Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Spring 1995 v35 n2 p361(19)

Giving and taking in Massinger's tragicomedies. Turner, Robert Y.

Abstract: Philip Massinger's tragicomic plays contain the recurring theme of commercial exchange to denote the transfer of responsibilities and obligations from the benefactor to the receiver. These exchanges come in the form of debts and payments, purchases, merchandise and gifts. Massinger was primarily concerned with the expected upright behavior of patrons and clients and in portraying the corrupt values of moneylenders and merchants.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1995 Rice University

In Philip Massinger's The Renegado (1624), a romantic tragicomedy about impetuous love, the rescue of a captive maiden, and hairbreadth escapes, the hero begins the play disguised as a shopkeeper. When a Tunisian princess first sees and falls in love with him, she is visiting his shop with a suitor, Mustapha, the Basha of Aleppo. This conjunction of the everyday life of commerce with the exotic world of romance may surprise readers familiar with the proprieties of genre in the early seventeenth century when shopkeepers appeared mainly in satiric comedies, and romantic lovers mainly in tragicomedies and tragedies. For the most part, Massinger did observe this decorum, writing about money matters in two comedies, A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1621-1625) and The City Madam (1632), and about romantic love mainly in eight extant tragicomedies (not to mention his collaborations with John Fletcher). Yet the episode of the shopkeeper in The Renegado is not unusual in Massinger's work. Most of his tragicomedies disclose a fundamental concern for economic exchange, whether it is buying and selling, debts and payments, or gifts and obligations. This interest imparts a special coloring to his representations of domestic and public life, a coloring not much noticed by commentators.(1) Mathias, the protagonist of The Picture (ca. 1629), a tragicomedy about testing the fidelity of lovers, must leave his home and beautiful wife to gain "rich materialls" (I.i.44) to augment his "narrow demeanes" (I.i.22).(2) One would expect after reading stories of this kind, such as Chaucer's Franklin's Tale, that he would leave home to test his valor and acquire honors, not wealth. In The Emperor of the East (1631), a tragicomedy about the uxorious love of a headstrong young king, Massinger chooses to render his irrational state of mind by wasteful extravagance rather than, say, by deeds of reckless bravery. To celebrate his marriage, King Theodosius frees all debtors from prison and pays their creditors from the royal coffers. Perhaps it is not surprising that, as a second-generation playwright, following in the footsteps of such distinguished predecessors as Shakespeare, Jonson, Marston, Middleton, Beaumont, and especially Fletcher, Massinger would deviate somewhat from his models. But the pressures of the London mercantile world, a part of which was the commercial theater, and the court, always in search of new sources of revenue while distributing favors erratically, also affected Massinger's outlook as well as the interests of his audience.

Massinger's predecessors who dramatized money matters placed the weight of their attention upon the city market where merchants and moneylenders use trickery to exploit the landed gentry and each other. In general, the playwrights showed the pursuit of profits to be inhumane by overriding the claims of family, friend, or state. In the final analysis profits turn out to be fool's gold, a source of dissatisfaction and futility. Since a simple, impersonal exchange of buying and selling does not readily lend itself to much dramatic elaboration, playwrights turned time and again to the overdue contract, when the money-lender enforces its harsh terms no matter what the extenuating circumstances. Shylock's bond provides an obvious example, but city comedies, such as Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One or Michaelmas Term use it, and we find it in Massinger's A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam. Details of an alternative humane economy seem not to have attracted playwrights writing for the coterie theaters during the high period of city comedy in the first decade of the seventeenth century. We must look outside drama to Ben Jonson's "To Penshurst" to find a different world of harmonious exchange. Jonson envisions a rural community of patrons and clients where an impersonal exchange of money does not intrude upon the benevolent exchange of gifts and rewards for needs and service.(3)

Massinger's plays, especially his tragicomedies, do give sustained attention to such an alternative economy of patronage as the one idealized in Jonson's poem. A sharp contrast between the humane patron and client on the one hand and inhumane moneylenders and customers on the other is, of course, a construction. It ignores the fact that landowners did not exempt themselves from belonging to London trading companies or behaving like rackrenters, as indifferent to need as any pitiless creditor. Moreover, plays by Dekker and Thomas Heywood in the open-air theaters show that the gentry held no proprietary claims on humane behavior. Puritan churchgoers learned from sermons that they were merely stewards of their wealth, given by God to carry out His will. Private charity in London replaced the somewhat haphazard poor relief of the monasteries and in the 1590s had a far greater impact than legislative efforts for the poor.(4) But the economic mutability brought about by the increasingly intense mercantile practices of the later sixteenth century, made prominent by the rise of the newly rich and the decay of old family estates, too well-known to stress, generated bold and simple concepts to understand and dramatize it. As L. C. Knights, Brian Gibbons, and others have shown, playwrights adapted traditional moral categories and plots to respond to the uneasiness caused by this social change.(5) Massinger differentiated his outlook by concentrating more upon the proper and improper conduct of patrons and clients than upon moneylenders and traders. Generosity of patrons and gratitude of clients become the central values of this outlook, virtues that appear infrequently in the dramas of economic behavior of his predecessors. Timon of Athens and King Lear happen to be major exceptions.

