The Maid's Tragedy: Play - Summary and Analysis

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      The Maid's Tragedy (1610) is the masterpiece of Beaumont and Fletcher and exhibits their tragic powers at their best. The plot is simple. Amintor who is betrothed to Aspatia, the maid, is married by the king's command to Evadne and discovers on his wedding night that she is the unshamed mistress of the king. Thoughts of revenge surge in upon him, only to be barred by the contemplation of the divinity which hedges in a king. Milantius, brother of Evadne and a friend of Amintor is taken into confidence and told of the secret amour. He tames the proud sister, who now sees the enormity of her crimes and stirred to repentance, slays her royal lover. As she appears before Amintor with the blood-stained knife in hand, thinking that she has won his love, all she obtains from him is a cry of horror. She is swept into fresh despair, turns the knife against herself and falls dead at his feet. Aspatia after her desertion by Amintor seeks death as her only solace and disguised as a man, challenges Amintor at a duel and is slain by him.

The Maid's Tragedy
The Maid's Tragedy

Critical Analysis

      There is a powerful imagination at work in the play, but the play fails to hold us as it should have done; and perhaps this is due mainly to the fact that the focus of attention has been directed to the central problem, then to the characters" (Nicoll). The characters with their manners and sentiments reflect the Stewart Court. The divine right of Kings, unflinching loyalty of the subjects to the King and the cult of honor are the ideals of life and characters, on which the tragedy is based. This is the only explanation for the absurdity and unnaturalness of the conduct of the various characters. Except for the defect of characterization the play has singular merits. It presents "a rapid and powerful sequence of the most effective scenes, so well contrived, so eloquent, and so intense that the improbability of the characters is unnoticed" (Legouis). Its construction is strictly on classical lines; unities of time, place and action are rigidly observed. The whole action takes place in the town of Rhodes and on the eve and morrow of Evadne's wedding day. In the harmonious quality of its verse and grace of style, the play is wonderfully modern.

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