Title: SEX AVERTED OR CONVERTED: SEXUALITY AND TRAGICOMIC GENRE IN THE PLAYS OF FLETCHER ,  By: Foster, Verna A., Studies in English Literature (Rice), 00393657, Spring92, Vol. 32, Issue 2
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According to Eugene Ionesco, "To renew one's idiom or one's language is to renew one's conception or one's vision of the world." Defending his plays against Kenneth Tynan's charge of formalism divorced from observable reality, Ionesco argued that "Any new artistic expression enriches us by answering some spiritual need and broadens the frontiers of known reality."[1] Ionesco's remarks are apposite to an earlier drama that has also been accused of a concern with form at the expense of substance. Jacobean tragicomedy, in fact, constituted at renewal of idiom such as Ionesco describes, one that enabled dramatists to explore the frontiers of known sexual reality. R.A. Foakes makes the point simply but cogently: the basis and one of the prime achievements of both Shakespearean and Fletcherian tragicomedy is the serious treatment of sexuality's darker strains within a comic framework.[2] In Shakespeare's earlier group of tragicomedies (the so-called problem plays) illicit or problematic sex implicates some broader dislocation in the social and moral order. In the late romantic tragicomedies (from Pericles to The Tempest) sexual malaise expresses the protagonists' temporary alienation from their spiritual universe. The scope of Fletcherian tragicomedy is narrower. Fletcher's tragicomedies focus on sexuality for its own sake. The results are at times prurient or titillating but also theatrically exciting and often psychologically compelling explorations of extreme, potentially tragic sexual dilemmas from whose worst consequences both the characters and the audience are generically protected. In this essay I want to examine the effect of the tragicomic genre on Fletcher's dramatization of sexuality and, conversely, the effect of the sexual subject matter on his particular development of tragicomedy.[3]

Jacobean drama in general foregrounds sexual motifs; it is the special province of tragicomedy, however, to explore the anxieties and fantasies that exist between desire and its fulfillment, between sexuality and tile act of sex.[4] The psychoIogical complexity and the fascination of Fletcher's explorations of the more difficult areas of human sexuality derive from the requirements of the tragicomic genre he has chosen to write in. Quite simply, this is because tragicomedy, by its defining dramatic requirements, effectively connects sex with both death and laughter. Tragicomedy, according to the genre's chief Renaissance theorist, Giambattista Guarini, in his Compendium of Tragicomic Poetry (1601), combines the "comic order" (development of the plot towards a happy ending) and laughter of comedy with "the danger but not the death" of tragedy.s Following Guarini, in his preface to The Faithful Shepherdess (1609) Fletcher wrote that a tragicomedy "wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedie, yet brings some neere it, which is inough to make it no comedie" and that its characters can range from "a God" to "meane people" (generically the source of laughter).[6] In practice, Fletcher introduces the danger of death into the framework of romantic comedy by dealing explicitly with his lovers' sexuality.[7] The (usually) unconsummated but fully realized sexuality that gives Fletcher's tragicomedies their hothouse atmosphere can be attributed in part to their genre. Revising his own tragicomic formula, we might say, "A Fletcherian tragicomedy wants sex, which is enough to make it no tragedy, but brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy." Since the particular sexual experience that he dramatizes must contain tragic potential, there has to be something wrong with it. Hence the motifs of incest, lust, rape, sexual jealousy, and frustration that have given Fletcherian drama its reputation for decadence and triviality, though these are hardly trivial subjects.

