Tragicomic Transformations: Passion, Politics, and the ‘Art to Turn’
in Fletcher’s The Island Princess

Jean E. Feerick
Brown University

Jean E. Feerick. “Tragicomic Transformations: Passion, Politics, and the ‘Art to Turn’ in Fletcher’s The Island Princess.” Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 19 (2009) 3.1-24 <URL:>.

  1. Genres, Derrida reminds us, embody, instate, and enforce cultural systems. They speak to a culture’s most basic principles of order, as effectively as any legal decree. In his words, “[a]s soon as the word ‘genre’ is sounded, as soon as it is heard, as soon as one attempts to conceive it, a limit is drawn. And when a limit is established, norms and interdictions are not far behind: ‘Do,’ ‘Do not’ says ‘genre,’ the word ‘genre,’ the figure, the voice, or the law of genre.” But the logic of separations and rules that inform genres, Derrida reminds us, are not limited to cultural systems alone. They are also at the core of “natural” taxonomies; indeed the rules governing physis or “nature” are “neither separable nor inseparable,” according to Derrida, from those expressed by “an artistic, poetic, or literary genre” (“Law of Genre” 56). The inter-animating force of the generic laws governing both categories–nature and culture–can be readily detected through the etymological connections that constitute what Derrida elsewhere describes as a “family of words – genesis, genre, genealogy, generosity; and genius.” Each is a version of the others, constructed in, upon, and through concepts of “the family, birth, and filiation” (Geneses 8-9). As such, literary “genres”–or what the early moderns referred to as “kinds”–can potentially reveal a good deal about the logic that informs a culture’s system of “kinds” or “difference” more generally. If we follow Derrida and assume that laws of literary kind are entangled with and around the laws governing human “kinds,” we would be right in asking what is at stake when the boundaries of genres are redrawn, reconfigured, and rewritten, as they were when tragicomedy emerged as the unwanted “mixed” offspring of dramatic form in the late sixteenth century.1 How, that is, did these shifting generic codes serve to instate and express a larger cultural reorganization of kinds? Is it, perhaps, possible to track the emergence of a new social form in the emergent generic form embodied by tragicomedy?2

  2. In this essay I respond to these questions by bringing early modern theories of the emergent tragicomic genre to bear on a reading of John Fletcher’s The Island Princess (1621). Fletcher’s role in adapting the genre for the English stage, such that it would be the dominant mode for most of the seventeenth century in England, has long been acknowledged by critics. And yet these innovations have often been construed as instating a conservative political agenda, as expressed in Coleridge’s judgment of Fletcher and his longtime collaborator Beaumont as “the most servile jure divino Royalists.”3 In this essay I propose instead that Fletcher’s experiments with tragicomic form be seen as carrying a more subversive potential, specifically as invested in redrawing the boundaries defining notions of ‘kind’ within the English polity. Both structurally and thematically, I argue, the formal preferences that Fletcher’s plays embody serve to challenge the principles of difference underpinning the English social hierarchy. Overtly, his plays may seem to regard social relations at home as less consequential than relations with peoples of distant lands, since they typically adhere to their romance sources in preferring distant lands–both pastoral and realistic–for their settings. But I suggest that this pattern of spatial displacement, visible across much of the Fletcherian corpus, functions as a tool that enables, rather than forecloses, scrutiny of vexed social relations within England.

  3. Even a play like The Island Princess, though set at a remove from England in the spice islands of the East Indies, expresses the genre’s concern to reconfigure social relations prevalent in England. Recent accounts of the play have emphasized the specificity of its Eastern setting, perceiving in its cross-national exchanges an allegory of trade rivalries among European nations.4 Far from underscoring the play’s subversive potential, such accounts interpret it as a species of propaganda, a colonial fantasy that instates a modern racial divide by pitting East against West.5 My own reading highlights an axis of difference that colonialist paradigms – which privilege the category of nation – tend to de-emphasize: the fractures internal to early modern England, which were being forcefully reconfigured as a function of England’s contact with distant peoples and places. As such, I ask how mercantile and colonial exchanges catalyzed massive readjustments to an English polity, an aspect of this period’s cultural transactions which is under-theorized because “nation” (as a category) has been granted primacy as an analytical tool. Positing the relative homogeneity of peoples linked through national affiliation, critics have understood the European merchants and colonizers figured in tragicomic plays to be defined primarily through their oppositions to the foreign peoples represented in those plays; their interactions understood to figure pernicious forms of exploitation and/or colonization. And yet, not only do tragicomic plays qualify such readings insofar as they represent tensions and struggles within and between colonial groups–focusing in large part on the effort needed to produce these figures as united–but they consistently position the difference of rank at the center of their representations, suggesting their concern to refigure social divisions within England as a central aspect and function of the dynamics staged between different nations. In the case of The Island Princess, critics have emphasized how the play positions European colonists in opposition to Moluccans but have tended to overlook how the play embeds oppositions of social rank within these national differences.6 Indeed, it seems crucial that discrepancies of rank divide the islanders from the Portuguese as much as does nationality. Nearly all of the islanders central to the play’s actions are princes, rulers, or members of the royal family.7 In contrast to the way these islanders are defined by their royal blood, the Portuguese settlers tend to hold middling ranks, consisting of soldiers and adventurers who are eager to demonstrate their worthiness to ascend to the upper ranks. The logic of social difference thus inter-animates the play’s representation of national and religious difference, urging us to consider how the spatial displacement that lies at the center of this and other tragicomic plays might be a tool for reconfiguring the laws of difference structuring England from within.8

  4. It may be that a far distant setting–such as the East Indies of this play–is the enabling condition of such a move, absorbing the force of a potentially subversive social experiment, such as that figured at the play’s end with the anticipated marriage of the Princess Quisara to a Portuguese man of unknown descent.9 If their union, as critics have eloquently demonstrated, figures in bold terms the union of East and West, Christian and Muslim, it also smuggles onto the English stage the idea that a mere gentleman could be worthy of mingling his bloodline with that of royalty, a suggestion carrying a profoundly political charge for an English audience accustomed to monarchical pronouncements regarding the divinity of the royal body.10 I propose that facilitating the intermingling of social ranks lies not only at the core of this particular play, but that it underpins the very structure of tragicomic form, which uses passion to re-imagine political relations.11 It does so by extending the power to delimit affective response beyond the purview of the monarch to a wide range of lower ranking officials, thereby substituting the ideal of reciprocity among the ranks for the absolutist ideology embraced by James I. By imagining that mere gentlemen could possess the power to evoke a passionate response among royalty, the play experiments, in effect, with a new political structure. If we recall that this play was performed at court in 1621, at the close of a year that witnessed heightening tensions between a Parliament inclined to emphasize its liberties and a monarch insisting on royal prerogative,12 the play’s attention to these themes can be seen to intervene in a charged political climate. Moreover, that it was staged on Twelfth Night, the final day of Christmas festivities–when the rules governing obedience and deference relaxed to accommodate various forms of misrule–suggests its interest in challenging the principles governing the social hierarchy. Indeed, if the play thematizes the process by which entrenched social differences are softened by reciprocal flows of passion, it is crucial to observe that this same idea is enacted at the level of generic form. Fletcherian tragicomedy, in mingling aspects of comedy and tragedy, was actively eroding the distinctions of “kind” which were then dominantly inscribing the English polity.

