Perkin Warbeck and Massinger

Lisa Hopkins


In this paper, I want to consider what seem to me some suggestive instances of intertextuality between John Ford’s Perkin Warbeck and two plays wholly or partly by Philip Massinger, Sir John van Oldenbarnevelt, which Massinger co-wrote with John Fletcher, and the sole-authored Believe As You List, which has a substantial thematic overlap with Perkin Warbeck.  For Ford, Massinger might simply have represented a successful playwright to emulate, but I want to argue that he meant more than that.  In the first place, Massinger had a close relationship with the censor, Sir Henry Herbert, and Perkin Warbeck is more dangerously topical than has sometimes been supposed, so the ways in which Believe As You List negotiated danger might well have been of considerable interest to Ford.  Secondly, Massinger was connected to the west, and specifically to Ludlow, home of the early sixteenth-century court of Arthur Prince of Wales, who is I think a submerged influence on Perkin Warbeck, and later of the Sidneys and Herberts, with whom Massinger was closely connected.  For Ford, himself a Devon man, the west had a powerful psychological pull, and so too did its mythologies.  The supposedly impotent Octavio in The Fancies Chaste and Noble, whose court is infiltrated by a quixotic young man, has a touch of the Fisher King about him, and the eponymous heroine of The Queen, whose courtiers propose to take to the lists in defence of her chastity, has something in common with Malory’s  Guinevere.  In Perkin Warbeck, the motif of the supposedly lost king who emerges from the west strikes an even more unmistakably Arthurian note, and Arthur Tudor is mentioned, even if only briefly, as the third in a potential trio of doomed heirs of York (Perkin himself, who claims to be Richard of York, and Warwick, who really was the undoubted son of false, fleeting, perjured Clarence).

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