Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher

Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher

Philip J. Finkelpearl
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 274
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztkj7
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    Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher
    Book Description:

    The seventeenth-century English collaborative authors Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher were not only the most popular playwrights of their day but also literary figures highly esteemed by the great critics of the age, Jonson and Dryden. Concentrating on the passions of the royalty and high nobility in a courtly atmosphere, their dramas are now usually seen as epitomizing a decadent turn in theater at the end of the Jacobean period. Philip Finkelpearl sets out to change this view by revealing the subtle political challenges contained in the plays and by showing that they criticize rather than exemplify false values. The result is a wholly new conception of this pair of dramatists and of the entire question of the relationship between the Crown and the theater in their time. Finkelpearl presents new biographical material revealing that Beaumont and Fletcher had good and sufficient reasons to be critical of the court and the king, and he shows that their most important works--especially The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Philaster, A King and No King, and The Maid's Tragedy have such criticism as a central concern. Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher offers much information on the nature of the "public" and "private" theaters at which these plays were presented and on Jacobean censorship. The book is an impressive explanation of why Beaumont and Fletcher were a central force in the Age of Shakespeare.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6072-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-7)

    A study of the writing done together and separately by the Jacobean playwrights Frances Beaumont (ca. 1585–1616) and John Fletcher (1579–1625) must begin by mentioning the position of great importance they once held and its almost complete collapse. If one is to trust the various kinds of evidence—the records of performances, the reprintings of their quartos, the contemporary allusions—they were exceedingly popular in their lifetimes. At his death Beaumont was the third writer, after Chaucer and Spenser, to be placed in what has come to be known as the “Poet’s Corner” of Westminster Abbey, apparently out...

  5. Chapter One THE COUNTRY, THE PLAYHOUSE, AND THE MERMAID: THE THREE WORLDS OF BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER
    (pp. 8-55)

    The astonishing consistency of texture of the plays of “Beaumont-Fletcher” has led many to assume a virtual interchangeability of the identities of these writers, as expressed in the couplet, “For still your fancies are so wov’n and knit, / ’Twas francis fletcher, or john beaumont writ.”¹ In a famous phrase John Aubrey spoke of a “wonderful consimility of fancy,”² for which an admirer suggested a biographical explanation: “Mitre and Coyfe here into One Piece spun, / beaumont a Judge’s, This a Prelat’s sonne.”³ The Castor and Pollux of the English stage, as Thomas Fuller designated them,⁴ in fact had backgrounds...

  6. Chapter Two BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER’S EARLIEST WORK
    (pp. 56-80)

    At the precocious age of seventeen Beaumont published his first poem, the Ovidian epyllionSalmacis and Hermaphroditus.¹ Despite its obvious dependence onVenus and Adonisand especiallyHero and Leander, this tenfold expansion of Ovid’s hundred lines displays astonishing sophistication and technical proficiency. It deserves scrutiny in its own right, as several recent studies have demonstrated,² but here I want to show how it foreshadows Beaumont’s earliest play and his subsequent writing.

    What one notices first aboutSalmacisis the high velocity of the narrative. It is the poet’s prayer that “one line may draw the tother, / And every...

  7. Chapter Three FORM AND POLITICS IN THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE
    (pp. 81-100)

    The Beaumont seen so far is in nearly every way a prime example of a cultivated Oxford and Inns of Court litterateur. But throughThe Knight of the Burning Pestle(1607)¹ one glimpses a kind of artist-intellectual more prevalent in contemporary New York than Jacobean London. He reveals himself to be steeped in the “pop” art of ballads, the “schlock” art of bourgeois success plays, and the “junk” art of chivalric romances. He also displays a nearly Shakespearean awareness of the habits of mind and the speech patterns of London burghers. Beyond all this is a formal innovativeness that shapes...

  8. Chapter Four THE FAITHFUL SHEPHERDESS: THE POLITICS OF CHASTITY
    (pp. 101-114)

    At about the time thatThe Knight of the Burning Pestlewas being “utterly rejected” by a private theater audience, John Fletcher’sThe Faithful Shepherdess(1608–9) was “before / They saw it halfe, damd” by essentially the same audience.¹ Beaumont’s play required a “sophisticated” audience to react to innovations of form and subtleties of tone and attitude. Fletcher’s required, or at least would have profited from, the kind of “sophistication” that knows what is most in vogue in “advanced” circles. In neither sense did the private theater audiences pass the test. It is not surprising thatThe Knightwas...

  9. Chapter Five THE SCORNFUL LADY AND “CITY COMEDY”
    (pp. 115-127)

    Beaumont and Fletcher must have been fast learners. Shortly after their disastrous experimental plays, Fletcher with some assistance from Beaumont wrote one of the most popular plays in their canon,The Scornful Lady(ca. 1608–10).¹ First produced by the Children of the Queen’s Revels and later by the King’s Men, the comedy was printed in no fewer than ten quartos in the seventeenth century. To Edmund Waller it was Fletcher’s masterpiece in comedy, and Dryden described it (along withThe Merry Wives of Windsor!) as “almost exactly formed.”² Today it is not immediately obvious why it was singled out...

