Essays in Literature, Fall 1993 v20 n2 p171(26)

"I am Arbaces, we all fellow subjects": the political appeal of Beaumont and Fletcher's 'A King and No King' on the restoration stage. Flores, Stephan P.

Abstract: The appeal of the play 'A King and No King,' one of over thirty from the Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher canon revived during the Carolean period (1660-1685), stems largely from the audiences' intense unease over changing and negotiating their identities, desires and cultural standings. Playgoers during the period were preoccupied with transitions in the political order as well as challenges to their cultural positions during the restored monarchy of Charles II.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1993 Western Illinois University

Scholars have surveyed the Beaumont and Fletcher canon and related the plays' plots, themes, and dramatic strategies to Elizabethan, Jacobean, Caroline, and Carolean dramatic practices, and recently critics have addressed the psychologically compelling effects of the tragicomic genre on characters' sexual dilemmas and the plays' symbolic relation to James I's court and his absolutist politics.(1) However, the later effects of conflicted social and political relations on Restoration productions of such plays as A King and No King and the cultural significance of interdependent relations among sexual desire, gender, and politics in the plays have gone largely unremarked. Among the most popular of over thirty plays from the Beaumont and Fletcher canon revived during the Carolean period (1660-1685), A King and No King appealed in fascinating ways to playgoers' preoccupation with shifts in the political order and challenges to their cultural identities under the restored monarchy of Charles II.

The play ascribes conflicts among the elite to excessive passions, particularly the sexual and social aspirations of King Arbaces and his family. I shall argue that as Beaumont and Fletcher strive to regulate their characters' transgressive desires, they also show how such desires proceed from the patriarchal and absolutist inclinations of the court. Gradually and fitfully, the play destabilizes conventional and coercive oppositions between reason and passion, virtue and vice, and king and subject, suggesting finally the political construction of such polarities, and hence the possibility that one's identity, desires, and cultural position may be changed and negotiated. A King and No King's appeal to early Carolean audiences is intimately related to the way the play represents issues that were less negotiable for their Jacobean predecessors: the challenges of redefining and reclaiming their positions and privileges under a monarch whose authority was under debate and not absolute. The play was first produced in 1611, less than a year after the breaking of the Great Contract between James I and Parliament over his illegal impositions. Jacobean society's dismay over James's absolutist practices resembles the concerns of many after Charles II's restoration, when the memory of Charles I's rule and the rebellion against it was painful, and the hopes that reciprocity between king and subject had been miraculously restored were anxiously high and soon disappointed.

I suggest, then, that the attention to A King and No King issues not only from its generic qualities but largely from playgoers' heightened unease over restoring and refiguring their own compromised positions and identities. The successful revival of A King and No King occurred during a period of acutely contested social, political, religious, and economic entitlements and obligations, a time when the elite were particularly anxious over the effects of social mobility and political preferment. The responses of the king's subjects to dramatic transformations both on and offstage were conditioned by their experience of Charles I's regicide, the civil wars, the stunning restoration of Charles II, his subsequent notoriety for licentious sexual relations, and his struggles to negotiate political settlements and royal prerogatives with the Cavalier Parliament. Such an audience, led by the elite classes yet socially and politically heterogeneous, may have found A King and No King even more pressing and topical than their Caroline and Jacobean precursors. After all, the play depicts a passionate and arrogant ruler who is fortunately redeemed from sin, virtually deposed from and restored to kingship, and educated in the limits of his absolutist designs. It is likely that Carolean playgoers responded readily to Arbaces's conflated roles as subject and king because of Charles II's constrained political prerogatives and because of his well-known sexual penchant for women at court and playhouse. Thus, the paucity of commentary on the cultural appeal of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays on the Restoration stage is particularly striking.

The commendatory poems that preface the 1647 edition of Beaumont and Fletcher's Comedies and Tragedies testify to contemporary praise of the plays' wit, dramatic structure, passion, aristocratic manners, and language, qualities praised again by Neander in Dryden's Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668). Building on such responses, most critics subordinate the plays' social and political relevance to their tragicomic form, emphasizing the prerequisites of the genre and linking these to the plays' preoccupation with passionate, often sexual, conflicts. For example, Cyrus Hoy notes that after 1612 most plays, particularly Beaumont and Fletcher's, are tragicomic "in their depiction of the destruction worked when passion goes unchecked and of the salvation that is achieved when passion is mastered by reason" ("Renaissance and Restoration" 250). R. A. Foakes finds an emphasis on sexuality in its more transgressive forms peculiar to Beaumont and Fletcher's tragicomedy: "a mode of drama that could expose sexual fantasies and suppressed desires within a framework providing the overall control of comic restoration had its own importance and originality" (82). Verna A. Foster follows Foakes's lead, finding Beaumont and Fletcher's "focus on sexuality for its own sake ... psychologically compelling" (311) and arguing that such "explorations of the more difficult areas of human sexuality derive from the requirements of the tragicomic genre" (312). Completing this catalog of critics who tend to divorce the plays' passions from their politics, Eugene Waith argues that the plays' rhetoric deemphasizes meaning to elicit emotional and aesthetic responses to the action (36-40).(2)

Yet as its title so aptly indicates, A King and No King inquires into the nature of kingship, particularly by reconstruing the relation between monarch and subject. The play condenses king and subject into one divided figure: Arbaces--the king who is no king. Arbaces fits neatly, if somewhat reductively, into Hoy's and Waith's paradigms of frustrated passion and sensational rhetoric: he rants and struggles to control his erotic desire for his sister, Panthaea; he survives assassination attempts plotted by his mother, Arane; thinking himself the bastard issue of Gobrius and Arane, he threatens to kill his Lord Protector and father, Gobrius; finally, he nearly follows through on desires to murder his friend, rape Panthaea, and commit suicide.

Arbaces's problems, however, do not stem simply from excessive and "unlawful" erotic passion, nor is his forbidden desire solely sensational. The king solicits others' recognition of his essential autonomy and subjectivity, yet he also longs to identify with his subjects, hoping to confirm the reciprocity and solidarity of his relationships. From the first scene, when he anxiously justifies his kingly status and role in terms of his individual worth, to the last when he describes the "storie" of his life as "a wildernesse [in which] to loose thy selfe for ever"(5.4.287), Arbaces discloses fundamental doubts about the social and political attribution of identity, particularly the relations among one's rank, political and gender prerogatives, and worth.

