Massinger was born in 1583 to Anne
and Arthur Massinger. He was the second of five children, and the only
boy. He was baptized in the church of St. Thomas, Salisbury,
on November 24, 1583. His father had earned a B.A. from St. Alban Hall,
Oxford, become a fellow of Merton College, and received
his M.A. from Oxford and Cambridge
both. Arthur Massinger was a long-time trusted servant first to Sir
Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and then to his heir Sir William
Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, until Arthur's death in 1603.
On May 14, 1602, Philip Massinger entered as
a commoner of St. Alban Hall, Oxford. The Earl of Pembroke paid his
college expenses during the four years he spent there. He displeased
his patron, however, by paying more attention to the study of poetry
and romances than to the study of philosophy and logic, as his patron
had intended. Massinger left Oxford without taking a degree, and came
to London in 1606. There are no records of his life from that time
until 1613 when he is mentioned in Philip Henslowe's Diary.
Scholars have assumed that Massinger became John Fletcher's
primary collaborator after 1613 when Beaumont got
married and retired from the theatre. In 1613, Massinger, Nathan Field,
and Robert Daborne, in prison for debt, wrote to Henslowe requesting a
loan, to be repaid from the play they were writing with Fletcher.1 In 1615, Massinger made a bid for
patronage to Sir William Herbert, now Lord Chamberlain, but it is not
known if the plea was answered. Around 1618, Massinger collaborated
Middleton and William Rowley on The Old Law
and with Nathan
Field in The Fatal Dowry (c.1616-1619), a domestic tragedy
set in France. His collaborations were many, including a collaboration
with Thomas Dekker
on The Virgin Martyr (1620), a history play about the
persecution of Christians under the Emperor
Diocletian, but most cannot be attributed to him unquestionably, or
have since been lost. Massinger's collaboration with Fletcher, begun
around 1613 and ending at Fletcher's death in 1625, spanned some 20
plays, including The Custom of the Country (c.1619), The
False One (c. 1620), The Beggar's Bush (1622), and The
Massinger had also become an independent
playwright around 1620, and was mentioned in John
Taylor's "The Praise of Hemp-Seed" as a contemporary writer of
merit. He wrote at least two independent works for the King's Men, the leading theatre company. Exact date of composition is not
known, but these included The Duke of Milan (1621? pub. 1623)
and The Unnatural Combat, not printed until 1639, but composed
around this time. Massinger also wrote at least two independent plays
at this time for the Queen of Bohemia's Men at the Phoenix. The
Bondman, which criticized the Duke of Buckingham, was acted before the court in December 1623, and won
him a slight stipend from Sir Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery, which
was paid to Massinger's wife (of whom nothing else is known) after his
death. The Renegado (1624, pub. 1630) was a sympathetic
portrayal of a Jesuit priest, a daring subject in the anti-Catholic
London. The Maid of Honour (c.1621?), A
New Way to Pay Old Debts (c.1622), and The Great Duke of
Florence (1627) were also performed at the Phoenix.
In 1625, Massinger replaced Fletcher as
chief playwright of the King's Men. His first play under Charles I
having died in 1625) was The Roman Actor (1626), a tragedy
about the Emperor
Domitian. This Massinger himself considered his best play, as he
wrote in the 1629 dedication that he "ever held it the most perfect
birth of my Minerva." In 1631, Massinger ran afoul of the censor with
his play Believe as You List, because in it Spain and England
declared peace. Massinger changed the names of characters and places,
and it was licensed, but Massinger never released it for publishing.
The play, still extant in manuscript, with the censor's notes and all
its changes in Massinger's hand, affords valuable insight into
censorship and the process of playwriting at the time.
After 1630, Massinger wrote numerous plays,
all for the King's Men. Unfortunately, a great number of them have been
lost and only exist as little more than titles and dates of license. Of
the ones that remain, worth mention is The City Madam (1632), a
comedy that depicts Caroline society at several levels. All of
Massinger's extant plays were written by 1636. On March 18, 1640,
Massinger was found dead in his bed, having been well the night before.
His body was laid to rest in S. Saviour's Church, Southwark, (now Southwark Cathedral), as
it is told, in the same grave with the bones of his friend John
Editions and Criticism
The Poems of Philip Massinger, with Critical
S. Lawless, ed.
Ball State Monograph 13. Muncie, Ind.: Ball State University, 1968.
The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger. Philip Edward and
Colin Gibson, eds.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.
- Adler, Doris. Philip Massinger.
Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
- Cruickshank, A. H. Philip Massinger.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1920.
- Dunn, T. A. Philip Massinger: The Man
and the Playwright.
Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson, 1957.
- Howard, Douglas, ed. Philip Massinger:
A Critical Reassessment.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
- Lawless, Donald S. Philip Massinger and
Ball State Monograph 10. Muncie, Ind.: Ball State University, 1967.
- Maxwell, Baldwin. Studies in Beaumont,
Fletcher, and Massinger.
Chapel Hill: Univ. of N. Carolina Press, 1939.
- Adler, Doris. Philip
Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Ian Ousby, Ed.
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998. 610-611.
- English Literature: An
Illustrated Record. Vol II, part II.
Richard Garnett and Edmund Gosse, Eds.
New York: The MacMillan Company, 1904. 350-355.
Massinger | Works
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| Early 17th C.
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