John Ford.

The broken heart online

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Professor of EngUsh Literature hi Hamilton College



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Copyright, 1894,






The most patient and persistent search into the
lives of the old English dramatists is often but
meagerly rewarded. Wide and perplexing gaps must
be filled by the imagination, or, as it were, a fitting
garment of fancy fashioned for the bare and broken
skeleton of fact. Such is the case with John Ford.
The dramatist was the second son of Thomas Ford,
his mother being the sister of John Popham, Lord
Chief Justice under James I. The Ford family was
one of good standing in Devonshire, where, at Ilsing-
ton, John Ford was baptized on the 17th of April,
1586. What schooling he had was obtained in or
near his native town. If he went to either of the great
universities he could hardly have remained more than
one or two terms, for he was enrolled as a member of
the Middle Temple in November, 1602. Popham had
been appointed treasurer of this organization twenty
years earlier, and it has been conjectured that he
took an active interest in his young relative. A cousin
and namesake had preceded the poet in London as a
member of Gray's Inn, and between the two there
appears to have existed an intimacy and affection
almost brotherly. Though he retained his connection


with the Temple, there is no evidence to show that
Ford was ever called to the bar. In addressing his
patrons, several of whom were men of rank, he not
infrequently alludes to his determination not to allow
his ambitions as a dramatist to interfere with his
regular occupation. From this it is seen that he did
not depend upon play-writing for support. It has
been inferred that he looked after the legal interests
of large landed estates, doubtless acting as advisor in
matters requiring a knowledge of jurisprudence. A
line in the prologue to the comedy, Fancies Chaste
and Noble, has led some to conclude that at the time
the play was produced the author was probably travel-
ing upon the Continent, but there is no proof that he
ever crossed the Channel. In regard to his retirement
from London, and his death, nothing very satisfactory
can be stated. It is commonly affirmed that he with-
drew from the Temple in 1639, and that he then
sought his native town, having amassed a considerable
fortune, and thinking to pass the remainder of his life
in quiet. According to one tradition he married and
had children, but this is hardly to be credited. The
troublous times which followed his withdrawal from
the active world obscured much that otherwise would
be clear. It is quite possible that Ford was in his
grave before the oncoming of these evil days, but if
he was not, the stress of events was sufficient to veil
the close of his life, like that of many another, in

Of the dramatist's personality almost nothing is
known. Because his fancy led him to the choice of
somber themes it has been assumed that he was of


a melancholy temperament. This idea has been
strengthened by the often quoted couplet from a con-
temporary rhymer :

" Deep in a dump John Ford was alone got (gat),
With folded arms and melancholy hat."

This, however, may have been intended simply as
a caricature. The idea that an early love-affair, re-
ferred to in Fames Memorial, may have influenced
him deeply, and induced a settled moodiness, may,
with safety, be dismissed. Poets, and especially
young poets, have always been prone to prate of
their imaginary blighted hopes, and Ford's " flint-
hearted Lycia " probably caused him little more than
a passing pang, if, in fact, she ever actually existed.
But that Ford's mind was of a serious cast his curious
little manual for every day conduct. The Line of Life,
abundantly proves. He appears to have been upon
reasonably good terms with his fellow playwrights
and poets, as several commendatory verses upon his
plays by such men as Crashaw and Shirley are extant,
and Ford himself was one of those who burst into
mourning song at the death of Ben Jonson, whom he
saw fit to style " the best of English poets."



Although Ford may be said to represent the
period of dramatic decline, it is indeed a splendid
decadence that can boast of such plays as Massinger's
Maid of Honour, Shirley's Traitor, and Ford's Broken
Heart. Compared with the best work of the Restora-


tion playwrights these dramas are of the very highest
order. It is only when we contrast them with the
plays of the master dramatist of all time that their
true middle position is established.