A subject's sense of status and merit was riddled by such doubts. Those at court depended heavily upon the recognition and the rewards of others, often symbolized by the supreme and absolute Other on earth, God's vice-roy: the king. Yet after Charles I's execution, the authority and laws underwriting kingship were no longer absolute; though Charles II often cultivated the image of divine-right monarchy and sought to preserve royal prerogatives, his widely known sexual escapades and his clashes with Parliament did little to further the notion that receiving his favor was equivalent to the sacred grace of a divine touch. According to Ronald Hutton,

it may be doubted whether Charles II felt much like a victor in

September 1662. His religious policy, his request for a standing

army in the provinces and his attempt to increase his control of cor-

porations had all been rejected. He had become the first English

monarch since the Middle Ages to be successfully defied by his lead-

ing churchmen. The freedom he had won in 1660 had been lost, and

important measures forced upon him by a faction. (Restoration 181) Moreover, the court's profligacy had become proverbial: "The bishops get all, the courtiers spend all, the citizens pay for all, the King neglects all, and the Devil take all" (qtd. by Hutton, Charles the Second 196). Still, while Charles II was "capable of rashness," he was also flexible enough to negotiate with Parliament (Hutton, Charles the Second 201), and perhaps devious enough to pursue "contradictory lines of policy ... [making] it difficult to say categorically whether Charles actually attempted to make himself absolute" (Jones, Charles II 5). If Restoration playgoers could no longer believe readily in a world of absolutes, their ambivalence over restoring such a world could be confronted symbolically by attending revivals of such plays as A King and No King, a play composed by dramatists described as "Jacobean Absolutists" (152), who wrote at the brink of what became "a world of radical self-division and clashing absolutes" (Danby 161).

Yet recently Beaumont and Fletcher's socio-political alliances and the perception that the playwrights cater to James I's absolutist agenda have received further attention and debate. John F. Danby had argued in 1952 that Beaumont and Fletcher were "James's unconscious agents ... capturing the Great House literature [Elizabethan] for the courtier, writing for adherents of a Stuart king rather than for Tudor aristocrats" (157), and supplying "the basis of what will later develop into the Cavalier mentality" (161). More recently, Lee Bliss acknowledges that the collaborators commented cynically at times about life under James I, yet she argues that they still sought preferment at court, hoping, perhaps, for a "morally renewed court that would capture the greatness of Elizabeth's reign" (9). Philip J. Finkelpearl, however, disagrees with those who stress the collaborators' court preferences and connections: "no evidence exists that either Beaumont or Fletcher had any personal ties of dependency or even of friendship with the great Jacobean courtiers and patrons" (47). Finkelpearl doubts that a court audience shaped the plays (51), and his book argues that "political criticism of court and king was a central urge in the most important plays of Beaumont and Fletcher" (7).

Finkelpearl's analysis of A King and No King is significant because he begins to suggest that passions and politics are interrelated. He asserts that the play is not primarily "about incest but one about a king with incestuous longings" (168) who becomes a "helpless prisoner of his criminal passion" (175). But Finkelpearl's argument, which helps to restore the play's power to critique a monarch's lack of self-control, also comes close to essentializing the king, as if his passions were intrinsically part of his "character" (176-77), rather than powerful effects related to his political position, relations, and identity. Yet Finkelpearl concludes provocatively that the play's end is "like a shift from absolute to constitutional monarchy" (179), an assessment echoed by David Laird, who recognizes the play's critique of "monarchical absolutism" (108) and argues that A King and No King "builds a case against prerogative power and in support of a legally limited monarchy" (109).

Thus, by the play's last scene, the king who is no king can proclaim, "I am Arbaces, we all fellow subjects" (5.4.291), because he has translated his conflicting social, political, and gender prerogatives into matters of individual and familial worth, honor, and erotic passion. Striving similarly for their own recognition, Carolean audiences would have been engaged by the contradiction between a king's culturally ascribed status and role and his conflicting desires for recognition and preferment based on more personal and intimate signs of individual loyalty, passions, honor, and merit.

The play's first scene establishes the pursuit of such recognition, exposing not only the contradictions and resentments it entails within the court but also the strategy to represent such behavior as an effect of individual passions and human nature rather than as a function of politics and the psychology of power. The scene begins with two Iberian captains, Mardonius and Bessus, discussing Arbaces's recent victory in single combat over the Armenian king, Tigranes. Mardonius acknowledges the king's bravery but suggests that Arbaces is best understood in terms of his passionate internal conflicts: "[Arbaces] is vain-glorious, and humble, and angrie, and patient, and merrie, and dull, and joyfull, and sorowfull, in extreamities in an houre" (1.1.81). Critics tend to accept Mardonius as the play's voice of honor and reason, the soldier-counselor who diagnoses and informs the king of his failings.

But Mardonius describes Arbaces in personal rather than in social or political terms, attributing his contradictory behavior to conflicts of passion in the king's nature. His point of view disguises the social and political relations that produce Arbaces's conflicts. Both the move to impute passionate behavior to one's person rather than one's place and the possibility that one's place constructs the objects of one's desire would have proved compelling. Each explanation offers consolations and conflicts.

Arbaces's conflicts mark how he is caught in a double bind peculiar to his status and role as a hero-king: he feels compelled to justify his royal and divinely sanctioned authority by demonstrating his heroic stature in ways that testify to his individual worth. Through his boasts and martial prowess, Arbaces courts his subjects' recognition as a corroboration of the worth that legitimizes his difference in degree. Such an expression of his individual worth only highlights, however, the disjunction between his desire to evaluate himself in personal terms and his need to repress his dependence upon his subjects' recognition of him as their king. The interplay between this recognition and repression controls much of the first scene's drama: Arbaces's initial denial and subsequent acknowledgement of a subject's (Mardonius's) criticism.

When Arbaces brags to Tigranes, Mardonius punctuates his boasts with asides critical of the king. Once Tigranes leaves, Arbaces hopes Mardonius will confirm his self-esteem: "I pray you speake, and truly, did I boast?" (1.1.271). Mardonius, however, refuses to flatter the king: "You told Tigranes, you had won his hand / With that sole arme propt by Divinity: / Was not that bragging, and a wrong to us / That daily venturde lives?" (1.1.274-77). Arbaces rants and refuses to listen, but Mardonius pursues the topic, suggesting that Arbaces's passions "eclipse [his] vertues" (1. 1.335). True to Mardonius's previous description of the king's abrupt changes in mood, Arbaces suddenly becomes not "vain-glorious" but "humble": "Thou hast spoake truth, and boldly, such a truth / As might offend another. I have bin / Too passionate" (1. 1.378-80).

Mardonius's assessment of the king's behavior is, however, only a partial truth, which Arbaces hears rather willingly, despite his initial protestations. The dramatic juxtaposition of Arbaces's vainglorious passion to his humble reason was a convention that surely affected audiences in powerful ways, yet it accounts for only part of the scene's dramatic impact and its deeper implications. More significant is the effect of Mardonius's rhetoric upon the king's willingness to accept criticism. This rhetoric succeeds because it offers Arbaces a portrait through which he can assert himself not as others construct him socially and politically--as king--but as a passionate, self-defined individual of heroic stature: an exceptional fellow subject.

But though Arbaces courts and accepts Mardonius's praise, he also believes, as the hero-king, that he must attest to his independence from it. He brags about himself when praising his sister or his enemy, revealing his dependence upon their recognition even as he strives to demonstrate his self-reliance. Instead of the recognition he seeks, however, Arbaces finds himself caught within a Hegelian master-slave relationship that forces him to rely upon his subjects' recognition of his sovereign power.(3) To affirm his own subjectivity, he must risk granting it to others. He tells Tigranes: are as free as I:

To be my prisoner, is to be more free

Than you were formerlie; and never thinke

The man I held worthy to combat me,

Shall be us'd servilly. (1.1.94-98) When Tigranes makes it clear that he considers the king's boasts and the offer of his sister arrogant and condescending, Arbaces belittles Tigranes and his country in self-defense. Yet soon after this rebuff, he renews the marriage offer, insists Tigranes is free, and after Tigranes leaves, comments: "This Prince, Mardonius, / Is full of wisdome, Valour, all the graces / Man can receive.... And yet I conquered him" (1.1.203-06). Preoccupied with his power to articulate his identity, yet depending on another's recognition, Arbaces must praise Tigranes to reaffirm what has just been challenged, his self-esteem.