The link between sex and death in Fletcher's tragicomedies is typically worked out as a dramatization of the paradoxical pun in the verb "to die."[8] Repeatedly death is presented as a punishment for or an acceptable alternative to sex. In Philaster, for example, it is both. Philaster stabs Arethusa because he believes her guilty of fornication, but his action is also obviously a symbolic fulfillment of his own sexual frustration. Arethusa shares this view of death as sexual consummation: "If my fortune be so good, to let me fall / Upon thy hand, I shall have peace in death" (IV.v.65-66), she says.[9] Towards the end of the play Arethusa makes the pun explicit when she tells her father that she is not afraid to die provided that Pharamond is not her "headsman" (V.iii.72). Memnon in The Mad Lover desires to have his heart cut out and presented to Princess Calis as a literal demonstration of his love for her, while his brother, Polidor, finally wins the lady after pretending to die, thereby fulfilling the oracle that allots to Calis a "dead love" (V.iii.54). In The Queen of Corinth, even more clearly, death and sex are presented as alternatives to one another, since Theanor's rape of Merione and supposedly Beliza can be compensated either by his death or by marriage to his victim. But nowhere is the paradox enacted so strikingly as in A Wife for a Month, in which the lustful tyrant, Frederick, takes literally Valerio's poetic conceit that to be Evanthe's "but one poore Moneth" he would give "My youth, my fortune, and then leave to live" (I.ii.91-92). Valerio is allowed to marry Evanthe for one month, after which he is to die. Even more sadistically, Frederick's henchman, Sorano, warns Valerio that if he makes love to Evanthe during that month, she will die:

Be sure you hit her home, and kill her with it
(There are such women that will dye with pleasure):
The Axe will follow else, that will not faile
To fetch her Maiden-head, and dispatch her quickly.

Evanthe "dies" one way or the other.

Although literal death is averted in Fletcher's tragicomedies, the consequence of the sex-death symbiosis that he dramatizes is to render representations of sexuality that are morbid, warped, and disturbing. Sexual desire is presented as a sudden unavoidable madness, a sickness, a harbinger of death. At the most simple, literal, and comic level, Memnon's sudden passion for Princess Calis that makes him wish to die in order to secure an everlasting union with her after death is given a physiological explanation: "His cause is meerly heat" (III.ii.146). Polidor suggests that "a wench" (line 144) might cure his brother. But in plays that focus more on the lover's psychology than his physiology, the images associated with sexuality are more disturbing. Arbaces in A King and No King is both angry and frightened at the loss of self-control represented by his desire for his sister. He thinks that he should be able to tear the feeling out of himself, and when he cannot, he regards Panthea as "naught to me but a disease, / Continuall torment without hope of ease" (III.i.190-91). Later he describes himself as "a sicknesse / As killing as the plague, ready to seize thee" (IV.iv.84-85). Even when sexual consummation is morally sanctioned, it is linked to the horror of death. In A Wife for a Month Evanthe tells Valerio that he need not have forborne to make love to her, for

Had I been my Valerio, thou Evanthe,
I would have Iyen with thee under a Gallowes,
Though the Hangman had been my Hymen, and the furies
With iron whips and forks, ready to torter me,
I would have hug'd thee too, though hell had gap'd at me.

These gruesome images evoke Evanthe's unconscious association of sexual pleasure with pain. Though Evanthe's protestation arises from the threat of literal death, her indulgent elaboration of her conceit presents, to say the least, a morbid view of sex.

The gloomy vision of sexuality dramatized in the tragic portions of Fletcher's plays is, however, partially recuperated by its ultimate and entirely expected tragicomic transformation. I say "entirely expected" because Fletcher's tragicomedies invariably contain clues that permit their audiences to anticipate a happy ending. Such generic markers as conventionally cryptic asides or the presence of a controlling character (Gobrius in A King and No King, for example) remind the audience of the dramatist's own authority over events and provide us with a reassuringly safe perspective from which to observe as well as to participate emotionally in the sexual fears and anxieties of the characters.

