Lust, luxury and empire in John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s The False One
in The genres of Renaissance tragedy
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This chapter examines John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s The False One with special reference to its treatment of Cleopatra, who gradually emerges as a deuteragonist of Julius Caesar. Through Cleopatra’s prominence, the play develops concerns central to the socio-political and cultural debate under King James I. Gender preoccupations and the link between effeminacy and luxury are especially important, in that they turn out to be the pivot around which the whole play ultimately revolves. In particular, the playwrights’ foray into this connection enables the expression of scepticism about the pursuit of profit as the primary driving force of colonial ventures. In its unusual deployment of she-tragedy as a venue for the exploration and criticism of contemporary (masculine) political manoeuvring, its high-spirited and pungent appropriation of Roman history, and its freshly composite characterisation of Cleopatra as an actively decisive force in determining Caesar’s path of temptation, fall and regeneration, The False One proves to be one of the most captivating plays dealing with ancient Rome written in early modern England, as well as far more entertaining and politically relevant than often assumed.


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