    Mongrell tragicomedy”

  5. Early responses to tragicomedy, in theory and practice, viewed its willingness to mix social kinds – kings and clowns, public figures and private persons – as a particularly subversive move, insofar as it seemed to assent to social mixtures that many early moderns were not yet willing to sanction. Famously, Sir Philip Sidney took up this subject of generic innovation in his “Defense of Poesy,” where he ridiculed tragicomic plays for violating the very principles of natural law. It was the playwrights’ eagerness to cater to the tastes of a diverse audience, in his view, that had led English dramatists to produce unnatural mixtures of generic form, whereby the base figures of comedy were mingled together with the elite figures of tragedy, egregiously flaunting codes of decorum and decency (Sidney 67).13 Viewing the strains of poetry as ideally ordered by endogamous relations, Sidney contends that plays which couple “delightful teaching” with gaping “laughter” give birth not to legitimate offspring–good poetry–but rather to bastards.14 In linking the laws of aesthetic production to those governing sexual reproduction, Sidney suggested that mingled plays could unstitch the fabric of the social order, which was predicated on like kinds consorting with like kinds. Tragicomedy’s mingled form raised the specter of a world comprised of dangerous hybrids, where elite races would be mingled with their base counterparts, and where legitimate bloodlines would be marred with bastardy. “Clean” laws of literary kind translated for Sidney as a tidy social hierarchy, where a difference of rank rightly demarcated a difference of kind.

  6. By contrast, Giambattista Guarini, author of Il Pastor Fido (1590), defended his decision to write a pastoral tragicomedy (in essays of 1588 and 1593) in terms that countered Sidney’s assertions.15 The tendency to “mingle” forms, which so provoked Sidney’s decorous sensibilities, was entirely acceptable to Guarini. Far from construing tragicomedy as producing a “mongrel” form–the adjective Sidney (67) uses to describe such dramatic mixing–Guarini defends it as a natural composite by arguing that mixture is the very basis of art and nature. He observes: “Speaking first of nature, are not the horse and the ass two distinct species? Certainly, and yet of the two is made a third, the mule, which is neither one nor the other” (Guarini 509). Natural law, he suggests, supports and even delights in the principle of mixture, rather than defying it in the way that his primary critic, Giason Denores, had claimed. Turning from the evidence of nature to that of art, he considers the example of bronze, noting that this mineral has “so well mingled” the “natures” of copper and tin “that the third which results from them is neither tin nor copper” (Guarini 510).16 Building on these artificial combinations, he argues that the mixture of heterogeneous parts that constitutes tragicomedy produces not a hodge-podge (a term that emphasizes the incompatibility of constituent parts), but a “single form,” a natural composite rather than a monstrous hybrid. He concludes by comparing the emergent genre to the well-mingled fluids of the human body, whose health consisted “entirely in the tempering of the four humors” (Guarini 512). He invokes this range of mixtures–of species, minerals, and humors–to assert the legitimacy of dramatically combining “actions that are great and not great” (Guarini 508), “persons of high rank and those not of high rank” (Guarini 509), and matters private and public together in one play. Far from attesting to an illicit conjunction, what Sidney analogizes to the contaminating exchange of fluids condoned by an unchaste daughter, tragicomedy emerges in Guarini’s account as the “legitimate” offspring (527) that results from the coupling of comic and tragic forms.

  7. Indeed if the notion of “mingling” suggested for Sidney the contamination of a high form by a low form, for Guarini it evoked the distinct advantages of a middling or well-tempered form. In his view, comedy and tragedy were by definition more limited than tragicomedy insofar as they catered to the needs of either extreme of a social spectrum. Where the violence of tragedy strove after a forceful purgation of fear and terror in a spectator presumed to be a king or prince, the humor of comedy was designed to purge “passions … caused … by labors” in a work-wearied auditor (Guarini 514). Tragicomedy was the mean between these extremes, achieving a temperate balance by dispensing with the excesses of each of its generic precursors. Stylistically, this required “moderating the gravity” of speech characteristic of tragedy on the one hand but also “sustaining the humility of some person or subject” on the other (Guarini 526), treading between the extremes of high and low representational form. It was an adaptation, according to Guarini, that was borne of historical necessity, since “just as the age changes, habits change” (Guarini 523). He elaborates on the direction such change has taken in observing: “to many the tragic poem is not pleasing in nature, since all do not have need of what purges” (Guarini 523). Lingering behind these words–“all do not have need”–and developed elsewhere in the essay, when tragicomic mixtures are compared to the mixed political form of the republic, is the suggestion that this talk of genres, tempers, and passions was implicated in a political order no less than an aesthetic ideal. The fledgling form, he intimates, is only the symptom of a wider sociopolitical phenomenon.17 In his account, tragicomedy emerges as the logical response to the needs of the middling ranks, those defined in passionate terms neither by the puffed up spirits of the nobility nor the “foggy” humors of a laboring class, who require the more vehement aesthetic purges delivered by tragedy and comedy (Guarini 514). It is the middling disposition, Guarini suggests, that this new form would both cultivate and perfect.

  8. Fletcher could hardly have been a stranger to the controversy surrounding tragicomedy expressed in the theoretical writings of both Sidney and Guarini, particularly since there is evidence that both poets exerted a shaping influence on him as sources and models for his dramatic experiments. His familiarity with (and indebtedness to) Sidney’s poetic output is evidenced in the use of the Arcadia as a source for the plots and character names in his collaborative productions with Beaumont. Robert Turner, for instance, has demonstrated the debt of Cupid’s Revenge to Book Two of The Arcadia, further arguing that plays like Philaster and A King and No King build on Sidney’s representation of heroic passion (112-13). However, if the two poets shared an aesthetic interest in the social registers of passion and temperance, as well as the representational use-value of pastoral romance, Fletcher’s focus was how such representations could be brought to the stage, and, particularly, how they might be adapted to best effect for London’s indoor theaters. Although Sidney did not offer a model for how this might be done, his biting characterization of the stage’s inept handling of generic modulations may have prompted Fletcher to contemplate the possibility of a decorous or tempered combination of dramatic forms.

