The Old Law

The Old Law

"The Old Law, or A New Way to Please You" is a seventeenth-century tragicomedy written by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley, and Philip Massinger. It was first published in 1656, but is generally thought to have been written about four decades earlier.

The first edition

The play first appeared in a badly-printed 1656 quarto issued by the bookseller Edward Archer (his shop was "at the sign of the Adam and Eve"), with the three dramatists' names on the title page. Scholars have little doubt about the general accuracy of the attribution; the doubt that does exist centers on the role of Massinger, since the play shows many typical signs of being a Middleton/Rowley collaboration. "Probably all critics are sure of the presence of Middleton and Rowley, but Massinger's contribution has been difficult to trace." [David J. Lake, "The Canon of Thomas Middleton's Plays," Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1975; p. 206.] David Lake, in his study of attribution problems in the Middleton canon, holds that Massinger's share consisted only of a light revision, and that signs of his hand are strongest in the first half of the single scene in Act V, the trial scene. Lake's breakdown of the play as a whole is this: [Lake, pp. 206-11.]

:Rowley — Act I; Act III, scene 1; Act V, 1 (second half);:Middleton — Act II; Act III, 2; Act IV, 2;:Rowley and Middleton — Act IV, 1;:Massinger — Act V, 1 (first half).

An earlier study by George Price reached similar conclusions, though Price gave Massinger's revision a larger role in shaping the result. [George R. Price, "The Authorship and the Manuscript of "The Old Law"," "Huntingdon Library Quarterly" Vol. 16 (1953), pp. 117-39.] Middleton was primarily responsible for the serious main plot, involving the characters Cleanthes and Simonides and their families, and Rowley the comic subplot involving Gnotho — a division of responsibilities wholly in keeping with their usual manner of collaboration. (Rowley also wrote the opening and closing scenes, as he did in another of his collaborations with Middleton, "The Changeling".) Price judged that the 1656 quarto was set into type from a theatre prompt-book.

Critics have placed the original version's date of authorship in the 1614–18 period, based on the limited evidence available; Massinger's revision was done perhaps c. 1626, for a new production by the King's Men. [Terence P. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, eds., "The Popular School: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama," Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1975; pp. 70, 265.]

Catalogue

The quarto of "The Old Law" is noteworthy in that it included a list of plays published to that date, an expansion of a list published earlier in 1656 in the first edition of "The Careless Shepherdess." These were the first attempts to catalogue the entire field of the printed drama of English Renaissance theatre. The list in "The Old Law" contains 651 titles. The 1656 lists would later be expanded by Francis Kirkman in his play lists of 1661 and 1671.

Anachronisms

The play is set in "Epire," or Epirus, an independent polity in what appears to be Ancient Greece; the characters have Greek names and refer to Lycurgus, Draco, Solon, Plato, and Aristotle. Yet this is a neverland world of literary fairy tale; as William Gifford remarks in his edition of Massinger's works, "To observe upon the utter confusion of all time and place, of all customs and manners, in this drama, would be superfluous; they must be obvious to the most careless observer." [William Gifford,"The Plays of Philip Massinger," single-volume edition, New York, H. B. Mahn, 1857; p. 496.] One egregious example: despite the putative setting in the ancient world, one character is given a birth date of 1539. (For comparable anachronisms, see "The Faithful Friends" and "Thierry and Theodoret".)

ynopsis

Duke Evander of Epire has promulgated a law that mandates a program of euthanasia: every man who reaches the age of eighty, and every woman who reaches sixty, will be put to death, thrown from a cliff into the sea. (So the statute of the title is not an "old" law, but a "new" law that deals with the elderly, a law for the "old" — just as the Elizabethan "poor laws" dealt with the "poor.") The play portrays the consequences of this law, principally in the families of two young men, Simonides and Cleanthes. The cynical and heartless Simonides is delighted with the law, since his elderly father Creon will be put to death and Simonides will come into his inheritance. The virtuous Cleanthes has precisely the opposite reaction. (He also condemns the sexism of the law, observing that "There was no woman in this senate, certain" when the statute was enacted.) Cleanthes is appalled that his father Leonides is facing death — so much so that he and his wife Hippolita devise a plan to fake the old man's demise and hide him away in the countryside.

