Every June, members of The Shakespeare Institute read aloud, in chronological order, the complete dramatic canon of a sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century playwright. The exercise enables us to observe, in concentrated form, the development of a single dramatist’s imagination and technique, and to experience a large number of neglected plays by a significant talent of the Shakespearian era.
In previous years we have read the plays of John Fletcher, Thomas Heywood, James Shirley and Thomas Dekker. For the 2017 marathon we read the full surviving corpus of commercial-theatre plays written in the decade before Shakespeare. This year we turn to Philip Massinger.
Best known for his comedy A New Way to Pay Old Debts and his tragedy The Roman Actor, Massinger began to write plays at around the time Shakespeare retired, and by the end of the decade he was acknowledged as a technical master of the art. He was also one of the most politically and constitutionally engaged dramatists in a period of deepening crisis in England; with their trenchant critiques of landed wealth, official corruption, and inappropriate government policies, his plays frequently ran into censorship difficulties.
The readings take place in the Reading Room of The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon. All are welcome to attend for some or all of the readings, but if you are not already known to the Institute, please make arrangements in advance by contacting the organizer, Dr Martin Wiggins (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you want to tweet about the play, please use the hashtag #massimara and also the play-specific hashtags given here. These are also links which lead to a copy of the text of each play; if you want to read along with us remotely, or if you’re in the room but want to read from your device, please feel free to use these. Some hard copies will be provided, but do bring one along if you own it.
There will be coffee and biscuits in the Conservatory half an hour before each day’s first reading (i.e. 10.00 on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 2.00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays). We thank Prof. Joe Stephenson and Abilene Christian University, Texas, for their generosity.
Monday 11 June
10.30: The Honest Man’s Fortune with Nathan Field and John Fletcher) #hmfortune [go to p. 209 of PDF]
The spendthrift Montaigne loses his estate in a law-suit brought by Orleans, his former rival in love. Orleans’s wife makes a false confession of adultery with her former boyfriend. And who’s that suspiciously devoted page-boy following Montaigne around? He couldn’t possibly be a lovelorn cross-dressed girl, could he?
This tragicomedy premiered in the summer of 1613 in a production by Lady Elizabeth’s Men at the Swan. It contains Massinger’s earliest known dramatic writing; he was 29 years old at the time.
2.30: Love’s Cure (with John Fletcher) #lovescure
A girl brought up as a boy and a boy brought up as a girl are required to resume their biological genders. Perhaps it might help if they learn the joys of kissing?
This comedy probably premiered in the summer of 1615 in a production by the King’s Men.
[We shall be reading from the forthcoming Revels edition of the play, ed. José Pérez Díez, copies of which will be supplied on the day; a link to the relevant volume of Glover and Waller is supplied for the convenience of anyone reading along remotely.]
7.00: Beggars’ Bush (with John Fletcher and another dramatist): a cue-script reading #beggarsbush
Be kind to beggars: you never know, one of them might be a rich man in disguise. Join us for an evening of political skulduggery and sow-gelding in Flanders!
This comedy probably premiered in 1616 in a production by the King’s Men. Also in 1616, Massinger collaborated with Field and Fletcher on The Jeweller of Amsterdam, a tragedy about a recent murder case.
[As with Love’s Cure, a text is provided for remote readers; the reading at Stratford will be from cue-scripts prepared by Meryl Faiers, and will include performances of the songs in their original settings, arranged by Jen Waghorn.]
Tuesday 12 June
2.30: The Queen of Corinth (with Nathan Field and John Fletcher) #queenofcorinth [go to p. 12 of PDF]
A royal rapist tries to get another man condemned for his crime.
This tragicomedy probably premiered in 1617 in a production by the King’s Men.
7.00: Rollo (with John Fletcher and another dramatist) #rollo [go to p. 259 of PDF]
Rival brothers jointly inherit the Duchy of Normandy, whereupon one plans to dispose of the other. Careers advice of the day: avoid the catering profession.
This tragedy, also known as The Bloody Brother, probably premiered in the summer or autumn of 1617 in a production by the King’s Men.
Wednesday 13 June
10.30: Thierry and Theodoret (with John Fletcher and another dramatist) #thierry [go to p. 10 of PDF]
Devoted to her lascivious life, Brunhalt resists pressure to enter holy orders, has her cowardly lover appointed general, and plots to frustrate her son’s marriage.