Two of Massinger's more frequently published plays, A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam, focus squarely on the devious tactics of moneylenders and may for that reason create a false impression that his economic outlook resembled the views embodied in the earlier city comedies. Yet a brief comparison between Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One (1604-1607) and Massinger's reworking of the same situation in A New Way to Pay Old Debts reveals the difference. Middleton gives us no sense of young Witgood's life as a country gentleman before he pawns his estate to his uncle, but Massinger sets forth in loving detail the great household of the rich widow Lady Allworth, whose benevolent acts to her stepson and servants recall the idealized world of Jonson's Penshurst. So too, the patrons and servants of this world close ranks against the intruder, Sir Giles Overreach, who would disrupt their way of life with his legal trickery associated with Londoners. In Middleton's comedy the major conflict takes place between Londoners who try to outsmart each other to marry the "rich widow." In Massinger's The City Madam, once the London merchant Sir John Frugal has made his fortune, he assumes the role of patron and stands apart (not unlike Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure) to permit his family members to cure themselves of greed and pride. As important as the triumph of patronage in these two plays is Massinger's depiction of the contract and credit. Wellborn, the young protagonist of A New Way to Pay Old Debts, stands to lose his inherited estate because he is unable to meet the terms of a loan from his uncle, Sir Giles Overreach. To counter his indebtedness to Overreach, whose kinship should presumably generate some flexibility in enforcing the terms of the contract, Wellborn appeals to Lady Allworth's sense of gratitude. At a time before the beginning of the play Wellborn acted the patron to rescue Lady Allworth's husband from debt. He expected no precise repayment for his generosity, but now that he feels need, he turns to her and appeals to her moral sensibility to meet an implicit but long-standing obligation. Appropriate to the role of patron, young Wellborn never asks for a return of the money he once gave her husband, only a commensurate favor. All he requests is that she entertain him and Overreach's factotum at her dinnertable, a deed sufficient to generate Overreach's "benevolence" in anticipation of even greater indebtedness once Lady Allworth "marries" Wellborn. These episodes present us with a copybook contrast between the economy of the patron and the economy of the entrepreneur.

In the marketplace the simple act of exchange occurs when something of equal value passes between buyer and seller. The seller marks a "just price" that includes his costs with a fair profit, and the buyer meets his demand.(6) By extension, credit is advanced upon a guarantee of reimbursement together with "moderate" interest embodied in a contract and backed by legal sanction. Without the force of law to support the agreement, the creditor, as Shylock or Overreach shows us, would hardly put his money at risk. The contract replaces any promise of repayment or word of honor or trust between lender and recipient, thereby removing all personal details, such as the Merchant of Venice's loss of ships or Wellborn's kinship, as irrelevant to repayment. Friends are made strangers, in effect, by signatures to a contract. Patronage, on the other hand, depends upon respect and trust. In characterizing gratitude, for instance, Immanuel Kant in a later century specified honor as a major component: "Gratitude consists in honoring a person because of a kindness he has done us. The feeling connected with this recognition is respect for the benefactor (who puts one under obligation)."(7) The acts of giving and taking, in other words, call upon the full moral capacities of both parties to respond at their best. Indeed, if less than one's moral sensibility were engaged, the shortcomings would resemble buying and selling in the marketplace, at least as Massinger envisions them. A benefactor like Wellborn fulfills the role of patron when he responds to a personal need and bestows a gifl without strings attached and would be offended if the recipient were to return the precise amount of his gift. We know intuitively that the patron seeks not to generate a specific debt in the beneficiary - to do so would be to act like a moneylender - and yet we also sense that the gift carries responsibilities. The recipient is placed under obligation to make a response of gratitude. Terrance McConnell's recent study of gratitude formulates the dynamics of patronage: gratitude entails both an emotional attitude and a commensurate deed responsive to the particular needs of the benefactor. To respond begrudgingly to a favor or reply with an indifferent gift would manifest ingratitude (or dishonor) and a failure to live up to responsibilities. So much of a person's character is at stake in acts of generosity and gratitude that we associate them primarily with parents and children or with friends. The patron may, of course, extend the circle of generosity and gratitude to others and even to strangers who become incorporated, if ever so briefly, into a community of givers and takers.(8)

What Massinger dramatizes between Wellborn and Lady Allworth Marcel Mauss's widely read anthropological study The Gift confirms by his investigation of North American Indians, Melanesians, and Polynesians.(9) He shows how the efforts of these groups to compete in exchanging gifts among one another helps consolidate them, both within the community and among communities. Massinger's tragicomedies, as we shall see, support this insight and show at the same time how self-interested exchanges, typical of the marketplace, disrupt social cohesion. Mauss's other main point, depicting the anxiety generated by obligations of gratitude to make an appropriate return, coincides with Terrance McConnell's philosophical study but receives less attention in Massinger's tragicomedies. Instead Massinger makes the anxieties attendant on obligation a prominent feature of two tragedies that address the issues of patronage: The Fatal Dowry (1616-1619, written with Nathan Field) and Believe as You List (1631). Yet in one major way Mauss's work deviates from Massinger's, for it focuses on cultures untouched by the industrial revolution, whereas Massinger asserts the viability of gift - giving in the very teeth of a rapidly developing modern economy.

Margot Heinemann has described Massinger's outlook as "nostalgic," and from her notion of history as a progressive continuum this position is defensible.(10) It sees economic forces operating with political forces to make the aristocratic, quasi-feudal world of patronage outmoded. But Massinger saw patronage grounded in the very nature of things, not a passing phase in the march of history. God was the first patron, freely bestowing his benefits upon humankind, whose obligation was to feel gratitude and manifest it in obedience and worship. However much Adam needed to labor by the sweat of his brow for his daily bread, he still owed gratitude to God for His many blessings. By extension, the monarch acting in a way appropriate to his position bestowed bounty upon his subjects, and they as recipients of honors, offices, and stipends expressed their thankfulness through loyal service, completing a political circle of generosity and gratitude. In Macbeth, for instance, King Duncan embodies the role of the benign patron, and Macbeth at first plays the grateful subject, saying, "The service and the loyalty I owe, / In doing it, pays itself" (I.iv.22-3). Satan echoes the same sentiment in Paradise Lost when he contemplates the "debt of immense gratitude" he owes to God: "a grateful mind / By owing owes not, but still pays, at once / Indebted and discharg'd; what burden then?" (4.55-7).(11) To Massinger, then, patronage did not appear about to be supplanted by a mercantile system of trade and credit. Yet neither did he sense the world returning to some golden age like Gonzalo's commonwealth. Patronage was based on the assumption of plenty, and it was too late in the day to assume that nature's bounty did not need supplementing by buying and selling. Massinger's attention to the generosity of landowners and the gratitude of servants and clients never erased the activities of shopkeepers, tavern owners, physicians, or shipmen, even in his most romantic plays.

