Tuesday, 15 September 1998

John Ford: The Broken Heart (1633)

Edition: Everyman
Review number: 114

Of the four plays in this Everyman volume (the others being Webster's The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, and Ford's own 'Tis Pity She's a Whore), this tragedy is by far the least known. It deals with the tragic consequences of an arranged marriage, with a sub-theme of fortitude in the face of personal tragedy.

It is appropriate, then, that the scene is set in Sparta, famous for the physical fortitude of its citizens. At the start of the play, Orgilus is explaining to his father Crotolan why he has suddenly decided to leave Sparta to study in Athens; he wants to get away from Penthea, the girl he loves who has been married to the jealous Bassanes; Orgilus has decided that for her welfare, to spare her the rages of Bassanes, he must leave.

The other plot concerns Ithocles, brother of Penthea and heroic general. He is loved by Calantha, daughter of the king Amyclas; yet she is going to be married to Nearchus, Prince of Argos, for dynastic reasons.

The tragic element to the plot comes about when Orgilus, unable to stay away from the woman he loves, returns to Sparta in disguise.

This is a carefully thought out tragedy, which deserves to be better known; there are some wonderful poetic moments (including Ithocles' set piece speech on ambition in the second act, and the sorrows of Calantha towards the end).

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