In this opening scene, Arbaces's words and actions express his desire for freedom to control his appointed role and identity, and they reveal the way his self-esteem depends upon his subjects' worth and their recognition. When, for instance, Bessus offers the king ludicrous advice on combat and Mardonius again accuses the king of boasting, Arbaces experiences a moment of self-doubt, then complains angrily and anxiously:

Talkt enough?

While you confine my words, by Heaven and Earth,

I were much better bee a King of Beasts

Then such a people (1.1.229-32)

By all the world Ime growne ridiculous

To my owne subjects (1.1.239-40)


I cannot bee heard out, they cut me off

As if I were too saucy; I will live

In woods, and talke to Trees, they will allow mee

To end what I begin. The meanest Subject

Can find a freedome to discharge his soule,

And not I. (1.1.252-56)

Arbaces's rants and hyperboles betray his insecurity. They also reveal his partial recognition of the rhetorical and negotiable relations upon which he relies. Several critics, for example, note how Arbaces's inflated rhetoric indicates the material and linguistic limits to his power. Michael Neill suggests that in A King and No King, "language proves to be not the projection of a divinely inspired reason, but a mere decoration on the surface of reality. Men finally are nothing more than sophistical beasts"(332). David Laird also notes how the play "represents monarchical authority as it embarks upon the linguistic conquest of reality" (112). The absolutist ideology through which Arbaces reads himself as a transcendent subject, self-sufficient in the mastery and articulation of his self-consciousness, now betrays his unconscious dependence upon that ideology and upon the recognition of his subjects. And so he resorts, in the passage quoted above, to a familiar topos: the retreat to a pastoral and idyllic setting.

Arbaces's rhetoric attempts to substantiate the selves he desires so ambivalently--the passionate, unruly individual versus the absolute monarch--rather than the role he lives and must accept: the dependent ruler-king. When Mardonius accuses him of bragging, Arbaces's reply continues a rhetoric of self-definition based upon oppositions between fame and worth, man and beast, public and private:

O that thy name

Were great as mine, would I had paid my wealth,

It were as great, that I might combat thee;

I would...

Drive thee about the world, till I had met

Some place that yet mans curiosity

Hath mist of; there would I strike thee dead:

Forgotten of Mankind, such Farewell Rites

As Beasts would give thee thou shouldst have. (1.1.278-87) Desiring freedom from the constraints of social roles, Arbaces nevertheless justifies his refusal to fight Mardonius on the basis of public fame, equating it with inner worth, and fantasizing accordingly about a death that would deprive Mardonius of his fame by demeaning its human and social significance. He still wishes, however, to live beyond the bounds of fame, beyond the social and political construction of his self, where his identity and his power, particularly the power of his word, would not depend upon others:

I have nothing left

At my owne choise. I would I might be private:

Meane men enjoy themselves, but tis our curse

To have a tumult that out of their loves

Will waite on us whether we will or no. --

Will you be gone?--Why heere they stand like death,

My word mooves nothing. (1.1.297-303) Immediately following this lament, Arbaces addresses Mardonius in more intimate terms: "If I were but your friend: stay heere, and waite" (1.1.308).

Desperately seeking affectionate recognition that is given freely and not out of public ceremony or duty, Arbaces appeals to Mardonius not as king to subject, but as friend to friend. He finally listens to Mardonius because Mardonius replies in kind:

...and were you not my King, from

amongst men, I should have chose you out to love above the

rest: nor can this challenge thanks: for my own sake I should

have doted, because I would have lov'd the most deserving man,

for so you are. (1.1.318-22) Once Mardonius reaffirms the king's personal and intrinsic worth, Arbaces feels secure enough to reciprocate:

Alas Mardonius, rise, you shall not kneele;

We are all Souldiers, and all venter lives:

And where there is no difference in mens worths,

Titles are jests: who can out vallew thee?

Mardonius thou has lov'd me, and hast wrong,

Thy love is not rewarded, but beleeve

It shall be better, more then friend in armes,

My Father, and my Tutor, good Mardonius. (1.1.323-30) Arbaces not only revokes their differences in status and role, but he reverses their relations by making Mardonius his symbolic father and mentor. When Mardonius reminds him that he agreed to hear him out, he asserts that Mardonius will speak nothing "but worthy things and true" (1.1.333). But when Mardonius criticizes Arbaces for acknowledging praise but not criticism, Arbaces once again asserts his autonomy and wishes Mardonius were worthy to be killed. Yet even Mardonius is not above courting the king. He tells Arbaces his passions are excessive but emphasizes that the king needs to retain some passions "least men should take you for a god" (1.1.364). He again appeals to the king as an individual and as a friend:

Were you no King, and free from these wilde moods, should I

chuse a companion for wit and pleasure, it should bee you; or for

honesty to enterchange my bosome with, it would by you; or wisdom

to give me counsel. (1.1.367-70)

Unwilling to accept criticism about his passionate behavior from Mardonius in his role as king, Arbaces accepts it when Mardonius addresses him personally. He accepts criticism precisely because Mardonius addresses him in terms that appeal to the king and his subject's need to believe that they share a human attribute--their passions--that cuts across hierarchical boundaries. By not looking into what the king's "wilde moods" may be about or what prompts them and by thus defining the king's problem as desire itself, Mardonius enables Arbaces to repress the socio-political bases of his desire. The play, in turn, offers its audiences an opportunity to subordinate the concerns they share with the king over the circulation and exchange of their social and political identities. Such concerns become translated into conflicting dreams of self-definition and intimate friendship, and further displaced and reduced to an internal battle of reason versus passion.

Moreover, Arbaces acts out his role as the passionate man by identifying his desire as a kind essential to Mardonius and other men: his sexual passion. During Charles II's reign it is likely that audiences were apt to see a parallel between Arbaces's passions and the king's notorious sexual behavior, and were ready to attribute Charles's political difficulties to his sexual politics. For instance, Barbara Palmer (nee Villiers), who became Charles II's mistress upon his arrival in England and Lady Castlemaine soon after, commanded the king's devotion and his courtiers' addresses. But for many subjects this affair severely tarnished Charles's reputation as a sovereign. The king's extramarital relations also threatened to produce further political consequences for crown and country. In 1662-63 Charles bestowed princely status upon James, his son by Lucy Walter, perhaps to secure some claim to the throne for James should his own brother die. He also procured a rich heiress to be James's wife.

