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The Mad Lover is a Jacobean stage play, a tragicomedy by John Fletcher. It was initially published in the first Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647. Fletcher's sole authorship was specified during the 17th century by his friend Sir Aston Cockayne. It displays Fletcher's distinctive pattern of stylistic and textual preferences throughout the text, his authorship is not questioned.
The play was acted by the King's Men; the cast list added to the play in the second Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1679 includes Richard Burbage, John Lowin, Robert Benfield, William Ecclestone, Nathan Field, Richard Sharpe, and Henry Condell. The cast list indicates a production between 1616, when Field joined the company, and Burbage's death in March 1619. In her diary, Lady Anne Clifford mentions seeing a performance of the play at Court on 5 January 1617 (new style). The play was revived in 1630.
Fletcher drew materials from Honoré D'Urfé's novel Astrée for this play, as he did with Monsieur Thomas and Valentinian. Fletcher also borrowed story materials from Bandello and Josephus. The plot point in which Cleanthe suborns a priestess, to obtain a favorable oracle for her brother Syphax, is a version of the Paulina and Mundus story in Josephus.
In the Restoration
The play was revived early in the Restoration era, with Edward Kynaston in the role of the princess (when women onstage were still an innovation and a rarity). Samuel Pepys saw it at the Salisbury Court Theatre on 9 February 1661, again on 2 December the same year, and again on 18 February 1669. On Sunday, 25 September 1664, he "spent all the morning reading of 'The Madd Lovers', a very good play."
The play was adapted to meet changing tastes, again like other Fletcherian plays; a version by Peter Anthony Motteux was scored with music and songs by John Eccles and Daniel Purcell and staged by Thomas Betterton in 1703–4.
Melancholy and music
The Mad Lover, as its title indicates, deals with a case of "melancholia" or depression due to an unsatisfactory romantic attachment. In this respect, it relates to a number of other dramas of its historical era that include the same or similar subject matter, including Fletcher's The Noble Gentleman, The Nice Valour, and John Ford's The Lover's Melancholy. The Mad Lover has been noted for its use of music as a treatment for mental illness; the play has been called "the most extensive example within a single play of the use of musical sound and imagery in the depiction and cure of madness." The characters in the play stage a masque in their attempt to treat the mad general, Memnon; drawing on the myth of Orpheus, it is a Masque of Beasts and Trees, with an ape, dog, lion, and dancing trees — all former men and foolish lovers.
- J. W. Lawrence, "The Date of The Mad Lover," Times Literary Supplement, 24 November 1927, p. 888.
- Arthur Colby Sprague, Beaumont and Fletcher on the Restoration Stage, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1926; pp. 13-14, 19, 26, 271-3.
- Katherine West Scheil, The Taste of the Town: Shakespearean Comedy and the Early Eighteenth-Century Theater, Lewisburg, PA, Bucknell University Press, 2003; p. 114.
- John P. Cutts, "Music in The Mad Lover," Studies in the Renaissance Vol. 8 (1961), pp. 236-48.
- Jeremy Dibble, Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002; p. 289.