  9. In Guarini, by contrast, Fletcher had a poet who did provide (in theory and practice) justification for blending dramatic genres, though in writing for the privileged audiences of the Este court during a period that critic Robert Henke describes as one defined by “neofeudalization,” Guarini’s audience was quite distinct from the upwardly mobile crowds in attendance at the Blackfriars, many of whom had just achieved gentlemanly status.18 Despite the differences of their respective theatrical contexts, Fletcher seems to have followed Guarini’s work closely, emulating the generic preferences expressed in Il Pastor Fido in crafting a pastoral tragicomedy, The Faithful Shepherdess, as his first stand-alone play. There is evidence as well that Fletcher may have read Guarini’s essay, “The Compendium of Tragicomic Form” (1601), which defends his pastoral tragicomedy from the widely circulating charge that it was a monstrosity. For example, in Fletcher’s “Letter to the Reader,” which preceded the publication of his (failed) pastoral play, he seems to repeat the rebuke appearing in Guarini’s own essay, which chided readers for equating shepherds with “plebs.” Guarini had specifically cautioned against this assumption, reminding his audience that “ancient shepherds … were not distinguished from persons of rank by the distinction which exists today between countrymen and citizens, since all were surely shepherds, but, as happens in the classes of society in a city, some were important, some poor, some rich … some better and others worse” (Guarini 530). So, too, Guarini’s shepherds occupy the full range of social positions, expressing high and low ranks. Fletcher insists on a similar qualification to brush off the notorious failure in the public theater of his own pastoral tragicomedy, which disappointed those expecting rustic humor. Accusing auditors of presuming that a pastoral play would depict “whitsun ales, creame, wassel and morris-dances,” he clarifies that his shepherds are not “hyerlings” but rather “owners” (Faithful Shepherdess, “Letter to the Reader,” 497). And yet he, like Guarini, allows that his shepherds may express some degree of social lability when he notes that his drama is a “representation of shepheards and shephearddesses, with their actions and passions, which must be such as may agree with their natures” (Faithful Shepherdess, “Letter to the Reader,” 497). By directing us to differences of “nature,” as reflected in passionate properties, Fletcher seems to identify some potential for social difference among his “ruling” shepherds, if not the full range–of rich and poor–that Guarini strove to represent.

  10. If Fletcher’s reference to his characters’ passions in this letter seems to shut down the question of social difference–as if a character’s passion places him or her definitively within a social field–over time his ingenuity in representing the flows of passion would become not only his signature stamp but the very mechanism of the genre’s social mixtures. There is little doubt that his contemporaries considered his representation of affective exchange–between characters but also between actor and audience–as among the most successful and memorable aspects of his drama. In the commendatory verses that frame Beaumont and Fletcher’s First Folio of 1647, for instance, the dramatists are portrayed by a dizzying array of friends and poets as masters at representing the contours of passion in their tragicomic plays. These tributes celebrate less the static representations of passion suggested in Fletcher’s description of The Faithful Shepherdess–where a given character’s nature is defined by passion–than its mercurial qualities, its rapid oscillations from one body to another, and its ability to effect change and transformation. As many of the verses attest, so forceful are these anatomies of passion that their effects spread rapidly, like a transmissible disease, from stage to audience, suffusing the minds and bodies of the auditors. Absorbed into the representation, the auditors are worked upon like the characters, experiencing themselves purged, transformed, and, finally, restored to a proper balance. William Cartwright, author of one of these tributes, notes how “some who sate spectators have confest / Themselves transform’d to what they saw exprest” (Beaumont and Fletcher, D1v), while T. Palmer recalls how “Like scenes, we shifted Passion, and that so / Who only came to see, turn’d Actors too.” (Beaumont and Fletcher, F2v). And yet if the viewers’ passionate responses involved them intimately in the actions of the play, drawing them out of themselves and mingling them with the characters onstage, they also had the effect of tempering their inner passionate imbalances. As James Shirley observed, “be as capritious and sick-brain’d, as ignorance & malice can make thee, here thou art rectified” (“To the Reader”), while another claimed that “pure Fletcher, [was] able to subdue / A Melancholy more then Burton knew” (Beaumont and Fletcher, A4v). One observed that not even “darke Spirits” driven by “zeale” to condemn Fletcher’s drama could escape the “Miracles” of his art, since just “one Line of his may convert them yet” (Beaumont and Fletcher, C3). In likening the audience’s passionate reform to a religious conversion, this tribute captured the power of the “turn” that defined Fletcherian tragicomedy. Together these tributes attest to the plays’ ability to use passion as a powerful tool for forging connections and reconstituting severed alliances. One might even hear in their collective praise a belief that in representing flows of passion, these plays possessed, perhaps, the power to reform a much larger somatic entity – the body politic. Indeed, as I will argue, passion serves as a central axis of the “social experiment” that was Fletcherian tragicomedy.

    The Art to Turn

  11. The dynamic flows of passion that these writers observed as powerful tools for making and mending bonds between absolute strangers–between actor and audience–assume a similar role in Fletcher’s plot sequences, where passionate dynamics express complex social relations.19 Here, as in the tributes to the dramatists, passion can effect unexpected social “turnings” and transformations.20 This theme emerges in oblique form in the opening moments of The Island Princess. The first Act begins atop the Portuguese fort, as the ports of the military base are being opened, suggesting a new vulnerability for the soldiers, who are warned to use extreme vigilance in their dealings with the islanders. As we soon learn, the immediate danger is of lurking enemies, particularly the governor of the neighboring island of Ternata, who has seized their confederate, the King of Tidore, while he was engaged in his customary recreation of rowing. The image evokes their collective scorn, as expressed in a stream of insults in which the soldiers question whether “tugging at an oar,” what they describe as the “art to turn” (418), is appropriate for a king.21 Participating in such a “dull labour” (418)–the play’s malcontent, Piniero, argues–may very well be the means of “[declining] a gentleman,” of debasing one’s nobility of blood (418). As such, the King’s participation in this laboring act provokes an interrogation of the metaphysics of royalty, evoking the possibility that even this royal figure might be subject to “turning,” might be ensnared by tides that defy his attempts at mastery. And yet the labor of “turning” that they here ridicule resonates beyond the King’s leisured pursuits. It functions as well as an anchoring image of the play, evoking the turns of passion that the play uses as an instrument of social reform. The image of stormy seas was widely available as a symbol for the waters of the body’s blood, which could rise and fall with the operations of passion in the same way that a sea could be stirred to unrest by atmospheric winds.22 Burton’s magisterial volume on melancholy, published the same year this play was first performed, draws on this image with frequency. Echoing a description he attributes to the royal physician Levinus Lemnius, Burton notes, for instance, that “as the sea-waves, so are the spirits and humours in our bodies tossed with tempestuous winds and storm” (Burton 241), adding poetic flare to the homology in a later moment in urging “our whole life is an Irish Sea, wherein there is naught … but tempestuous storms and troublesome waves” (Burton 273). If the seas could figure the passions, the pilot – emblematized by the rower-king here at the play’s start – served as an image of reason, struggling against the “thunder and lightning of perturbation” which, according to Burton, were eager to “whirl” him along (Burton 251). In debating the merits of this kind of labor for royalty, the Portuguese soldiers layer the image still further, unpacking its potential to represent political relationships. Just as the sea’s waters could denote the unruly passions rippling through the masses of a polity, so the ship could emblematize the powers of the state, and specifically a royal leader, to navigate a steady path. Ideally, the head of state was a reliable pilot, guiding the waters of the people’s passion as a political embodiment of reason, his ability to do so premised on his ability to temper eruptions of appetite and passion in his own body natural.23 In the case of the King of Tidore, the process has faltered, his ability to temper his own body and by extension, the political body over which he rules, is called into question. He has been seized by the enemy and thrown into prison, his attempts at steering the bark’s course confounded. If these opening events raise the question of his fitness to rule, they also identify the play’s interest in modifying principles of rule. For his release, we soon learn, will require a fundamental adjustment in social relations; one that will extend the “art to turn”–the art of steering a course through the tumultuous seas of passion–to a wider social group.