So far as we know, Ford first challenged public
recognition as a poet in 1606 with his Fames Memo-
rial, an elegiac poem of considerable length upon
Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire. Why the young
poet singled out this nobleman for the subject of his
ingenious stanzas we cannot say. Blount, though
a man of much prominence, had died in disgrace, and
it does not appear that Ford was acquainted either
with him or with the countess to whom he dedicated
his elegiacs in a hopelessly involved acrostic, " the
worst," according to Gifford, " that ever passed the
press." There is nothing whatever here to presage
the future dramatist. A command of measure and
of poetic phraseology indicates, however, that the
author had served his apprenticeship. According to
the dramatist's own statement his play. The Lover s
Melancholy, published in 1629, was " the first of his
that ever courted reader." But during the twenty-
three years that intervened between the appearance
of Fame's Memorial and this piece, he certainly had
been heard upon the stage, if not read in the closet.
Indeed it is highly probable that his name, though
in conjunction with others, had been seen upon the
title-page of dramas now lost. There are extant
seven plays entirely of Ford's composition, and an
additional two in which he assisted, Decker being his
collaborator in one instance, and Rowley and Decker
in the other. At least four more are entered under


his name upon the Stationer's books, and the titles of
three others in which he had a hand have been pre-
served. Assuming that these dramas constitute the
entire bulk of his labors (which is not probable), we
have, by which to judge him, something more than
half of his actual production. On the theor}', perhaps,
of the survival of the fittest, it has been argued that the
best of his work has come down to us, and it may be
that this is a safe presumption.

Ford's masterpiece is unquestionably The Broken
Heart, and whether it merits the somewhat extrava-
gant praise bestowed upon it by Charles Lamb, it
certainly sets before us in a vivid way some of the
most powerful human emotions : love, sorrow, hatred,
and despair. Fewer of the dramatist's prevailing faults
are here evident than in any other of his plays save
Perkin Warbeck. He may not rise to such heights in
single scenes, or in detached passages, as elsewhere,
but in general effect he is more harmonious and pow-
erful. " Mock pathos " is one of the most serious
charges that has been urged against Ford, and though
it be granted that in some instances the tenderness
may seem strained, and the agony prolonged with melo-
dramatic intent, these objections do not hold against
the portrayal of the sorrows of Calantha and the
woes of Penthea. In the prologue the dramatist is
careful to state that the story

" When Time's youth
Wanted some riper years, was known a Truth."

It is, however, certain that he did not draw the tale
from historical sources. Prolific as Sparta may have


been in tragedies, it never was the scene of this one.
If, as Ford says, the incidents were not of his own in-
vention, he doubtless found them, or the suggestions
from which the plot grew, in the now lost romance
of some Spanish or Italian writer. What seems not
improbable is that, like many another author since, he
sought to add to the effect of his fiction by boldly
claiming a basis of fact for it. At least he merits high
praise for the elaboration, the skillful fitting together,
the general working out of the whole. He expended
much more pains upon details than was common with
him. The subordinate characters are more fully and
carefully developed, and the scenes follow one another
with a more natural sequence. Then, too, the mo-
ments of passion, of the poet's fine frenzy, are more
frequent than in other plays. There is far less that is
evidently studied. Ford is not a poet who often gives
us the impression of having struck off a scene or an
act at white heat. We are too likely to feel that his
is the work of the cunning craftsman who has weighed
and calculated the effect of word, line, and passage.
But this is not so in the case of The Broketi Heart.
Here there is something more than the most perfect
artifice, that fine touch of the emotions of which we are
so frequently and so thrillingly conscious in reading
Shakespere, and which we too often just miss in

Ford's other tragedies, ' Tis Pity She's a Whore and
Loves Sacrifice, are not likely to attract the casual
reader, but to the student of the dramatist both are
interesting. Unfortunate in title and revolting in
subject as is the first-named play, it is not fair to


Ford for us to allow our natural prejudice against it
to obscure its manifest merits. The drama unques-
tionably contains some of the author's strongest writ-
ing. The story, taken, like that of Love's Sacrifice,
from an Italian source, tells of a brother and sister
who conceive a mad passion for one another, and
abandon themselves with what Jeffrey calls " a splen-
did and perverted devotedness " to their unlawful
loves. Ultimately the sister is forced into marriage,
and the husband discovers his wife's guilt. What
could arise from so horrible a situation save despair,
frenzy, and murder?— a fitting close for so dreadful
a chapter of events. The question likely to suggest
itself after the perusal of this awful tragedy is — should
such a succession of scenes be made the subject of
the playwright's art ? It has been said, " better no
dramas at all than those with such disgusting themes ! "
an opinion with which one is inclined to concur. Yet
it must be granted that Ford has managed the plot
both with dexterity and dignity, considering the
delicate matter he has in hand. While we turn from
Giovanni with repulsion and loathing, toward the un-
fortunate and distracted Arabella our sympathies are
unconsciously drawn. In the scene where the sister
meets death from her brother's dagger the dramatist
reaches the climax of tragic power. No passage from
any of the old playwrights, save certain memorable
ones in Shakespere and two or three in Webster,
conveys more of what might be termed the inevitable-
ness of doom than this.

