Philip Massinger (15831640). A New Way to Pay Old Debts. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
PHILIP MASSINGER was born at Salisbury in 1584. Though the son of a Member of Parliament, he seems to have inherited no means, for the first notice we have of him after his leaving Oxford in 1606 is a petition addressed to Henslowe by him and two friends for a payment of five pounds on account, to get them out of prison.
After Beaumont retired from play-writing, Massinger became Fletchers chief partner, and there is evidence that there existed between them a warm friendship. All Massingers relations with his fellow authors of which we have record seem to have been pleasant; and the impression of his personality which one derives from his work is that of a dignified, hard-working, and conscientious man. He seems to have been much interested in public affairs, and he at times came into collision with the authorities on account of the introduction into his plays of more or less veiled allusions to political personages and events. He died in 1640.
The best known of Massingers works is A New Way to Pay Old Debts, which was probably acted for the first time in 1625. The popularity of the play is chiefly due to the principal characters, Sir Giles Overreach, a usurer and extortioner, drawn, however, on such magnificent lines as to rise far above the conventional miser of literature. Overreach is presented with great dramatic skill, the situations being chosen and elaborated so as to throw his figure into high relief; and though his villainy reaches the pitch of monstrosity, the illusion of life is preserved. Here, as elsewhere, Massingers sympathies are on the side of wholesome morals; and it was probably the powerful didactic tendency of the play and its fine rhetoric which, united with the impressiveness of the main figure, enabled it to hold the stage into the nineteenth century.