  12. Whereas this opening scene questions the King’s status as a pilot of physiological and political passions, a subsequent scene returns to the image as if crafting a response. Notably, the Portuguese men who earlier scoff at such powers are made to feel themselves in the grip of this powerful art of turning. This exchange occurs in the third scene, when we observe these men transformed into spectators of the Princess Quisara, who negotiates a path through the stormy passions of a group of suitors. Amid a heated exchange in which the suitors’ passions surge dangerously, the Princess emerges from her quarters as a locus of calm that quells their storm, a steady bark in dangerous seas. Self-possessed and commanding, her words still the violent passions circulating among the princes and suitors: “He that loves me, loves my command: be temper’d” (423). Though directed at the blustering princes, her words take immediate effect on the Portuguese men, both those who earlier questioned her royal nature and a group of recently arrived Portuguese, who are led by the newcomer Armusia. All of the men stand by and observe her, finding themselves rapt by her performance. Collectively, they experience the transformative power of her words and the impact of her disposition on their natures. Even the most hardened among them, the “mad lieutenant” Piniero, who earlier reproved her royal nature as naught but a “cunning [shadow]” (418), feels himself softened toward her. He confesses: “By this hand, I love her a little now!” (430), responding to what he describes as the “swinge” or royal spark that flies from her eyes (429). Armusia, too, feels himself altered in her presence, observing “Methinks my soul is strangely rais’d” (433). In each case Quisara’s command elicits a palpable emotional response, as if the steady heat of her royal blood has infused them with its noble warmth.

  13. It hardly seems coincidental that we are invited to observe yet another royal staging in the scene immediately following, which shifts the action to the neighboring island of Ternata. Here a different group of onlookers–who constitute a second internal audience–find themselves absorbed in an affective exchange with the King, in observing his response to the degrading conditions of his imprisonment. Fletcher’s source–Argensola’s Discovery and Conquest of the Molucco and Philippine Islands–omits any discussion of the King’s heroic posture under duress,24 but Fletcher’s play makes it the subject of an entire scene. Here, as in the preceding scene, the emphasis is on the power of the monarch’s immoveable disposition to refine his subject’s passions. The guards–including “two or three Moors” (434)–marvel at the “strange wonder” of his self-control amid extreme physical torments, while the Keeper observes of the King’s song: “it stirs me infinitely” (435), melting him with pity. The lexicon of their response–being stirred and rapt before the wonder of his endurance–returns us to the earlier scene in which Quisara’s royalty assumed a palpable force. If, in the opening scene, Piniero’s demystifying rhetoric cast the metaphysics of royalty as the product of prerogative–“She is a princess, and she must be fair” (418)–these scenes speak back, portraying royalty as commanding an affective axis from subjects divided by rank, nation, and religion. Prince and soldier, Moor and Christian, native and newcomer experience royalty as the power to refine passion, one that elicits affective bonds even from those hardened against it. Although these early scenes lodge this power exclusively with the monarch, a central “turn” of the tragicomic arc will witness the power to “command affection”–what the play elsewhere describes as the power to “convert”–falling into the hands of mere gentlemen.

  14. Indeed, the play intimates that reciprocal exchange among the ranks is a necessary precondition of a healthy polity and a viable social order. But it is an ideal that the tragicomedy must labor to produce, in part by directing us to the competing political postures embodied by the play’s rivals: Ruy Dias and Armusia. Forging a love triangle in their shared desire for the Princess’s affection, these two Portuguese characters also represent quite distinct political ideologies. The play’s quintessential figure of romance–a man read in “dangers and great deeds” (454)–Ruy Dias has been born and bred on traditional systems of identity, which carefully distinguish a knight from a prince.25 He, like Sidney, seems to hold it as a maxim that “kinds” such as these cannot and should not mix. But the play constructs this ideology as antiquated, intimating that it is this very belief that stymies his ability to win the Princess, despite her efforts to tilt the game to his advantage. Minutes before she makes the public announcement that will win over even the cynical Piniero, as we have seen, she tells Ruy that she has devised a plot that will make him shine. Withholding the details of the quest she will soon make public, she urges: “do some brave thing … that I may know / You have a power beyond ours that preserves you”; something, she explains further, “[t]hat may compel my faith, and ask my freedom” (424). Here, remarkably, she expresses her willingness to concede both religion and royal prerogative to a worthy candidate, one whom she defines as possessing powers that do not originate with her. But in this private exchange, we can already observe Ruy’s inadequacy for the task, insofar as he views himself as a man made entirely by her, and thus, by definition, lacking the power to move her in the way she desires. Emphasizing the chasm of rank that divides them, he is humble, modest, and passive to a fault, reluctant even to approach her until scolded with the words, “What, afraid to speak to me?” (423). He responds only with the impotence of one who believes all power emanates from above–“I would I were of worth, of something near you, / Of such a royal piece”–casting himself as less in “kind,” because less in degree, the recipient of favors beyond his “means of merit.” His view of her as absolutely untouchable, as beyond the worthiness of all eyes, save those “of equal light and luster” (423), figures an idolatrous posture, one that condemns a man of epic proportions to aimless wandering.

  15. That Ruy’s devotion to bloodline as the arbiter of identity signals his errancy emerges again in a later scene when he attempts to pressure his nephew Piniero to murder his rival. Here, as in his exchange with the Princess, he articulates his attachment to a social system where blood determines place. If earlier Ruy willingly made himself little save the “faint servant” of the Princess (449), the absolute instrument of her will, here Piniero is made to assume the same role in relation to him. He seeks to enwrap the young man in a web of kinship, reminding his nephew that he has taken a “father’s care, a father’s tenderness” in his attempts “to plant” him, to “place” him in a position of power within an intricate social web. Blood, kin, and genealogy are the coordinates of identity that, he argues, lock Piniero in an irreversible bond with him: “I have not forgot you, / Nor would be forgotten” (458). His is a world where blood determines rank, where one’s social position derives not from merit but birth. In their brief exchange, Piniero pretends to allow such terms to define him, deferring to his uncle’s will with the words, “You have a kinsman” (460). But moments later in his private meeting with the Princess, he dispenses with these identifications, boldly telling the Princess: “I am no uncle’s agent, I am mine own, lady” (464). If earlier in the play Piniero had worried that the bonds of blood might fail–such that his uncle, “This father of our faculties, should slip thus” (421)–here he seems to argue from the other direction, wishing his own release from kin ties as the enabling condition of self-determination.