In tragicomedy sexuality leads not only to the danger of death but also to ridiculous behavior. Fletcher further shields the audience from painful involvement with the sufferings of his main characters by inviting us to laugh at various forms of sexual absurdity. Typically, his tragicomedies include subsidiary, often lower-class characters, often women, such as citizens' wives or ladies-in-waiting, whose insatiable sexual desires and enthusiastic indulgences arouse satiric laughter and at least make the audience think twice about the exquisite sexual agonies of their (often male) social superiors. Chloe's infamous line in The Faithful Shepherdess-"It is Impossible to Ravish mee, / I am soe willing" (III.i.212-13)--might stand as a motto for the Megras, Petescas, and nameless citizens' wives who followed her on the Fletcherian stage. Secondly, in some of his plays Fletcher uses a comic character to parody the protagonist's dilemma. In A King and No King Bessus cheerfully tells the tormented Arbaces that, if he wishes, he will procure Arbaces' mother for him as well as his sister. Bessus's suggestion is horrifying but sufficiently absurdly made to undercut Arbaces' tragic suffering. In A Wife for a Month Tony, the Fool, offers a parodic interpretation of Valerio's dilemma: "I would have helpt him to a wench, a rare one, / Should have kill'd him in three weeks, and sav'd the sentence" (II.i. 19-20). Death by sex is reduced to its most literal form: a diseased whore. Fletcher's mockery in these lines of his own tragicomic construct puts an ironic frame around the passionate suffering of Valerio and Evanthe that is to come.[10]

However, the most complex sources of laughter arising from the presentation of sexuality are the tragicomic protagonists themselves caught in the sex-death symbiosis. Philaster, Arbaces, Theanor, Memnon, Valerio, and Evanthe are among the characters whose tragic experience of sexuality is tempered for the audience by the comic elements in their behavior. Memnon, the mad lover, for example, is laughable as an extreme version of the soldier in love but unable to conduct himself in a courtly manner. Evanthe's temper provides a comic counterforce to her suffering. After her violent denunciation of her maid for letting the lustful Frederick have her box of treasures, we are obliged to concur in the same Frederick's ironic response, "Has your young sanctity done railing, Madam" (I.ii.137). In Arbaces, above all, comic characteristics (specifically self-contradictions and boastfulness) are held in tension with his potentially tragic desire for Panthea. The peripeties in Act III, scene i, for example, in which Arbaces vehemently denies his relationship to Panthea until jealousy of Tigranes compels him to admit it, reflect Arbaces' turbulent and confused emotions as he finds himself falling in love with his sister; but his bombastic threat to kill anyone who contradicts him and his own self-contradiction undermine his expressions of anguish and limit our engagement with his suffering. The comic strain in Arbaces' passion reassures the audience about its likely effects but also helps to create a complex portrait of sexual obsession as both horrifying and absurd.

This generically determined mix of tragic and comic in Fletcher's representations of sexuality makes of his characters recognizable human beings despite their extraordinary situations and the rhetorical extremity of their responses. Most significantly, Fletcher's commitment to tragicomedy in the mood of individual segments as well as the overall structure of his plays enables him to dramatize problematic versions of sexuality with sympathy and tact. A brief examination of the climactic scenes of two of the most successful tragicomedies, A King and No King (1611) by Beaumont and Fletcher and A Wife for a Month (1624) by Fletcher alone, will illustrate my point.

In Act IV, scene iv of A King and No King Arbaces finally tells Panthea of his incestuous love for her. The moral development of the scene is potentially tragic as Arbaces and Panthea allow themselves to slide ever closer to committing incest, first telling one another of their feelings, then holding hands, finally kissing. The tragic dimension of their relationship is expressed in their language, pathetically in Panthea's inability to understand her own feelings, more forcefully in Arbaces' expressions of guilt and suffering:

I have beheld thee with a lustfull eye:
My heart is set on wickednesse, to act
Such sinnes with thee, as I have beene afraid
To thinke off.

But if the moral development of this scene is towards tragedy, its proxemic pattern is decidedly comic. Three times Panthea is about to leave when Arbaces stops her, and once Arbaces bids Panthea farewell, but she herself chooses to stay. What the characters do is ironically opposite to what they profess. A similar tension between the scene's tragic moral development and its comic proxemics exists in the way Panthea and Arbaces come closer together on the stage and finally part. Arbaces at first establishes a distance between himself and Panthea, then expresses alarm as she accidentally "come[s] in a step" (IV. iv.50), but finally urges her to "come neerer" (line 144) so that they may walk hand in hand, supposedly as brother and sister. Only the seriousness of their predicament prevents us from laughing at the couple's self-deceptions. Their kisses, however, force them to recognize the irreducibly sexual nature of their feelings for one another. They pull apart and rush off the stage--"Flie Sir" (line 162), exclaims Panthea-presumably in opposite directions.

