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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of John Ford’s dramatic art Bose, Tirthankar


John Ford examines in his plays extreme states of passion, and creates theatrical images of the predicaments in which passion places his dramatic characters. Violent passions drive his protagonists to forms of behaviour which go against the code of conduct prevalent in their world, a fact which explains the critical preoccupation with Ford's psychological and ethical views. The present study attempts rather to examine how Ford dramatizes the conflict and eventual cleavage between the world and the individual. Ford makes the opposition clear not only by analysing the psychology of the individual, but by presenting the social structure (including the ethical system) of the playworld in which the individual exists. The characters reveal their motivations by direct confessions; the dominant ethical values of their worlds are stated or suggested in each play by representatives of the social will, such as the religious establishments in "'Tis Pity She's a Whore", and "The Broken Heart", the royal court in "Perkin Warbeck", or the groups of elderly courtiers in "The Lover's Melancholy" or "The Queen". In his tragedies and comedies alike, the opposition between private and public necessities seems to lead the central characters to disaster, and to do so inexorably, although actual calamities are averted in the comedies. Ford creates this inexorability in two ways. First, the characters are shown to be incapable of controlling their passions and of reintegrating with the world at large; secondly, after the initial surrender to passion, subsequent events are made to follow in strict causal succession. Human action is thus seen to be irreversible, and its dramatic equivalent, the plot, therefore conveys a sense of inevitability as it progresses. Necessarily, the passions that drive the protagonists isolate, them from their peers. In the tragedies, as the action develops, the protagonists appear more and more isolated from their world, with ever decreasing freedom of action. "Perkin Warbeck" best exemplifies this constriction of action. The comedies move in an opposite direction because they show that the protagonists are gradually freed from the grip of overmastering passions, and taught to live in harmony with their worlds. But the alienation of Ford's tragic protagonists is more complete because they commit themselves so unconditionally to their passions that they reject the moral imperatives of their world. The dramatic device used to indicate this absolute commitment is the inviolable contract by which a character binds himself to a course of action. Even though the character loses the object of his passion, he remains true to the passion itself. His constancy to a human being is thus replaced by a constancy to an ideal, a constancy that proves his worth to his own satisfaction. His integrity is admired by his world but his transgression ensures his rejection from it. Powerless against that rejection, the tragic character tries to gain permanence in men's memories by asserting his integrity and courage, celebrating those virtues through some brave or violent act. That act, as a statement of faith, defines his identity both for his world and for the audience. Ford thus uses violence in his plays not to create a sensationalist effect as some of his critics have assumed, but to define his alienated protagonists. Ford gives visual life to that definition through the spatial composition of the figures on the stage. The stage-image of the protagonist standing alone, separated from others on the stage, becomes a metaphor for the tragedy of the character's predicament. Ford's dramatic achievement, then, lies in creating his own language of the theatre, a composite structure of action, character, and spectacle to express an individual view of existence.

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