  16. To the extent that Piniero breaks with blood as the determinant of his identity, he is linked to the play’s hero, Armusia, who is defined repeatedly as having no such connections. The play seems to go out of its way to obfuscate this newcomer’s social position, defining him by the absence of pre-existing social bonds, the absence of familial connections that might place him within the intricate social hierarchy. His peers speculate that he is a gentleman, but their assertions are punctuated by uncertainties and hesitations, which seem to be precisely the point. In discussing Armusia’s recent arrival on the island of Tidore, Christophero, for instance, urges: “A sober gentleman / I am sure he is; and no doubt bravely sprung” (421). But the qualifications–“no doubt” and “I am sure”–allow the questions to linger. Fletcher uses the same tactic in his play The Custom of the Country, where Arnoldo, though known to be an Italian, is yet described as a “stranger” because of his unknown derivation; a condition of such stigmatizing force that it impedes his marriage to Zenocia and produces the central conflict of the play. In the case of Armusia, his social distance is, perhaps, more clearly demonstrated in the third scene, when Piniero, ready to anatomize the dispositions of the princes who have come to woo Quisara, plays the “insider” to Armusia’s “outsider”: “Brave Armusia, / You never saw the court before?” (426). The exchange serves to emphasize Armusia’s distance from the court: if he is a gentlemen, he is yet not a courtier. Instead, he is consistently identified as a “stranger” for the better part of the play (470), what Ruy elsewhere describes as a “new thing” (459). Unlike Piniero, he has no uncle to “place” him within the web of power at Quisara’s court, his connections to this center of power as yet indeterminate and tenuous. Moreover, unlike Ruy himself, he is not wed to the bonds of kin, nor does he let the past own him in the way that homage to lineal identity necessitates. Fletcher intervenes in his source to make him this way, transforming a figure who is lineally connected to the royal family into one who is not only a Portuguese, as critics have already emphasized, but a man of completely unknown derivation.26 We hear the difference he embodies figured in stark terms when Ruy learns of Armusia’s unexpected redemption of the King; he puzzles over the absence of any intimations of his heroism, emphasizing not only his detachment from noble antecedents but his unfamiliarity with the literary system supporting such modes of identification–heroic romance. He is amazed that “[o]ne … not read / In dangers and great deeds” could perform such a difficult feat (454). Detached from family and from history, Armusia is the play’s image of pure potential, the embodiment of a new social principle.

  17. Armusia must, by definition, figure a break with the closed familial body of early modern race in order to emblematize the new social configuration that the play presses as its replacement. In tracking Armusia’s movements we get a sense of what this new order might look like. Notably, this is a man who stands against the boundaries that define Ruy and produce his paralysis. We see this not only in his release from temporal markers–from a heroic past and noble antecedents–but in his ability to traverse spatial divides. He rapidly moves between island worlds–readily “turning” his bark through the waters separating Tidore from Ternata–just as he navigates between public spaces and private ones. He is as comfortable in the subterranean depths of his cellar and the dungeon of the King’s prison as he is in the royal court. Moreover, if the Portuguese soldiers read Armusia’s decorous behavior as evincing his gentility, this stranger will act instead like a social composite, assuming the garb of a merchant to effect the King’s release, and willingly inhabiting the urban environment of citizen life.27 If his dizzying movements during the course of the play figure the reversal of Ruy’s delay, they also emblematize Armusia’s status as a go-between. Not defined by one space or another, he stands instead for a social principle that enables exchanges, that promotes circulation between spaces, as between social ranks.

  18. One of his primary functions is, arguably, to act as a conduit for transmitting the affective bonds that we saw originating with the monarch down through the ranks. This may be one way to read the scenes where he stages a show of fire to distract the Governor of Ternata from his attempt to rescue the King. What we witness here is more than a clever plot device, for the language surrounding this fiery display resonates with the imagery that characterized the two earlier displays of royal power.28 As in the earlier scenes which staged Quisara’s and the King’s affective power over a range of subjects, this unknown man promises to produce his own royal spectacle, one that will “make all shake,” that will find “all the island … wondering” (441). “Shaking” and “stirring,” we should recall, were precisely the reactions evoked by the King’s heroic sufferings and the Princess’s royal heat, both among the Portuguese soldiers and the Moorish guards. And yet, as we see in Ternata, Armusia, too, proves able to ignite a fire that stirs a response from a range of viewers. The Machiavellian governor, chief architect of the King’s capture, looks on with horror at the spectacle of the fire, expressing the extent to which it has gripped him when he admits that his “soul shakes” (443). In addition, the scene incorporates a group of citizen-men, who register the power of Armusia’s spectacular staging in another key. Parodically rewriting the earlier scene at court, these citizen-men find themselves stirred to action by the “swinge” of “flames” that are elsewhere described as “imperious” (441). It incites them to a mock display of masculinity as they labor, comically, to put out the encroaching fire, one of them self-contentedly remarking: “I never did so stoutly” (446). Although Armusia’s use of material flames suggests a difference in kind from the power embodied by royalty, it nevertheless shows he can command affect, by art if not by nature.

    Bonds of Affect

  19. The power to “turn” affections that the tragicomic form wishes to extend to a new gentleman like Armusia is emphasized generically, as well as thematically, when he arrives to the King’s prison chamber. Believing the intruding men to be his executors, the King ascends to tragic heights, proclaiming: “In death I am a king still” (445). Echoing the self-assurance of a besieged Richard II, he professes the force of a king’s unmovable disposition: “You cannot put on faces to affright me” (445). But the generic mingling central to tragicomedy takes this crescendo as its cue to effect a modal “turn,” lurching him away from the tragic end he expects and toward a comic resolution insofar as they come not to kill but to rescue him. The collision of modes is met by the perplexity of the characters’ reaction. Unshakeable moments before, the King now stands faltering, inhabiting the no-man’s land of generic mingling: “What does this mean?”, he asks. Seemingly unable to recognize the King’s confusion, Armusia responds farcically with “Put your legs forward” (445), infusing the pathos of the moment with comic scurrility. Notably, we do not hear again from the King, who is jolted into a silent stupor, it appears, by the modal shift, specifically the introduction of the low comic mode of Armusia’s bluntness. If the play’s earliest scenes had portrayed the monarch as a commanding figure who could “stir” the passions of others while being immune himself to such stirring, here the exchange comes full circle. For the “wondrous” intervention that Armusia makes into the King’s chamber stirs the monarch profoundly, first by making him speechless and subsequently by producing a bond of gratitude. Later, upon their return to Tidore, the King finds the answer to his earlier question–“What does this mean?”–when he reports to the court how “this man from the bowels of my sorrows / Has new-begot my name, and once more made me” (454). In using the language of kinship to describe his relationship to the stranger Armusia–now positioned as the King’s “begetter”–we hear him articulate the possibility of a new social bond. It is a bond made not by the lineal flows of blood but by the turning motions of affect that allow one stranger to move another, a mere gentleman to stir even the King.