The comedic element in Panthea and Arbaces' movements towards and away from one another mitigates both the tragic dimension of their supposed relationship and also the scene's titillating effect. As the beloved seems to become inaccessible (Panthea's offers to leave), the lover finds a way to create a closer bond between them. And each moral triumph (the space Arbaces puts between himself and Panthea, their acceptance of the incest bar) permits them a little more laxity until finally only a comic act of flight can avert a tragic act of sex. Fletcher's peripeties in this scene render sexual passion at once and integrally both tragically irresistible and absurdly irrational.

In the climactic scene of A Wife for a Month, Act III, scene iii, Fletcher's tragicomic handling of Valedo and Evanthe's abortive wedding night produces an even more complicated portrayal of frustrated sexuality. Though eager to consummate his marriage, Valerio has been ordered neither to make love to Evanthe nor to tell her why he may not on pain of her death. Valerio's difficulty and the audience's anticipation are heightened by Evanthe's own sexual eagerness. In the final, most painfully comic sequence of the scene Fletcher presents Valerio's attempts to avoid consummating his marriage without telling Evanthe the truth. The situation of a young man fending off his bride on their wedding night is inherently comic because it presents the opposite of what a bridegroom's behavior should be. Fletcher counterpoints Evanthe's insistence that Valerio come to bed with his increasingly desperate but also increasingly ridiculous excuses: he is not sleepy, he is not well, spiritual love is superior to carnal love ("This is no schoole to argue in" [III.iii. 180], says Evanthe), and finally, Valerio says, he is impotent. In life impotence is painfully embarrassing; in the theater typically the comic treatment of impotence shields the audience from anxiety about their own sexual adequacy.[11] In A Wife for a Month Valerio's plea of impotence, as an excuse that the audience knows to be an excuse, is indeed absurd, but the suffering of Valerio and Evanthe stalls our laughter and helps to transform the wedding night scene into a psychologically serious exploration of, in effect, impotence.

The couple's misery is real even though the impotence is not. Thus Valerio is able to put into his pretense the emotions he really experiences, which pertain equally to impotence and to the enforced abstinence that he may not explain. Valerio undergoes anxiety, embarrassment, sexual frustration, shame (he weeps), self-pity, and the fear that his wife will despise him. Evanthe, for her part, experiences a similar variety of psychologically realistic emotions: bewilderment, hurt pride (she announces that she must be "Old and ill-favour'd" [line 212]), compassion, sexual disappointment and a desire to hide it (in an aside she says, " 'Tis my hard fortune, blesse all young maids from it" [line 235]), a frail hope in the effects of medicine or prayer, and finally the sorrowful realization that she must reconcile herself to a life of virginity. To an extent we participate in Valerio and Evanthe's sufferings, but we also know that the whole scene has been played as if Valerio is impotent; and that knowledge is decidedly reassuring. I would suggest that in A Wife for a Month Fletcher's tragicomic dramaturgy permits him to present one of the most disquieting but traditionally ludicrous areas of human sexuality seriously and sensitively. What is comic about impotence gets itself attached to Valerio's pretense, and the pretense itself serves to protect the audience's emotional experience of wedding night impotence from either derisive or uncomfortable laughter. In other words, Fletcher has it both ways.

