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Philip Massinger

(1583—1640) playwright


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(1583–1640).

His father was the trusted agent of the Herbert family, to members of which the playwright addressed various dedications and poems. He became the chief collaborator of J. Fletcher after the withdrawal of Beaumont and shared with Fletcher the writing of 16 plays; with Fletcher and others The Bloody Brother (c.1616). With Dekker he shared the writing of a religious play, The Virgin Martyr (printed 1622), a work uncharacteristic of both men; and with N. Field he wrote The Fatal Dowry (acted 1617–19, printed 1632), in which his high romantic seriousness blends strikingly with Field's satire.

He wrote only two social comedies, A New Way to Pay Old Debts (acted c. 1625–6) and The City Madam (acted 1632). A New Way was the mainstay of the English stage in the late 18th and early 19th cents, with the villainous Sir Giles Overreach providing a vehicle for the talents of a long line of actors including Kemble and Kean. Both plays are inspired by his patrician contempt for the ambitions and affectations of the rising mercantile classes in the city.

His tragedies include The Duke of Milan (printed 1623), a tragedy of jealousy; The Roman Actor (acted 1626, printed 1629), which makes remarkable use of plays‐within‐the play, and in which, in the person of Paris the actor, he was able to show something of his own prolonged difficulties with political censorship; and Believe as You List (acted 1631, printed 1849), perhaps his greatest tragedy, which is a powerful story of a returned nationalist leader failing to get support and being hounded by the imperial authorities.

The remainder of his plays, in the Fletcherian vein of tragi‐comedy, include The Maid of Honour (acted c. 1621–2, printed 1632), The Bondman (acted 1623, published 1624), and The Great Duke of Florence (perf. 1627, printed 1636).

The equable and lucid verse of Massinger's plays, once a big point in their favour, went out of fashion when Webster and Tourneur became better known, and it may well be that a lack of interest in the linguistic texture of his plays is the reason for the present comparative neglect of one of the most serious professional dramatists of the post‐Shakespearian period.

Subjects: Literature.


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