Jacobean Drama

The Elizabethan age was an age characterized by a spirit of revival, by the concept of order and the rise of symbolism, the conviction that beyond concrete reality there exists a transcendental one, a world of symbols and metaphors. By comparison, the Jacobean age is characterized by a spirit of negation, disorder and chaos, by the fall of symbolism and by pragmatism. At the level of literary work, the rise of symbolism was materialized in the “play metaphor” as compared to the fall of symbolism materialized in”life as a game of chess”. The game of chess requires rules, laws and little imagination. Other features which characterize the Jacobean age are the shift of emphasis from God to Man. Man is on his own, he experiences joy and pain without any guidance and this freedom is also a threat to man’s individuality. Another feature is interest in the evil, in the psychology of sin, satanic vision of life and manifestations of abnormality. There are many similarities to be drawn between Jacobean drama and horror movies. In the 20th century there appeared a new interest in it as it suited the atmosphere of chaos characteristic of this century. Jacobeans use the works of Seneca also used by Shakespeare and the Elizabethans but while the latter inspired themselves from the rules of the three unities: time, space and action, the Jacobeans were mainly influenced by the Senecan mood of negation, destruction and evil. They took from Seneca the concept of “negative teaching” and the mood of abnormality and negation. Representatives John Marston His best known plays are Antonio’s Revenge and The Malcontent. Antonio’s Revenge is centered on the idea of revenge and on the psychological side of characters being the Jacobean counterpart of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, imbued with scenes of crimes and destructions. The moral severe criticism coupled with an indeterminacy of genre marks much of Marston’s work. His plays deal, in a dark manner, with tragic situations, intrigues, feigned madness and above all revenge in the upper-class Italy. His moral vision is reflected in the equally discordant rhetoric; he inspired himself from the Senecan stoicism, to which he added his personal despair through long, exhausting lines and discontinuous, cumulative lists of words. Marston exposes moral corruption and restless pursuit for political and social justice. He often tries to make his moral point by exaggerating the disorders of an evil age, until he transforms his characters into grotesque figures. Thomas Heywood His most important play is A Woman Killed with Kindness .The plot is centered around a woman, who performs adultery. Her husband decides to punish her with kindness, behaving exactly as he had done before. He is very kind to her and when she receives kindness she can’t bear this and dies. The play deals with the clinical descriptions of her death, caused by the fact that she wasn’t able to bear her husband’s behaviour. This play makes the most of a sensational fictional situation; it opens with a wedding between a supposedly ideal woman and a man proud of his social status and personal happiness. But, this rapidly reverses into deception and destruction. The wife finds herself involved


but Giovanni kills Annabella’s husband and kills himself in order to avenge his parents’ act. inherited moral code. both male and female. while actually tackling problems of contemporary England. It is a revenge play without revenge and with controlled murderous impulses. In other plays (The Fair Maid of the West. as Italy was seen as the “home of vice”. are resourceful and courageous in fighting for their goals. Moral licence and ambition drive both Livia and Bianca into enjoying the benefits of sexual and financial power in a predominantly patriarchal society. individual gestures of self-assertion being opposed to the values of an old. as various theatrical tricks prove fatal to actors and observers alike. Ford’s leading characters. Livia seduces her niece into an adulterous relationship with her uncle and then helps the Duke of Florence in his seduction of the married Bianca (the game of chess with its references to black kings. contrived by men or by other women acting as agents of male power. However both of them are to be punished during the performance of the Duke’s marriage masque. His plays combine a mixture of romantic fatalism with a clinical exploration of manifestations of evil. It is women who are first corrupted and then facing the consequences of their corruption until being consumed by it. The stage is divided into two parts. The two interwoven plots often show women confined and locked. lost pawns and mating have a symbolical duality. A Girl worth Gold) women have an extraordinary power of mind. Her remorseful death brings her ultimate forgiveness. John Ford His plays combine an interest in the psychology of illicit love with a taste for the melodramatic incident and with scenes of outmost violence. actually two parallel situations: in one room there are people playing chess and in the other there is an act of seduction. define themselves by undermining received or traditional values and norms. The setting of his plays is Italy. when it seeks eccentric causes for common situations or when it uses human emotions fore the simple purpose of making our flesh creep. Ford took to the extreme the concept of negative teaching and he was even accused by literary critics for being a deliberate immoralist and even a decadent writer. shocking situations without any 2 . They construct a private morality out of feeling. brother and sister. Giovanni does not want to hide his affection. It is from this play that the image of life as a game of chess is taken. Annabella’s parents force her to get married in order to save their daughter’s integrity. ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore is centered on an incestuous love affair between Giovanni and Annabella. Thomas Middleton His most important play is Women Beware Women. Giovanni and Annabella insist on the rightness of their passion regardless of the restrictions of the church. Giovanny breaks a great social taboo and takes his sin to the extreme when he parades with his sister’s heart fixed to his dagger. Drama becomes decadent when it exploits the moment without any probing of cause or consequence.in adultery and the husband kindly banishes her from his house and their children. permanently damned a and condemned one. His characters seem to move in a world preordained by damnation. but he openly declares his love and he even takes pride in displaying his feelings. family and society. a temporary paradise.

