ABSTRACT

In a widely influential essay written some half century ago, Stuart P. Sherman set the pattern which has shaped most subsequent criticism of John Ford. 1 Sherman called Ford a ‘decadent’ dramatist, the last writer of tragedy in tragedy’s greatest age, whose plays came as a sterile anti-climax to the great achievements of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Webster. He saw Ford as the romantic apostle of illicit love who could glorify even incest for the delight of an effete upper class audience, sated with the ordinary fare of a drama whose novelty had long been exhausted. Ford for Sherman stood for moral anarchy; interested only in shocking the moral sense of his audience he made sin appear beautiful and thus created a kind of problem play which implicitly denied all moral order.