  20. Of course, in the case of the King, such an arrangement is received jubilantly, insofar as it enables his own liberation – the literal means of his release from capture. But for Quisara, the play’s other central figure of royalty, the relationship pressed by Armusia appears much less benign. For, as we see when the victorious Armusia arrives to only a lukewarm reception at her hands, “bonding” with a stranger is anathema to her, perceived as an encroachment on the prerogative that has defined her from her first appearance. Before she appears in full regal form at court, we see her take refuge from the eyes and suspicions of her subjects in the private quarters of her aunt’s apartment, where she speaks alone with Ruy. Here we learn she is irked that she must be circumspect in her meetings with the man she loves, given the freedom that royal prerogative ought to afford her. Resentful of her subjects’ constraining gaze, she asserts she is in “no ways bound,” that “no power above [her] can examine [her]” (422). If she is protective of her own freedoms, the same does not hold for her subjects, whom she regards as mere instruments of her will. Piniero emphasizes this stance when he enters Quisara’s chamber in the second Act in an attempt to discern if the order for Armusia’s death has been given by her: he prostrates himself, urging “your will must command me,” only to observe in an aside minutes later how she appears to “move” with the very passions that define her subjects. Stunned, he notes, “She turns, for millions!” (464). Such fallibility translates for him as the freedom to ignore her command, since she is exposed in this language as prone–like her subjects–to the changing winds of passion. Though he will pretend to be murderous in thought, in practice he will reverse the trajectory of the malcontent and do, simply, nothing. Later we see his resistance to her absolutist pretensions consolidate, when he asks (after she kisses him) whether she thinks by such a kiss, “I stand bound / To do whatever you command me?” (482). He implies he is not, intimating that to be bound is no longer a subject’s defining condition.

  21. Armusia arrives at the same conclusion after finding himself in the grip of errancy and delay when Quisara refuses to marry him, a state that links him to Ruy and suggests the political impotence produced by absolutism. Finding him in a melancholic stupor, the heat of his heroism now clammy and cold, his friends suggest in sexually graphic terms that he seize the occasion to shake the Princess, to tell her “what you are, / And what you have deserv’d, and what she must be” (467). In repeating this word “shake”–three times in quick succession–they enter the lexicon that serves as the defining principle of Armusia’s actions, a lexicon that we have already observed serves to connect his behavior to his royal counterpart. It is hardly surprising, then, that he decides to act on their advice, although I suggest he does so with a crucial modification: he rejects their suggestion that he force her sexually (by committing the rape they hope to elicit), preferring instead to work on her affectively by evoking her un-coerced consent to yield herself–and by implication her throne–to this worthy partner.29 In reasoning through his decision, he states openly what his actions have only thus far implied: “my affections are as fair and gentle / As her they serve” (468). Moving the royal will, shaking it out of its ossified trance, has become not only a possibility but an act sanctioned by nature, since the Princess is closely linked to this man of unknown blood through the delicately moveable affections that they share.30 What follows is a scene that parallels the earlier rescue of the King. Armusia enters Quisara’s chambers unexpectedly, where he is received as a Tarquin-figure, the instrument of her violent undoing, and a rapist who aims to seize power from her. As in the earlier scene of the King’s rescue, the threat that the intruder seems to pose summons the Princess’s heroism, and she wraps herself in the tragic tones of Webster’s Duchess: “I’ll die first … I’ll take to me / The spirit of a man, borrow his boldness, / And force my woman’s fears into a madness” (472-73). Yet here, as in the earlier scene, the unmovable royal disposition emerges only to waver when the “turn” of the mingled genre arrives in the form of Armusia’s submission. Kneeling before her, he ushers in a new generic mode along with the possibility of reforming a rooted political posture through means other than violence. And yet whereas the analogous moment in the earlier scene with the King inaugurates a bond of gratitude–making kin of absolute strangers–here we find an intractable Quisara. Forbidding him from remembering “services or smiles” (474)–from recalling the deeds that spell her debt–she asserts the power of her prerogative, insisting on the wall of rank that divides them. She urges: “leaving all to me, / Quit this place presently” (475), an order to which the submissive Armusia readily agrees.31 But in the crucial moment of his departure, when Armusia encounters a jealous Ruy entering the chamber behind him, Quisara–constituting an internal audience now herself–witnesses a confrontation that does indeed effect the “turn” she has sought and yet paradoxically guarded against. If Fletcher’s source reports how this confrontation results in the Armusia figure striking his rival down in a fit of passion, Fletcher depicts instead a hero of complete self-possession. Neither “jealous” nor “troubled” by “strange suspicious thoughts” (475), Armusia responds to his rival with a power of self-moderation, stilling what might have been tumultuous passions into a nearly immoveable disposition. This is the moment of Quisara’s first “turning,” as marked in her words of awakening: “Sure, I was blind” (475). The moment’s power resonates for Ruy, as well, who leaves Quisara’s chambers with a transformed view, eager now to retract his order to have Armusia murdered and determined instead to challenge him to a duel. Piniero, relieved to see his uncle return to his senses, signals the force of the affective transaction that has occurred in referring to the change in his uncle as “this man’s conversion” (181). In this exchange we see a stranger–a man of modest origins–granted the power within the dramatic representation to steer a steady path through the tumultuous waters of the court’s passionate politics.

  22. But if the “turning” of Quisara in this moment figures a political release–the monarch’s willingness to accommodate a man of lesser rank–it also inaugurates a dangerous political opening, since the disguised governor, who has already learned the value of staged trickery from Armusia, attempts to steer the island’s political course according to his own interests by himself controlling the Princess’s passion. Notably, to win her to his cause, he exaggerates her power, tempting her to pull back from the reciprocal arrangement which Armusia has effected. As such, he speaks the language of idolatrous worship earlier voiced by Ruy, praising her “heavenly form” and leading her to believe that the health of the state depends upon her “miracle” (485). The praise effects its purpose, prompting a return of her absolutist pretensions in the form of her claim to possess complete control over the Portuguese when she promises to show him “how I hold their temper, / And in what chain their souls” (486). In these words she embraces once again the principle of difference delimiting a steep social hierarchy, one where a “natural” difference of affect divides ruler from ruled. It is the difference that invests her alone with the power to turn, a power that now gets figured, in the lexicon of religious difference, as the power to convert. As such, in the climactic moment of the play, she submits the willing Armusia to yet one more trial of his constancy, urging him: “change your religion, / And be of one belief with me” (492).

  23. Famously, she is met with an entrenched defiance. Portraying himself as an epic hero lured into errancy, Armusia rejects her bid to “change” him, condemning himself for having “slept like cork upon a water” and for having “no feeling of the storm that toss’d me!” (493). In this language, he wraps himself in the image that opened the play, likening himself to a passive bark on stormy seas, and recalling the King’s posture when seized by the Governor. And yet, rewriting that earlier moment, this man resists, recoiling from the passive posture Quisara presumes will define Armusia as her subject. In his steely resistance, which many have read as an unabashed assertion of colonial hegemony, I propose instead that we see the play as actively constituting a new political relationship: one that rejects the singular power of royalty as a siren call of self-forgetfulness and demands the alternative of political accommodation. For if Armusia’s defiant posture in this moment has been observed as an uncharacteristic expression of intemperance, it is also the crucial moment where this unknown man responds with an unmovable disposition to the royal will. Thus far, he has deferred repeatedly and unquestioningly to her will. This time he refuses, and it is crucial that his intractability evokes instead a decisive “turn” for the Princess. For, as we soon observe, in the sparks of passion he emits in denying her claim to his body and soul, the Princess discovers the “forward spirit” (424) and “noble sparkle” (476) that denote his likeness to her, precisely those qualities that she earlier indicated would “compel” her to relinquish both her religion and her freedom. Her conversion, the moment when she turns from the worship of “maumet-gods” to the worship of a Christian God, is the first of these promised turnings, and the one that has attracted most critical commentary. But the play observes as well a more explicitly political turning in her readiness to share power with this stranger. For, as the governor earlier reveals to the King, “Mark but the end, good king, the pin he shoots at … Your sister is his due: what’s she? Your heir, sir; / And what is he a-kin to? the kingdom” (478-79). In agreeing to blend her own nature with that of this man of unknown derivation, the Princess agrees, in effect, to make a “new” gentleman co-partner in power, to allow his strange nature to be made kin to the kingdom. In such a union, we see the meeting of high and low, public figure and private person, tragedy and comedy which Sidney and others reproved as the mongrel figure of tragicomedy.

