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PHILIP MASSINGER (1583-1640)

This article was originally published in A Short History of the Drama. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1927. pp. 243-4.

PHILIP MASSINGER went to Oxford without taking a degree, and came to London in 1606. He was one of the numerous writers occasionally befriended by the manager Henslowe. It was Fletcher, however, who became his teacher and fellow worker. Though the early editions of the work of Fletcher make no reference to Massinger as collaborator, yet it is now thought that he was joint author in no less than twenty of the so-called Fletcher plays. The two authors seem always to have been on friendly terms; and Massinger, probably at his own request, was buried in Fletcher's grave. Massinger collaborated also with Dekker in The Virgin Martyr, and later with Nathaniel Field in The Fatal Dowry. Sixteen plays survive to which Massinger's name alone was attached; and the titles of twelve lost works are known. Three of the surviving dramas are tragedies, the others either comedies or serious pieces ending with bloodshed. The highly successful comedy, A New Way to Pay Old Debts, kept the stage up to the twentieth century. The plot was borrowed from Middleton.

Massinger was expert in dramatic construction, well able to write effective stage scenes and to portray character. He transplanted Jewish, Spanish, or English stories to Italy, which was the conventional locus of the comedies of his day. His women are frequently licentious and coarse, and he was satiric about Englishmen, picturing them as hard drinkers and gross feeders, all too ready to ape the fashions of the French. Haste in work, and perhaps too little earnestness, prevented him from reaching the highest level. He could not throw his whole weight into the business at hand, but repeated himself, used superficial and hackneyed terms, and abounded in coarseness.


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