Moreover, James I's behavior as the dominant patron during the first half of Massinger's career would give pause to anyone intent upon presenting patronage in a favorable light. Like Timon of Athens, James opened his pockets to favorites with a heedlessness that could throw even the virtue of magnanimity into doubt. As a consequence, he remained ever on the lookout for more funds and undercut his own generosity by selling honors and privileges normally understood to be freely bestowed, not subject to economic exchange.(12) Since James published his speeches to Parliament, cajoling its members to increase his stipend, Massinger and his audience could hardly be unaware of his difficulties. Although more restrained, Charles I resorted to unpopular taxation to finance his court. The rulers during Massinger's lifetime, then, were caught between the dictates of roles as generous patrons and their need to husband limited resources. It should not surprise us that Massinger's audience would be receptive to dramas about patronage, both in the way it should work and in the ways it falls short. What is surprising is that Massinger never concerned himself about the way patrons acquire their bounty. Instead he concentrated upon the wise and foolish ways they bestow their funds and the wise and foolish ways their beneficiaries respond.

Implicated in Margot Heinemann's judgment of Massinger's outlook as "nostalgic" is a view of the market as liberating its participants from feudal constrictions. Whereas Massinger and his fellow playwrights saw mutability and inhumanity, Heinemann sees from her twentieth-century viewpoint an independence emerging because money imparts a kind of equality free of associations with birth and rank. Anyone with sufficient cash can make a purchase. Jean Howard has extended this proto-capitalist benefit to theatergoing.(13) The customer can sit anywhere in the theater, organized according to the price of a ticket, not according to social standing. Howard explores the consequences of this disruption of tradition and its proprieties especially with regard to middle-class women who made a place for themselves in the audience and through their independence generated anxieties, which found expression in the antitheatrical polemical tracts. Certainly Massinger became familiar with such mixtures of independent theatergoers, and whether or not he understood his experience in terms like Heinemann's or Howard's, he sensed the liberation that money provides and tried to incorporate the value of self-assertion into his vision of humane economic exchange. In his tragicomedies, for instance, he took special care to endow many of his heroines with sufficient capital to maintain an independence in whatever negotiations they might face in a society favoring male rank and privilege.

The details of Massinger's life suggest that he struggled to find some kind of accommodation for both kinds of economic exchange. The facts that we know would hardly lead us to expect approval of either system. Massinger's father spent his life in the service of one of England's great households, the Herberts, whereas the son made his way in the city, selling his wares in the marketplace. Both the second and third earls of Pembroke, Henry and William Herbert, were patrons of Arthur Massinger, who died in 1603 when Philip was only twenty and a student at St. Alban Hall, Oxford. It is probable that he was forced to leave for financial reasons after only two years of study, and it seems that he failed to enjoy the largess of his father's patron. In this regard it is worth mentioning Anthony Wood's comment in Athenae Oxonienses (1691), "Tho incouraged in his studies by the Earl of Pembroke, yet he applied his mind more to Poetry and Romances for about four years or more, than to Logick and Philosophy, which he ought to have done, and for that end was patronized." Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson, Massinger's editors, find Wood's account to be "almost certainly fanciful."(14) But it does disclose a pattern of thought connecting Massinger with patronage as late as the end of the seventeenth century. Another harsh fact about Massinger's career comes from Philip Henslowe's papers. In prison for debt about 1615, Massinger appealed along with Nathan Field and Robert Daborn to Henslowe to pay their bail. By then Massinger had joined the ranks of professional playwrights and was learning first-hand the reality of the London economy, no more hospitable than the Herberts. Later Massinger collaborated with John Fletcher on plays for the most important theatrical company, the King's Men. By the age of thirty-seven he was taking sole responsibility for authorship, and in 1625 he succeeded Fletcher as the primary dramatist of the King's Men, a position held earlier by Shakespeare. According to the calculations of Edwards and Gibson, Massinger had a hand in at least fifty-five plays: twenty-two of these are lost; of the remaining thirty-three, eighteen are collaborations. These figures testify to the life of a busy professional, selling his wares to the public. Douglas Bruster has recently made a persuasive case for understanding the theater itself as a market, an integral part of the commercial world and not a marginal institution at the periphery of buying and selling.(15) Yet for all that, the acting companies were still identified as servants of a patron, the vestige of a convenient fiction from the sixteenth century that gave them legal recognition and a sanction to travel unchallenged. The two economies, however different, remained connected in the Jacobean mind.

