1629) John Ford included multiple songs in both his comedies and tragedies, but most critics agree his tragedies remain the superior accomplishment. One of those tragedies, titled The Broken Heart, features two women who both die as a result of the loss of men they loved. Calantha, daughter of a king, is courted by her cousin Nearchus, prince of Argus. Calantha later learns of her brother's murder, her father's death, and the death by self-starvation of her friend Penthea, subject of another song, titled "Penthea's Dying Song." Calan-tha perseveres without shedding a tear, lives long enough to crown her brother's corpse, and then falls over dead, leaving the kingdom to Nearchus. Some critics believed Ford to be reflecting on the forced passing of the Crown from a female ruler to a male, as Elizabeth I was forced to do 30 years previously for James v of Scotland. Known for his intensity of emotion, Ford produced lyrics both sad and smart, but unexpectedly quiet and calm. The characters' suffering proves intense, but their expression remains restrained. Their passionate but unyielding natures separate them from most other characters of the Caroline period (1625-49).
Ford begins his song with a series of items, including "Glories, pleasures, pomps, delights and ease," that please only the senses of an "untroubled" mind, one perhaps "by peace refined." Those descriptions in no way apply to his characters, who all become quite troubled by the drama's conclusion. Continuing in a fatalistic manner, the speaker considers life's ethereal quality:
Crowns may flourish and decay, Beauties shine, but fade away. Youth may revel, yet it must Lie down in a bed of dust.
As in "Penthea's Dying Song," Ford adopts the figurative language of metaphor, using sleep to symbolize death, a popular dramatic trope. The theme of decay continues, as the next line notes, "Earthly honours flow and waste," as Ford seems to imply that all of life's efforts are wasted, because they disappear along with the individual who made them. Only time "doth change and last," as
Sorrows mingled with contents prepare
Rest for care; Love only reigns in death; though art Can find no comfort for a Broken Heart.
Ford extends the conceit of death as the great leveler, for even royal people, alluded to in the verb reigns, will die. Love may rule, but only after death has had its say. While great love may be celebrated in art, such as Ford's own, after the one who loves dies, this proves little comfort to the woman who goes to death with a broken heart. Ford suggests that the death of passion leads to the death of person; fable had long implied that a broken heart, or disappointment in love, had the strength to kill the flesh.
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