Cuddy Banks loves Katherine Carter, and he asks the witch to make her love him.
Frank Thorney tells his father he is not married and is persuaded to wed Susan Carter whose father provides a dowry. Susan loves him but learns he has two wives. Frank decides to go away with disguised Winifred and tells Susan of his journey. She insists on going with him, and he stabs her to death, wounds himself, and the dog helps bind him to a tree. Old Thorney and Old Carter find him and suspect Susan’s former suitors Warbeck and Somerton, and they are arrested at a dance.
Old Banks and others blame the witch Sawyer and burn her thatched hovel. She fights back, and a justice of the peace helps defend her and has everyone leave except himself, her, and Sir Arthur, who based on her statements believes she has supernatural knowledge. Mother Sawyer sends her dog Tom against her enemy Anne Ratcliffe who is driven mad and beats out her brains. Old Banks and his followers attack Sawyer, but she is defended by her dog. Katherine nurses her brother-in-law Frank and finds a bloody knife in his pocket. Winifred appears dressed as a page, and Old Carter notices that Susan’s corpse bleeds in the presence of her murderers. Carter has officers arrest Frank. Mother Sawyer’s dog turns white, and Old Banks, Ratcliffe, and her enemies take her to Tyburn to be put to death. She is accused of causing Frank to kill his wife and Ann Ratcliffe herself. Sawyer repents and warns against believing in the devil because he will cheat you. Frank Thorney is also executed, and Sir Arthur is ordered to pay Winifred 1,000 marks. Somerton is betrothed to Katherine.
Ford’s tragedy 'Tis Pity She's a Whore was printed in 1633 and was probably performed a few years earlier. Giovanni in Parma confesses to Friar Bonaventura that he is in love with his beautiful sister Annabella, and the friar warns him to pray to be free of this sinful passion. Annabella is being pursued by the Roman soldier Grimaldi and the wealthy Soranzo, but she much prefers her brother. He reveals his passion for her and cries in shame. He hands her his dagger so that she can take his life, but she confesses that she loves him too. They exchange rings, vows, and a kiss.
Soranzo and Grimaldi continue to woo Annabella. The friar urges her to marry one of her suitors because she is pregnant. She chooses Soranzo. Hippolita’s husband Richardetto persuades the jealous Grimaldi to kill Soranzo, but by mistake he murders the rejected suitor Bergetto at his betrothal to Philotis. Although Hippolita is married, she resents Soranzo throwing her over for Annabella and seeks revenge. At the wedding feast Soranzo’s servant Vasques prevents Hippolita from poisoning Soranzo by giving her the poison, and she dies. After the wedding Soranzo realizes that Annabella is in love with someone else, but she refuses to tell him who it is. Vasques manages to get Annabella’s servant Putana to inform him, and he has his bandits punish her by putting out her eyes. Soranzo prepares a birthday feast and invites Annabella’s father Florio and city dignitaries. Annabella gets a letter written in blood to the friar who warns her brother Giovanni. He meets with her and stabs her. Then with her heart on the point of his dagger he goes to the banquet. His father Florio dies of shock. Soranzo attacks Giovanni but is killed by him, but then Vasques and his bandits kill Giovanni. This drama has been criticized and occasionally censored because of its sympathetic treatment of the incestuous lovers.
Ford’s history play Perkin Warbeck was printed in 1634 and is based on The True and Wonderful History of Perkin Warbeck by Thomas Gainsford (1618) and Francis Bacon’s History of the Reign of King Henry VII (1622).
The play Perkin Warbeck begins about 1495 and goes to the execution of Perkin Warbeck on November 23, 1499. King Henry VII notes that the Civil War of the Roses in 90 years has taken 250,000 English lives including a thousand lords and knights, 60 dukes and earls, and ten kings and princes. Richard III’s sister Margaret is supporting the claim of Lambert Simnel to be Edward, son of Duke George of Clarence, and Perkin Warbeck’s pretense that he is Edward IV’s son Richard IV. Warbeck is advised by Stephen Frion who is partial to France. Robert Clifford served Margaret but is imprisoned in the Tower and has revealed Warbeck’s plots that include the Chamberlain William Stanley. Although Stanley had helped him take the throne in 1485, King Henry has him arrested. He faces a rebellion by ten thousand in Cornwall.