This tragedy probably premiered in 1617 in a production by the King’s Men.
2.30: The Elder Brother (with John Fletcher) #elderbro [go to p. 14 of PDF]
Is it better to marry a scholar or a courtier? And are scholars necessarily more interested in books than women and money?
This comedy probably premiered in 1618 in a production by the King’s Men.
Thursday 14 June
2.30: The Knight of Malta (with John Fletcher and Nathan Field) #knightmalta [go to p. 89 of PDF]
The Knights of Malta, bound by vows of poverty and chastity, defend Christendom from the Turks, and a probationary knight must choose between love and loyalty.
This tragicomedy probably premiered in the summer of 1618 in a production by the King’s Men.
7.00: The Fatal Dowry (with Nathan Field) #fataldowry [go to p. 357 of PDF]
Family relationships suck. Charolais is imprisoned for his father’s debts, but is released after Rochford pays them, on the understanding that the young man will marry his daughter. He does, but she is more interested in another man. No good can come of this…
This tragedy probably premiered in early 1619 in a production by the King’s Men.
Friday 15 June
10.30: Sir John van Oldenbarnevelt (with John Fletcher) #barnevelt
News from the Dutch Republic: a conspiracy against the Prince of Orange ends on the scaffold.
This tragedy premiered, after some censorship difficulties, in August 1619 in a production by the King’s Men at the Globe.
2.30: The Custom of the Country (with John Fletcher) #custcountry [go to p. 302 of PDF]
The Count has the legal right to deflower every bride, but one unwilling bride flees the country instead with her husband and brother-in-law. One of them ends up in a Portuguese brothel…
This comedy probably premiered in late 1619 in a production by the King’s Men.
Saturday 16 June
10.30: The Laws of Candy (with John Ford) #lawscandy [go to p. 244 of PDF]
By law, only one man can be awarded the honour of a military victory. Should it be go to the general or to his son, who actually won the battle?
This tragicomedy probably premiered in early 1620 in a production by the King’s Men.
2.30: The Little French Lawyer (with John Fletcher) #lflawyer [go to p. of PDF]
Dinant’s girlfriend has just married another man, but he hasn’t given up hopes of a sexual conquest. After he fails to turn up to fight a duel, a diminutive lawyer is persuaded to act as his stand-in.
This comedy probably premiered in 1620 in a production by the King’s Men.
Monday 18 June
10.30: The False One (with John Fletcher) #falseone [go to p.308 of PDF]
Civil war between Caesar and Pompey comes to a bloody conclusion in Egypt, and Cleopatra seizes her chance.
This tragedy probably premiered in 1620 in a production by the King’s Men.
2.30: The Virgin Martyr (with Thomas Dekker) #virginmartyr [go to p. 176 of PDF]
The Emperor Diocletian gives orders that Christianity must be destroyed, but the devout Christian Dorothea holds firm to her faith.
This tragedy premiered in October 1620, in a production by the Revels Company at the Red Bull. It had to be extensively revised to meet the requirements of the censor, probably because some aspects of the plot were uncomfortably reminiscent of the voyage of the Mayflower.
7.00: The Duke of Milan #dukemilan [go to p. 408 of PDF]
The uxorious Duke is determined that no other man shall enjoy his Duchess, and gives orders that, in the event of his death, she is to be murdered.
This tragedy probably premiered in 1621 in a production by the King’s Men. It is Massinger’s earliest surviving solo-written play, though it was probably preceded by the lost The Woman’s Plot, which he also wrote for the King’s Men.
Tuesday 19 June
2.30: The Double Marriage (with John Fletcher) #doublemarriage [go to p. 332 of PDF]
A conspiracy to assassinate a tyrant goes wrong after the plotters let an informer in on the secret. A pirate’s daughter (not called Ethel) falls in love, and a courtier finds out by experience how miserable it is to be a king.
This tragedy probably premiered in early 1622 in a production by the King’s Men.
7.00: The Prophetess (with John Fletcher) #theprophetess [go to p. 333 of PDF]
The Roman Emperor is dead, but his murderer Aper reports him still alive, and tries to rule by proxy. A prophetess has told Diocles that he will become Emperor after killing a boar. Guess what the word ‘aper’ means in Latin…
This tragedy premiered in May 1622 in a production by the King’s Men.
