Authors: Philip Massinger

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works


The Fatal Dowry, pr. c. 1616-1619 (with Nathaniel Field)

Sir John van Olden Barnavelt, pr. 1619 (with John Fletcher)

The Custom of the Country, pr. c. 1619-1620 (with Fletcher)

The Little French Lawyer, pr. c. 1619-1623 (with Fletcher)

The Virgin Martyr, pr. c. 1620 (with Thomas Dekker)

The False One, pr. c. 1620 (with Fletcher)

The Double Marriage, pr. c. 1621 (with Fletcher)

The Maid of Honor, pr. c. 1621

The Unnatural Combat, pr. c. 1621

The Duke of Milan, pr. c. 1621-1622

A New Way to Pay Old Debts, pr. 1621-1622(?)

The Beggar’s Bush, pr. before 1622 (with Fletcher)

The Prophetess, pr. 1622 (with Fletcher)

The Bondman, pr. 1623

The Renegado: Or, The Gentleman of Venice, pr. 1624

The Parliament of Love, pr. 1624

The Elder Brother, pr. 1625(?) (with Fletcher)

The Roman Actor, pr. 1626

The Great Duke of France, pr. 1627(?)

The Picture, pr. 1629

Believe as You List, pr. 1631

The Emperor of the East, pr. 1631

The City Madam, pr. 1632(?)

The Guardian, pr. 1633

A Very Woman: Or, The Prince of Tarent, pr. 1634

The Bashful Lover, pr. 1636

The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, pb. 1953-1961 (4 volumes; Fredson Bowers, editor; includes collaborations with Dekker)

The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, pb. 1966-1976 (4 volumes; Bowers, editor; includes collaborations with Fletcher)

Selected Plays of Philip Massinger, pb. 1978 (Colin Gibson, editor)


The Poems of Philip Massinger with Critical Notes, 1968 (Donald Lawless, editor)


The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, 1976 (5 volumes; Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson, editors)


Philip Massinger (MAS-uhn-jur) was the son of Arthur Massinger, “gentleman,” of an old Salisbury family. The father had two degrees from Oxford and served Henry Herbert, second earl of Pembroke, in confidential matters. His son Philip was baptized at St. Thomas’s, Salisbury, on November 24, 1583, and may have served as a page in Wilton, the home of the Herberts.{$I[AN]9810000484}{$I[A]Massinger, Philip}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Massinger, Philip}{$I[tim]1583;Massinger, Philip}

Philip Massinger

(Library of Congress)

On May 14, 1602, Philip was entered in St. Alban Hall, Oxford. Anthony à Wood surmises that Henry Herbert supported Massinger at Oxford until the young man offended his patron by adopting the Roman Catholic faith, and Wood states that Philip left Oxford without a degree because he “applied his mind more to poetry and romance . . . than to logic and philosophy.” The withdrawal from Oxford probably followed his father’s death in 1603.

Several years later Philip Massinger was in London, writing in collaboration with Nat Field and John Fletcher. Philip Henslowe, the theatrical proprietor, in 1613 records money paid in advance to these associates. Though Field, Fletcher, and Massinger joined the King’s Men in 1616, Massinger wrote three plays for the Queen’s Men in 1623. After Fletcher’s death in 1625, Massinger remained as chief playwright for the King’s Men until his death. He died in London and was buried on March 18, 1640, in the churchyard of St. Saviour’s, reputedly in the same grave as Fletcher. Massinger’s widow inherited the pension that the fourth earl of Pembroke had bestowed upon the dramatist.

Fifty-five tragedies, comedies, and tragicomedies once showed Massinger’s hand in their composition, but twenty-two have been lost. Massinger wrote fifteen plays unaided; eighteen show collaboration with other dramatists, the majority being with Fletcher, or are revisions of older plays with an occasional scene or passage interpolated.

Undoubtedly the most popular of Massinger’s plays is A New Way to Pay Old Debts, a realistic comedy of intrigue with an English atmosphere. Though the plot was suggested by Thomas Middleton’s A Trick to Catch the Old One (c. 1605-1606), Ben Jonson furnished the true model for such comedic characters as Greedy, Marrall, and Furnace. Sir Giles Overreach and his foil, Wellborn, are admirably conceived. This play, as well as The City Madam, shows Massinger’s ability to mingle the realistic comedy of intrigue with the “comedy of humours” that Jonson had taught him.

Massinger’s greatest claim to distinction probably rests upon his stagecraft and his skill in dramatic construction. Massinger’s ability to write moral and rhetorical declamations is superior to that of most of his contemporaries. Probably for these reasons, Massinger judged The Roman Actor, a tragedy, as “the most perfect birth of my Minerva.” A play within the play motivates the main action; a second marks the climax; a third presents the death of Paris, the actor-hero, at the hands of the Emperor Domitian. With great fervor the dramatist defends the stage for all time.

Massinger learned the art of writing tragicomedies in his collaboration with Fletcher. Characterizations in The Bondman, The Maid of Honor, and his five other unaided tragicomedies are thoroughly adequate; their Senecan stoicism gives these works a sense of moral earnestness; the speeches are rhetorical and didactic. Finally, with his usual mastery of plot, Massinger brings about a happy ending that “wants [lacks] death.”

BibliographyAdler, Doris. Philip Massinger. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Adler briefly comments on the life, then analyzes the plays in historical and dramatic contexts. Promotes Massinger as a political analyst concerned with the dangers to England represented by corrupt Stuart courts, especially by such men as Robert Carr and George Villiers–and also Sir William Davenant, who was promulgating values at court that the poet could not accept.Clark, Ira. The Moral Art of Philip Massinger. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1993. Clark examines morality and ethics in the dramatic works of Massinger. Includes bibliography and index.Clark, Ira. Professional Playwrights: Massinger, Ford, Shirley, and Brome. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992. Clark analyzes and criticizes the plays of Massinger, John Ford, James Shirley, and Richard Brome, known as the Carolines. Includes bibliography and index.Garrett, Martin, ed. Massinger: The Critical Heritage. New York: Routledge, 1991. This volume provides a critical look at the dramatic works of Massinger. Bibliography and index.Howard, Douglas, ed. Philip Massinger: A Critical Reassessment. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Contains valuable essays by eight scholars, with an appendix by Anne Barton on “Massinger’s distinctive voice.” Topics include the collaboration with John Fletcher, charity and social order, and Massinger’s theatrical language. Plays treated in depth include The Maid of Honour, The City Madam, and A New Way to Pay Old Debts.Sanders, Julie. Caroline Drama: The Plays of Massinger, Ford, Shirley, and Brome. Plymouth, England: Northcote House in association with the British Council, 1999. Sanders examines the works of the Carolines: Massinger, John Ford, James Shirley, and Richard Brome. Includes bibliographical references and index.
Categories: Authors