Few graces save those of expression are discover-
able in Love's Sacrifice, \s\\\\t all of Ford's most prom-


inent faults are evident. On Bianca, the most con-
spicuous female character, not a little false sentiment
is wasted. Though not in act a traitor to her husband,
she certainly is so at heart, yet toward the close of the
play she is spoken of as living " a life of innocence
and beauty." The whole situation is inconceivable.
A woman, at first represented as deeply attached to
her husband, suddenly and without apparent reason
is seized with a violent infatuation for another. The
other, up to this moment fervent and ardent in the
protestations of his passion, is all at once as " chaste
as ice." The husband's jealousy is basely aroused,
and a sanguinary sequel is the result. Not only is the
main thread of this play exceedingly ill-woven, but
the tangled underplot, in which Ford is rarely fortu-
nate, is here more than usually lacking in refinement.
Perkin Warbeck, Ford's one history or chronicle
play, stands easily second to T/ie Broken Heart in
clearness of outline, carefulness of detail, and com-
pleteness of general conception. It is one of the few
dramas of its class that will bear comparison with
Shakespere's matchless transcripts from the actual
life of the past. The hero is the best male character
we have from Ford's pen. Whatever the young pre-
tender to the English throne may really have been,
we behold, in the dramatist's portrait of him, a noble
youth of single purpose, who believes implicity in his
right to the crown, and who goes to his death main-
taining that right. There is no inconsistency in the
poet's picture. Warbeck enlists our sympathies at the
outset, and our interest in him never flags through all
his vicissitudes until he gives up his life on Tower Hill.


We are not surprised that the charming Lady Kath-
erine listens so readily to his avowals, for in him
appear to be united the gallantry of the lover, the
dignity of the rightful sovereign, and the tenderness
and valiant manliness of the true gentleman. Here,
too, as in Ford's masterpiece, the lesser characters are
well defined — the just and genial Huntley, the leal
and brave Daryell, the vacillating Scotch monarch,
all, in fact, show the same painstaking execution.
This is a canvas whose minor, as well as whose major,
figures will bear the closest scrutiny.

Of Ford's three romantic comedies The Lover's
Melancholy is clearly the best ; and while the play is
by no means a strong one, there is nmch about it
that is singularly attractive. In spite of the slight
reminiscences it betrays of Beaumont and Fletcher's
Fhilaster, there is but little exaggeration in the state-
ment that here Ford has met and equaled his brother
dramatists in their own chosen field. It would seem
as though the poet had deliberately, at times, retarded
the rapid development of the plot in order to beautify
the story. Nowhere else does Ford give a hint of
what he might have accomplished had he attempted
narrative verse writing. His apparently keen sense
of the romantic surprises us ; not so, however, his
touches of pathos, though these are of a far softer
and less harrowing nature than in 77^1? Broken Heart.
Insanity was something that most of the Elizabethans
from Kyd downward were fond of attempting to por-
tray, and sorry work many of them made of it.
Ford can hardly be said to approach Shakespere in
this particular, or possibly even Webster in that


notable scene in The White Devil (Cornelia at the

bier of Marcello), but Penthea demented is not so

far removed from Ophelia, and old Meleander in The

Lover s Melancholy, with mind unbalanced through

grief at the supposed death of his favorite daughter, is

vastly above the ordinary stage madman. The chief

male characters in this play lack stamina, and are

little better than lackadaisical, moon-struck lovers.