In A King and No King and A Wife for a Month Fletcher skillfully orchestrates his characters' dilemmas to produce tragically intense situations and then, in accord with Renaissance tragicomedy's adherence to the "comic order," dissolves the difficulties in ways that are both surprising and expected. This is the pattern followed by all of Fletcher's tragicomedies. His plays at once evoke our sympathy for the characters' suffering and shield us from its full force by various distancing devices, often comic, and by generic markers that assure us of a happy ending. Illicit sex is either averted or converted, and frustrated sexuality is granted morally sanctioned satisfaction. Fletcher's manipulation of tragicomic dramaturgy serves to purify sexual transgression or rectify sexual incompetence by denying that there was anything wrong in the first place. Thus Arbaces falls in love with a woman who is, after all, not his sister; Valerio only pretends to be impotent; Merione in The Queen of Corinth marries her double rapist, whose "Wife before the face of Heaven" (V.iv.p.77) she has been all along, or so it is asserted at the end of the play;[12] in Philaster Arethusa's chastity is vindicated by the revelation that her supposed lover is a cross-dressed woman; and in The Knight of Malta attempted seduction turns out to be a chastity test.

From a formal point of view Fletcher's tragicomedies appear to be decidedly consoling about sex. But an audience that is at all sensitive is not likely to leave the theater feeling completely reassured. Even though we have seen the happy ending coming, its negation of our own emotional experience (to the extent that we have sympathized with the characters) makes us feel uncomfortable. Fletcher's happy endings fail to subsume entirely the guilt and misery that have preceded them. Frequently only technical, not emotional, realities have been changed, and the painful elaboration of sexual difficulties is not adequately compensated by their overtly artful resolution. Euphrasia is left as odd woman out in a menage a trois at the end of Philaster, Merione in The Queen of Corinth has experienced rape whether she is supposed to be contracted to Theanor or not; by the end of A King and No King Arbaces has intended to commit murder and incestuous rape; and Valerio and Evanthe in A Wife for a Month have been the victims of deliberate sexual sadism in which we, as an audience, have participated in as much as we have found their dilemma theatrically exciting.

The discomfort that we continue to experience at the end of Fletcher's tragicomedies--and also at the end of Shakespeare's (especially Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well)-often translates itself into aesthetic dissatisfaction. But, in fact, what is uncomfortable about the endings of Fletcher's and Shakespeare's tragicomedies should be neither explained away nor attributed to a flawed dramaturgy. Emotional and aesthetic discomfort, I would suggest, is intrinsic to the ending of tragicomedy; it is a "family resemblance" between different members and different states of the genre.[13] Tragicomedy is not a soft option; it does not in the end allow Fletcher an easy way out of his characters' difficulties. The residual discomfort inherent in the conclusion of tragicomedy keeps Fletcher's explorations of sexuality honest both despite and because of the skillful contrivance by which he brings about his resolutions.

If in the Beaumont and Fletcher plays tragicomic genre determines the representation of sexuality, also to a degree their sexual subject matter shapes Fletcher's particular development of tragicomedy and thus the history of the genre in the seventeenth century.

First, despite a misogynist strain in Fletcher's plays, the emphasis on sexuality feminizes tragicomedy in ways that, it seems to me, would be especially appealing to women.[14] Repeatedly in Fletcher's tragicomedies extraordinarily beautiful, intelligent, and virtuous women by their wit and thrilling rhetoric successfully defend their chastity (and with it their integrity and their selfhood) against the advances of lustful and powerful men. Among the most striking of these heroines are Celia in The Humorous Lieutenant, Evanthe in A Wife for a Month, and Honora in The Loyal Subject. Celia wittily mocks her royal would-be seducer, Evanthe lashes Frederick with her tongue, and Honora sees herself and her sister as soldiers (like their father) in risking their chastity amidst the dangers of the court:

She that dares not stand the push o'th' Court, dares
And yet come off ungrased: Sir, like you,
We both affect great dangers now, and the world shall see
All glory. lies not in mans victorie.

Honora, in fact, helps to reform and then marries her lustful duke. The concentration of virtue (both male and female) in chastity, however, though it works well for Fletcher, becomes aesthetically less satisfying in the moral heroics of Massinger and contributes to the sentimentalization of tragicomedy. (In The Bondman, for example, Cleora falls in love with the noble slave Marullo-actually the gentleman Pisander-apparently solely because he does not rape her.)