Such procurement virtually conflates sexual and political relations. Charles II's self-important Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, was rumored to have procured a barren wife for Charles to advance his own daughter's approach to the throne through her marriage to the king's brother (Hutton, Charles the Second 188). Though parallels between the play and Restoration politics are indirect and circumstantial, it is interesting to speculate on the familiar resonance that Arbaces's own sexually and politically manipulative Lord Protector, Gobrius, might have evoked against the backdrop of Clarendon's influence, and to consider Arbaces's own absolutist sexual designs in relation to Charles's reigning pleasures.

Note that when Arbaces accepts the role of the passionate man that underlies Mardonius's rhetoric, he immediately shifts the conversation to the topic of sexual passions, addressing the old but lusty soldier as if he were Mardonius's procurer rather than his king:

Arbaces A wench upon my life, a wench Mardonius

Gave thee that Jewell.

Mardonius Wench, they respect not mee, Ime old and rough, and

every limbe about mee, but that which should, growes stiffer: I'

those businesses I may sweare I am truely honest: for I pay justly

for what I take, and would bee glad to be at a certainty. (1.1.397-


Arbaces Thou shalt take um up at my price.

Mardonius Your price?

Arbaces I at the Kings price. (1.1.411-13)

Arbaces's offer exposes sexual relations to be socio-economic indices and functions of political practice. His expression of sexual relations in language that exposes their social and economic context is not coincidental; it serves as a model for how the play's characters habitually express and understand their social and political relationships in terms of sexual and familial power. Verna A. Foster finds these sexual relations and dilemmas "idiosyncratic" and therefore fascinating because the "atypicality of the characters' sexual experiences turns the plays' interests inwards to the darker recesses of the psyche rather than outwards to the macrocosm" (320). Foster's account fails to explain that apparently atypical sexual behavior and desires are mutually dependent upon and shaped by larger social, economic, and political structures. As Herbert Blau comments,

What we see overall in the plays of Fletcher is what is realized by

the drama after the Restoration, and that is an economy of pleasure

in which sex, matching wits, is the measuring rod, a principle of

intelligibility, a critical limit giving the impression that it is the

source of pleasure when in actuality it is pleasure's Law, justifying

regulation and social control. (546) Blau intimates that sexual relations can reproduce as well as resist social regulation. Hence, the political and economic exchange of sexual favors and alliances in the play's beginning finally work to contend against the romantic and religious ideologies of its conclusion. The play reveals socio-political relations as intertwined processes of exchange, but this begins not with the banter over sexual landlords and their rents, but rather with Arbaces's initial offer of his sister Panthaea to a foreign enemy, Tigranes.

Early in the first scene, Arbaces extends his boasts to include his sister, Panthaea, and offers her to Tigranes in marriage as the terms of Tigranes's ransom: "A Lady that no suit / Nor treasure, nor thy Crowne could purchase thee, / But that thou faughtst with mee" (1.1.143-45). Tigranes, however, refuses the offer, believing that Arbaces is using Panthaea both as a more insidious form of combat, an attempt to "over-grace" him, and as another way of inviting a tribute to his own worth by recognizing that of Tigranes.

For a Carolean audience, the ostensibly personal and generous offer of Panthaea to Tigranes belies the contemporary practice of arranging marriages for social, economic, and political convenience, particularly among the privileged classes and between the royal houses of different countries. As Lawrence Stone has demonstrated, marriages were arranged to control and to conserve the transfer of land and power, and consequently, the conferral of rank: "The custom of the dowry, according to which brides from all ranks of the propertied classes were expected to contribute a cash sum, together with the great sensitivity to status and rank, meant that there was a very high degree of social and economic endogamy" (50). At a time that seemed to present increasing opportunities for social mobility, and thus increasing anxieties over status and merit, Arbaces's offer appeals to the audience's desire to control such transformations and exchanges and to repress their dependence upon them. Stone shows that though the opportunities for social mobility and the importance of kinship ties gradually shrank after the middle of the seventeenth century, the contemporary estimation of the importance of these factors did not shrink, and were probably heightened after the Restoration:

Ties of blood and clientage remained very important and

respectable elements in appointments in Church and state....

[But] each time there was competition to the ties of blood or mar-

riage from the alternative principles of money or merit. (97)

Arbaces's gesture speaks to the audience's fear of disrupting such powerful relations--in this context, the fear of exogamy (marriage outside of one's class or kinship system)--but it also appeals to the audience's desire for autonomy by representing his offer as an expression of his personal generosity and an extension of family relations, rather than as a matter of political or economic expedience. Yet to Carolean audiences the value of such expedience was well recognized and publicly affirmed: during the early 1660s, for example, many people were upset over the Duke of York's scandalous failure to marry within his class and to the nation's political and economic advantage.

Arbaces, however, abruptly refuses to relinquish Panthaea not only to marriage outside the kingdom or his class, but to marriage outside the family. Note Arbaces's ambivalence in this passage:

It cannot be selfe flattery to say,

The daughters of your Country set by her

Would see their shame ... yet were she odious

Her birth deserves the Empire of the world,

Sister to such a Brother, and throughout the Earth

Carries her bound; and should hee let her loose,

Shee durst not leave him: Nature did her wrong

To print continuall conquest on her cheekes,

And make no man worthy for her to take,

But mee that am too neare her; and as strangely

Shee did for mee: But you will thinke I brag. (1.1.154-69) Extremely anxious over his social identity, Arbaces carries the principle of endogamy (marriage within class or kinship relations) to its logical extreme: an expression of incestuous desire that derives from the cultural stress placed upon kinship and prestige. According to Talcott Parsons's study of family structures, "incest is a withdrawal from this obligation to contribute to the formulation and maintenance of supra-familial bonds on which major economic, political and religious functions of the society are dependent" (Parsons 19; qtd. by Whigham 167).(4)

Privileging of familial ties to the point of incestuous desire also helps to explain and to heighten the social import of the note Arbaces receives about his mother at the end of the first scene. Mardonius thinks it must be news of Arane's death, but Arbaces reveals quite the opposite: since his father's death, Arane has tried repeatedly to have her son killed. Arbaces first responds in terms of his desire for independence from social consequences by describing a state of transcendent religious redemption:

The hand of Heaven is on me, be it farre

From me to struggle; if my secret sinnes

Have low this curse upon me. (1.1.455-57)

O give me leave to stand

As fixt as constancie her self, my eyes

Set here unmov'd, regardlesse of the World. (1.1.459-62) But he then discloses his dependence upon such consequences:

What will the world

Conceive of me? with what unnaturall sinnes

Will they suppose me laden, when my life

Is sought by her that gave it to the world? (1.1.483-86)

Incest and regicide, which threaten the royal family and the state, are represented not in terms of their cultural production but in terms of the convenient and stereotypical opposition between natural and unnatural behavior. But such oppositions, and the stereotyped responses they evoke from such characters as Arbaces, do not remain stable. The stereotyped identity inevitably becomes fissured, revealing its repressive and dialogical relation to the ideological subtext that produced it. "Unnatural" behavior, for example, becomes redefined as culturally subversive; in this way the play simultaneously discloses and disguises the regulatory purpose of such oppositions. Arbaces's homage to Heaven and his "naturall offices" express his compliance with the status quo even as they reveal his unconscious and subversive desire to be "regardlesse of the World," free from the natural order of things precisely because of his "unnaturall" desire for incest.(5) By attending to the oppositions with which characters describe their situations and behavior, we can question, as the characters occasionally do, the contradictions in the social and political roles assigned to them.