Massinger's personal attitude toward both ways of giving and taking can be glimpsed in the dedications to ten plays solely by him and published during his lifetime. All ten are accompanied by dedications, a fact somewhat unusual for a playwright. Collections of lyrical poems or narrative poetry were customarily presented as gifts to patrons (while at the same time being offered for sale to the public), but plays, perhaps because the terms of ownership were complicated by the acting companies, were less frequently offered as gifts.(16) Shakespeare, for instance, dedicated only his two narrative poems and none of his plays published during his lifetime. Marston mocked the practice in dedications of both volumes of his verse satires and of the "First Part" of Antonio and Mellida (1602): "To . . . the most honorably renowned Nobody," implying the futility of appealing to people of wealth unresponsive to poetry.(17) For whatever reason - whether moral conviction or economic hardship - Massinger never detached himself from the possibilities of patronage. His dedications observe all the appropriate requirements of generosity and gratitude. Six of the ten are expressions of thanks for support he has already enjoyed; of these six, three describe his patrons as "friends." Of the other four, he extends his gift as a tactful ploy for a generous return. A recurrent image in the dedications expresses a desire for shelter under the wings of favor and gives us a clue to Massinger's attitude. Although he must sell his published plays, he envisions the patron to be a safe haven from the vagaries of the marketplace. Furthermore, given Massinger's inclination to idealize patronage, one may infer that he saw the poet exempt from the necessity to sell his wares as superior to the professional. At the same time, however, Massinger prized his independence. Between 1615 and 1620 he wrote a verse letter to the Earl of Pembroke, asking him "to cast an eye / Of fauour on my trodd downe pouertie" (4:391), but he takes pains to articulate a condition for accepting any gift: "I would not for a pension or A place / Part soe wth myne own Candor" (4:390). So far as we know, Pembroke did not respond, but Massinger continued to envision an ideal of patrons and clients giving and taking in a circle of generosity and gratitude that somehow reconciled dependence with independence.


Generosity and gratitude are central to six of Massinger's eight extant tragicomedies and present to a lesser extent in the other two.(18) At first glance this genre, especially as it was written by John Fletcher (with help from Beaumont as well as Massinger) would seem to be an unlikely vehicle for raising issues about giving and taking, since matters of love and honor are its typical subjects.(19) The fact that these plays are set in fictional surroundings, not in cities of commerce, and populated by characters of outsized passions and extravagant deeds, not by characters of calculation and thrift, has deflected scholarly attention from such concerns as patronage. As a genre inclined to generate admiration and praise, tragicomedy could thus be suitable to the activities embodying generosity and gratitude since by definition these show characters acting at their best. By contrast, city comedy and at least some tragedies are inclined to present behavior for our disapproval, and Massinger exploits them too. Certainly The Fatal Dowry and Believe as You List devote attention to the failures of gratitude, whereas A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam present intense challenges to the ideals of patronage, which are ultimately upheld. The very number of Massinger's tragicomedies supports the impression created by his dedications: that he looked upon patronage as a wishful solution to his problems. The presence of wellborn characters devoting themselves to generosity without regard to practicality, determining their choices by trust, respect, or loyalty, functions to keep viable an ideal under threat from the practical outlook associated with mercantile life. But any sustained display of an ideal will eventually reveal its shortcomings, if not contradictions. In this case we sense a close association of patronage with the darker aspects of patriarchy; it is a short step between bestowing gifts while leaving the recipient free to make an appropriate response and bestowing gifts while expecting or demanding a specific return. Can a patron behave generously without dominating the beneficiary? Can the beneficiary receive a gift without becoming dependent upon the giver? Some of Massinger's tragicomedies address the issue more directly than others, but it was difficult to avoid some slippage from ideal patron to dominating patriarch.

First, we need to see how the typical subjects of tragicomedy, love and honor, take a special coloring from Massinger's interest in generosity and gratitude as associated with patronage. Honor, to recall, in Kant's understanding of the term, is an essential component of gratitude; in his view honor entails respect for the benefactor and an obligation for the beneficiary to make a commensurate return. The tribal efforts described by Marcel Mauss to make an appropriate return for a gift show how important it is for the recipient not to lose face. Therefore, the importance of honor for the aristocratic behavior of Massinger's tragicomic characters hardly needs comment. When, for instance, Duke Cosimo, the title character in The Great Duke of Florence, learns that his beneficiary has behaved ungratefully, he automatically associates the actions with the dishonor of treachery: "He's a traytor Madame / To you, to us, to gratitude, and in that / All crimes are comprehended" (V.i.97-9). In this regard, it is worth noting that the treachery of the Earl of Essex against Queen Elizabeth was judged by Francis Bacon to be an act of "ingratitude" for the many favors bestowed upon him by his queen.(20)

Love, too, can be accommodated to the giving and taking of patronage by being embodied in gifts of affection, dowry, or social position freely bestowed. At the moment of reconciliation in The Great Duke of Florence, Sanazarro appropriates the discourse of economics to ask forgiveness:

What retribution can I make? what service Pay to your goodnesse, that in some proportion May to the world expresse, I would be thankfull?

and Fiorinda replies, "All debts are discharg'd / In this acknowledgment" (V.ii.4-10). This exchange is particularly revealing in the way it embraces the paradoxical view that the loved one is both obligated and free. Their love becomes a circle of generosity and gratitude continually renewing itself by giving and thus renders the issue of who is dominant and who is submissive irrelevant. To represent such a balanced ideal, Massinger frequently makes the young heroine fatherless and wealthy so that she can bestow herself and her dowry upon the hero of her choice without paternal entanglements, identifying the gift of love with an act of patronage dissociated from patriarchy. To devise a sharp contrast for such idealized love, Massinger draws upon the possessive characteristics of the creditor in the marketplace who would seek to impose his will and dominate the beloved.

