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The Broken Heart is a Caroline era tragedy written by John Ford, and first published in 1633. "The play has long vied with 'Tis Pity She's a Whore as Ford's greatest work...the supreme reach of his genius...."[1] The date of the play's authorship is uncertain, and is generally placed in the 1625–32 period by scholars. The title page of the first edition states that the play was acted by the King's Men at the Blackfriars Theatre. The text is preceded by the motto "Fide Honor," an anagram for "John Forde," which Ford employs in other of his plays as well. The volume was dedicated to William Lord Craven, Baron of Hampsteed-Marshall.[2]


Set in Classical Greece, the play recounts the story of Amyclas, King of Laconia (or Sparta), his daughter Calantha, and their court. The young Spartan general Ithocles, motivated by pride, interferes with his sister Penthea's intended marriage to Orgilus. Ithocles demands that she marry a greater nobleman, Bassanes. Bassanes proves to be a tyrannical husband, irrational and jealous, who keeps his wife a prisoner. Orgilus pretends a journey to Athens but secretly remains in Sparta in disguise. Ithocles, victorious in battle, recognizes that he has wronged Penthea and Orgilus, and supports a planned marriage between his friend Prophilus and Orgilus's sister Euphrania. Ithocles himself seeks the hand of Calantha, the King's daughter - and she accepts him, instead of her cousin Nearchos, a prince of Argos.

The unhappy Penthea starves herself to death; Orgilus traps Ithocles in a mechanical chair and murders him, just before his planned wedding to Calantha. In the closing scene, Calantha dances at a prenuptial banquet, and keeps dancing as she is informed of the deaths of her father the King, her friend Penthea, and her fiance Ithocles. The dance ended, Calantha, now Queen of Sparta, condemns Orgilus for his murder of Ithocles, appoints Nearchos her heir and successor, and dies of a broken heart.


  1. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 129–30.
  2. ^ Craven, eldest son of a Lord Mayor of London, was a prominent soldier of the era who fought with King Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years' War, and was later rumored to have secretly married Elizabeth of Bohemia after the death of her first husband, Frederick V, Elector Palatine.


  • Farr, Dorothy M. John Ford and the Caroline Theatre. London, Macmillan, 1979.
  • Gutierrez, Nancy A. Shall She Famish Then?: Female Food Refusal in Early Modern England. London, Ashgate, 2003. ISBN 978-1-84014-240-2
  • Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1978.
  • Schelling, Felix Emmanuel. Elizabethan Drama, 1558–1642. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1908.
  • Carsaniga, Giovanni, “The ‘Truth’ in John Ford's ‘The Broken Heart’”, Comparative Literature 4 (1958), p. 344 – 48