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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.

VIII. Ford and Shirley

§ 8. His merits

Of the first and most fundamental of these defects, some explanation may be found in Ford himself. We have noted his youthful defence of such romantic propositions as that “knights in ladies’ service have no free will.” This and similar ideas are frequent enough in the romantic pastoralism of Sidney, Spenser and their contemporaries. But in these writers such theories of the supremacy and divine origin of love were presented in an Arcadian setting, under purely ideal conditions, and, on the whole, were kept clear of practical life. The young Ford was steeped in this romantic idealism, and we have seen him applying it to actual persons in his apology for Stella and Charles Blount. But the mature Ford was a dramatist who had learned his craft from Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, Massinger and the rest; and, when we find this lawless idealism given form with all the skill in characterisation, dialogue and action inherited from the masters of realism, it ceases to be a harmless dream and becomes, instead, a fountain of anarchy. But it does not lose all its beauty. The depth of Ford’s insight into the human heart torn by conflicting passions, the intensity of his sympathy, his mastery of a beautiful and tender diction and of a blank verse of great sweetness, along with such technical powers as have already been noted, suffice to give him a distinguished position among writers of tragedy.