Ford's genius was not of the masculine type like that

of Massinger. Except Perkin Warbeck, and a few

others, his men are either coxcombs or weaklings,

somehow wanting in strong moral force. It is in the

delineation of the female character that we find Ford

in his element. His knowledge of the motives, the

springs of action, that move the feminine heart was

both deep and intimate. Among the most attractive

of his women are the sisters Eroclea and Cleophila in

The Lover's Melancholy. Neither, strictly speaking,

is of the heroic mold, but both are thoroughly

natural and charming. Eroclea, in spite of her

youth's disguise and her assumed mannishness, is

naive and fascinating, with a dash of real bravery,

while Cleophila's devotion to her insane father is

especially touching. A different quality of devotion,

and one that excites our admiration more keenly, is

that shown by Katherine Gordon to her husband,

Perkin Warbeck. Whatever the world may say of

him, her belief in his truth and honor is not to be

shaken, and he goes to his execution strengthened by

her loving faith. Penthea's patient endurance and

Calantha's sublime stoicism combine to make " a

monument of sorrows " that has few counterparts on


the pages of tragedy. Arabella, despite the terrible
character of her guilt, moves to pity, and even in
Bianca, Ford's one signal failure in his portrayal of
femineity, when we have once accepted the impossible
change that comes over her, there is something finely
daring. It is a misguided heroism which leads her to
tell her husband to his face that, while she is true to
him, she holds Fernando infinitely above him as a
man, but it is heroism nevertheless. To the gallery
of Ford's heroines two others might be added, Spinella
from T/ie Lady's Trial and Castamela from Fancies
Chaste and N'oble, characters whose purity and charm
serve to relieve the dullness of two poorly con-
structed and otherwise objectionable plays. Ford's
conception of woman was upon a vastly higher plane
than the view taken of her by his contemporaries, and
it is only in the pages of Shakespere that we meet
with braver, more refined, and loftier types.

Gifford's characterization of Ford's humor as "a
dull medley of extravagance and impurity " is not
inapt. Surely poet never wrote who lacked to a
greater degree the true sense of the humorous, yet
who persisted in introducing characters Intended to
be comic. In some of the plays the alleged comical-
ities are not offensive, as in the case of the rival
lovers, Guzman and Fulgoso, in The Lady's T7-ial.
Their fun consists in strutting both with legs and
tongue, and in berating one another most roundly
when they can find no one else to abuse. Too often,
however, inoffensive is a term that cannot be ap-
plied to Ford's intended pleasantries. The dramatist
who could end the death agonies of several o/ his most


prominent characters with a long drawn out " O — O "
must have been quite as sadly lacking in the sense of
the ridiculous as the noted seer and singer who wrote :

" Only the ass with motion dull
Upon the pivot of his skull

Turned round his long left ear."

Ford's diction is uniformly felicitous. Unless it be
Beaumont and Fletcher, no dramatists of his day
have a greater grace of phrase. He caught from
Shakespere, perhaps, the art of vivifying a whole
paragraph by a single daring metaphor or verbal
transposition, erring sometimes in taste, to be sure,
but generally effecting his end. Even into the
mouths of some of his most senseless comic char-
acters he occasionally puts such happy turns of
expression as these :

" Her fair eyes
Like to a pair of pointed beams drawn from
The sun's most glorious orb, do dazzle sight.
Audacious to gaze there : then over those
A several bow of jet securely twines
In semicircles; under them two banks
Of roses red and white, divided by
An arch of polished ivory, surveying
A temple from whence oracles proceed
More gracious than Apollo's, more desired
Than amorous songs of poets, softly tuned."

Ford's rendering of the classical legend of the
musical strife between the nightingale and the musi-
cian, introduced into the first act of The Lover s
Melancholy, will further serve to illustrate the rare


harmony and beauty of diction of which he was
capable :

" One morning early
This accident encountered me : I heard
The sweetest and most ravishing contention
That art and nature ever were at strife in.

• • • • «

A sound of music touched my ears, or rather
Indeed entranced my soul. As I stole nearer,
Invited by the melody, I saw
This youth, this fair-faced youth, upon his lute,
With strains of strange variety and harmony,
Proclaiming, as it seemed, so bold a challenge
To the clear choristers of the woods, the birds.
That, as they flocked about him, all stood silent.

... A nightingale.
Nature's best-skilled musician, undertakes
The challenge, and for every several strain
The well-shaped youth could touch, she sung her own :
He could not run division with more art
Upon his quaking instrument than she,
The nightingale, did with her various notes
Reply to : ...

