Well written, thorough, scholarly and thought-provoking introduction and notes to this authoritative text with modernised spelling: LS emerges as a fascinating and unaccountably underrated drama. I was inspired to read it by the recent RSC production at the Swan and the abrupt changes in direction of plot and characterisation in the performance I saw were fully revealed as 'coup-de- meta-theatre'. Ford's play, entertaining enough in its own right, casts fascinating after-light on a whole range of Elizabethan and Jacobean tragedy.
Here at last is the first proper edition, with a modern critical text and very full commentary, of one of the most fascinating and puzzling of Jacobean-Caroline plays. Briefly, it tells of an ageing duke, devoted to a younger friend (Fernando). He meets and impetuously marries a young woman (Bianca), with whom Fernando falls in love. Fernando's attempts at seduction are rejected by Bianca with an exaggerated vehemence that betrays that she in her turn is falling in love with him. Then, in a sudden development that is both startling and wholly convincing, she appears in his bedroom at night to offer herself to him, but adding that, if he takes advantage of her passion, she will kill herself at dawn. Fernando's love for her rises to a new selflessness and he resolves to respect Bianca's scruples; from this point onwards their relationship is limited to kisses. In a final scene between them (after the play has wandered off into unilluminating byways) Bianca expresses exasperation with the social convention that holds them apart, but is still unable to break with it, while Fernando resolves to wait till the duke dies or, if Bianca dies first, to join her in the grave. This comes earlier than expected, since the duke, persuaded by an embittered sister (herself in love with Fernando) that the two have committed adultery, kills Bianca, but (being a kindly sentimentalist) is soon persuaded that she was totally innocent. In the final scene at her tomb the Duke and Fernando compete for the honour of being united to her in death and both commit suicide, after declaring that Bianca was the purest and most faithful of wives; impeded by a conventional ethic that allows wives to be categorized only as `faithful' or as `adulterous', neither of them can conceive, still less express, a more nuanced judgement. The mixture of the tragic and the burlesque in this extravagantly stagey finale is puzzling; Moore is attracted by the view that it is a piece of baroque theatre, uniting eroticism with the love of death. This edition is extremely full, and a few of the footnotes are redundant (as when we are told who Dante was). But on the whole it succeeds admirably in clarifying obscurities and presenting the full range of possible interpretations. The long section of the introduction that goes through the play scene by scene is much to be preferred to an analysis by character and theme, since it does justice to the prime nature of drama - a sequence of episodes in a temporal sequence. This is a nearly perfect edition of a neglected but hugely rewarding play, which in its exploration of female psychology and cultivation of ambiguity seems to belong to the age of Ibsen rather than that of Shakespeare.