  10. Chapter Six CUPID’S REVENGE: PURITY AND PRINCES
    (pp. 128-135)

    If scholars are correct in their dating,Cupid’s Revenge(1610–12) is the first product of the collaboration to exhibit most of the characteristics of a “Beaumont & Fletcher” play: an improbable plot set in a distant time and exotic place; realistic characters who seem intermixed with archetypes out of dreams; high-pitched rant alternating with gentlemanly conversation.¹ In short, it is a far cry fromThe Knight of the Burning PestleandThe Faithful Shepherdess. The chemistry of the collaborators’ “strange unimitable Intercourse”² produced a compound that differs radically from what either had made separately.

    One striking example is Fletcher’s shift...

  11. Chapter Seven THE CONTEMPORARY “APPLICATION” OF THE NOBLE GENTLEMAN
    (pp. 136-145)

    No play by Beaumont and Fletcher is given a firmer “local habitation” thanThe Noble Gentleman(1611–15).¹ Just offstage, glamorous Jacobean courtly activities are occurring:

    a maske, or Barriers,

    Or tilting or a solemn christning,

    Or a great marriage, or new fire-works,

    Or any bravery.

    (2.1.183–86)2

    One hears about but does not see such occurrences because the play deals with figures on the outer fringes of the court. Ostensibly set in France, the play portrays that moment in Jacobean London when the king’s foolish generosity in awarding titles, honors, and money created a gold rush atmosphere in London....

  12. Chapter Eight PHILASTER, OR LOVE LIES A BLEEDING: THE ANTI-PRINCE
    (pp. 146-166)

    Philaster(1608–10) was, according to Dryden, the first play that brought Beaumont and Fletcher “in esteem” in the London theater.¹ Perhaps this occurred merely because it was the first of their plays performed by the King’s Men, whose great prestige, superior actors, and large audiences doubtless guaranteed a certain level of success. ButPhilasteralso represents a “breakthrough” to a new level of artistic achievement, and it was soon followed byThe Maid’s Tragedy(1610) andA King and No King(1611). To this day these three plays are generally regarded as the best work Beaumont and Fletcher wrote...

  13. Chapter Nine A KING AND NO KING: THE CORRUPTION OF POWER
    (pp. 167-182)

    IfPhilasterportrays an intemperate, dispossessed prince whom Fortune restores to his birthright,A King and No King(1611)¹ might for purposes of symmetry be described as the story of an intemperate king whom Fortune deposes from a throne to which he has no natural right. Admittedly, this is an unorthodox way of describing this exotically situated, exciting romance about a man who becomes consumed by an incestuous passion for his sister and is saved from damnation only by the revelation that they are not really kin. This play is often singled out to exemplify what is most superficial or...

  14. Chapter Ten THE MAID’S TRAGEDY: HONORABLE TYRANNICIDE
    (pp. 183-211)

    Beaumont and Fletcher wroteThe Maid’s Tragedy(1610–11) during the same span of time in which they wrotePhilasterandA King and No King;¹ its links to the other two plays are clear. Its concluding words, uttered by the king, offer the same moral as its two companion pieces. He vows “to rule with temper” and thereby avoid the fate of his “lustfull” predecessor (5.3.293).² The title, however, seems to suggest that the center of interest is not a king but a “maid,” and Rymer was only the first of many to claim that the “conduct” of the...

  15. Chapter Eleven FLETCHER’S POLITICS AFTER BEAUMONT
    (pp. 212-244)

    In 1613 Beaumont apparently left the Bankside and the bachelor quarters he had been sharing with Fletcher—along with their jointly owned clothes, cloak, and “wench”—to marry Ursula Isley of Kent. Soon thereafter he suffered his incapacitating stroke and stopped writing. If Fletcher felt abandoned and bereft,¹ it certainly did not affect his productivity. He found many new collaborators. With Shakespeare he seems to have written two or three plays; with Massinger, about eleven; with an assortment of others, ten. He also wrote at least sixteen plays by himself.² To sort out the various strands of this vast output...

  16. Afterword THE KING’S MEN AND THE POLITICS OF BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER
    (pp. 245-248)

    Beaumont and Fletcher are the vast unexplored Amazonian jungle of Jacobean drama. For the textual, linguistic, and literary scholar, their gigantic folio offers many difficult challenges. For the director, at least a few plays of their plays in addition toThe Knight of the Burning Pestledeserve to be assimilated into the present repertory of Jacobean plays on academic stages, notablyPhilasterandThe Maid’s Tragedy. And for the historian, there is much to ponder. As we have seen, Beaumont and Fletcher had good and sufficient reasons, both private and public, for being critical of king and court. But why...

  17. Appendix A: THE DATE OF BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER’S THE NOBLE GENTLEMAN: CA. 1611
    (pp. 249-254)
  18. Appendix B: THE EVIDENCE FOR BEAUMONT’S STROKE: THOMAS PESTELL’S ELEGY
    (pp. 255-258)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 259-263)