Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 5. Joint workmanship with Fletcher and others

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

VI. Philip Massinger

§ 5. Joint workmanship with Fletcher and others

Massinger’s dramatic apprenticeship, the period of his collaboration with other dramatists, especially with Fletcher, has, of late, frequently attracted the attention of English scholars. Their investigations have resulted in a great increase of the number of plays for which this co-operation is to be assumed. At the time of the publication of the first collected edition of Beaumont and Fletcher’s works, in 1647, Cockayne blamed the editor on account of the injustice towards Fletcher implied in the title, inasmuch as Beaumont had written but few of those dramas. As Massinger’s friend, Cockayne availed himself of this opportunity to inform the world of another noteworthy fact about which the editor had been silent: he pointed out that Massinger also had to claim a partnership “in other few,” adding that he got this information from “Fletcher’s chief bosom friend”—possibly from Massinger himself. Not content with Cockayne’s few plays, modern enquirers have traced the hand of Massinger in about twenty pieces of the Fletcherian series. It cannot be denied that the modern method of settling questions of doubtful authorship is sometimes purely subjective, and many discrepancies have, accordingly, to be noted between the conclusions reached by different scholars. But, in Massinger’s case, the task was facilitated by a striking peculiarity in the writer. Massinger is afflicted with the itch of iteration to an exceptional degree: his repetitions of the same phrases and similes are countless. Wherever such marks appear in great numbers, Massinger’s co-operation may safely be held to be very likely. On the other hand, it is not to be doubted that, in all their joint compositions, the older and more experienced Fletcher was the leading spirit, the chief builder, to whose directions Massinger had to attend. That, no doubt, is the reason why he never himself thought of proclaiming his partnership to the world.

A second, much smaller, group of plays consists of those which, in the old prints, are assigned to Massinger and some other dramatist. The oldest of these pieces seems to be the amusing comedy called The Old Law. Though published very late, in 1656, as the work of Massinger, Middleton and William Rowley, the mention of the year 1599 in the dialogue of this piece seems to prove that it was composed several years before the beginning of Massinger’s dramatic career. It is just possible that he revised the old play; but, if he did so, he carefully abstained from any material alterations. No trace of his individual style is to be discovered in the existing text.

Not the slightest doubt, on the contrary, can be entertained concerning Massinger’s co-operation in two other plays attributed to him and Dekker and Field respectively on the titlepages of the old prints. Both plays were published in the lifetime of the three authors: the coarse, but by no means ineffective legendary drama The Virgin Martir, in 1622, as the work of Massinger and Dekker, and, in 1632, the impressive tragedy The Fatall Dowry, assigned to him and Nathaniel Field, his old friend, the writer of the letter to Henslowe signed also by Massinger and Daborne. Internal evidence corroborates the statements of the printers. As to the scenes of Massinger and those of Dekker, even a careless reader must be struck by the difference of character between them; but it it is a more delicate task to distinguish between the work of Massinger and that of Field.