Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 7. Some Political Dramas of the time

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

VI. Philip Massinger

§ 7. Some Political Dramas of the time

Among Massinger’s sixteen genuine dramas, only three tragedies are to be found. All his other plays and without bloodshed, even a drama whose historical foundation might exact the death of the hero—one of the new-found plays, bearing the fanciful title Believe as you List, published for the first time in 1849. This drama is mentioned in all discussions of the question whether Massinger frequently gave vent to political opinions in his dramas. Generally speaking, the dramatists of his time shrank from touching on the politics of the day, for excellent reasons: they knew but too well that political dramas might have unpleasant consequences for both actors and writers. George Chapman’s two sensational dramas, for instance, treating of the story of the life and sudden fall of an ambitious French politician, Charles, duke of Biron, marshal of France, who had been beheaded in Paris but a few years previously, 31 July, 1602, caused a complaint by the French ambassador, in consequence of which the representations of the plays were stopped and some of the actors sent to prison. The author seems to have escaped scot-free; but, in 1608, at the printing of his plays, he experienced the wrath of the censor, who multilated his text in so ferocious a manner that, in his dedication, Chapman speaks of “these poor dismembered poems.” Another playwright, Thomas Middleton, in 1624, in his allegorical drama A Game at Chesse made himself the interpreter of the intense dissatisfaction of the great majority of the English people with the policy of James I, who endeavoured to keep up friendly relations with Spain in opposition to a strong national feeling against any alliance with the arch-enemy. The incensed king threatened the players with heavy fines in case of another misbehaviour; but the poet himself was not to be found, and the king’s resentment seems to have been of short duration.