  24. But I suggest that this play encourages us to see this hybrid emblem otherwise, that is, as something other than a monstrous union. For in allowing bonds of affect to unfix the difference between king and subject, between high and low blood, the play embraces this mingled composite. Such mingling denotes neither contamination nor degeneracy but rather the flows of a properly temperate (political) body. As Ruy’s words attest in the play’s final moments, their union signals not the production of bastards and the tragic demise of the polity but rather “Children as sweet and noble as their parents,” and “Kings at least” (511-512). It signals, then, the emergence, of a new social order; one that imagines the possibility that reciprocity–as figured in the flows of passion between princess and lover–might replace the unyielding disposition of royal prerogative. In gesturing at a profound political accommodation, one that gets reduplicated when the King appoints the hard-working Piniero as the governor of Ternata, this tragicomedy makes explicit the cultural work lingering behind the hybrid generic form that was tragicomedy. For in tempering tragedy with comedy, this genre symbolically enacts a modification to the political order. It asserts–in form as well as structure–that the tragic mode of the sovereign could and should be tempered by the infusion of comic flows. It also proposes that this composite form of rule might best be secured, not through the violent seizure of power embodied by the play’s corrupt governor but rather through the softer turns of affect preferred by Armusia. It is this vision of political reciprocity, rather than that of prostration to the royal will, that constitutes the affective and political core of the tragicomic turn. As such, tragicomedy should be seen as the period’s dominant literary solution to the escalating political crisis that opposed king to parliament; it offered an affective alternative to the violent undoing of kingship that would, in time, be embraced as the swifter response to the storms of passion that shook the English ship of state across the seventeenth century.


    1 Recent studies of the genre include Maguire; McMullan and Hope; Mukherji and Lyne; and Forman.

    2 Critics have documented just how “emergent” this genre was in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by demonstrating how slow the dramatic category was to take hold, particularly as evidenced by few uses of the generic designation on title pages. According to McMullan and Hope, although “tragicomedie” was a term used with reference to the drama as early as the late sixteenth century–Marston’s Malcontent having been published as a “Tragiecomedia” in 1604, followed by a few “pastoral tragicomedies” in the subsequent decade–“plays were not regularly published as tragicomedies until 1630. In the sixty-two years from 1567 to 1629, there are four so-called on their title-pages; in the next thirty years, to 1660, there are forty-eight”; see McMullan and Hope 19, n.18.

    Lois Potter suggests that “Dramatists were obviously aware of the genre in its newer, more formal sense, but were curiously reluctant to claim that this was what they were writing” (196-97). See also Zachary Lesser’s suggestion that tragicomedy came to “cohere” as a genre as a function of publication history, namely, publisher Humphrey Moseley’s decision to cast the Beaumont and Fletcher canon as “a forthrightly royalist folio,” one that Lesser suggests seriously distorts the genre’s concerns at the moment of its “birth” in the early seventeenth century (882).

    3 For Coleridge’s famous quote, see Edwards 161. The view that Beaumont and Fletcher’s drama was written as primarily courtly entertainment has a long tradition, gaining expression in the twentieth century by critics such as Waith. More recently, this thesis has been challenged by Finkelpearl “Role of the Court” and Court and Country Politics. These critiques are developed further by McMullan, who argues that Fletcher’s politics tends to align with the “country politics” of his patron, the Earl of Huntington.

    4 See, for instance, Raman; Neill, “Material Flames”; Loomba; and, most recently, Forman.

    5 Neill, for instance, describes the play as an “instrument of nationalist propaganda in the trade war against the Dutch” (“Material Flames” 338), while Loomba examines how the play “offers a fantasy of colonial and sexual possession” (68).

    6 Raman’s essay on the play is a notable exception, since it scrutinizes divisions of “class” alongside those of “nation” among the Portuguese colonizers; he does not, however, consider how the play’s emphasis on the royal identities of the islanders may further implicate these constructions, as I aim to do here.

    7 The exceptions are Panura (attendant to the princess Quisara) and the townspeople of both islands, who make brief cameo appearances as collectivities, yet undergo little further development.

    8 As such, tragicomedy’s romance features perform a function not dissimilar to that of utopias; see the classic argument by Jameson.

    9 For an innovative and flexible approach to the signifying registers of geography on the early modern stage, one that allows that foreign spaces may figure the displacement of English social tensions, see Howard.

    10 King James I famously defends the grounds of kingly authority and royal prerogative in his True Law of Free Monarchies: Or the Reciprock and Mutual Duty Betwixt a Free King, and His Natural Subjects (Edinburgh, 1598), a book published while James occupied the throne of Scotland but before he succeeded Queen Elizabeth to the throne of England. Here he defines monarchy as the “true pattern of divinity … the lineal succession of crowns being begun among the people of God, and happily continued in divers Christian commonwealths” (194, 209).

    11 To the extent that tragicomedy embodies an alternative to or modification of an absolutist ideology, it functions as a logical response to the “deconsecration” of the monarch, which Franco Moretti has identified as the function of tragedy (7-40).

    12 For a detailed discussion of these disputes, see Zaller; and Kishlansky.

    13 If Sidney’s critique emphasized the issue of decorum, a range of English writers criticized the staging of romance material on the grounds that it produced a “sprawling” effect. Robert Henke includes Jonson, Gosson, Whetstone, and Nashe as among those who voiced this “neoclassical critique” (37).

    14 He uses the word “gape” to describe forms of comedy that are indecorous: “For what is it to make folks gape at a wretched beggar and a beggarly clown; or, against law of hospitality, to jest at strangers, because they speak not English so well as we do?” (69).

    15 The treatises were Il Verato ovvero difesa di quanto ha scritto M. Giason Denores contra le tragicomedie, et le pastorali, in un suo discorso di poesia (Ferrara, 1588); and Il Verato secondo ovvero replica dell’attizzato accademico ferrarese in difesa del pastor fido (Florence, 1593). In 1601, Guarini published a work that incorporated major points of both earlier treatises in the essay Compendio della poesia tragicomica, tratto dai duo Verati, per opera dell’autore del pastor fido, colla giunta di molte cose spettanti all’arte (Venice, 1601). For an overview of this history, see Weinberg 2:1104-1105.

