The Fatal Contract: A French Tragedy is a Caroline era stage play, written by William Heminges. The play has been regarded as one of the most extreme of the revenge tragedies or “tragedies of blood,” like The Spanish Tragedy and Titus Andronicus, that constitute a distinctive subgenre of English Renaissance theatre. In this “most graphic Caroline revenge tragedy…Heminges tops his predecessors’ grotesque art by creating a female character, Chrotilda, who disguises herself as a black Moorish eunuch” and “instigates most of the play’s murder and mayhem.”
1 Performance and publication
2 Shakespearean influence
Performance and publication
The Fatal Contract was most likely written in the 1638–39 period, and was acted, probably in the latter year, by Queen Henrietta’s Men at the Salisbury Court Theatre. Heminges’s primary source for plot materials was the General Inventory of the History of France by Jean de Serres, published in English in 1607. The play was first printed in 1653, in a quarto issued by the actor turned stationer Andrew Pennycuicke. (The edition’s preface is co-signed by “A. T.,” thought to be Anthony Turner.) The booksellers dedicated the play to the Earl and Countess of Nottingham. The prefatory matter in that edition indicates that Heminges was deceased by 1653. A second edition followed in 1661 from bookseller Richard Gammon.
During the Restoration, Elkanah Settle adapted Heminges’s play into his Love and Revenge (1675). The original 1653 text was reprinted in 1687 under the alternative title The Eunuch.
Among the writers of the later Jacobean and the Caroline eras, Heminges was perhaps the one most deeply influenced by the works of Shakespeare. The Fatal Contract is thick with borrowings from Shakespeare’s works. The play shows particularly intense linkages with Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, and commonalities with other works in Shakespeare’s canon.
The play’s verbal echoes of Shakespeare are too numerous to detail. One example may stand for the rest: for Clotair’s “And rise black vengeance from the depth of hell,” compare Othello’s “Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell!” in Othello, III,3,447. For Fredigond stabbing her portrait, compare Lucrece attacking a portrait with her nails in The Rape of Lucrece, lines 1562–68; rage and a rape context are common to both. Stabbed portraits also can be found in the plays The Noble Sp