Secondly, Fletcher's choice of peculiar sexual situations produces a focus that is psychological, sociological, and as a consequence secular. Tragicomedy is no longer concerned, as in medieval and late Shakespearean versions of the genre, with the individual's place in the spiritual universe but with private emotional experience. The characters' dilemmas are fascinating precisely because they are idiosyncratic and through them Fletcher can explore the possibilities of human sexuality in boundary situations. The a typicality of the characters' sexual experiences turns the plays' interest inwards to the darker recesses of the psyche rather than outwards to the macrocosm. References to a divine scheme of things, when they occur at all, are merely residual. Arethusa ascribes to the gods her love for Philaster that will by marriage restore him to his kingdom (I.ii.31-34), but the peripeties of plot and feeling that finally produce the royal alliance suggest rather the entanglements of chance and in the case of Philaster himself a narcissistic self-regard. In A King and No King Arbaces assumes that his incestuous desire for his sister is a divine punishment (III.i.320-30); in fact, though his love for Panthea appropriately humbles his pride, the couple's feelings for one another have been engineered by Gobrius so that Arbaces, actually Gobrius's own son, may retain his throne by marriage to the rightful queen. In Fletcherian tragicomedy earthly blessings (in the form of sexual fulfillment and assured high social status) are brought about by chance and human agency; the resolutions of the plays fail to evoke the deeper emotional and spiritual harmonies and the sense of providential design created by Shakespeare's late romantic tragicomedies.[15]

Thirdly, the kinds of sexual dilemmas that Fletcher is obliged to construct for his characters are frequently irresolvable without overt authorial intervention. Part of the pleasure of Fletcherian tragicomedy, indeed, lies in recognizing before the play's resolution the contrivances by which the dramatist will bring his characters out of their difficulties. Thus we are clued in to the possibility of disguise, cross-dressing, the bedtrick, the mock death, the last-minute rescue, and so on. As spectators we share in the theatrical self-consciousness of Fletcher's plays. But where such self-conscious artistic design in Shakespearean tragicomedy evokes providential design, the more attenuated form of metatheater in Fletcher's tragicomedies points only to the authority of the dramatist himself. This diminution of metatheater in Fletcher's tragicomedies thus further weakens the genre's link with the metaphysical that characterizes both medieval and late Shakespearean tragicomedy. The full potential of metatheater and with it the metaphysical dimension of tragicomedy were not to be restored to the genre until the twentieth century.

Fletcher and his collaborators made tragicomedy the most popular genre on the Stuart stage. Although his dramatic techniques and emphases eventually became conventional through repetition, Fletcher, nonetheless, made an original contribution to the major new dramatic genre of the Renaissance. For Fletcher understood how tragicomic dramaturgy, designed to produce both pity and laughter, could be manipulated to explore the darker and more unusual regions of human, sexuality with results that are at once psychologically acute and theatrically fascinating. It is unfortunate that Fletcher's tragicomedies are almost never performed today, especially as both contemporary commendatory verses and twentieth-century critics testify to his skill in modulating audience response.[16] Fletcher might have much to say in a period when popular drama seems to deal almost exclusively with extreme sexual situations and in a century in which tragicomedy has once again been the dominant dramatic kind.


1 Eugene Ionesco, Notes and Counternotes (London: John Calder, 1964), p. 106.

2 R.A. Foakes, "Tragicomedy and Comic Form," in Comedy from Shakespeare to Sheridan, ed. A.R. Braunmuller and J.C. Bulman (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1986), pp. 82-86. The relationship between genre and the dramatization of sexuality has recently provoked fruitful critical inquiries by Mary Beth Rose in The Expense of Spirit: Love and Sexuality in English Renaissance Drama (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988) and Kathleen McLuskie in Renaissance Dramatists (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1989).

3 For the sake of convenience, I use the name "Fletcher" to refer to Fletcher alone or in combination with any of his collaborators: Beaumont, Massinger, and so on. Quotations from the Beaumont and Fletcher plays are taken from The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, gen. ed. Fredson Bowers, 10 vols. in progress (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1966--). For plays not yet issued in this edition, I have referred to The Works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, ed. Arnold Glover and A.R. Waller, 10 vols. (19051912; rprt. New York: Octagon Books, 1969).