For example, the conversation between Arane and Gobrius in 2.1 dramatically heightens suspense by hinting suggestively at sexual and political power struggles close to the king. Gobrius begins by casting Arane publicly into the role of unnatural woman and mother: "so little womanhood / And naturall goodness, as to thinke the death / Of her owne Sonne" (2.1.11-13). Gobrius then offers Panthaea as an opposing paradigm who embodies her father's virtue: "There is a Ladie takes not after you, / Her Father is within her, that good man" (2.1.16-18).

But Arane does not play the role Gobrius assigns her. She accuses him of dissembling. He privately acknowledges the truth of her accusations but warns her that they would risk death and would not be believed if they published their secret (that Arbaces is Gobrius's son, not Arane's). Meanwhile, Panthaea, oblivious to this private power struggle, plays to perfection the part Gobrius and her culture have assigned her by offering herself as a sacrificial victim to heal the rift:

May the will

Of Heaven be done, and if one needes must fall,

Take a poore Virgins life to answere all. (1.2.38-40)

The audience, however, must interpret Panthaea's public gesture in the context of Gobrius and Arane's private conversation, which has exposed a latent power struggle that depends upon the opposition between Arane the "unnatural mother" and Panthaea the "naturally virtuous daughter." This glimpse of how ideology affects Panthaea's identity as a potential martyr undermines the political efficacy of her offer at the very moment that the play calls upon her to affirm reverence for her parents and her sovereign.

The play again exposes Panthaea's ideological naivete when Gobrius suggests she should feel free to refuse Tigranes and when Spaconia urges her to reject him. In both instances, Panthaea assumes that her duty will not conflict with her desires. She is confident, for example, that Arbaces will allow her to "take or leave" Tigranes. She assures Gobrius: "But I am not built / On such wild humors, if I find him worthy, / He is not lesse, because he's offerd" (2.1.223-25). She bases her confidence in Arbaces's reasonableness as a marriage broker by affirming her ability to control her passions, and by attributing such self-control to Arbaces as well. But Tigranes's betrothed, the passionate Spaconia, assumes Panthaea will be unable to resist loving Tigranes: "my request is more without the bounds / Of reason yet; for tis not in the power / Of you to doe what I would have you grant" (2.1.261-63). Panthaea replies:

He may keepe all his graces to himselfe,

And feare no ravishing from me. (2.1.283-84)

For if he were a thing twixt God and man,

I could gaze on him; (if I knew it sinne,

To love him) without passion. (2.1.296-98)

This exposition of Panthaea's ready submission to Arbaces's will and her confidence in her ability to resist unlawful passion serves ostensibly to establish Panthaea as a paradigm of virtue and self-control, a paradigm whose subjection to Arbaces's vehement denials of their kinship and passion in 3.1 is a necessary part of the scene's "complex sequence of emotional tones" (Mizener 144). An audience's response to these emotions, however, would have been further complicated by their awareness of contemporary exchanges of people and power that revealed politics to be a matter of negotiated settlements rather than merely virtue and self-control.

Gobrius intervenes in the struggle for power by telling Arbaces that Panthaea is reluctant to accept her brother's choice of husbands. Arbaces's response discloses his concern over his own power and the possibility of having his blood and status tainted: "My will, and not her owne must governe her. / What, will shee marrie with some slave at home?" (3.1.5-6). Gobrius then plays simultaneously upon two opposing fears--fear of losing Panthaea to someone outside the kingdom and the fear of keeping her incestuously close--by suggesting that once Arbaces sees her, he will not want to part with her. His strategy heightens the disjunction between Arbaces's public duty as king and brother to Panthaea and his supposedly private desires as a man and subject. The next scene highlights this disjunction even further.

Here the play's principal characters assemble to witness Arbaces and Arane's reconciliation, in which her formal acknowledgement of Arbaces as her king prompts his painful reply: "You are my Mother" (3.1.53). But the symbolic value of this reconciliation is undermined by her past attempts to kill him, by her conversation with Gobrius in which Arbaces's relation to her as king and son is questioned, and by her failure to acknowledge Arbaces in the way he desires, as a son whom she loves: "I came / Onely to shew my dutie" (3.1.57). To Arbaces, who has struggled to situate his public self in relation to his role in the family and to his worth as an individual, Arane's expression of her public duty comes thinly veiled as a death blow to his estimation of his private self and his attempts to identify his essential subjectivity.(6)

Arane exits, and Arbaces turns, unable to acknowledge Panthaea as his sister. The sexual tension and emotional hyperboles in Arbaces's confrontation with Panthaea in this scene are not, as Mizener argues, wholly divorced from situation and character (144), but continue instead to develop and to express Arbaces's dilemmas of status and identity. Evaluating himself in terms of his gender, his sexual potency, and his passionate defense of family ties, Arbaces now discovers that recognizing Panthaea publicly would both acknowledge and forestall his incestuous desire, resulting in the disintegration of his own identity: "Speake, am I what I was?" (3.1.80). In words that also expose his anxiety over his relationship to his mother, he attempts to banish the taboo desire he feels for his sister:

Write to thy laughing Mother in thy bloud,

That you are Powers belied, and all your darts

Are to be blowne away by men resolv'd

Like dust; I know thou fears't my words, away. (3.1.89-92)

Failing to abolish this desire, he negates Panthaea. He first denies that she is his sister:

Gobrius Sir it is shee

Arbaces Tis false

Gobrius Is it?

Arbaces As hell, by Heaven as false as hell,

My sister: Is shee dead? if it be so,

Speake boldly to me. (3.1.122-26)

He then proclaims her death:

... shee died

A Virgin though, more innocent then sleepe,

... and you shall see me beare

My crosses like a man; we all must die. (3.1.132-38)

Arbaces's elegy for Panthaea enables him to acknowledge momentarily his mortality and his human limitations, and it preserves Panthaea's innocence and avoids incest by consigning her virgin body to the other world. But when Gobrius insists that she is not dead, Arbaces resorts once again to his absolute power as king: "Shee is no kinne to me, nor shall shee be; / If shee were any, I create her none, / And which of you can question this?" (3.1.161-63). But these words undermine the very concept Arbaces has struggled to preserve, the idea that kinship ties are natural and unassailable indications of his worth and identity. By attempting to manipulate such relations through his political position, he reveals more completely how all relations and identities, especially his own, are subject to social and political, rather than natural, modes of production.

