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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
John Ford (1586–c. 1640)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE DRAMATIC genius of the English Renaissance had well-nigh spent itself when the somber creations of John Ford appeared upon a stage over which the clouds of the Civil War were fast gathering. Little is known of this dramatist, who represents the decadent period which followed the age of Shakespeare. He was born in 1586; entered the Middle Temple in 1602; after 1641 he is swallowed up in the turmoil of the time. The few scattered records of his life add nothing to, nor do they take anything from, the John Ford of ‘The Broken Heart’ and ‘Perkin Warbeck.’  1
  Coming after Shakespeare, Webster, Beaumont, Fletcher, and Jonson, Ford’s work naturally owes much to these masters. In stage presentation, in themes, and in types of character, he follows the established traditions of the Elizabethan drama. Like many of his predecessors, his main theme was romantic love, but Ford was predisposed to abnormal or exaggerated forms of human experience. He breaks through the moral order, in his love for the eccentricities of passion. He weaves the spell of his genius around strange sins.  2
  His dramas are singularly uneven. ‘The Lady’s Trial,’ ‘The Fancies Chaste and Noble,’ ‘The Sun’s Darling’ (written in conjunction with Dekker), are scarce worthy of passing notice. They leave but a pale impression upon the mind. In ‘Perkin Warbeck,’ the one historical play of Ford, he exhibits his mastery over straightforward, sinewy verse. ‘The Witch of Edmonton,’ of which he wrote only a part, gives a signal example of his modern style and spirit. In ‘The Lover’s Melancholy’ a quiet beauty rests upon the famous scene in which Parthenophil strives with the nightingale for the prize of music. The three plays which reveal Ford as an original and extraordinary genius are ‘The Broken Heart,’ ‘Love’s Sacrifice,’ and ‘’Tis Pity She’s a Whore.’  3
  The problems of despair which Ford propounds but never solves, form the plot of ‘The Broken Heart’; Calantha, Ithocles, Penthea, Orgilus, are wan types of the passive suffering which numbs the soul to death. Charles Lamb has eulogized the final scene of this drama. To other critics, the self-possession of Calantha savors of the theatrical. The scene between Penthea and her brother Ithocles, who had forced her to marry Bassanes though she loved Orgilus, is replete with the tenderness, the sense of subdued anguish, of which Ford was a master. His love of “passion at war with circumstance” again finds expression in ‘Love’s Sacrifice,’ a drama of moral confusions. In ‘’Tis Pity,’ with its story of incest, Ford’s moral confusion and imaginative power are both at their greatest.  4
  In his plays on the abnormalities of romantic love, the moral contraction heightens the intensity of passion, which in his conception of it has always its ancient significance of suffering. His comic scenes are contemptible. He is at his greatest when dealing with the subtleties of the human heart. Through him we enter into the darker zones of the soul; we apprehend its remoter sufferings. Confusion of spiritual vision, blended with the tyranny of passion, produce his greatest scenes. His are the tragedies of “unfulfilled desire.”  5
  The verse of Ford at its best has a complex and beautiful melody. There is a subtle music in his lines which haunts the memory.
  “Parthenophil is lost, and I would see him;
For he is like to something I remember,
A great while since, a long, long time ago.”
  6
 
 
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