Among Massinger's young heroines in the position of patron are Camiola, the title character in The Maid of Honor, Donusa, the Tunisian princess in The Renegado, and Pulcheria, the Protector of the realm in The Emperor of the East. Camiola, the maid of honor, is besieged by a host of suitors and finally chooses Bertoldo, illegitimate brother of the king, but he is also loved by another patroness, Aurelia the Duchess of Siena, who can offer as rich a dowry, as much beauty, and the title of duke as well. The choice facing Bertoldo falls into a pattern typical of Massinger's tragicomedies: should he accept the offer of his original loved one with gratitude or should he calculate the better offer as if making a purchase? In The Renegado Donusa falls in love with Vitelli, disguised as a shopkeeper, mentioned at the outset of this paper. She assumes that she is purchasing him when she commands his presence at court to receive gifts of rich garments, jewels, and her love. But her behavior cannot succeed in Massinger's fictional world until she allows Vitelli to make a balanced response from an independent position, free of economic calculations. In The Emperor of the East Massinger refigures the patron as an elder sister and protector of the young king. In this role she plays matchmaker, selecting poor but virtuous and beautiful Athenais to be the king's bride. The play evolves through a series of acts of ingratitude as both of Pulcheria's beneficiaries turn against her, but in the end the youthful king and his bride recognize their faults and petition for Pulcheria's forgiveness, which she freely bestows and thereby reestablishes their circle of love.

The Bashful Lover rings a variation upon the female patron, but it too is directed toward idealizing love by generosity and gratitude. In this play the young heroine Matilda does have a stage father, Gonzaga, but he refused to play the patriarch and dictate her choice of a husband even though his restraint provokes an aggrieved suitor, the elderly general Lorenzo, to go to war to win the daughter. When Duke Lorenzo triumphs in battle, Matilda uses the language of the marketplace to describe his victory: "Sir, I am / Your property, you may use me as you please" (IV.iii.91-2). In keeping with the sudden reversals conventional in tragicomedy, especially as practiced by Fletcher, Duke Lorenzo undergoes a change of heart and reinstates Matilda as patron and describes himself as her "captive" (IV.iii.119). When he eventually retreats from the scene, Matilda turns to the bashful lover, the title character, who throughout the play has behaved as the gentle petitioner, falling into Massinger's pattern as a sharp contrast with the aggressive duke.

Duke Lorenzo embodies what to Massinger are the negative features of patriarchy. His self-centered, willful, dominating characteristics blind him to the heroine's sensibility. His outlook does indeed reduce Matilda to property as if he were shopping in the marketplace. But most of Massinger's benighted male suitors behave as if they are creditors who view love not as a free gift but as a contract to be signed and guaranteed. In The Bondman, for instance, when the apparent hero Leosthenes leaves the court for the battlefield, he expresses doubts about the heroine's constancy and wants to assure himself of her affection during his absence. In response Cleora blindfolds herself and refuses to speak until his return, thereby guaranteeing in anger that she will not succumb to temptation. In The Picture, when Mathias must depart from his wife Sophia, he arranges to keep close watch on her by a magic picture of her that would change color if she feels the temptation to be unfaithful. The Duke of Milan, one of Massinger's tragedies, presents a variation on this predicament: when the title character departs on a dangerous mission, he feels such jealousy of any happiness his queen might feel that he requests a confidant to kill her if he himself dies. In The Emperor of the East the young king Theodosius discovers that an apple sent as a gift to his queen Athenais turns up in the possession of an old counselor and friend; he falls into a jealous rage, sentences his friend to death and his queen to exile. The features that all these male characters share clarify the reason why Massinger is drawn less to strategies of winning a lady's hand in marriage than to situations in which she has already committed herself. Attention is thereby directed less to devices of persuasion than to trust and respect, appropriate to gratitude for the patron's gift of love.

By placing the female in the position of patron and the male in the position of client, Massinger counters the usual associations of gender with patriarchal dominance and submission. Yet in The Maid of Honor he breaks this association as Camiola the heroine attempts to enforce the contract of marriage. This fracture signals not merely Massinger's willingness to vary his idealized formula of giving and taking but also a willingness to put it to a harder test than the male's need to dominate. As both beautiful and wealthy, Camiola is besieged by suitors, but she favors the valorous Bertoldo. At first she withholds her affection because she respects his vow of celibacy to the Knights of Malta even though he could arrange to rescind it. When Bertoldo is captured in battle, she ventures to pay his ransom and suddenly alters her former restraint by adding one condition to her gift, the contract of marriage. She instructs her emissary: "Let him sweare / A solemne contract to me, for you must be / My principall witnesse" (III.iii.205-7). Without familiarity with Massinger's other tragicomedies, one could see Camiola's action to be harmlessly prudent, but the terms "contract" and "witness" evoke too much of the moneylender not to give us pause. Moreover, the patron who ties specific strings to a gift seeks to dominate the beneficiary. Events of the play prove Camiola to be at fault, for she becomes ironically subjected to the very terms she would impose. She too becomes an object of practical calculation when Aurelia the Duchess of Siena offers to Bertoldo her love and beauty as well as the rulership of Siena. He weighs both proposals and acknowledges that a rejection of Camiola's prior gift would be "ingratitude! a sinne in which / All sinnes are comprehended" (IV.iv.155-6), but like a shopper finds the better offer more appealing.

This tragicomedy, then, presents us with all-too-human characters succumbing to less than generous impulses. The concluding scene of The Maid of Honor resolves Bertoldo's conflict between two offers in a confrontation similar to the final scene of Measure for Measure. When the duke and court assemble to welcome the arrival of Bertoldo with the Duchess of Siena as his prospective bride, Camiola intervenes to press her claim much as Isabella does before Duke Vincentio. Like Angelo, Bertoldo collapses when the facts emerge; he confesses his ingratitude to Camiola and begs her forgiveness. As if the lovers' calculating behavior has been too disruptive to accommodate, Massinger resists at this point a sentimental reconciliation. Camiola renounces her effort to force the contract of marriage and in a surprising move retreats to a holy order to live out the rest of her life, thereby setting a precedent for Bertoldo to renew his vow of celibacy and rejoin the Knights of Malta. The audience is left to ponder renunciation as the suitable conclusion of this tragicomedy about efforts to reduce courtship and love to contracts and bargains. With the pains that Massinger takes in the final moments to specify the ways Camiola distributes her wealth before she joins the holy order, the audience is reminded of how central to an admirable life is the management of giving and taking. It may speculate that Bertoldo and Camiola will redeem themselves by devotion to charitable works. It certainly senses how precarious are the ideals of patronage and how easy it is to slip from generosity to domination.

