Article Title

Fletcher, Massinger, and Roman Imperial Character


This article reads the Roman plays of Fletcher and Massinger, comprising the collaborations The False One, The Prophetess, and Rollo, Fletcher’s Valentinian, and Massinger’s The Roman Actor and The Emperor of the East, as historically-informed character studies. Rather than flat variations on the theme of the stock tyrant, Julius Caesar, Dioclesian, Rollo/Caracalla, Valentinian III, Domitian, and Theodosius II are carefully considered portraits of distinctive individuals, portraits based on the efforts of the playwrights to glean from the historical tradition a coherent impression of each emperor’s peculiar psychology. While offering fresh interpretations of the Fletcher-Massinger Roman plays, including the view of them as an interconnected group, is an important goal of the article, its ultimate aim is to suggest we reexamine our idea of what Renaissance dramatists were trying to do when they set out to build a character, especially a historical one. Close analysis of the plays’ characterizations, and comparisons of them to one another, show that Fletcher and Massinger were deliberately synthesizing the information available to them about the emperors in order to endow them with what Judith Anderson has called biographical truth. The implication is that if we can locate such an effort at dramatic historical reconstruction on the part of Fletcher and Massinger, always maligned for their attenuated characterizations, then this effort was probably much more common in Jacobean drama than we have been wont to imagine.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.