The two stage a false funeral, at which Cleanthes laughs — and the onlooking courtiers assume he is rejoicing over his impending inheritance. Much of the play is devoted to broad and cynical humor of this type: ruthless people looking forward to the advantages they'll gain when a father, mother, husband, or wife is executed. The clown character Gnotho has a wife who will soon fall victim to the law; he takes up with a courtesan in anticipation. A old man named Lysander tries to reclaim his lost youth by dying his white hair and taking lessons from a dancing master. Spendthrift sons, cashiered servants, and lawyers without principles all receive comic examination.

Cleanthes and Hippolita manage to keep their secret for a time, though Hippolita's compassion leads her to betray it. Hippolita's cousin Eugenia is married to the elderly Lysander; when Hippolita observes Eugenia's tears over his looming fate, she tells her cousin about their ruse with Leonides, and advises her to do the same. The virtuous but naive Hippolita does not realize that Eugenia's are crocodile tears, and that Eugenia is already being courted by suitors even as her husband still lives. In time, the good couple learn Eugenia's true nature; their reproofs provoke Eugenia to divulge their secret to the authorities. Leonides is exposed and arrested.

This leads to the play's culmination in the trial scene that fills all of Act V. It is eventually revealed that the Duke's harsh law is a sort of public test of virtue. The old people supposedly executed are in fact still alive, and have been kept in pleasant seclusion. Cleanthes, Hippolita, and the elderly pseudo-victims are promoted to be the judges of a new moral order, with appropriate correction for the guilty.

ee also

Anthony Trollope read the play in 1876 and based his dystopian novel novel "The Fixed Period" (1882) on some of the ideas found in "The Old Law". [R. H. Super: "Editor's Preface," Anthony Trollope: "The Fixed Period", ed. R. H. Super (University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 1990) v-xv.]

References

External links

* [http://www.tech.org/~cleary/oldlaw.html "The Old Law" online.]


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Old Law Tenement — Old Law Tenements are tenements built in New York City after the Tenement House Act of 1879 and before the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901. The 1879 law required that every inhabitable room have a window opening to plain air, a… …   Wikipedia

  • The Old Side-New Side Controversy — occurred within the Presbyterian Church in Colonial America and was part of the wider theological controversy surrounding the First Great Awakening. The Old and New Side Presbyterians existed as separate churches from 1741 until 1758. The name of …   Wikipedia

  • Old Law —     Mosaic Legislation     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Mosaic Legislation     The body of juridical, moral, and ceremonial institutions, laws, and decisions comprised in the last four books of the Pentateuch, and ascribed by Christian and Hebrew …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • The ANU Law Revue — is an annual revue at the Australian National University.It was born of the political events of the 1960s and 70s. At a time when some thought Australia in complete political turmoil, where the old was making way for the new, and then the new was …   Wikipedia

  • The Old Manse — Old Manse U.S. National Register of Historic Places U.S. National Historic Landmark …   Wikipedia

  • The Old Crown, Birmingham — The Old Crown General information Architectural style Black and white timber frame Town or city Birmingham …   Wikipedia

  • The Old Tune — is a free translation of Robert Pinget’s 1960 play La Manivelle ( The Crank ) in which Samuel Beckett transformed Pinget’s Parisians, Toupin and Pommard into Dubliners, Cream and Gorman. Its first radio broadcast was by the BBC on 23rd August… …   Wikipedia

  • The Old Chapter —     The Old Chapter     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The Old Chapter     The origin of the body, fomerly known as the Old Chapter, dates from 1623, when after a period of more than half a century during which there was no episcopal government in… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • The Old Malthouse — School (The OMH) was a preparatory school in the village of Langton Matravers near Swanage in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset, United Kingdom.The School was founded in 1906 by Rex Corbett, an ex England football player. It started with 10 pupils, in… …   Wikipedia

  • The Old Triangle — Irish Alehouse is the name given to two pubs: one in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and one in Moncton, New Brunswick.Name and PhilosophyThe name The Old Triangle is taken from a song from Irish playwright Brendan Behan s play The Quare Fellow. The song… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”