Arbaces's outburst places his audiences, both those on stage and in the pit, in precarious positions. Panthaea, effectively nameless and figuratively "dead," pleads with Arbaces to have her adopted into another family: "else I shall live / Like sinfull issues that are left in streetes / By their regardless Mothers" (3.1.180-82). But Arbaces forbids her to speak or others to speak for her. His tyrannical behavior symbolically illustrates, for both pre- and postcivil war audiences, the danger of a king whose power is not subject to limitations; to Carolean audiences, it also exposes the royal manipulation of privilege and status at a time when playgoers were divided over how much power should be allotted to Charles II and how he should dispense that power through grants of offices and honors. Samuel Pepys, for instance, reports how the House's inquiry "into the selling of places doth trouble a great many" (5-31-63).(7) In order to reaffirm the "natural" stability of the social and political order--what Tigranes calls "the law of Nature, and of Nations" (3.1.243)--the play risks exposing the fragility of this order as a political construct. The play's rhetoric thus transfers to its audience the responsibility for reaffirming the cultural values which Arbaces's behavior has put in question. Arbaces himself states succinctly what his dilemmas over status, identity, and desire put at stake:

... he that undertakes my cure, must first

Orethrow Divinity, all morall Lawes,

And leave mankinde as unconfinde as beasts,

Allowing them to doe all actions

As freely as they drinke, when they desire. (3.1.193-97)

But does this assessment of what is politically at risk match the audience's interpretation of what is endangered? The audience knows that Panthaea is not, as Arbaces charges after three tempting kisses of reconciliation, "a witch, / A poysoner, and a Traytor" (3.1.310-11). Yet it is more difficult to determine the level of intended dramatic irony, if any, in Arbaces's declaration to God that he is being punished with the unmanly sin of incest and that "it [divine power] must be holie / That pulles it [incest] thence" (3.1.331-32). This prayer threatens to displace the play's focus on Arbaces's dilemmas over his social and political identity by representing those dilemmas as moral and religious problems resolvable only through an appeal to a transcendent authority. Even Mardonius, who functions at times as the play's satiric truth-teller, agrees that the king's behavior is a punishment from God: "Heaven has some secret end in't, and tis a scourge no question justly laid upon him" (3.3.2-3). Each time, however, that the characters resort to conventional oppositions to interpret their situations--oppositions between reason and passion, king and subject, honor and dishonor, and virtue and vice--the oppositions and the values they represent are disrupted by dramatic action that exposes their hegemonic intent. This exposure occurs because in its effort to attend to differences between opposing characters and concepts, the play discovers underlying identities that threaten to disrupt the oppositions altogether.

I have already stressed how the play's reliance upon conventional oppositions to explain characters' motives and their dramatic situations works simultaneously to disclose and to disguise the social and political structures that produce not only the motives and situations but the desire for such oppositions. I believe the play's ideological reception hinges upon the way such oppositions enable the audience to reconcile contemporary contradictions of status, privilege, and merit. The pursuit of desire for political and social power through such polarities depends, of course, upon the relations of identity and difference that define them.

I have argued, for example, that the play's proffered opposition between Arbaces's passion and Mardonius's reason strives to repress what it cannot help but disclose: Arbaces's anxieties over the difference between his identity as king and his personal sense of self-worth.(8) Arbaces, of course, is not the only character defined according to identities and differences. The play identifies Panthaea as a paradigm of passive virtue by differentiating her from Arane's "unnaturally" vicious designs upon her son, and from Spaconia's more active and upwardly mobile control over her lover Tigranes. The play relates Tigranes and Arbaces not only as master and slave, or in terms of their shared identities as kings and rivals, but also by the way that each man views his trials and temptations as tests of his "manhood," as differentiated both from women and beasts. Because the play opposes male to female roles and attributes, its definition of passion and incest as "unmanly" suggests not simply beasts as unnatural "Others" but also women.(9)

The most prominent and crucial relation of identity and difference, however, occurs between the high and low plots in the sustained comparison of Arbaces with Bessus. The first scene establishes the difference between the "tragic" high plot and the "comic" low plot when Bessus compares himself to Arbaces, boasting that he has also won honor and renown for leading a victorious charge into the enemy; however, we soon learn from Mardonius's taunts that Bessus was actually attempting to flee the battle. The play begins with a juxtaposition that suggests how Arbaces's worth matches his public status, and how Bessus's public boasts conceal his cowardice. Yet Mardonius's deflation of the king's vanity begins to deconstruct the king's opposition to Bessus.

Critics have differentiated Arbaces and Bessus by assuming that they fulfill stereotyped functions--Arbaces the tragically boastful hero, Bessus the comically boastful coward--and by viewing them merely as symbolic equivalents of oppositions between Reason and Will or humanity and bestiality.(10) Bessus's presence in the play, however, is potentially far more disruptive to the court. His parodic imitation of and opposition to Arbaces reveal the two men's common identity as effects and vehicles of power, constituted by a cultural ethos and a political system that produce their desire for social and political status.

Bessus's desire to equate his deeds in battle with Arbaces's--to set himself on Arbaces's level and thereby to appropriate similar rewards and recognition--appears initially as a comic inversion of Arbaces's heroic value. But once Arbaces enters, boasting of his victory and courting his subjects' recognition even as he demeans their worth, Bessus's parodic imitation of and difference from Arbaces are transvalued, offering a serious illustration of both men's anxiety over their status and identity, both hoping to distinguish themselves within the social and political hierarchy. This desire for distinction or "honor" links high and low plots, but in ways that question the upper plot's cultural pieties.

A woman's honor, for example, depended upon her chaste reputation. When Bessus vouches for Spaconia's honor, he slyly insinuates that a lady's honor, like his own, is simply a matter of reputation and rank:

but I dare give my word for her, and for her honestie: shee came

along with me, and many favours shee did me by the way; but by

this light none but what shee might doe with modestie, to a man of

my ranke. (2.1.174-77)

your Grace shall understand I am secret in these businesses, and

know how to defend a Ladies honour. (2.1.186-87)

Bessus's comic insinuations play upon the audience's concern and perhaps skeptical regard for the value widely attached to female chastity, a value important in the marriage market especially when questions of legitimate inheritance of property and titles arose (Stone 316).(11) Although the characters in the high plot value their honor and reputation, Bessus comes to regret his spurious fame for bravery after receiving, so he says, over 200 challenges from men he abused in the past, who view his new reputation as a serious challenge to their honor and self-esteem. This scene (3.2) offers a hilarious commentary on the pursuit of honor, particularly in Bessus's analysis of the various styles of the challenges he has received. The audience also receives, however, a telling history of Bessus's past that makes it difficult to view him simply in opposition to Arbaces as the embodiment of his evil Will:

Before I went to the warres, I came to the Towne a young fellow

without meanes, or parts, to deserve friends; and my emptie guts

persuaded me to lie, and abuse people for my meate, which I did,

and they beate me ... and what I said, was remembred in mirth,

but never in anger; of which I was glad. I would it were at that

passe againe ...

--I was never at battle but once, and theree I was running ... but

was so afraid ... now they thinke to get honour of me. (3.2.8-33)

Though comic, Bessus's dilemma over honor--his desire to have it and yet to be free to ignore or to transgress it--presents a significant reprise of Arbaces's desires for self-sufficiency and for transgressing the codes that bind him in his role, either as king or as subject, dependent upon the social and political recognition of others. After Arbaces beats him, Bessus seeks the advice of two swordsmen about the state of his honor. They convince him that being kicked and beaten by one's Prince distinguishes one as a man of valor and of honor (4.3.). Lee Bliss remarks astutely that "the Sword-men's attempt verbally to redefine reality--Bessus's demonstrated cowardice as 'honor'--provides a farcical version of Arbaces's astonishing response to his sudden desire for his sister [in denying her kinship]" (112). These scenes are highly comic but also pathetic in the way they parody the upwardly mobile courtier's pursuit of his superiors' favors. The swordsmen's and Bessus's pursuit of this recognition manages to capture the self-defeating and self-deluding nature of the courtier's debasing way of life. Inscribed by the desire for social recognition, the masochistic swordsmen welcome a painful kicking by Bacurius, looking on this as proof of their valor and the lord's favor.