The contemporaneous ideal of marriage as companionship in a patriarchal society may help us sense the problem that Massinger faced in dramatizing a plausible experience of mutual affection in a world where the male takes precedence. When near the end of The Great Duke of Florence, for instance, the Duchess of Urbino offers herself in marriage to Sanazarro, she adds

when you have full possession of My person, as my fortunes, you would use me Not as a Princesse, but instruct me in The duties of an humble wife.


Indeed, it is the Duchess who voluntarily proposes this arrangement in which she becomes the obedient servant, and by this act she does place Sanazarro as client in a debt of gratitude which calls for his willingness to serve her. Even so, the balanced give and take rests precariously on the goodwill of both parties, whereas the realities of dominance and dependence persist in the society at large. Massinger confronts the "paradox" of mutual fulfillment in a marriage with the husband as head of the household and attempts to detach companionship from the issue of dominance, but even in the highly romanticized fictions of his tragicomedies his awareness of the social world casts uncertainty on his effort.(21)

The interplay of master and servant in these plays shows another attempt to mitigate without erasing the insistent hierarchy in English life. To recall A New Way to Pay Old Debts, Lady Allworth and her servants work together without friction to help Wellborn outsmart his uncle, the London entrepreneur. Unlike Overreach, who treats his servants with impatience and disdain, Lady Allworth takes pains to assuage the cook's feelings when she cannot respond properly to his carefully prepared meal. Among Massinger's later tragicomedies, A Very Woman, licensed 6 June 1634, a revision of a no-longer extant collaboration with Fletcher, seems especially attuned to the issue of service. A key example occurs when the hero Don John, disguised as a Moorish slave, rejects payment for helping Don Pedro's courtship:

Nay, keep your purse Sir: For though my bodies bought, my minde was never. Though I am bound, my courtesies are no slaves.

(III.v. 13-5)

Don Pedro's response, "Thou shouldst be truly gentle" (III.v. 16), can be read ironically to acknowledge Don John's true status despite his disguise, but it can also mean that generosity imparts a special status that elides but does not negate the social hierarchy. Elsewhere in the play a doctor who cures a wounded and melancholy suitor rejects as payment the offer of a statue to honor him and asks instead for a "colledge for Physicians," a "fellowship" that recalls Camiola's holy order devoted to good works. So too, an unnamed captain declares,

My life, when forfeited, the Viceroy pardon'd, But by his intercession; and therefore It being lent by him, I were ungrateful (Which I will never be) if I refus'd To pay that debt at any time demanded.


The hero Don John accepts the soldier as his equal when he hears these remarks and characterizes them as a "school / Of gratitude" that makes him a pupil (II.i.41-2). These three examples testify to Massinger's inclination to neutralize the social effects of the hierarchy when those lower on the scale behave with generosity or gratitude. This is the same inclination, of course, that generates his view of courtship and marriage as giving and taking between patron and client, but for all its vividness, the order of master over servant, husband over wife, or patron over poet remains intact.

Massinger's abhorrence of unresponsive domination is most apparent in his tragedies, not only The Roman Actor and Believe As You List, where it appears as tyranny, but in The Fatal Dowry (written with Nathan Field), where it appears in the father, who chooses a husband for his daughter without consulting her. He acts with the best of intentions, and even though events make clear that his candidate is morally superior to the suitor she favors, the forced marriage ends in disaster for them all. Recent scholarship on tragicomedy has concentrated on its potentiality for political commentary,(22) but at least at first glance Massinger's tragicomedies appear to concern themselves with domestic issues. Occasional episodes can be read to glance at topical political matters. In The Maid of Honor, for instance, King Roberto's caution about undertaking foreign wars and his excessive generosity to his corrupt favorite Fulgentio might seem to shadow James I's reluctance to support the Protestant cause of his son-in-law on the Continent and his patronage of Buckingham. Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson find the dramatization of these episodes too impartial to warrant such an inference.(23) Be that as it may, Fulgentio's attempt to use his position at court to force Camiola, the maid of honor, into marriage for her rich dowry shows how Massinger ties the issues of ruler and subject to his notions about giving and taking. When the king confronts Camiola about her rejection of his favorite, she replies:

Tyrants, not Kings, By violence, from humble vassals force The liberty of their soules. I could not love him [Fulgentio], And to compell affection, as I take it, Is not found in your prerogative.

(IV.v. 63-7)

Given Massinger's characterization of the favorite as a taker of bribes and as a suitor interested only in money, this episode is so stacked in favor of Camiola that the extent of political obedience and loyalty to the ruler hardly seems to matter. An audience would find it easy to assume that Massinger's ideal of mutual regard between patron and client is applicable to ruler and subject, but Massinger appears reluctant in the tragicomedies to test the ideal by opposing it to a more strenuous alternative.

One tragicomedy, The Great Duke of Florence (1627), does confront the problem of a ruler-patron who feels that his position and generosity entitle him to unqualified loyalty from his subjects-clients. Duke Cosimo, who is childless, bestows money and honors upon a favorite, Sanazarro, who has proved himself worthy by valor in battle, and upon his nephew Giovanni, whom he has designated his heir. To intensify the issue at stake, Massinger devises several comments for Duke Cosimo's subjects, who accept their ruler as wielding absolute power. Lidia, for instance, the young heroine of the play, pleads with the Duke to be lenient to his nephew by saying, "You Princes are / As gods on earth to us" (IV.ii.295-6), echoing James I's audacious statement in Basilicon Doron.(24) And Sanazarro, the favorite, declares,

Power that stands not on Its proper base, which is peculiar onely To absolute Princes, falls, or rises, with Their frowne, or favour.