Warbeck started his royal quest in Ireland, has traveled to courts in Europe, and is now in Scotland, where James IV approves Warbeck’s marrying Katherine Gordon even though her father the Earl of Huntley objects. Stanley is convicted and beheaded. King Henry’s forces defeat the Cornish rebels in Kent, and he lets the prisoners go. Spain has sent Pedro Ayala, and he helps negotiate an alliance with the marriage of Fernando and Isabella’s daughter Katherine and Arthur, Prince of Wales. Richard IV (Warbeck) in Scotland is proclaimed King of England, and Scots besiege Norham Castle, whose defender Bishop Fox denounces Warbeck and urges James IV to abandon him. James notes that Warbeck is not gaining support. Henry VII’s army defeats the pretender’s forces in all the battles. James meets with Ayala and ignores Warbeck. Henry VII allies with France, Spain, and Germany. Henry offers that his daughter Margaret will marry James IV if he banishes Warbeck. They agree, and Warbeck heads toward Cornwall with his wife and gathers a force of 4,000 men; but they are defeated at Exeter and at Dawbney as Warbeck flees. Warbeck and his followers are captured. After escaping from the Tower twice Warbeck rejects the submission recommended by Simnel and is finally hanged.
James Shirley (1596-1666) was born in London and went to Oxford and Cambridge. In 1625 he lost his teaching job when he became a Catholic. He wrote many plays of which 31 survived. After an outbreak of the bubonic plague in London in 1636 Shirley moved to Dublin until 1640 when he succeeded Massinger as the main dramatist for the King’s Men. However, the theaters were closed in 1642 with the onset of the English Civil War in which Shirley fought for the royalists. He edited the first edition of the collected plays of Beaumont and Fletcher in 1647.
Shirley’s tragedy The Traitor (1631) portrays the ambition of Lorenzino de’ Medici (1514-48), though he is called Lorenzo in the play. Florence’s Duke Alessandro de’ Medici (1510-37) is called Alexander. The deaths of both men are portrayed in the same final scene although Lorenzino was actually assassinated eleven years later by agents of Duke Cosimo de’ Medici (1519-74) who is called Cosmo. In The Traitor Lorenzo wants to replace Duke Alexander and establish a republic. Lorenzo urges Cosmo to renounce his engagement to Oriana who is now loved by Pisano thanks to the secret efforts of Lorenzo’s servant Petruchio, though she remains true to Cosmo. Pisano had been betrothed to Amidea, but the Duke wants her. Lorenzo urges her brother Sciarrha to murder the Duke when he visits Amidea’s room; but she and their brother Florio are opposed to the assignation. Lorenzo gets Depazzi to publicize the assassination before it occurs.
Sciarrha presents a masque depicting the treachery, but the Duke still wants Amidea. When he visits her room, the brothers are hiding. She wounds herself and threatens suicide, and the Duke repents. The brothers come forth, congratulate him, and intend to discover the plot; but when Lorenzo is told the Duke is dead, he accuses the brothers. The Duke appears in public, and Lorenzo repents. Lorenzo tells Sciarrha that Pisano is no longer engaged to Amidea, and Sciarrha joins his conspiracy against the Duke. Amidea tries to prevent Pisano’s wedding Oriana, but Pisano refuses this or to duel Sciarrha, who then murders Pisano. Lorenzo persuades Sciarrha to send Amidea to the Duke, but she declines, wants to die, and kneels in prayer. When she says she will go to the Duke, Lorenzo stabs her. While dying she says she did not mean it. Her corpse is prepared in her room, and the Duke kisses her cold lips and is horrified. He wishes he would die and is killed by Lorenzo and Petruchio. Sciarrha and Lorenzo fight and kill each other. Petruchio is to be tortured, and Cosmo becomes Duke.