Wednesday 20 June
10.30: The Sea Voyage (with John Fletcher) #seavoyage [go to p. 12 of PDF]
A shipwreck leads to the discovery of a female commonwealth. Meanwhile, some of the castaways consider the delights of cannibalism.
This tragicomedy premiered in June 1622 in a production by the King’s Men.
2.30: The Spanish Curate (with John Fletcher) #spanishcurate [go to p. 73 of PDF]
Don Henrique has no children, but hates the brother who will inherit his estate if he should die childless. Leandro inveigles his way into the house of a lawyer he hopes to cuckold. And expect the unexpected: the Spanish Inquisition!
This comedy premiered in October 1622 in a production by the King’s Men. It received a very early amateur performance in the household of Sir Edward Dering at Surrenden, Kent, probably the first weeks of 1623.
Thursday 21 June
2.30: A Very Woman (with John Fletcher) #verywoman [go to p. 239 of PDF]
A young woman disposes of her unwanted suitor with exceptional incivility, provoking a duel in which the man she wants is nearly killed. Pirates and slavery, drunkenness and melancholy all play their part in bringing the situation to a conclusion…
This tragicomedy probably premiered in 1623 in a production by the King’s Men. The surviving text is a version revised for a revival in 1634.
7.00: The Bondman #bondman [go to p. 12 of PDF]
A slave revolt in Syracuse has unexpected consequences.
This tragicomedy premiered in December 1623 in a production by Lady Elizabeth’s Men at the Cockpit.
Friday 22 June
10.30: The Renegado #renegado [go to p. 124 of PDF]
Escape from the seraglio…
This tragicomedy premiered in April 1624 in a production by Lady Elizabeth’s Men at the Cockpit.
2.30: The Parliament of Love #parllove [go to p. 240 of PDF]
The King of France establishes a court of love where lovers may bring their grievances.
This comedy, which survives only in an incomplete manuscript, premiered in November 1624 in a production by Lady Elizabeth’s Men at the Cockpit. The following month, Massinger’s lost play, The Spanish Viceroy, premiered in a production by the King’s Men.
Saturday 23 June
10.30: The Fair Maid of the Inn (with John Webster, John Ford, and John Fletcher) #fmofinn [go to p. 155 of PDF]
How’s a mother to protect her son from a family vendetta? Maybe having him declared illegitimate will do the trick…
This tragicomedy was originally planned by Webster, Massinger, and Fletcher at some time before August 1625, but was completed with Ford’s assistance after Fletcher died; it eventually premiered in January 1626 in a production by the King’s Men. It is Massinger’s last known collaborative play.
2.30: A New Way to Pay Old Debts #olddebts [go to p. 489 of PDF]
The egregious career of Sir Giles Overreach.
This comedy probably premiered in 1626 in a production by Queen Henrietta’s Men at the Cockpit; Overreach was later famously played by Edmund Kean (below).
Monday 25 June
10.30: The Unnatural Combat #unnatcombat [go to p. 295 of PDF]
Not just a duel between father and son, but rape, incest, and piracy…
This tragedy probably premiered in the summer of 1626 in a production by the King’s Men at the Globe.
2.30: The Roman Actor #romanactor [go to p. 330 of PDF]
What are the responsibilities of an artist in times of tyranny? Rome’s greatest actor faces off against the Emperor Domitian.
This tragedy premiered in October 1626 in a production by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars.
7.00: The Great Duke of Florence #gtdukeflo [go to p. 430 of PDF]
The Great Duke is a childless widower. Will he marry? Who will succeed him?
This comedy premiered in July 1627 in a production by Queen Henrietta’s Men at the Cockpit. A month earlier, Massinger’s lost comedy The Judge had premiered in a production by the King’s Men.
Tuesday 26 June
2.30: The Picture #thepicture [go to p. 121 of PDF]
Mathias must leave his wife Sophia while he attends to his military responsibilities on Christendom’s eastern flank. Fearful of her chastity, he acquires a magic picture that will discolour if she is unfaithful. Some lecherous courtiers are eager to give it some help.