Some time thus spent, the young man grew at last
Into a pretty anger, that a bird.
Whom art had never taught clefs, moods, or notes,
Should vie with him for mastery, whose study
Had busied many hours to perfect practice :
To end the controversy, in a rapture
Upon his instrument he plays so swiftly,
So many voluntaries and so quick.
That there was curiosity and cunning,
Concord in discord, lines of differing method
Meeting in one full center of delight.

. . . The bird, ordained to be
Music's first martyr, strove to imitate
These several sounds ; which when her warbling throat
Failed in, for grief down dropped she on his lute,
And brake her heart. It was the quaintest sadness,


To see the conqueror upon her hearse
To weep a funeral elegy of tears ;

He looked upon the trophies of his art.
Then sighed, then wiped his eyes, then sighed and cried,
' Alas, poor creature ! I will soon revenge
This cruelty upon the author of it ;
Henceforth this lute, guilty of innocent blood,
Shall never more betray a harmless peace
To an untimely end : ' and in that sorrow,
And as he was pashing it against a tree,
I suddenly slept in."

Though Whistanley states that Ford's plays were
profitable to the managers of the theaters where they
were produced, it is difficult to believe that he was
ever a popular writer. In the garden of his fancy he
cultivated too many mournful blossoms, the rue, the
night-shade, and the

" Amaranth, flower of Death."

The ways of sorrow he made his own, and the
children of grief were his familiars. Where the forest
shades of woe were deepest the sound of that delicate
instrument, his lute, was natural, plaintive, melan-
choly, pity-evoking, but in the mirthful sunlight it
was too often strained and out of tune. We can but
think of Ford's muse as of one sad-eyed and lorn,

" Like Niobe, all tears."

Touching at certain points, now Shakespere, now
Marston, now Beaumont and Fletcher, and most
resembling the gloom-enshrouded Webster in the
bent of his genius, he yet stands apart from them all,
an isolated figure, wrapped in the mantle of his darkly
contemplative temperament.

Thou cheat'st us, Ford : mak'st one seem two by art :
What is Love's Sacrifice but the Broken Heart ?

Richard Crashaw.


Our scene is Sparta. He whose best of art
Hath drawn this piece calls it The Broken Heart.
The title lends no expectation here
Of apish laughter, or of some lame jeer
At place or persons ; no pretended clause 5

Of jests fit for a brothel court's applause
From vulgar admiration : such low songs,
Tuned to unchaste ears, suit not modest tongues.
The virgin-sisters then deserved fresh bays
When innocence and sweetness crowned their lays ;
Then vices gasped for breath, whose whole com-
merce II
Was whipped to exile by unblushing verse.
This law we keep in our presentment now.
Not to take freedom more than we allow ;
What may be here thought Fiction, when Time's youth
Wanted some riper years, was known a Truth : 16
In which, if words have clothed the su'oject right.
You may partake a pity with delight.


Amyclas, King of Laconia.

Ithocles, a J"avounte.

Orgilus, Son of Crotolon.

Bassanes, a jealous Nobleman.

Armostes, a Counsellor of State.

Crotolon, another Counsellor.

Prophilus, Friend of Ithocles.

Nearchus, Prince of Argos.

Tecnicus, a Philosopher.

Hemophil, ) ^

^ J- Courtiers.

Groneas, )

Amelus, Friend of Nearchus.

Phulas, Servant to Bassanes.

Lords, Courtiers, Officers, Attendants, &c.

Calantha, Daughter of Amyclas.

Penthea, Sister of Ithocles and Wife of Bassanes.

Euphranea, Daughter of Crotolon, a Maid of honour.

Christalla, ) ,, . ,

^ }■ Maids of honour.

Philema, )

Grausis, Overseer of Penthea.

SCENE— Sparta.


Scene I. A Room in Crotolon's House.
Enter Crotolon and Orgilus.

Crot. Dally not further ; I will know the reason
That speeds thee to this journey.

Org. Reason ! good sir,

I can yield many.

Crot. Give me one, a good one ;

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Online LibraryJohn FordThe broken heart → online text (page 1 of 8)