The Broken Heart by John Ford.

The Broken Heart is, I believe, John Ford's second solo play. It was published in 1633 (the same year as 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and Love's Sacrifice) and follows The Lover's Melancholy (1629).

It's set in the Sparta of Classical Greek times and tells the story of Penthea, whose marriage was arranged by her father to Orgilus. However her brother Ithocles, a Spartan General, overrules his dead father's decision and demands that she marries Bassanes, a rich nobleman who he believes is better suited to his sister. This, sadly, is not the case - Bassanes is jealous and cruel, and treats Penthea like a prisoner. Meanwhile, broken-hearted, Orgilus pretends to leave Sparta to go to Athens, however, in disguise, he stays and plots his revenge against Ithocles. Meanwhile, realising he has made a catastrophically bad judgement, Ithocles seeks to atone somehow and he arranges a marriage between Ithocles sister Euphrania and his friend Prophilus whilst at the same time trying to win the favours of Calantha, the daughter of Amyclas, King of Sparta.

It's a complex play with many characters, but there are several unifying themes throughout these troubled relationships - many of these characters are tested emotionally to breaking point. Control, or lack of (particularly in Penthea's case, as well as other female characters) is another feature, and some try desperately to seize some means to reclaim their destiny, but tragically are unsuccessful. The politics of the body is what interested me in this play: the difference between the public and the private, particularly seen in Calantha; that a body, one's body, is one's own, yet it is also public and, for women, belongs to someone or is otherwise controlled by someone deemed to have higher authority. There is with Penthea and Calantha a fight to be happy or to 'own' their own body despite their destiny shaped by the men in their lives. Yet this fight is internal, and so is not a productive fight: this is the tragedy of The Broken Heart. Somehow, however, the men fare no better despite their perceived control.

The Broken Heart is a very difficult play (at least I found it so) and I fear this may not be an adequate summary, but this is the gist of what I took from it. I felt it was stronger than The Lover's Melancholy, though I do tend to prefer tragedies to comedies (tragedy does tend to be more universal; humour does not always transcend time). I think a part of my struggle was the lack of familiarity with this period, and a new author who is beginning to practise his craft: although published in 1633, there's evidence to suggest it was written as early as 1625, perhaps around the same time as The Lover's Melancholy. The next Ford I'll be reading for Fanda's Renaissance month of the Literary Periods Challenge will be 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, which is often regarded as Ford's magnum opus, and it is this play I've been looking forward to the most. There is hope for me and Ford yet!

Until then, more illustrated pages out of Havelock Ellis' collected plays of Ford (also including a biography of John Ford, 'Tis Pity She's a WhoreLove's Sacrifice, and Perkin Warbeck) published in 1888 by Vizetelly &co.


  1. It has been a long time since I read anything by Ford (i.e., probably the late 60s), so my memory may be fallible. What I think I remember most is that Ford and his contemporaries suffer from being bookended by Elizabethan-Jacobean drama on one side and Restoration comedy on the other side. Thus, Ford remains something of a museum piece for most people, and only rarely does he show up in productions (mostly on campuses and a few regional theaters). Still, Ford is worth reading if only for the comparison to his antecedents and descendants. And, BTW, your critical assessment of Ford's play is quite good.

    1. Thank you, it's an absolute struggle to write anything. I'm not into Ford too much, looking forward to finish these four plays! Interesting what you say about being bookended - I'll have to check out some Restoration comedy. I do have some poetry but that's about it right now.

    2. When the Puritans took over England for a while in the 17th century, one of the first things they did was shut down theaters. Yes, their were still some covert theatrical activity, but when Cromwell and his ilk were put aside and the monarchy restored, then the theaters "exploded" into energetic activity. All the pent up energies went into some of the best English comedy in theatrical history. I consider Congreve's The Way of the World as a great starting point for anyone interested in the revival of theater in the Restoration era.

    3. I'll look that up - I know so little about this time! Thanks for that help :)

  2. Oops! Make that "there were still some covert theatrical activities" rather than "their were still some.covert theatrical activity" My keyboarding weaknesses mangled my diction. Shame on me! Haste made waste!

    1. Ha! Actually, I didn't notice, but then I've not long been awake :)


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