Yet given the hindsight that this kicking relationship may lead eventually to increasing civil strife, Restoration playgoers may have been particularly ambivalent and uneasily appreciative of the satiric edge to the comedy in the kicking episode. It is likely that to a Carolean audience the parodic comedy of this subplot offered a way both to acknowledge and to disguise their own frustrated desires to recover and to preserve the honor and status shaken by their experience of the civil wars.(12) Even more perversely, as the system of bribing members opposed to Charles II's policies developed under the direction of Sir Henry Bennett, many seeking preferment chose not to fawn upon the court but to thwart it in order to be bought off: "As the most factious were rewarded, so they must speak against the government'; so that where five or six were won over, now many more are in opposition" (Roberts 77).

The high and low plots cross paths even more directly when Arbaces asks Mardonius and then Bessus to procure Panthaea for him. Arbaces portrays his request to Mardonius as a matter of eternal damnation (3.3.76-79). Though Mardonius agrees that Arbaces sins, his reply portrays the political consequences of the crime and of his own refusal:

if you doe this crime, you ought to have no lawes; For after this it

will bee great injustice in you to punish any offendor for any crime.

... Meanes I have none but your Favour, and I am rather glad, that

shall loose um both together, then Keepe um with such conditions.


Thwarted and nearly humbled by Mardonius's reproaches, Arbaces tries Bessus, but recoils in horror at his easy compliance:

Arbaces But thou appearest to me after thy grant

The ugliest, loathed, detestable thing

That I have ever met with. Thou hast eyes

Like flames of Sulphur, which me thinkes doe dart

Infection on me ....

Bessus I feele no such thing, but tis no matter how I looke. (3.3.159-


Arbaces If there were no such Instruments as thou,

We Kings could never act such wicked deeds: (3.3.184-85)

From Arbaces's point of view, the scene seems to present, as Mizener argues, his confrontation with his good and bad angels (150). Yet it is Bessus's equanimity, his lack of passion, that particularly infuriates and horrifies Arbaces. Bessus's indifference shocks Arbaces because it undercuts the grounds for explaining his own behavior in terms of familiar religious polarities. Bessus upsets the simple binary opposition between passion (evil, womanly) and reason (good, manly) through which Arbaces reads himself. Bessus seems to care for neither; he is merely a function of power, imitating and complying with what he thinks will gain him political favor. A subject who exposes the political subtext that produces his desire, Bessus seems outside the cultural oppositions through which Arbaces interprets himself. Arbaces vows not to sin, but Bessus, whom he falsely blames for his corruption, seems beyond the reductive opposition of vice and virtue, sin and redemption.

Bessus, however, is not the only one to surprise Arbaces. When Arbaces reveals his lust to Panthaea, who has been a paradigm of virtue, and calls upon her to revile him, she replies:

It is a sullen fate that governs us.

For I could wish as heartilie as you

I were no Sister to you, I should then

Imbrace your lawfull love sooner then health. (4.4.104-07)

After Arbaces laments how their actions are "bounded in / With curious rules, when everie Beast is free" (4.4.134-35), Panthaea surprises him further by suggesting that "Brothers and sisters lawfully may kisse" (4.4.154). Panthaea, so confident of her ability to control her passion when promising Spaconia that she would refuse Tigranes, finds it difficult to align her desire with social and religious convention. Thus, though the strength of her passion works simultaneously to confirm the conventional stereotype of a woman's evil erotic desire and her inability to control it, it also leads both Arbaces and Panthaea, who fear the strength of their passion and agree to part, to question the grounds of their transgression.

The play never resolves this question, nor does it explicitly return to the problem of how Arbaces's anxieties over his status and identity become translated into problems of incestuous desire. The play transforms and inverts Arbaces's quest for social recognition and independence into his pursuit of the infamy of being recognized as the "dispised fruite / Of [Gobrius and Arane's] lawlesse lust" (5.4.26-27), and his search for the promise of his inheritance: "... a spacious world / Of impious acts, that I may soone possesse" (5.4.165-66). The play suppresses the questions it has raised in order to provide a romantic ending: Gobrius reveals that Arane took Arbaces from him to be raised as her son when she was unable to conceive her own. Arbaces's dilemma over his identity as king or subject; now he can be both without apparent contradiction, claiming all present as his fellow subjects (5.4.291), yet retaining, through his marriage to Panthaea, his power and status as king.

As Herbert Blau suggests, "no wonder the fulfillments of Fletcherian tragicomedy resemble the distortions of a dream, what John Aubrey said of the collaborations with Beaumont, 'a wonderful consimility of phansey'" (541). William Woodson argues that the "calculated sentimental response of the [Jacobean] audience to Arbaces is based entirely on the alluring faith in a sudden recovery of innocence" (325). Given the play's popularity, we can speculate that the sudden restoration of innocence was surely appealing to many Restoration playgoers plagued with guilt over their ethical and political compromises during the Interregnum. Yet as Lee Bliss proposes, the blatant romance resolution makes the play seem bleaker: "even in a tragicomedy so tilted toward final happiness for all, there lingers a sense of precariousness surrounding the human community and its values" (119).

The play remains problematic once it prompts the audience to question the ideological oppositions and exchanges that regulate power and identity. One wonders whether a Carolean audience, sobered by the reality of the civil wars and Charles I's execution, could have repressed the subversive thrust of such questions as readily as their Jacobean predecessors may have done, only to slip back into their roles as easily as the characters on stage. Once such polarities as king/subject, reason/passion, virtue/vice, and honor/dishonor have been questioned, precisely by illustrating them to be dynamic and constantly negotiated cultural constructs, the polarities and the structures of social, political, and economic relations they define become unstable and difficult to reinvest with their traditional values and meanings.

University of Idaho


(1)For reviews of scholarship through the mid-1970s see appropriate entries in Logan and Smith, plus those in Pearse. The plays' tremendous popularity during the Restoration, especially the success of such plays as The Scornful Lady, The Humorous Lieutenant, and Rule a Wife and Have a Wife is well-known; according to The London Stage, A King and No King was produced in 1660, 1661, 1662, 1669, 1675, 1683, 1685, 1686, and 1705. For the literary influence and fortunes of Beaumont and Fletcher on the Restoration stage, see Sprague, Wilson, and Sorelius. Markley, however, assesses the plays' influence in terms of their cultural context. In a recent essay, he argues persuasively that the Cavaliers' praise of Fletcher's wit and dramatic style in the poems prefacing the 1647 edition derives from an aesthetic that provided them with an "emotional release ... from the rigors of the Civil War" (108), an aesthetic that expressed their desire "to reaffirm the value of an aristocratic culture temporarily in eclipse" (111). See also work by Bliss, Blau, Woodson, Neill, Foakes, Foster, Finkelpearl, and Laird.

