May 4, 2015, 7:30 pm
Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W. 42nd Street
Directed by Craig Baldwin
with Jeremy Bobb, Lisa Bostnar, Michael Braun, Drew Cortese, Ramsey Faragallah, Zabryna Guevara, Susan Heyward, Daniel K. Isaac, Ben Rappaport, Thom Sesma, Dina Thomas, Raphael Nash Thompson, Sam Tsoutsouvas, Nick Westrate, Rasha Zamamiri, and more
with music performed by Christopher Preston Thompson
You've roused a sleeping lion, whom no art,
No fawning smoothness shall reclaim, but blood.
How far should you follow your heart? Love, lust, and infidelities lurk behind the slick veneer of a scheming Italian court in this magnificently provocative tragedy.
The Duke marries the beautiful but low-born Bianca for love, but trouble brews as his best friend, Fernando, cannot conceal his feelings for the new duchess. Meanwhile the Duke’s widowed sister harbors a dangerously violent desire for Fernando. With echoes of Shakespeare's Othello, this rarely performed gem is a passionate thrill ride that will leave you gasping at its emotional impact.
The OBIE Award-Winning Revelation Readings series provides a unique opportunity to hear new and rarely-produced classic plays performed by many of the finest actors in New York.
Christopher Preston Thompson
About the PLAY
John Ford’s Melancholy Heart: Love’s Sacrifice
Love’s Sacrifice (1631) begins with the return of Duke Philippo Caraffa to Pavia with his new bride, Bianca. Fernando, a friend to the Duke, falls in love with Bianca, which she, despite repeatedly rebuffing him, eventually reciprocates, albeit that they never consummate their relationship. The Duke learns of their love from his trusted, yet devious, secretary, Roderico D’Avolos and his widowed sister, Fiormonda. Believing that he has been cuckolded, he kills his wife. He then confronts Fernando, who reveals that even though they loved one another Bianca was chaste. The Duke buries his wife in a “shrine / Of fairest purity,” only for Fernando to emerge from the tomb, dressed in a funeral shroud. Condemning his love rival, he drinks poison and dies. Beset with grief, the Duke takes his own life. In the meantime, Roseilli, an exile who returns to the court in the guise of a fool, reveals D’Avolos’ and Fiormonda’s complicity in the tragic events. D’Avolos is condemned to death, while Roseilli dismisses Fiormonda, from “The mutual comforts of our marriage bed” because of her involvement in “the tragedy of princes.”
Love’s Sacrifice has seldom been performed since the 1630s. However, this year the Royal Shakespeare Company is mounting a production of the play at The Swan Theatre, which opened on April 11th, signaling a revival in its fortunes.
Love’s Sacrifice’s dramatic contexts
As with Ford’s more famous works, Love’s Sacrifice is indebted to a great many plays that came before it. The plot draws on Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness and Love’s Cruelty by Ford’s friend James Shirley. In D’Avolos and the Duke Ford reimagines Iago and Othello (while Bianca is a name common to both Shakespeare’s and Ford’s plays). The disguised fool Roseilli recalls Antonio in Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling, Fiormonda’s attempts to win Fernando recalls the Duchess of Malfi’s more successful wooing of Antonio, while Mauriccio, the buffoon of the play’s tertiary plot, even quotes from Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. Such is Ford’s theatrical self-consciousness in Love’s Sacrifice that Martin Butler has dubbed the play “Ford’s Metatheatrical Tragedy.”
John Ford’s blood disorders
For all its borrowings, Love’s Sacrifice is unmistakably Fordian. While not able to match the gruesome finale to ‘Tis Pity, the murder of Bianca and the suicides of Caraffa and Fernando are suitably grisly, not least linguistically. Fernando commands the “royal poison” to “split, split / Both heart and gall asunder,” while Caraffa imagines his bleeding out (his growing “sweetly empty”) forming “a standing pool, / That jealous husbands here might bathe in blood.”
Blood, for Ford, is social and political. Caraffa is of royal blood, while Bianca and Fernando are not. Yet just prior to her death Bianca taunts her husband for his “bloodless lips” while praising her lover as “a miracle composed / Of flesh and blood,” suggesting that her attraction trumps all deference to tradition and decorum.
Ford’s interest in viscera extends to his interest in what Fernando calls the “unruly faction in my blood,” passion so engrossing that it leads to misery and murder. Ford shares his contemporaries’ fascination with female passion, through Bianca in particular. Her protestations that she would “rather prostitute our blood / To some envenomed serpent” than to Fernando gives way to a desire to “give my body up to thy embraces”; she is killed by her husband for her “veined follies.” Ford is also fascinated by the extremes of male passion, most obviously through his main characters but also through Ferentes, a courtier who promises marriage to three women only to abandon them all (with children), who in turn murder him halfway through the play. As if to acknowledge his fault in his death, he declares in his death throes, “My forfeit was in my blood.”
These “blood disorders” extend also to choler, a humoral disorder of excessive anger, which upsets Caraffa’s “princely blood,” whereby the “ashy paleness of my cheek / Is scarleted in ruddy flakes of wrath.” And as with so much of Ford’s work. Love’s Sacrifice is imbued with a sense of melancholy. Caraffa, a man given easily to “dusky mists” of despair, wonders whether the foolish Mauriccio will provide “A salve for melancholy: mirth and ease.” Amusing as Mauriccio is, the joy in this play is very short-lived. Caraffa is beset with a “melancholy spleen”—the spleen was understood in this period as the locus of melancholy, a condition closely associated with jealousy.
We will find this fascination with blood(y) disorders throughout the Ford canon: in The Lover’s Melancholy, a play heavily indebted to Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy; and of course in Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Red Bull Theater’s main stage production this year. Ford’s focus on blood, then, need not be taken solely as an attempt to one-up his contemporaries and predecessors in the grand guignol stakes. Rather it points to a career-wide concern with the workings of the body and the mind, and how inward distemper plays out, even bleeds out, into social, cultural, and political spheres—distemper requiring blood-letting, or, to borrow from Caraffa in Love’s Sacrifice, a “sweet emptying” of bodies and body politics. Not for nothing did a contemporary imagine “Jack Ford alone [in his grave] … / With folded arms and melancholy heart.”
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
HUNTER COLLEGE, CUNY
About the PLAYWRIGHT
John Ford was born in Devon in 1586 and spent some time at Oxford University before moving to the London Inns of Court where he pursued the study of the law. The Inns were a major center of literary culture in the early modern period, and playwrights John Marston and Francis Beaumont were among those connected to the Inns when Ford was in residence. Before he began to write plays, Ford penned a number of works in prose and verse including elegies, devotional poems, and a neo-Stoic treatise entitled The Golden Mean. Records from the Inns of Court suggest that Ford was sometimes strapped for money, and his writings were often attempts to attract patronage. His career as a playwright appears to begin in the 1620s when he collaborated with Thomas Dekker and William Rowley on the 1621 play, The Witch of Edmonton. He may have worked again with Dekker on The Welsh Ambassador as well as collaborating with a variety of writers on other dramas. His singly-authored plays date from the reign of Charles I. In 1628 his tragicomedy The Lover’s Melancholy was staged, and in 1633 his three most famous tragedies were published: Love’s Sacrifice, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, and The Broken Heart. His history play, Perkin Warbeck, appeared in 1634, and several more minor plays followed. His date of death is unknown.