her passion surpasses the human limits. either because they expected to inherit her fortune. his plays are episodic. but the Duke in a fit of rage kills Vittoria’s husband. her children and himself. The Duchess is gradually worn down to mental degradation and becomes the single pattern of virtue in a dark.motivation. Thus she is finally drawn mad and sent to an asylum as a lunatic. Webster transforms his play into an indictment of the English Royal Court. Webster extends his criticism on the whole society. John Webster He is the best of Jacobean dramatists because he knows how to combine negative teaching with great poetry and with high skill in character drawing. Just like Dr Faustus greeding after infinite knowledge. Ford points to a certain reality characterized by immoral. but his plays have morality attached to them and present criticism of the contemporary society. Unlike Ford who described abnormal situations only to impress the readers. She has often been compared to Marlowe’s characters. her guilt is far less. The widower Duchess commits what is seen by her villainous brothers as an unforgivable sin against dignity. Ferdinand. male world. immoral. they have good individual moments. just for surprising and terrifying readers. effects and themes from his contemporary English dramatists and a modern dramatic poet placing his borrowings in strikingly innovative and distinctive contexts. but they are not linked in a concrete manner. he was a borrower of devices. She manages to keep her identity in front of all these horrors and the end comes as liberation for her. destructive elements. dominated by corruption and hypocrisy. bloody and recent occurrences in the courts of Italy. The Duchess of Malfi deals with a young duchess who is forbidden by her brothers to get remarried. Vittoria is the most achieved character. by marrying her steward. because she is motivated by ambition and passion far beyond the ordinary ones. Vittoria Corombona is involved in an adulterous adventure with the Duke of Bracciano. this play is centered on the theme of the Machiavellian/ Faustian character and on the idea that in moments of ultimate crises even evil characters can redeem themselves by a stoic dignity. but he frequently exaggerated them shocking the readers. as characters reveal themselves in fragmentary confessions and conflict with other characters. The scene when Vittoria is brought to the Royal Court to be judged for her adultery shows Webster as a master of portrayal as Vittoria manages to keep her dignity and turns into a victim. The weak point of his creation consists in his little control of the dramatic structure. chaotic. either because of an incestuous passion. Although his tragedies are based on true. Duke of Calabria. Still they allow the author to exploit with great poetic effect the terror or the pathos of individual moments. She does that in secret and her brothers punish her with the help of Bosola: he is the one who sends her a dead-man hand and some wax puppets portraying her husband and children. The play is concerned with paradoxes and antitheses and with dissimulation of hypocrisy. A satire of court life. As compared to the other representatives of the Court. In The White Devil the characters have Italian names. 3 . and the Cardinal viciously outline a plan of psychological torture. He is the greatest representative of this period because he did not indulge in creating sensations for their own sake.

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