Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 12. Typical situations

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

VI. Philip Massinger

§ 12. Typical situations

In obedience to the taste of his time, Massinger twice transplanted the action of his plays from the localities named in his sources to the favourite country of the Elizabethan dramatists, Italy, and, in most cases, with entire success. Without knowledge of his authorities, it would be impossible to find out that the duke of Milan and his wife Marcelia, killed by her husband’s jealousy, have been substituted for Herod, king of the Jews, and his wife Mariamne; or that the story told in his charming comedy The Great Duke of Florence, with its variation of the motive of the treacherous feiend, is a transformation of an old legend rooted in the soil of England.

Many of Massinger’s independent additions to the stories in his sources are also well calculated to deepen the impression left by his works. For a few of his plays, no literary source has been so far traced; but it would be rash to assert that he entirely invented any of his plots. A far more striking sign of a certain weakness in inventive power is his tendency to repeat himself in his technical artifices and in the means used for eking out his plots. The necessary revelation of a hidden passion is frequently attained by the simple stratagem of letting a conversation between lovers be overheard by their enemies. The passionate attempt of Antoninus to waken the flame of an earthly love in Dorothea’s bosom is overheard by his father and by the princess in love with the youth (The Virgin Martir); Cleora and Marullo are surprised in prison (The Bond-Man); Donusa and Vitelli, Domitia and Paris are watched by the Turkish princes and Domitian respectively (The Renegado and The Roman Actor); the rivals of Hortensio listen to his decisive talk with Matilda (The Bashful Lover). Also, in other emergencies, the time-honoured artifice of the listener is freely resorted to. Another of Massinger’s favourite situations is the introduction of one of his male characters with a book in his hand, like Hamlet, indulging in some short philosophical speculation. By way of amplifying his plot, he repeatedly brings in a brother revenging a wrong done to his sister. In the last act of The Duke of Millaine, we are surprised by the statement that the ultimate scope of Francisco’s perfidies was to punish Sforza as the seducer of his sister Eugenia; Marullo-Pisander acts the part of a slave in Syracuse only to approach Leosthenes, the faithless lover of his sister Statilia (The Bond-Man); Vitelli risks his life among the Turks to liberate or to revenge his sister Paulina, robbed by the Renegado (in the play of that name). The deserted woman herself repeatedly appears as the servant of the new object of her faithless lover’s affection: Statilia serves Cleora (The Bond-Man), Madame Beaupre the clever and resolute Bellisant (The Parliament of Love).