Shirley wrote the romantic comedy Hyde Park (1632) in honor of the opening of Hyde Park to the general public in London by the Earl of Holland. The production is noted for bringing real horses on the stage for horse-racing scenes.
Shirley’s best comedy The Lady of Pleasure (1635) satirized London society. Thomas and Aretina Bornwell have moved from the country to London so that she can enjoy the city’s pleasures. She spends money buying furniture, giving banquets, and loses it gambling. They associate with Madame Decoy, Alexander Kickshaw, John Littleworth, and the young widow Celestina whom Thomas pursues to compete with his wife’s dalliances. Aretina’s nephew Frederick leaves the university to join them. Celestina teachers her female relatives how to experience delights by entertaining the suitors Haircut, William Scentlove, and Bornwell. Aretina envies Celestina’s beauty and enlists Littleworth and Kickshaw to help her get revenge. In the verbal battle Celestina fights back and is defended by Bornwell. The bawd Decoy lures away Kickshaw to a secret meeting with Aretina while Littleworth turns Frederick into a gentleman. Bornwell confesses to Aretina his desire for Celestina, but she encourages his affair. Aretina learns that her husband is borrowing money. Thomas admits their money will only last one more month, but he plans to join the army and hopes for a pension. He says she has friends or can earn money herself. Aretina, regretting her extravagance and promiscuity, promises to be virtuous, and Thomas admits he pretended to be prodigal to frighten her. He assures her they have enough money if they are careful. They decide to go back to the country, and Frederick will return to college.
Shirley’s tragedy The Cardinal was performed in 1641 and represents the last of the violent revenge plays in this era that began with Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy about 1586. Playgoers seeing The Cardinal would naturally have thought of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu and recently appointed Archbishop Laud of Canterbury.
In Navarre the young Duchess Rosaura has lost her husband at sea and is in love with the young Count d’Alvarez, but the King has ordered her to marry the Cardinal’s nephew Columbo, a veteran general. The Cardinal runs the government and has chosen Columbo to lead the army in a war against Aragon. The wedding is postponed, and she says goodbye to Columbo and sends for Alvarez. They hope to marry if Columbo is killed or changes his mind. Columbo quarrels with Colonel Hernando over strategy and calls him a coward. Columbo gets a letter from Rosaura asking him to let her be free. He writes a letter releasing her from the engagement. She takes the letter to the King who agrees that she can wed Alvarez, but the Cardinal is not so sure.
Columbo defeats the enemy and comes home just in time for the wedding. He puts on a masque in which the players summon Alvarez and bring him back dead. Columbo confesses to the murder, and Rosaura demands justice. Columbo shows them her letter, and the Cardinal and the King accuse her and Alvarez of being responsible. The King also blames himself, but Columbo is charged with murder and with contempt of majesty. He is put in prison but only for a few days. He is celebrated as the victorious general and takes Celinda as a mistress. Columbo tells Rosaura she may live; but if she tries to marry, he will kill the bridegroom. Hernando hates Columbo and the Cardinal while he favors Rosaura, who says she will accept Hernando if she turns to love again. The Cardinal tries to reconcile Rosaura. Hernando and Columbo and their seconds fight a duel, and only Hernando survives. Lady Celinda has borne a child by Columbo and gives her estate to the Cardinal for his protection. Rosaura is considered mad, and the King appoints the Cardinal her guardian. He intends to rape and poison her, but Hernando hides in her room. When the Cardinal embraces Rosaura, Hernando stabs him and then kills himself. Courtiers and the King arrive, and the dying Cardinal says the food is poisoned but offers an antidote to Rosaura. She takes it, but it is poison, and she dies along with the Cardinal.
1. The Plays and Poems of George Chapman: The Tragedies ed. Thomas Marc Parrott, p. 108.
2. Ibid., p. 77.