Fletcher, Massinger, And Roman Imperial Character (John Fletcher and Philip Massinger) (Critical Essay) - Comparative Drama

Fletcher, Massinger, And Roman Imperial Character (John Fletcher and Philip Massinger) (Critical Essay)

By Comparative Drama

  • Release Date: 2009-09-22
  • Genre: Performing Arts
Fletcher, Massinger, And Roman Imperial Character (John Fletcher and Philip Massinger) (Critical Essay) book review score

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Fletcher, Massinger, And Roman Imperial Character (John Fletcher and Philip Massinger) (Critical Essay) Comparative Drama Book Review Score: ★★★★★ 5/5 stars

In 1678, Thomas Rymer, the infamous debunker of Shakespeare, attacked Rollo, Duke of Normandy, a collaborative tyrant tragedy by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, and probably some others, (1) on what ought to occur to us as a puzzling basis: Rymer located the root of the play's alleged ugliness in its ties to history. Rollo, in recasting the history taken from Herodian of Caracalla's slaughter of his brother Geta, and in merely renaming the personages, (2) offers a prime example of how "particular yesterday truths were imperfect and unproper to illustrate the universal and eternal truths" of tragedy. To Rymer, it was for "History to describe the truth, but Tragedy was to invent things better then the truth." Caracalla's tyrannical fratricide was a "horrid and bloody story" "all which" had been injudiciously "cram'd" into Rollo, "crude and undigested, as in the Original"; Rollo was "indeed a History, and it may well be a History; for never man of common sense could set himself to invent any thing so gross" (3) For Rymer, despite the changes in setting and naming, the Normans of Rollo are essentially reconstructions of the Romans of Herodian. Rymer assumes that such a historical reconstruction is ill-advised, but that he assumes it at all should astonish us from our vantage point today, for it flies in the face of our own assumptions about the dramaturgy of Fletcher and Massinger, and of their contemporaries. What if Rymer is right, and a significant part of the intention behind Rollo is to get at the heart of the "horrid and bloody story" and to do so by analyzing the particular "yesterday truth" of who this murderous Roman emperor really was? My implicit purpose here is to suggest that what Rymer senses about Rollo was much more a common feature of English Renaissance drama than we often think: it was often driven by characterization, and, in historical dramas, by a characterization based on historically informed conceptions of the minds of particular persons. To build up to this suggestion, I will focus on six Roman plays Fletcher and Massinger wrote, as a team and separately: their coauthored plays The False One and The Prophetess; the multiauthored Rollo; Fletcher's Valentinian; and Massinger's Roman Actor and Emperor of the East) My immediate purpose is to study this group of plays closely as they have not been studied before, as a group, one which, like Shakespeare's Roman plays, may be fruitfully examined for the interconnections between its members. But such an examination also has far wider significance, as it yields evidence contrary to our now longstanding critical attitudes about characterization--that is, that there really are no particularized historical analyses, only topical/political valences, (5) and no characters, only representatives of stock types. (6) The flatness of characterization in Fletcher and Massinger being an old commonplace, (7) if we can find something in these plays indicative of an effort toward the historical reconstruction of character, then we must begin to imagine this effort as much more pervasive in the drama than critics have generally held.

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