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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.

VI. Philip Massinger

§ 9. His religious sympathies

The same intellectual courage which made Massinger utter his political opinions without deference to the sentiments of the influential court party was displayed in his dealings with another power whose favour was of the utmost importance to him: he dared to cross the current of one of the most violent prejudices of the public which filled the metropolitan theatres. The church of Rome was regarded by the mass of the English nation as the most dangerous and implacable enemy of their country, and was hated accordingly; the English members of the Roman church were watched suspiciously, being popularly regarded in the light of spies belonging to that hated outlandish power; all Roman Catholic priests had been banished from London by James I, in 1604. The anti-Romish propaganda had also invaded the stage. Thomas Dekker, in his allegorical play The Whore of Babylon, strained all his powers, with the exception of his charming poetical gift, to incense his country men against Rome and Spain; Barnabe Barnes, in his tragedy The Devil’s Charter, which was played before the king, afforded Londoners an insight into all the abominations of the Roman curia, and finally, the delightful spectacle of a vicious and murderous pope in the clutches of the devil; while, in Middleton’s political play A Game at Chesse, Ignatius Loyola, founder of the society of Jesus, is made to speak the prologue and to proclaim his vices and his evil intentions concerning England in the most shameless manner. In view of this inveterate hostility, which formed an integral part of the religious and political persuasions of most Englishmen, it needed great strength and independence of mind to write and publish a drama like Massinger’s The Renegado. In this play a priest of the church of Rome acts as the friend and leader of all the characters for whom the sympathy of the audience is engaged; in all their difficulties, they appeal to him with a confidence which is justified by his saving them from destruction. And this benefactor is not only a priest but also a member of that brotherhood whom protestants thought they had especial reasons to fear and to hate—a Jesuit.

We do not know whether Massinger, who had been daptised according to the rite of the Anglican communion, ever publicly conformed to the church of Rome: the supposition that he became a Roman Catholic at Oxford and, in consequence of this step, lost the protection of the earl of Pembroke, is nothing more than a guess. But it cannot be doubted that he repeatedly showed a marked predilection for the religious observances of the papal church. One of his noblest women, the virgin Camiola, heroine of the fascinating drama The Maid of Honour, being afflicted by the discovery of the faithlessness of her lover, resolves to take the veil—a harmonious climax to her devoted life, in adopting which Massinger departed from his well known source, a novel in Painter’s Palace of Pleasure. The saintly Dorothea, whose martyrdom is the subject of the tragedy The Virgin Martir, is, it is true, a daughter of the primitive church, to whose glorification even the anti-Popish Dekker did not object.