John Ford
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474 ] John Ford1 Among other possible classifications, we might divide the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists into those who would have been great even had Shakespeare never lived, those who are positive enough to have brought some positive contribution after Shakespeare, and those whose merit consists merely in having exploited successfully a few Shakespearian devices or echoed here and there the Shakespearian verse. In the first class would fall Marlowe, Jonson and Chapman; in the second, Middleton, Webster and Tourneur; in the third, Beaumont and Fletcher and Shirley as tragedian. This kind of division could not support very close question, especially in its distinction between the second and the third class, but it is of some use at the beginning, in helping us to assign a provisional place to John Ford.2 The standard set by Shakespeare is that of a continuous development from first to last: a development in which the choice both of theme and of dramatic and verse technique in each play seems to be determined increasingly by Shakespeare’s state of feeling, by the particular stage of his emotional maturity at the time. What is “the whole man” is not simply his greatest or maturest achievement, but the whole pattern formed by the sequence of plays; so that we may say confidently that the full meaning of any one of his plays is not in itself alone, but in that play in the order in which it was written, in its relation to all of Shakespeare’s other plays, earlier and later: we must know all of Shakespeare’s work in order to know any of it. No other dramatist of the time approaches anywhere near to this perfection of pattern, of pattern superficial and profound; but the measure in which dramatists and poets approximate to this unity in a lifetime’s work, is one of the measures of major poetry and drama.3 We feel a similar interest , in less degree, in the work of Jonson and Chapman, and certainly in the unfinished work of Marlowe; in less degree still, the interest is in the work of Webster, baffling as the chronological order of Webster’s plays makes it.4 Even without an œuvre, some dramatists can effect a satisfying unity and significance of pattern in single plays, a unity springing from the depth and coherence of a number of emotions and feelings, and not only from dramatic and poetic skill. The Maid’s Tragedy, or A King and No King, is better constructed, and has as many poetic lines, as The Changeling, but is far [ 475 John Ford inferior in the degree of inner necessity in the feeling: something more profound and more complex than what is ordinarily called “sincerity.”5† It is significant that the first of Ford’s important plays to be performed, so far as we have knowledge, is one which depends very patently upon some of the devices, and still more upon the feeling tone, of Shakespeare’s last period. The Lover’s Melancholy was licensed for the stage in 1628;6 it could hardly have been written but for Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, Pericles and The Tempest. Except for the comic passages, which are, as in all of Ford’s plays, quite atrocious, it is a pleasant, dreamlike play without violence or exaggeration.Asinotherofhisplays,thereareverbalechoesofShakespeare numerousenough;butwhatismoreinterestingistheuseoftheRecognition Scene, so important in Shakespeare’s later plays, to the significance of which as a Shakespeare symbol Mr. Wilson Knight has drawn attention.7 In Shakespeare’s plays this is primarily the recognition of a long-lost daughter , secondarily of a wife; and we can hardly read the later plays attentively without admitting that the father-and-daughter theme was one of very deep symbolic value to him in his last productive years: Perdita, Marina and Miranda share some beauty of which his earlier heroines do not possess the secret. Now Ford is struck by the dramatic and poetic effectiveness of the situation, and uses it on a level hardly higher than that of the device of twins in comedy; so in The Lover’s Melancholy he introduces two such scenes, one the recognition of Eroclea in the guise of Parthenophil by her lover Palador, the second her recognition (accompanied, as in Pericles, by soft music) by her aged father Meleander.8 Both of these scenes are very well carried out, and in the first we have a passage in that slow solemn rhythm which is Ford’s distinct contribution to the...