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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

VII. Tourneur and Webster

§ 12. Appius and Virginia

Appius and Virginia stands apart from the other plays, and may conveniently be taken first. Its date cannot be fixed by either external or internal evidence; a play of the name, however, is mentioned in a list of dramas appropriated to the Lord Chamberlain’s company (1639), and it may be Webster’s. For his materials, Webster seems to have used Painter’s Palace of Pleasure, Livy and, possibly, Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Of his own invention, apparently, are the plot of Appius for reducing Virginius to poverty, the quarrel between Virginius and Icilius, the production of Virginia’s body by the latter for the purpose of nerving Virginius to vengeance; above all, the introduction of the clown Corbulo and the pretentious advocate, the latter being a familiar butt of the ridicule of Webster. The drama has a certain massive simplicity, which is probably due to the influence of Shakespeare; and the humorous element has been thought, perhaps rightly, to point in the same direction. But the general effect is disappointing. The subject has always proved itself intractable upon the stage. And not even the pure poetry and pathos of the father’s farewell to his daughter can avail to put our sympathies entirely on his side.