    16 All references to Guarini are to the 1601 Compendio della poesia tragicomica text translated by Allan H. Gilbert as The Compendium of Tragicomic Poetry.

    17 For a discussion of the radical potential of Guarini’s theory of genre, see Henke’s chapter “Social Negotiations,” 166-181. Henke argues that “Because Renaissance kinds had recognizable, though flexible, social codings, a generically multiple form like tragicomedy could refer to social and political issues, either mediating or, in some cases, sharpening social difference” (166).

    18 For this characterization of the Este court, see Henke 168-69; for the statements on those in attendance at the Blackfriars theater, see Henke 175.

    19 The association of the Beaumont and Fletcher’s corpus with the representation of passion, an emphasis praised by those writing dedicatory poems for the Folio, has been a touchstone of critical accounts of these plays. Coleridge, who early insisted on these connections, inaugurated a tendency to perceive the plays’ investment in passion as pernicious. For him, the representation of passion expressed the dramatists’ moral deficiencies, insofar as it worked, in his view, to “ridicule virtue and encourage vice,” thereby [“pandering] to the lowest and basest passions of our nature”; see Coleridge 2:30. Many have followed Coleridge in equating the plays’ figurations of passion with dramatic decadence, a pattern that my reading here aims to challenge.

    20 The peripeteias of Fletcherian tragicomedy have been emphasized by Michael Neill (“Defence of Contraries,” “Turn and Counterturn”) among others.

    21 All quotations of the play are to Alexander Dyce’s edition; subsequent quotations will be cited parenthetically in the text with reference to page number.

    22 For an elaboration of these correspondences, see Paster, esp. 1-24 and 27-28.

    23Of course, tyranny was the term invoked when this relationship faltered. As La Perrière urges in his The Mirrour of Policie (London, 1598): “Tyrannical power is put into the hands of one alone who beareth rule, or rather as I may say, tyrannizeth according to his disordinate will. The contrarie unto this, is the good king or Prince, who governeth and ruleth his people, not according to his sensual appetite and will, but by ripeness of counsel, observations of lawes, and right of justice” (e3v, as quoted in Bushnell, 51, n. 38). Bushnell tracks in detail the shifting conceptions of king and tyrant across the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, observing the movement from a humanist emphasis on morality as the principle dividing the two types of rule to notions of legality, particularly as expressed in the period leading up to the Civil War, partly in response to Beaumont and Fletcher’s dramatic representations of absolutist rulers. As Bushnell suggests, these plays were weighing the merits of blood or legitimacy as against character as the basis of rule; see Chap. 5, esp. 171.

    24 See Argensola. If Argensola does not detail the conditions of the King’s imprisonment, he does speculate that his death soon after his release may have been caused by poison, since he was known for adhering to a “temperate way of Living” (103). As such, his apoplexy could not have been attributed to dietary “Excess,” the cause often linked to this malady (103). It should also be noted that although Argensola says little about the King’s personal struggle, he elsewhere relies on the language of passion to explain the behaviors of both the Portuguese and Moluccan figures whom he describes. He defends the violence of one “very brave” Portuguese man, for instance, by noting that his “excesses of Fierceness” proceeded not from a customary intemperate disposition but by the “extraordinary Force in the irascible Part of the mind,” noting that “Patience often provok’d turns that Courage into Fury and Rage” (67).

    I suggest that this idea that passions can effect sudden “turns” in disposition is something that interested Fletcher across his career. Compellingly, in his earliest representations of passion–as in The Faithful Shepherdess–Fletcher seems eager to repudiate passion in the interests of political stability, placing the power to “cure” passion singularly in the hands of Clorin, the play’s image of a centralized authority. The play repeatedly describes the mechanism’s of passion’s movements through the language of “turning,” as in the Sullen Shepherd’s demand that the overly constant Amarillis “turne againe, / Turne with thy open armes and clip the swayne / That hath performed all this, turne turne I say” (5.3.129-32), or when Thenot bemoans the seeming change in his constant lover, Clorin, and urges, “I hate thee now: yet turne” (4.5.52). By the time of his mature tragicomedies, however, I suggest that passion’s ability to effect a powerful turn–a rupture of sorts–makes it indispensable to Fletcher’s political vision.

    25Although the name “Ruy Dias” can be traced to the Argensola source-text, it seems highly significant that the name was also associated with the historical figure Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, who was heroized in the epic poem the Lay of the Cid, among countless other chronicles and romances. The hero’s formal name was often abbreviated as simply “Ruy Diaz,” and Fletcher seems to have played up the potential connections between his Portuguese commander and the Spanish hero in his decision to portray Ruy as a man defined by what the play presents as an antiquated heroic mode. It is quite possible that Fletcher was familiar with the heroic excesses of El Cid from his reading of Cervantes, as the romances that documented El Cid’s feats are a source for Don Quixote. In Cervantes’s mock epic, for instance, the titular figure often compares his steed Rocinante to El Cid’s famously beloved steed, Babieca. For an overview of the connections between Fletcher’s plot and those of Cervantes, see Schelling (145-50).

    26 Argensola describes the man who rescues the Princess, Cachil Salam, as “A near Kinsman of [the King], well known for his Valour in the Wars” (100).

    27 See Loomba, who describes Armusia as a “composite colonizer – gentleman, adventurer, merchant” (96), although she understands this representation as feeding into the play’s opposition of West against East and the instatement of Western hegemony at large. By contrast, I see the play’s interest in the ideological differences among the Portuguese men as possessing a potentially subversive implication for political and social relations in England in that the play selects the man of least social stature and most ambiguous lineal identity as the man who can and should win the Princess. At the very least, this insistence suggests Fletcher’s preference that political power be extended beyond a courtly group–as represented in a figure like Ruy Dias–to “newcomers” like Armusia, who might be a figure for those just recently admitted to the rank of gentry. Compellingly, Henke suggests new gentlemen may have comprised a majority of the auditors at the Blackfriars (175).

    28 For a discussion of this pervasive trope of fieriness in the play, see Neill, “Material Flames,” passim.

    29 Of course, the violation of “rape” in this period has strong connections to political seizure. See, for instance, how Prospero describes the events that lead to his own political demise as a kind of self-rape, since he describes himself as “rapt” in secret studies. Consider, also, how Caliban’s first threat to his power gains expression as an attempted rape of his daughter, Miranda. For a larger exposition of the connections between rape and political seizures, see Jed. The affective “stirring” that Armusia seeks to elicit in Quisara, then, introduces a new principle of power not through the use of force but through the evocation of desire.

    30 In this respect, my reading echoes the observation of Lee Bliss with regard to The Maid’s Tragedy, which she reads as depicting “the king’s subjects discovering that their king is nothing but a man” (106); in the case of this later play we are allowed to observe the affective similarities that link a princess and a mere gentleman of dubious origin.

    31 It is notable that in Argensola, it is the Armusia figure, Cachil Salama, who proposes that he leave the chamber instantly as an expression of his obedience to her. In changing this detail, Fletcher enhances the absolutist tinge of Quisara’s representation (102).


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