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John Ford


FORD, JOHN (1586–c. 164o), English dramatist, was bap tized on April 17, 1586, at Ilsington in north Devon. His father was in the commission of the peace and his mother was a sister of Sir John Popham, successively attorney-general and lord chief justice. John Ford matriculated at Exeter College in 16o1 and was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1602. In 16o6 he wrote the elegy Fame's Memorial, or the Earl of Devonshire deceased, and dedicated it to the widow of the earl, the famous Penelope, formerly Lady Rich. The elegy shows some sympathy for the fate of Essex. Ford's tract of Honor Triumphant, or the Peeres Challenge (printed 16o6 and reprinted by the Shakespeare Society with the Line of Life, in 1843) , and the simultaneously published verses The Monarches Meeting, or the King of Denmarkes Wel come into England, show him in the capacity of a court poet. The Time Poets (Choice Drollery, 1656) suggests that Ford with drew from literary life in London to his native place; but nothing is known as to the date of his death.

His career as a dramatist probably began by collaboration with Thomas Dekker with whom he wrote The Fairy Knight and The Bristowe Merchant (licensed in 1624, but both unpublished) ; and with John Webster A late Murther of the Sonne upon the Mother (licensed in 1624). A play entitled An ill Beginning has a good End, brought on the stage in 1613 and attributed to Ford, was (if his) his earliest acted play; whether Sir Thomas Overbury's Life and untimely Death (1615) was a play is extremely doubtful ; some lines of indignant regret by Ford on the same subject are still preserved. He is also said to have written, at dates unknown, The London Merchant (which, however, was an earlier name f or Beaumont and Fletcher's Knight of the Burning Pestle) and The Royal Combat; a tragedy by him, Beauty in a Trance, was en tered in 1653, but never printed. These three (or four) plays were among those destroyed by Warburton's cook. The Queen, or the Excellency of the Sea, a play of inverted passion, printed in by Alexander Singhe for private performance, was edited by W. Bang (Materialien zur Kunde d. alteren engl. Dramas, 13, Lou vain, 1906), and is by him on internal evidence confidently claimed as Ford's. Of the plays by Ford preserved to us the span little more than a decade—the earliest, The Lover's Melancholy, having been acted in 1628 and printed in 1629, the latest, The Lady's Trial, acted in 1638 and printed in Two works, undoubtedly those most characteristically expres sive of his peculiar strength, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (acted c. 1626) and The Broken Heart (acted c. 1629), were both printed in 1633 with the anagram of his name Fide Honor. The first is concerned with incest; the tragedy is well worked out, and the characterization vivid. The problem in which Ford was always most deeply interested is here stated at its most acute : the conflict between overwhelming passion and the whole range of restraints which can be opposed Lo it. The Broken Heart has another vivid and sensational plot, and the pathos, if forced, is effective. The influence of Burton's analysis of the emotions, strong in The Lover's Melancholy, is still traceable, but few were so capable of treating them sympathetically, and yet without reckless grossness or extravagance of expression. For in Ford's genius there was real refinement, except when the "supra-sensually sensual" impulse or the humbler self-delusion referred to came into play. Love's Sacrifice (acted c. 1630; printed in 1633), is a tragedy of a similar type. Perkin Warbeck (printed 1634; probably acted a year later) is a chronicle play; the versification is regular, and the element of buffoonery reduced to a minimum. The Fancies Chaste and Noble (acted before 1636, printed 1638) and The Lady's Trial (acted 1638, printed 1639) are negligible. There remain two other dramatic works, of very different kinds, in which Ford co operated with other writers, the mask of The Sun's Darling (acted 1624, printed 1657), hardly to be placed in the first rank of early compositions, and The Witch of Edmonton (printed 1658, but probably acted about 1621), in which we see Ford as a joint writer with Dekker and Rowley of one of the most powerful domestic dramas of the English or any other stage.

Ford owes his position among English dramatists to the intensity of his passion, in particular scenes and passages where the char acter, the author and the reader are alike lost in the situation and in the sentiment evoked by it; and this gift is a supreme dramatic gift. But his plays—with the exception of The Witch of Edmon ton, in which he doubtless had a prominent share—too often disturb the mind like a bad dream which ends as an unsolved dissonance; and this defect is a supreme dramatic defect which has caused the neglect of this author's works in modern days.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.-The best edition of Ford is that by Gifford, with Bibliography.-The best edition of Ford is that by Gifford, with notes and introduction, revised with additions to both text and notes by Alexander Dyce (1869). An edition of the Dramatic Works of Massinger and Ford appeared in 1840, with an introduction by Hartley Coleridge. The Best Plays of Ford were edited for the "Mermaid Series" in 1888, with an introduction by W. H. Havelock Ellis, and reissued in 1903. A. C. Swinburne's "Essay on Ford" is reprinted among his Essays and Studies (1875). The probable sources of the various plays are discussed in Emil Koeppel's Quellen studien zu den Dramen George Chapman's, Philip Massinger's and John Ford's (1897). And see W. A. Mitsa in Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. 6 (Iwo).

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