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Professional Playwrights

Professional Playwrights: Massinger, Ford, Shirley and Brome

Ira Clark
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 240
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    Professional Playwrights
    Book Description:

    The most neglected of the English Renaissance playwrights are the major Carolines -- Philip Massinger, John Ford, James Shirley, and Richard Brome. Writing in the 1620s and 1630s, always in the shadow of their great precursors, Shakespeare and Jonson, they have often been dubbed mere purveyors of slick, escapist sensationalism who avoided the great issues of their day and turned away from the impending breakdown of English society. Ira Clark's revisionist book shows us these dramatists and their time whole, particularly through analysis of their treatment of sociopolitical issues -- issues that find echoes in twentieth-century concerns.

    For each of these playwrights, Clark sketches his known social circle, describes characteristic social and political stances and dramatic techniques, and provides a detailed reading of an exemplary play. In considering their artistry, he notes their variations on traditional dramatic characters, situations, and styles. Where their predecessors had offered deep psychological portrayals, the Carolines, he finds, present characters whose roles grow out of their social relations. The issues they engage range from the sovereignty of King or Parliament and the criteria for social mobility to parental dominion and the rights of women and children. Their presentations range from conservatism -- Ford's distilled and Shirley's playful -- through Massinger's accommodation, to Brome's extemporaneous experimentation.

    The Carolines' theatrical world, Clark argues, is accessible to modern readers through the social theories of our time, which depend on their "world as a stage" trope for such concepts as symbolic interactionism and the ritual inculcation of social cohesion. This important book sheds new light on both the artistic and the political climate of seventeenth-century England.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6241-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 The Caroline Professionals
    (pp. 1-32)

    Among the four professional playwrights who have dominated studies of English drama of the 1620s and 1630s, only James Shirley has not been dubbed the foremost decadent. Perhaps the label “decadent” derives partly from the fact that all four—Philip Massinger, John Ford, James Shirley, and Richard Brome—came to prominence at ages older than most of their predecessors and much older than the prodigy who proved their chief competitor, Sir William Davenant. The long time required for these playwrights to gain artistic maturity suggests the extraordinary complexity that drama had rapidly achieved: the trove of traditional dramatic techniques had...

  5. 2 Massinger’s Tragicomedy of Reformation
    (pp. 33-72)

    Massinger inherited from Shakespeare and from his master and collaborator Fletcher the role of chief playwright for the preeminent theatrical company in Renaissance England. Since the King’s Men wore their monarch’s livery and performed at court more often than any other company, many scholars have assumed that Massinger was a court reactionary.¹ And much in his early life confirms training for such a stance. Born in 1583 near Salisbury, he was the son of well-connected gentry through his mother’s family, the Cromptons, and through his father’s position with the powerful Herberts, who succeeded as earls of Pembroke. Likely prepared at...

  6. 3 Ford’s Tragedy of Ritual Suffering
    (pp. 73-111)

    The second son of parents whose lines went back almost a century as gentry around llsington, Devonshire, John Ford was the only unqualified member of the gentry among the Caroline professional playwrights.¹ From both families he inherited a tradition of membership in the Middle Temple. There he apparently remained (save for one brief lapse) after admission, 16 November 1602, at the age of sixteen. “TO MY WORTHILY RE SPECTED FRIENDS, Nathaniel Finch, Iohn Ford [his cousin], Esquires; Mr. Henry Blvnt, Mr. Robert Ellice, and all the rest of the Noble Society ofGrayesInne” he dedicated the first published of...

  7. 4 Shirley’s Social Comedy of Adaptation to Degree
    (pp. 112-154)

    “I never affected the ways of flattery: some say I have lost my preferment, by not practising that Court sin.”¹ So claimed Shirley in 1639, finally dedicating his second play and first tragedy,The Maid’s Revenge(1626),“come late to the impression.”This oft-noted asseveration was made by a poet-playwright who could make some claim to privilege (far more than Brome, perhaps more than Massinger, distinctly less than Ford), enough to display a coat of arms. One wondrous season, 1633-34, he was identified as a gentleman, a member of Gray’s Inn, and “one of the Valets of the Chamber of...

  8. 5 Brome’s Comedy of Types and Inversions
    (pp. 155-196)

    There is even less information about Richard Brome and his acquaintances than there is about his colleagues and theirs. Apart from evidence about his theatrical associates, few traces of his background remain. Compared to that loyal son of the adviser and agent of noble patrons, Massinger, that genteel son placed at the inns of court by his well connected family, Ford, or that ambitious son of a moderately prosperous merchant, Shirley, we have scant knowledge of Brome’s family, schooling, or friendships. So his attitudes remain even more open to conjecture than theirs. The hints left for us indicate that he...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 197-198)

    At the end ofThe Antipodesthe masque of Harmony with her train supplants the brief show of defiance by Discord and her antimasquers: Wit displaces Folly, Love Jealousy, Wine Melancholy, Health Madness. So Brome, or Letoy, might seem to try to contain any radical potential for reform in the vicarious social experiment of byplay and carnival. But both the lord Letoy and the doctor Hughball subvert containment. Letoy promises to offer whatever “may please, / Though we dive for it to th’ Antipodes.” He is willing to try inversions and free play again, not on any warrant of success...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 199-214)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 215-225)
  12. Index
    (pp. 226-232)