4 This new focus on sexuality in the drama can perhaps be related to what Michel Foucault has described as the "putting into discourse of sex" that increased towards the end of the sixteenth century (The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley, 3 vols. [New York: Pantheon Books, 1978], 1:12).

5 Giambattista Guarini, The Compendium of Tragicomic Poetry, in Allan H. Gilbert, Literary Criticism Plato to Dryden (New York: American Book Co., 1940), pp. 505-33, especially p. 511.

6 Cf. Eugene M. Waith, review of Nancy Klein Maguire, ed., Renaissance Tragicomedy: Explorations in Genre and Politics, in RenQ 42, 3 (Autumn 1989): 576-79, 578.

7 R.A. Foakes suggests that Jacobean tragicomedy can be distinguished as "a mode of drama in which the world of romantic comedy is invaded by the forces of sexuality" ("Tragicomedy and Comic Form," p. 78).

8 On the use of dramatic conceits in the Beaumont and Fletcher plays see John F. Danby, Poets on Fortune's Hill (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), pp. 180-81, and Charles L. Squier,John Fletcher (Boston: Twayne, 1986), pp. 50-89.

9 R.A. Foakes makes a similar point in "Tragicomedy and Comic Form," p. 83.

10 Cf. Squier, John Fletcher, p. 85.

11 Squier, p; 89.

12 This assertion may be Massinger's attempt to make the play's ending more moral. Msssinger apparently wrote the first and last acts of The Queen of Corinth. (See Cyrus Hoy, "Msssinger as Collaborator: The Plays with Fletcher and Others," in Philip Massinger: A Critical Reassessment, ed. Douglas Howard [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985], pp. 68, 79-80).

13 On the "family resemblance" theory of genres see Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 41-42. On the endings of Philaster and A King and No King see Lee Bliss, Francis Beaumont (Boston: Twayne, 1987), pp. 85, 153 n. 31, and 119. On the endings of All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida see Barbara A. Mowat, "Shakespearean Tragicomedy," in Renaissance Tragicomedy: Explorations in Genre and Politics, ed. Nancy Klein Maguire (New York: AMS Press, 1987), pp. 90-92. On the ending of Measure for Measure see also Harriett Hawkins, Measure for Measure (Boston: Twayne, 1987), p. 105.

14 On the likely response of female spectators to Renaissance drama see Richard Levin, "Women in the Renaissance Theatre Audience," SQ 40, 2 (Summer 1989): 165-174, especially his discussion of women's "gender-concern or even gender-loyalty" (p. 171).

15 On the distinctions between Shakespearean and Fletcherian tragicomedy, see Joan Hartwig, Shakespeare's Tragicomic Vision (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 26-32; Lee Bliss, "Tragicomic Romance for the King's Men, 1609-1611: Shakespeare, Beaumont, and Fletcher," in Comedy from Shakespeare to Sheridan, ed. A.R. Braunmuller and J.C. Bulman, pp. 148-64; Verna Foster, "Ford's Experiments in Tragicomedy: Shakespearean and Fletcherian Dramaturgies," in Renaissance Tragicomedy, ed. Maguire, pp. 97-111.

16 See James Shirley's comment in his preface to the 1647 collection of the Beaumont and Fletcher plays, quoted by Arthur C. Kirsch, Jacobean Dramatic Perspectives (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1972), p. 39, and Richard Lovelace's commendstory verse for the same edition, quoted by Kathleen McLuskie, "The Plays and the Playwrights: 1613-42," in The Revels History of Drama in English, ed. Lois Potter et al, 8 vols. (London: Methuen, 1981), 4:184.



Verna A. Foster, Associate Professor of English at Loyola University Chicago, is writing a book on the dramaturgy of Renaissance and modern tragicomedy. An earlier version of this essay was read at the Central Renaissance Conference in Chicago in 1990.