Love me, or kill me. Sex and love in the 1619 play "The Maid's Tragedy" by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher

Seminar Paper, 2015

15 Pages, Grade: 2.3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction ... 1

2 Sexual intercourse and its role in the tragedy ... 2
2.1 The core problem - importance of sex for the plot ... 2
2.2 Freud and death - The depiction of sex in the play ... 5

3 The meaning of sex for single characters ... 7
3.1 Evadne – the manipulating ego ... 8
3.2 Aspatia – the forsaken virgin ... 9
3.3 Amintor – the king's chessman ... 10
3.4 Dula – the ambivalent wench ... 11

4 Conclusion ... 12

5 Bibliography ... 13

1 Introduction

The revenge tragedy – since Shakespeare's fabulous work Hamlet certainly one of the most famous subgenres of British drama, and already during the 17th century a popular genre for plays in Jacobean theatre. However, the term revenge play was established as a subgenre of tragedy about 200 years later by Ashley H. Thorndike in his article The Relations of Hamlet to Contemporary Revenge Plays from 1902. In this essay, Thorndike characterises the revenge tragedy “as a tragedy whose leading motive is revenge and whose main action deals with the progress of this revenge, leading to the death of the murderers and often the death of the avenger himself.”1 But what is the reason for a successful, or at least attempted, revenge? A common happening, also used by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, is the murder of a person, often a person of high rank. This person mostly appears in form of his or her own ghost and asks one of the main characters of the play to take vengeance. Another popular trigger for the plot of a revenge tragedy is love in connection with a happening that ends this love and leaves one of the lovers in pain and turns this forsaken lover, or one of his/her dear people, into a revenger. Such a kind of revenge play is often called love tragedy – although it should be mentioned that not each love tragedy is by all means also a revenge tragedy.

The Maid's Tragedy, written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher and published for the first time in 1619, is one of the plays that is often called a love tragedy due to the fate of the lady Aspatia, who is about to marry young Amintor, before the king forces Amintor to marry his own mistress, Evadne, to cover their sexual affair. Having such a plot, The Maid's Tragedy is a typical one for Jacobean theatre, which is explained by Marie Axton, quoted by Kristin Bezio stating “the playhouses of late Elizabethan and Jacobean London were a 'freer' place for political discussion than court or Parliament, and this drama actively participates in the ongoing Jacobean debates about the viability of tyrannicide.”2 This idea puts the king's acting into the play's focus, rather than the love between Aspatia and Amintor and their tragedy. Given this idea, one might ask if the play can really be called a love tragedy, or if the love story is just a subplot or a frame around the actually important issue: the sexual relationship between the king and his mistress and all its consequences that, by chance, are also consequences for the two lovers. And if love is not the main issue, is this play a sex tragedy rather than a love tragedy? How important is sex for the story and is it connected with love in any way? This paper is supposed to answer exactly these questions with a strong focus on the meaning of sex and sexual relationships for the plot and for single characters, who have an important role. Furthermore, it will be analysed how sex is depicted in the play and what this tells about its role.

2 Sexual intercourse and its role in the tragedy

The plot of a literary work is the factor on which most of the criticism is based. This is also true for a drama, in which the characters and their authenticity play an even bigger role than in other genres. And it is the core for defining the subgenre of the text. In this chapter, the depiction and the meaning of sex in The Maid's Tragedy will be analysed, concerning the question whether the drama can really be called a love tragedy.

2.1 The core problem - importance of sex for the plot

People tend to start reading a book at page one without being seriously concerned about the title. In case of The Maid's Tragedy, it could be helpful not to do so, as the title already says what the play really seems to be about. It is in particular the tragedy of a maid, not of any random young woman, who is in love. The fact that Beaumont and Fletcher chose this title for their work instead of including the protagonist's name or a more neutral term than “maid”, shows that sexual intercourse must be a main issue of the plot. According to Adrienne Eastwood in Controversy and the Single Woman in "The Maid's Tragedy" and "The Roaring Girl", during the Renaissance “a woman was a 'maid' until marriage”3, which, usually, identifies her as a virgin. Thus, one can say that the two terms can be used equally and the play is in general concerned with the destiny of a young virgin. Although it is sometimes called a love tragedy, the title does not suggest that the topic of love is approached a lot in The Maid's Tragedy.

Right from the beginning, also the story itself makes clear that sex is the most important topic for the plot and almost each of the characters. Evadne's and Amintor's wedding night seems to be a public event: Everyone talks about it and seeks for information. The king publicly pretends eagerness for Amintor to fulfil the wedding night to get Evadne pregnant with a son for the kingdom, and communicates his wish directly. The ladies, who are with Evadne after the wedding ceremony, are as excited as if it was their night. The chatting among the young women goes about nothing but what the wedding night will be like, and Dula announces that “we must see you [Evadne] laid.”4 Even afterwards, people are still interested, talk about if and how Evadne and Amintor consummated marriage, and cannot wait to hear about it from themselves. Diphilius, Evadne's brother, and others turn it into a game and lay bets on whether the bride lost her virginity or not, mock her and want to see her walk to find out if it happened or not.

The wedding mask itself, which is a public celebration, like the hours around the weeding night, is not mainly concerned with love but with sex and the lost virginity of the bride, as Jason Denman argues in his essay Anatomizing the body politic: corporeal rhetoric in The Maid's Tragedy:

Cynthia's goal is for us entirely immersed in the spectacle, suspending the break of the day for the benefit of the bride and groom. […] Beaumont and Fletcher have, in other words, fashioned a kind of masque-aubade. This is a wedding masque and, though wickedly ironic, it celebrates a wedding night.5

This is not only true for the mask itself but also for the songs that are included. The first song picks up the issue that the day is not allowed to come “Till the rites of love are ended, / And the lusty Bridegroom say, / Welcome light of all befriended.”6 Although sexual intercourse is here called “the rites of love”, the focus is clearly on the act rather than on the love between bride and groom, emphasised by the attribute “lusty” to describe the bridegroom's emotional shape at night. The second song is a depiction of the wedding night and approaches the bride's “tears, and her shrill cryings, / Her weak denials, vows, and often dyings”7 that must not be disturbed by the day. The third and last song is a call for Hymen, the Greek god of marriage, to come and take the maid's virginity, saying “come Hymen, lead the Bride, / And lay her by her Husbands side: / Bring the Virgins every one That grieve to lie alone: / That thy may kiss while they may say, a maid, / To morrow 'twill be other.”8 This song can be regarded as a premonition of what is going to happen between Amintor and Evadne, as the bridegroom also calls for Hymen when he realises that his bride is not willing to consummate marriage with him.


1 Thorndike. 1902. p. 125

2 Bezio. 2013. p. 58

3 Eastwood. 2004. p. 10

4 Beaumont and Fletcher. 2009 [1619]. p. 22

5 Denman. 2005. p. 317

6 Beaumont and Fletcher. 2009 [1619]. p. 14

7 Ibid. p. 15

8 Beaumont and Fletcher. 2009 [1619]. p. 15

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Love me, or kill me. Sex and love in the 1619 play "The Maid's Tragedy" by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
University of Bonn  (Institut für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Keltologie)
The Renaissance in England
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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love, about, maid, tragedy, francis, beaumont, john, fletcher
Quote paper
BA Nicole Eismann (Author), 2015, Love me, or kill me. Sex and love in the 1619 play "The Maid's Tragedy" by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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