(2)Waith develops an argument first presented by Mizener, who writes that Beaumont and Fletcher "gave the narrative of their plays a pattern; but it is not a morally significant pattern, and its great complexity is not determined by any complexity of meaning but exists because a complex narrative is itself exciting, as well as the means of providing the maximum number of exciting moments" (140). However, Leech sees the plays' improbable situations as hypotheses that reveal a "limited but real curiosity about the world [Beaumont and Fletcher] knew" (38). Blau also recognizes the need to move beyond the familiar and reductive oppositions critics have cited (e.g., reason/passion, virtue/vice) to explore what specific meanings and relationships the plays' repress:

As for the binary oppositions congenital to the plays--charity/lust,

honor/materialism, loyalty/corruption--one is not so much inter-

preting the plays in naming them as designating what needs to be

interpreted. The binaries are the structures, as in the manichean

figures of a dream, whereby we get at the repressed subject of

which the categories are the symptoms: the endorsement of a divid-

ing power whose claimed absoluteness is the question which keeps

the loyal subject always at a loss. (553)

(3)See Hegel's analysis of the desire for recognition that produces a master's dependence upon a slave's recognition of his worth (229-40). Neill comments perceptively on Arbaces's slavery to his passions: "Cavalierly as he plays with the freedom of others, the king is nevertheless maddeningly conscious of the limits to his own. For him, however, liberty amounts to simple libertinism" (324). Writing of James I, Morse suggests that monarchs make and unmake favorites because it is "the favourite who symbolically bodies forth the idea of unlimited, arbitrary power" (56).

(4)See Whigham's discussion of the incest taboo in relation to sexual and social mobility in The Duchess of Malfi. Neill notes how Arbaces's "passion of self-love is converted to the transferred narcissism of incest" (325).

(5)Incest was seen as an unnatural crime, not just against the family or the church, but against the state. For a thorough discussion of changing concepts of authority and obligations to it during the Restoration, especially to sovereigns, parents, the laws of nature and of the state, see Staves.

(6)Note as well that Arbaces's relation to his subjects has just been satirically exposed when he parades Tigranes in triumph before the citizens who have come to glimpse the king. Arbaces flatters himself by attributing his position to their "united love" (2.2.80) and by telling them his repayment for all their love and the expenses of war is in the "peace" he has brought them. He concludes by wishing that he could spend his days among them and promises to be their "Father" (2.2.139). Yet his audience is preoccupied by desires much more local and domestic:

1. Citizen's Wife Ile give a crowne to meete with you.

3. Man. At a bawdy house. (2.2.71-72)

1. Man Come, shall we goe? all's done.

Woman I, for God's sake, I have not made a fire yet. (2.2.142-43)

1. Citizen's Wife ... did not his Majestie

say, he had brought us home Peaes for all our money?...

2. Citizen's Wife Yes, and so we shall anon I warrant you, have

every one a pecke brought home to our houses. (2.2.157-58)

(7)Roberts and others have observed that after the Restoration even royalists like Sir Roger L'Estrange expressed concern over the extent of the king's power by endorsing both the separation of legislative and executive powers and the accountability of the king's ministers to Parliament (cf. Thirsk 22-26; Hutton, Charles the Second 166-213). Clarendon mentions royalist discontent over the distribution of honors and preferments, saying most men "looked upon every obligation bestowed upon another man, how meritorious soever, as upon a reproach to them, and an upbraiding of their want of merit" (Thirsk 183).

(8)Arbaces expresses his preoccupation with the obligations of social exchange and recognition that devolve upon himself and his family (with Panthaea as currency) hyperbolically in the form of incest. But the play also displaces the causes and effects of such obligations and exchanges in terms of such neat oppositions as the one Mardonius suggests between Arbaces's "vainglory," which can be understood as producing the terms of his "humbleness."

(9)Though Turner does not address the political ideology behind such oppositions, he does trace the play's juxtaposition of humanity and bestiality in terms of the great chain of being (xix-xxiii). In addition, though Foster suggests these plays' sexuality "feminizes tragicomedy" by depicting women who wittily "defend their chastity" (319), such defenses are predicated upon concepts of "virtue" that ultimately work to subordinate women to patriarchal goals.

(10)Mizener notes the parody and describes Bessus as Arbaces's "bad angel," but otherwise sees little meaning in the contrast of Arbaces and Bessus: "there appears to be little justification for the considerable space which is devoted to the rather pointless business of Bessus' cowardice; in terms of the narrative, in other words, the variation from tragic to comic here and throughout the play seems to be purposeless and random" (149). Turner refines Mizener's interpretation by seeing Mardonius as a projection of Arbaces's Reason, Bessus as his more sinister Will described in bestial terms (xviii-xix). Woodson also thinks Arbaces "rightly accuses Bessus of being a demonic tempter" (319). Leech believes that Bessus's cowardice keeps Arbaces within reach of our sympathy "certainly the coward's existence in the same play diverts our merriment from the King: not being the worst stands in some rank of praise" (99). Bliss's interpretation, however, complements my reading of how Arbaces perceives Bessus according to the religious ideology by which he judges himself: "Arbaces can only 'see' Bessus as evil by superimposing an allegorical portrait of the devil and hellmouth on the figure who cheerfully resists his description" (Francis Beaumont 120). See also Dollimore's study of Shakespeare and his contemporaries (chapters 10,16) for a review of how the "humanist" focus upon the characters' essential natures (e.g., as Reason, Will, Sin) disguises the ideological forces that produce the characters and our ways of evaluating them.

(11)The disjunction between sign and substance is not just a matter of honor but also of rank and gender. As a woman aspiring above her class, Spaconia is particularly vulnerable to such attacks. Even Ligones, Spaconia's father, believes his daughter's station better suits her to be Tigranes's whore rather than his queen (5.2.69).

(12)As fortunes waxed and waned just after the Restoration, one's precise social status was somewhat difficult to determine, especially in London. When, for example, the poll tax, paid in proportion to one's rank, was levied, "the commissioners for the City were at a loss as to how to determine it [rank] for some time" (Hutton, Restoration 138). See also Susan Staves's chapter on "The Trauma of the Civil War." She explains why the character of the hero became one of the most problematic issues in Restoration literature: "With the exception of a few people who had spent eighteen years in jail, the survivors of 1660 were those who had compromised or at least been left with a strong suspicion that there were no heroes, or at least that whatever heroes there might be were really only imperfect men. Yet there was naturally also considerable resistance to accepting such an idea" (40).


Beaumont, Francis and John Fletcher. A King and No King. The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, vol. 2. Ed. George Walton Williams. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970. 181-281.

Blau, Herbert. "The Absolved Riddle: Sovereign Pleasure and the Baroque Subject in the Tragicomedies of John Fletcher." New Literary History 17 (1986): 539-54.

Bliss, Lee. Francis Beaumont. Twayne's English Author Series 458. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.

_____. "Tragicomic Romance for the King's Men, 1609-1611: Shakespeare, Beaumont, and Fletcher." Comedy from Shakespeare to Sheridan. Eds. A. R. Braunmiller and J. C. Bulman. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1986. 148-64.

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