This tragicomedy premiered in June 1629 in a production by the King’s Men. Massinger wrote one or more other plays in the interim between The Great Duke of Florence and The Picture; one was his lost comedy The Honour of Women, which premiered in May 1628, and others may have included The Painter (perhaps a tragedy about the ethics of art), the KIng’s Men tragedy The Forced Lady, and the comedy Antonio and Vallia. After The Picture, he went on to write the lost Minerva’s Sacrifice for the King’s Men.
7.00: The Maid of Honour #maidhonour [go to p. 13 of PDF]
Love and war in Renaissance Italy: can Bertoldo keep his fiancée Camiola?
This tragicomedy premiered in the early months of 1630 in a production by Queen Henrietta’s Men at the Cockpit.
Wednesday 27 June
9.15: LECTURE: Believe As You List and the New World Order
10.30: Believe as You List #bayl
King Antiochus, Rome’s arch-enemy, has been supposed dead for decades. Now he has returned to claim back his throne.
This tragedy, originally written in late 1630 about King Sebastian of Portugal, was delayed by licensing difficulties and eventually premiered in revised form in May 1631 in a production by the King’s Men. The play survives only in a single manuscript, the prompt-book, which has been damaged.
2.30: The Emperor of the East #empeast [go to p. 249 of PDF]
The Emperor Theodosius declares the end of his minority, takes power, takes a wife, and succumbs to the green-eyed monster.
This tragicomedy premiered in Match 1631 in a production by the King’s Men. Massinger’s next play is lost: The Unfortunate Piety, which premiered in June 1631 in a production by the King’s Men. Another of his lost plays which may have been written around this time was a tragedy, The Tyrant.
Thursday 28 June
2.30: The City Madam #citymadam [go to p. 16 of PDF]
The poor relation’s revenge: when Luke Frugal gets his hands on his elder brother’s money and estate, it’s bad news for the women of the household.
This comedy premiered in May 1632 in a production by the King’s Men. Afterwards, Massinger was unable to sell any of his plays for more than a year.
7.00: The Guardian #theguardian [go to p. 124 of PDF]
A young woman needs some help in selecting the right young man.
This comedy premiered in October 1633 in a production by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars. Massinger’s next play may have been a comedy, The City Honest Man, probably for the King’s Men.
Friday 29 June
10.30: The Lovers’ Progress (revised version) #loversprogress [go to p. 87 of PDF]
How can you woo the woman you love if her husband has banned you from his house?
Meanwhile, an heiress sets her rival lovers a task to prove their devotion: whichever one stays away longest gets to marry her.
This tragicomedy was originally written by John Fletcher alone, and probably premiered in December 1623 in a production by the King’s Men. They revived it at the Blackfriars in May 1634, having had the script heavily reworked by Massinger. This revision is the only surviving version of the text.
Massinger went on to write a lost play, The Orator, for the King’s Men, who produced it in January 1635. Other plays he may have written around this time include The Italian Night Masque, described by one member of its cast as ‘the rarest thing … that hath ever been seen on a stage’, and the tragicomedy Philenzo and Hippolyta.
2.30: The Bashful Lover #bashfullover [go to p. 353 of PDF]
The Princess of Mantua clearly loves the cripplingly reticent Milanese gentleman Hortensio, but the law requires her to marry for the good of the state.
This tragicomedy may have premiered in May 1636 in a production by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars; but it was one of the last new plays to be licensed before the long plague epidemic of 1636-7, so the premiere may alternatively have been delayed until the theatres reopened.
It is the last complete surviving play by Massinger, but he continued writing for the theatre until his death in March 1640. There are seven lines extant from The King and the Subject, a King’s Men play of June 1638, which survive, ironically, because King Charles I found them so offensive that the censor, Sir Henry Herbert, copied them into his office-book as an awful warning to his son:
Monies? We’ll raise supplies what ways we please,
And force you to subscribe to blanks, in which
We’ll mulct you as we shall think fit. The Caesars
In Rome were wise, acknowledging no laws
But what their swords did ratify, the wives
And daughters of the senators bowing to
Their wills, as deities.
Among other plays he may have written in this late period are the comedy Fast and Welcome, and the tragicomedies The Noble Choice and The Prisoner. His final plays, both for the King’s Men, were the tragedy Alexius, or The Chaste Lover (September 1639) and The Fair Anchoress of Posilipo (January 1640).
(Please note that the lecture and staged reading planned for Saturday 30 June have been cancelled; a full production of The Roman Actor is planned for the academic year 2018-19.)