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Certainty and doubt : moral issues in the plays of Philip Massinger

Holden, S 1985 , 'Certainty and doubt : moral issues in the plays of Philip Massinger', Unspecified thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The theory of decadence in early seventeenth-century
drama has generally been misapplied. Chapter I
suggests that the moral uncertainty found in many
plays is not the product of some kind of perversity
but of a sea-change in the way belief, knowledge and
law were perceived. The application of an ethical
standard which equates a corrupt court with a corrupt
private theatre imposes an ideological and inappropriate
interpretation on the drama. I argue that
changes in morality, the theatre and literary style
are not symptoms of decay. If they are, then
Shakespeare may be as culpable as Beaumont and
I suggest, in Chapter II, that Shakespeare's
tragedies and tragicomedies, like Beaumont and
Fletcher's tragicomedies, are tragic and tragicomic
precisely because they are uncertain. We usually
find an unresolved tension in the ending which
prevents us from carrying home a moral for our use
and edification. We are disturbed rather than
Massinger's method in collaboration is similar.
His independent tragicomedies, as I argue in Chapter
III, exploit the tension between romantic and
satiric action to illustrate a complex moral world
in which characters may have an uncertain and
changing moral status. Typically he uses satiric
characters and methods to undercut romantic
assumptions and conventions. The process can
sometimes lead, however, to confusions which make
some of Massinger's plays morally dubious rather
than ambiguous. The questions, paradoxes and tensions in
Massinger's tragedies are more acute than those to
be found in his tragicomedies. He presents a
shifting world in which it is difficult to judge
characters accurately, and in which justice seldom
seems to be done. Our sympathies are complicated
by the multiple moral status of his protagonists,
or their antagonists, who are never totally evil
or wholly redeemable. The Renaissance plays, in
Chapter IV, exploit the problems inherent in the
idealistic and malicious pursuit of revenge. The
Roman plays, in Chapter V, deal with more political
complexities, largely the result of a simultaneous
sympathy for the individual and acceptance of the
identity imposed on him by the state. The tension
between perceived and imposed identity, and the
tragic destruction of the integrity of the
individual, are most fully realised in The Roman
Actor and Believe As You List. The simultaneity of equal and opposite values
in these plays is common to Massinger's work as a
whole. The tension of uncertainty - whether broken,
as in the tragedies, or not - seems to express
exactly that "negative capability" which Massinger
has been denied. Only if we read him on the most
superficial level, can we consider him to be
moralistic or simplistic.

Item Type: Thesis - Unspecified
Authors/Creators:Holden, S
Keywords: Massinger, Philip, 1583-1640, Massinger, Philip, 1583-1640
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1985 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Bibliography: leaves 177-189. Thesis (M.A.)--University of Tasmania, 1985

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