John Ford

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On this date playwright John Ford (1586 – 1640) was baptized.

In Notebook 9 Frye makes some telling comparisons between Shakespeare and the Jacobean playwrights, particularly Ford, Webster, Tourneur, and Dekker.

As compared with his contemporaries, Shakespeare’s sense of tragedy is much more firmly rooted in history, and he lacks the moralizing tendency that makes Tourneur call his characters by such names as Lussurioso & Ambitioso.  Hence he does illustrate my point about tragedy being closer to a reality-principle than comedy.  Outside him, I’m not sure that that’s true: there’s just as much fantasy & manipulation in Tourneur or Ford as there is in Shakespearean romance.  Shakespeare’s tragic vision also has something to do with his adherence to popular theatre: he has a public sense of dramatic action, not a ruminative psychologizing one…

In Ford’s TPSW [‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore] an amiable & harmless old woman who has connived at the heroine’s incest first of all has her eyes put out, & then, as an applauded act of justice, is led out to be burned at the stake.  That really is brutality.  And Hamlet’s excuse about Claudius’ murder until he’s sure to go to hell is nothing compared to what the viallains in Tourneur & Webster do.  We expect a very high standard of sensitivity from Shakespeare, even the senstivity of readers who on the whole don’t live in tragic worlds.  We understand, but don’t realize, Dekker’s remark: “There is a hell named in our creed, and a heaven, and the hell comes before; if we look not into the first, we shall never live in the last.”  Several tragic dramatists, especially Webster, pick up M’s [Marlowe’s] remark in Faustus…

A manipulated tragic situation is often one where providence or Heaven or some power overreaching Nature takes a hand in the action, & functions as the eiron.  Many dramatists put up “Danger: God at Work” signs: there’s a good example in Ford’s TPSW [‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore].  (CW 20, 256-7)

A trailer for a recent San Fransisco production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore after the jump.

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