Beaumont & Fletcher's
THE MAID'S TRAGEDY
December 1, 2014, 7:30 pm
Lucille Lortel Theatre • 121 Christopher Street
Directed by Deborah Wolfson
featuring Christian Conn, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Jen Eden, Jeremie Harris, Jennifer Ikeda, Colin Israel, Brian Morvant, Everett Quinton, Michael Raver, Jeanine Serralles, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Nick Westrate, Spiff Wiegand, Patrick Woodall, and more
with music by Scott Killian
"The thing that we call honor bears us all
Headlong unto sin, and yet itself is nothing."
Can what you don’t know hurt you after all? Jacobean cross-dressing and bedroom badinage are in full force, as tragi-comedy becomes revenge play.
A soldier returns home for a wedding only to find a big change in the bride. Very soon all hell breaks loose. Melantius is at first joyous to find his friend Amintor marrying his sister Evadne, but it doesn't take long for secrets to be exposed and friendships to turn bloody. Lust, wit, honor, betrayal and rage collide as each character plots their own schemes to right their wrongs.
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.
ABOUT the PLAYWRIGHTS:
Francis Beaumont (1584/5 – 1616) was an English playwright and sporadic poet, a comedic and satiric writer whose theatrical success is habitually linked to his long-time collaborator, John Fletcher. On his own, Beaumont is best remembered today for The Knight of the Burning Pestle, which was a flop in 1606/7, panned by audiences who failed to appreciate (or refused to acknowledge) his sophisticated lampooning of contemporary theater audiences and acting companies. Now, however, The Knight appears in most anthologies on this period as a parodic tour de force, exposing the theater politics of Jacobean London with wit and a burlesque flair.
John Fletcher (1579 – 1625) was a prolific English playwright who wrote or collaborated on over fifty plays. On his own, like Beaumont, Fletcher wrote an avant-garde play that flopped according to audiences but enjoyed a rich literary afterlife: The Faithful Shepherdess, performed in 1607/8. Both Shakespeare and Milton used material from this archaic pastoral in their drama and epic poetry, suggesting its lofty themes had great utility despite the negative theatrical reception. One of his earliest collaborations with Beaumont (Philaster) even generated a new genre for the stage, melding the most popular genres into a lasting, powerhouse form: romantic tragicomedy. Together, Beaumont and Fletcher are most well-known for Philaster (Red Bull Theater Revelation Readings 2011), The Maid’s Tragedy, and A King and No King (Red Bull Theater Revelation Readings, 2012).
ABOUT the PLAY
The Maid’s Tragedy, probably written in 1610-11 for the Blackfriars Theater, presents a conflicted court with a corrupt absolute monarch at its center. The king—never named outside his title—abuses his royal prerogative with an almost cavalier attitude. His lust for an unmarried woman, paired with his own majestic authority, slowly poisons the morality of his court. The play reveals diverse consequences for his courtiers as they struggle to maintain loyalties to both royal absolutism and proper moral conduct.
Critics’ receptions of Beaumont and Fletcher have vacillated repeatedly over the centuries, from those who claim their plays are exonerations of absolute monarchy, reveling in excessive amorality, to those who claim their plays reveal a series of ironic and critical inquiries into the corruption of absolutism. The medieval and Renaissance doctrine of the divine right of kings asserted that kings received their right to rule directly from God, and thus only the Divine could hold kings accountable. King James I (reigned 1603-25) was a principal champion of divine-right doctrine; playwrights understandably measured their treatments of absolutism.
This play repeatedly pits passive obedience against moral rightness. Who has the right and the valor to defy the king’s orders? The mistress? The cuckold? Only God? The courtiers go back and forth between valuing loyalty and morality. For example, the king’s brother begins the play by equating “the breath of kings” with “the breath of gods” (1.1.16). Later, the crux of the matter is argued between the king’s mistress and her brother:
Dost thou not feel, amongst all those, one brave anger
That breaks out nobly and directs thine arm
To kill this base king?
All the gods forbid it!
No, all the gods require it.
They are dishonored in him.
‘Tis too fearful. (4.1.144-8)
Even these two much-wronged parties cannot agree on the righteousness of their course of action against the king. In the end, The Maid’s Tragedy presents a conflicted resolution to this debate amidst a pile of bodies. Lysippus, formerly the king’s brother but now crowned himself, concludes that “on lustful kings / Unlooked-for sudden deaths from God are sent; / But curst is he that is their instrument” (5.3.293-5). The play denounces the court-destroying lust of the king but softens the blow by assigning proper culpability to the Divine.
The play defines and defies loyalties, first setting up reasonable expectations for the audience, but then quickly turning the tables and subverting those expectations. These dramatically-surprising variations are common in courtly dramas of the period, and Beaumont and Fletcher depend upon them for comic relief within such an austere setting of sober themes. For example, when bride and groom Evadne and Amintor retire to the marriage bed, the lady’s reluctance to consummate stems from a series of quickly-fluctuating reasons that the gentleman parries wittily: she’s unwell (but his arms can heal her); she cannot sleep (but he doesn’t want “sleep”); she swore an oath (but he thinks this is “but the coyness of a bride”). The Maid’s Tragedy used moments of unpredictable riposte like this one to engage its contemporary aristocratic audience in subversive court intrigues. Today, the play still poses questions of loyalty and morality while simultaneously provoking laughter and pity for the conflicted courtiers.
PhD Candidate in the Department of English