You might have heard of John Ford’s famous play ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. This graphic, controversial work has shocked audiences since it was first performed in the late 1620s, and has been adapted for film, TV and radio.
But many of Ford’s other plays have been overshadowed by other dramatists of his era like Shakespeare.
This does a disservice to one of our most fascinating playwrights. Ford’s violent storylines, ambiguous political allegiances and idiosyncratic style help us understand the post-Elizabethan era — which shaped the way we live today.
The 400th anniversary of Ford’s birth was in the 1980s, when I did my PhD on his life, art and politics. Since then, I’ve written eight book chapters, 13 articles, and 19 programme notes about his work.
These studies, as well as my work with theatre companies, schools and community groups, have helped revive the full range of John Ford’s plays and bring them back to the spotlight for the first time in centuries.
In 2015, I worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company on the first production of Love’s Sacrifice since 1631.
A lot of my research on this play is about its roots in the gruesome real-life tale of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, a famous composer who murdered his wife.
My work on this origin story influenced the RSC production and was discussed in reviews and previews by the Daily Telegraph and Independent. I explained the story and its connection to Ford’s play in the programme note. The RSC even presented the play with the subtitle ‘based on a true story’.
I’ve also worked with Shakespeare’s Globe Education on their productions of Love’s Sacrifice at Gray’s Inn, as well as The Fancies Chaste and Noble and Perkin Warbeck at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
The real Perkin Warbeck was a 15th Century pretender to the English throne, whose claim posed a serious threat to the Tudor establishment. For the Globe programme note, I argued that Ford’s play questioned the legitimacy of monarchical succession by inviting his audience to imagine Warbeck as the legal king. This was highly subversive and even dangerous in Ford’s day — disputes on governance and monarchy were soon to escalate into civil war.
My research has also helped the acclaimed youth theatre company Edward’s Boys revive and perform The Lady’s Trial to audiences across England for the first time since the 17th Century. I edited a version of the play, explaining and translating the archaic English to make it easier to stage and more accessible to modern audiences.