Yet events of the play unfold to reveal Duke Cosimo something less than a god on earth whose will commands the absolute loyalty of either his favorite or his heir. At issue is the beautiful Lidia; both Giovanni and Sanazarro fall in love with her, and when they learn that the great duke himself desires to meet her, they attempt to prevent this by an ugly substitute, for they feel certain that he too would fall in love with this irresistible maiden and, being widowed, would command marriage. When Duke Cosimo finally meets the wondrous Lidia and discovers the trick, he claims himself to be the only appropriate mate for her and accuses Giovanni of "treachery" for concealing this "jewel from our knowledge, which our selfe / Could onely lay just clayme too" (V.ii.144-5). He also makes the comment (quoted earlier) that emphasizes his role as Giovanni's patron as much as his ruler: Giovanni is "a traytor Madame / To you, to us, to gratitude, and in that / All crimes are comprehended" (V.i.97-9). Indeed, "Ingratitude is a monster" (V.i.72). But this patriarchal figure resonates more as a senex than as a ruler whose country's well-being depends upon the unquestioning loyalty of his subjects. The conventional sympathies of an audience for young lovers against an old rival are sufficient to diminish the seriousness of Duke Cosimo's position. What we sense instead is the need of the old patron to learn not to dominate his beneficiaries and allow for some balance in the give and take of the sort we find elsewhere idealized by Massinger in his tragicomedies.

The playwright pulls back from any strenuous political test of the benign circle of generosity and gratitude. Instead he adds a subplot between a female patron and her client-suitor to measure the patriarch's dominating behavior. Another ruler, Fiorinda, the Duchess of Urbino, loves Sanazarro, who has temporarily abandoned her when he falls under the influence of Lidia's beauty and virtue. The Duchess forgives Sanazarro for his lapse and offers herself and her crown, "the priviledge of my birth no more remembered" (V.ii.28). Her generosity evokes his response as a grateful servant: "as 'tis your gift, / With all the faculties of my soule, I'll study / In what I may to serve you" (V.ii.35-7). We are led to believe that the rule of Urbino will henceforth be a mutual enterprise; appropriately, it is the duchess who persuades Duke Cosimo to reflect upon his absolutist behavior and reconcile himself to his heir's love for Lidia.

Terrance McConnell's recent study of gratitude insists that we know intuitively that there are limits to the thanks we can expect from our beneficiaries. From his twentieth-century perspective he says that parents who expect gratitude from their children cannot presume to dictate their most personal choices, nor can governments which expect loyalty from their subjects in exchange for protection exact absolute obedience without becoming tyrannical.(25) Massinger's carefully hedged efforts on behalf of the subject, the female, and the servant would suggest that he depended less upon the force of intuition in his hierarchical world of the early seventeenth century than on the power of drama. Pisander, disguised as a bondsman, says, "True loue's a seruant, brutish lust a Tyrant" (The Bondman, III.ii.83), articulating as well as any character Massinger's binary outlook in the tragicomedies. The tyrant, the dominating patriarch, the possessive lover or moneylender seeking guarantees - all are demonized in his tragicomedies for failing to respect the claims of others in acts of giving and taking. To recall Massinger's verse letter to the earl of Pembroke, he would not depart from his own candor as a condition for patronage, nor could he jettison his hope for an ideally generous patron.


1 Most recent attention has been directed to Massinger's moral and political outlook, his connection with other playwrights, or his versification and dramaturgy: Douglas Howard, ed., Philip Massinger: A Critical Reassessment (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985); Doris Adler, Philip Massinger (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987); Ira Clark, The Moral Art of Philip Massinger (Lewisburg PA: Bucknell Univ. Press, 1992). See also T. A. Dunn, Philip Massinger: The Man and the Playwright (Edinburgh and London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1957); Martin Garrett, ed., Massinger: The Critical Heritage (London and New York: Routledge, 1991).

2 All quotations from Massinger's work are taken from Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson, eds., The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976).

3 Don E. Wayne, Penshurst: The Semiotics of Place and the Poetics of History (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1984).

4 W. K. Jordan, Philanthropy in England (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1959); for a different picture, see Christopher Hill, who stresses the need for legislation to deal with poverty. Rather than relieve all the poor, the Puritans differentiated the "truly needy" from rogues and vagabonds. Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England, 2d edn. (New York: Shocken Books, 1967), pp. 259-97.

5 L. C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (1937; rprt. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968); Brian Gibbons, Jacobean City Comedy, 2nd edn. (London and New York: Methuen, 1980). See also Don E. Wayne, "Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson: An Alternative View," RenD, n.s. 13 (1982), 103-29.

6 For John Calvin's discussion of "just price" and "acceptable" rates of interest, see Kurt Samuelsson, Religion and Economic Action, trans. E. Geoffrey French (New York: Basic Books, 1961), pp. 30-1. Massinger makes little of the problem of usury.

7 From "The Doctrine of Virtue," Part Two in The Metaphysics of Morals (1791); quoted in Terrance McConnell, Gratitude (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1993), p. 163. Kant's entire discussion of gratitude can be found in Immanuel Kant, Ethical Philosophy, trans. James W. Ellington (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), pp. 114-21. E. Catherine Dunne traces the changing meaning of "ingratitude" from antiquity through the Renaissance, as it becomes associated with natural law, the state, friendship, the code of chivalry, and religious devotion. She locates the source of Renaissance reverence for gratitude in the Middle Ages: "Gratitude was of the essence of feudalism . . . The mutual fidelity of lord and vassal acquired the character of a continuous circle of benefits and thankfulness, which . . . was to remain a serious obligation even in later centuries, after the need which had generated this obligation had ceased to exist" (p. 56). In Melanie Klein's psychoanalytic approach to a baby's emotional development, she finds gratitude alternating with envy to be its fundamental responses: Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1946-1963 (New York: Delacourt Press, 1975), pp. 188-9.

