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John Ford's

March 9, 2015, 7:30 pm

Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street

Directed by Eleanor Holdridge

Featuring Zach Appelman, Justin Blanchard, Mark H. Dold, Ray Dooley, Jacob Fishel, Peter Mark Kendall, Karl Kenzler, David Manis, Leroy McClain, Paul Niebanck, Maren Searle, Kate Skinner, Derek Smith, Auden Thornton, Sam Tsoutsouvas, Graham Winton

Who is the real King of England? Picking up where Shakespeare’s Richard III left off, this is the strange truth of the man who claimed to be one of the Princes in the Tower and sought the throne.  


"One of the very best historical plays outside of the works of Shakespeare in the whole of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama," according to TS Eliot, Perkin Warbeck is one of several great plays by John Ford that has been eclipsed - perhaps unjustly - by his most famous one. Join us March 9 and judge for yourself.


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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.


About the PLAY


The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck, published in 1634 with the audacious subtitle, Strange Truth, is one of John Ford’s boldest plays. While the Tudor monarchs had been replaced by the Stuarts, the topic of a common man who challenged the right of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty, was a bold choice. Ford doesn’t give audiences any easy alliances: Henry claims to be a compassionate and merciful monarch, but simply leaves the room when harsh sentences are carried out. Warbeck himself is no conniving bumpkin, but a charismatic leader who speaks some of the greatest blank verse ever composed. He wins the devotion of the noble Lady Katherine, an intelligent woman who shows an enormous strength of character that Ford’s other heroines might envy. And in contrast to Perkin, his romantic rival Lord Daliell is consistently tongue tied. Choosing sides throughout the play is almost as difficult for the audience as it would have been for the historical people of England.


The reign of King Henry VII was rocked by a series of pretenders to the throne. After defeating Richard III at Bosworth Field (thanks largely to the defection of Lord Stanley, just when Richard himself was leading a crushing final assault), Henry attempted to make the country whole by marrying Elizabeth, daughter of Richard’s elder brother Edward IV. Before the play begins, Henry has already dealt with another pretender to the throne, the commoner Lambert Simnel, who claimed to be the son of Clarence (Edward and Richard’s brother). Henry’s forces crushed the rebellion, and he gave Simnel a job turning meat-spits in the royal kitchens. Perkin’s rebellion arose only a few years later.


Like any good dramatist, Ford departs from his sources when necessary. The most striking instance of this is his treatment of Perkin Warbeck himself. While in the historical documents Perkin readily confesses he is an imposter, this is not wrung from Ford’s fictional character so easily. Much of the play hinges on whether or not Perkin will confess. If he doesn’t, the royal claim of Henry VII, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth, could be in doubt. Ford seduces us to Perkin’s side by consistently giving him the most heroic and lofty language, as well as highlighting his practical compassion for the war-weary farmers and citizens. If he is an imposter, Ford’s portrait remains a bold testament to the power, eloquence, and inherent nobility of commoners like us.


-Ben Prusiner, Dramaturg

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