8 McConnell, pp. 46-80. Moreover, it is reassuring to find a literary historian who comments on the importance of gratitude in Massinger's plays. Ira Clark sees "mutual gratitude" as a crucial means for reconciling the traditional social and political outlook, based on inheritance, with an outlook based on merit, but he pays less attention to its economic context. A succinct account appears in his Professional Playwrights: Massinger, Ford, Shirley and Brome (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1992), pp. 39-46; a fuller discussion appears in Clark's The Moral Art of Philip Massinger.

9 Marcel Mauss, The Gift, trans. W. D. Halls (1950; rprt. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1990). Richard M. Titmus finds, however, the gift of blood for transfusions to be "a voluntary, altruistic act" that expects no return. The Gift Relation from Human Blood to Social Policy (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971), p. 89. See B. Schwartz on the way gifts help shape social identity ("The Social Psychology of the Gift," American Journal of Sociology 73 [1967]: 1-11). Lewis Hyde differentiates the "worth" of a gift from the "value" of a commodity; we do not, for instance, place "value" on human life (The Gift, Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property [New York: Random House, 1983], pp. 60-3). Patricia Fumerton shows how the notion of gift-giving can be extended to the fostering of children among aristocratic families in Renaissance England and Ireland (Cultural Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and the Practice of Social Ornament [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991], pp. 29-50).

10 "The virtues most admired in the plays are essentially aristocratic ones - especially military courage and skill, gallantry, generosity, a keen sense of rank and birth and the responsibilities they entail. Honesty and thrift make little appearance, because the kind of characters who work are not much in evidence. Essentially this is a nostalgic view" (Margot Heinemann, Puritanism and Theatre: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama Under the Early Stuarts [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980], pp. 214-5).

11 Quotations are taken from G. Blakemore Evans et al., eds., The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974) and Merritt Y. Hughes, ed., Paradise Lost, new edn. (New York: Macmillan, 1985).

12 Linda Levy Peck shows that James I tainted the relation of patron and client by selling such items as the title of baronet (begun in 1611) and thus blurred the line between gifts and bribes: "when the free gift granted by an all-powerful monarch became transformed into a contract to buy and sell, such market-place negotiations undermined the central meaning of court patronage" (Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England [Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990], p. 20). See also Peck, "Court Patronage and Government Policy: The Jacobean Dilemma," in Guy Fitch Lytle and Stephen Orgel, eds., Patronage in the Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), p. 42.

13 Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 75-6.

14 The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, I.xvi. Donald S. Lawless finds no evidence that William Herbert ever supported Massinger (Philip Massinger and His Associates, Ball State Monographs 10 [Muncie IN: Ball State Univ., 1967], pp. 41-51). Michael Brennan finds that as late as 1633 Massinger could make no claim to personal familiarity with Philip Herbert (Literary Patronage in the English Renaissance: The Pembroke Family [London and New York: Routledge, 1988], p. 196).

15 Douglas Bruster, Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 1-11.

16 See, for instance, G. E. Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare's Time, 1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 264-92, and Edwin Haviland Miller, The Professional Writer in Elizabethan England: A Study of Nondramatic Literature (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1959).

17 Antonio and Mellida, ed. G. K. Hunter, Regents Renaissance Drama Series (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1965), p. 3.

18 The six are The Maid of Honor (ca. 1621), The Bondman (1623), The Great Duke of Florence (1627), The Emperor of the East (1631), A Very Woman (1634), and The Bashful Lover (1636). Two other tragicomedies make somewhat less of patronage: The Renegado (1624) and The Picture (1629). Two plays classified as pure comedies make even less of the topic: The Parliament of Love (1624) and The Guardian (1633).

19 For a persuasive formulation of the ways the collaboration with John Fletcher restricted Massinger's exercise of his talents, see Cyrus Hoy, "Massinger as Collaborator: The Plays of Fletcher and Others," in Douglas Howard, ed., Philip Massinger, A Critical Reassessment, pp. 78-9. The basic commentary on the main features of the genre remains, to my mind, Eugene M. Waith, The Pattern of Tragicomedy in Beaumont and Fletcher, Yale Studies in English 120 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1952), especially pp. 43-85.

20 Francis Bacon, A Declaration Touching upon the Treasons of the Late Earl of Essex (London, 1601), quoted by James R. Siemon, "'Word Itself against the Word,' Close Reading after Voloshinov," in Russ McDonald, ed., Shakespeare Reread, The Texts in New Contexts (Ithaca NY and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 226-58, 246-7.

21 See, for instance, Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800, abridged edn. (New York: Harpers Books, 1979), pp. 101-2, and Mary Beth Rose, The Expense of Spirit: Love and Sexuality in English Renaissance Drama (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988), p. 129. Ann Jennalie Cook discusses the similarities of Catholic and Anglican teachings on marriage: Making a Match: Courtship in Shakespeare and His Society (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991), p. 13.

22 See Gordon McMullan and Jonathan Hope, eds., The Politics of Tragicomedy, Shakespeare and After (London and New York: Routledge, 1992).

23 The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, 1:105-6.

24 "He (God) made you (Prince Henry) a little God to sitte on his throne and rule ouer other men," The Basilicon Doron of King James VI, ed. James Craigie, Scottish Text Society (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1944), 1:25.

25 McConnell, pp. 180-230.

Robert Y. Turner is professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Shakespeare's Apprenticeship.