The plays written by Beaumont and Fletcher are dramatic collaboration in the best sense. Scholarly investigation at the hands of Fleay, Boyle, Oliphant, Macaulay, Thorndike, and Alden, subjecting the plays said to have been written by the two men to all kinds of external and internal tests, has sought to distinguish clearly the styles of Beaumont and Fletcher, and to apportion to each his proper share in the plays in question. Yet all this effort leaves us echoing the words of Jasper Maine, prefixed to the first folio of the works of Beaumont and Fletcher
Or one framed the plot, the other did indite;
Whether one found the matter, th other dress,
Or th one disposed what th other did express;
Whereer your parts between yourselves lay, we,
In all things which you did, but one thread see;
So evenly drawn out, so gently spun,
That art with nature neer did smoother run
So, though you were thus twisted and combined,
As (in) two bodies to have but one fair mind,
Yet, if we praise you rightly, we must say,
Both joind, and both did wholly make the play.
For that you could write singly, we may guess
By the divided pieces which the press
Hath severally sent forth; nor were joind so,
Like some our modern authors made to go
One merely by the help of th other, who
To purchase fame do come forth one of two;
Nor wrote you so, that ones part was to lick
The other into shape; nor did one stick
The others cold inventions with such wit,
As served, like spice, to make them quick and fit;
Nor, one of mutual want, or emptiness,
Did you conspire to go still twins to the press;
But what, thus joind, you wrote, might have come forth
As good from each, and stored with the same worth
That thus united them.
This perfect co-operation, however, must necessarily have been brief. It began, apparently, in 16071608, when Fletcher was twenty-nine and Beaumont was twenty-three. Beaumont apparently gave over all close association with the stage after 1611. He died in 1616.1
Fletcher was baptised at Rye in Sussex, December 20, 1579. His father, Richard Fletcher, Bishop of London, was at that time a minister at Rye. He became a pensioner at Benet College, Cambridge, in 1591. His father was successively Dean of Peterborough and holder of the Sees of Bristol, Worcester, and London. John Fletcher died of the plague and was buried August 29, 1625, in St. Saviours, Southwark.Only three plays in which Beaumont had at least a share were published before his death, and all of them without his name on the title-pageThe Woman-Hater, 1607; The Knight of the Burning Pestle, 1613; and Cupids Revenge, 1615. Beaumont seems to have had some hand in the following plays which may be dated before 1616: The Knight of the Burning Pestle, The Woman-Hater, Philaster, The Maids Tragedy, Four Plays in One, Loves Cure, The Scornful Lady, The Coxcomb, A King and No King, Cupids Revenge, The Honest Mans Fortune, and Thierry and Theodoret. It is possible that he had a hand in The Captain, and Wit at Several Weapons. Critics agree that the work of Beaumont predominates, at least, in The Woman-Hater, Philaster, The Maids Tragedy, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, and A King and No King. Indeed, many critics give both The Woman-Hater and The Knight of the Burning Pestle wholly to Beaumont. He wrote in 1613 a Masque of the Inner Temple.
Any one who has read the twelve plays named above, as wholly or in part by Beaumont, must recognise that they are the best, or among the best, in the whole group of independent or collaborated plays at any time assigned to Beaumont and Fletcher, and that their excellences differ from those of the plays written by Fletcher independently, or in collaboration with other dramatists. The method and the spirit of The Maids Tragedy or Philaster differ distinctly from the method and the spirit of Bonduca or Valentinian. In similar fashion, A King and No King differs from the serious romantic work of Fletcher. Obviously, each of the collaborators wrote better when aided by the other. Certainly, so complete is the artistic sympathy that again and again one suspects, in a scene assigned to Beaumont or Fletcher, the stimulating imagination or the corrective criticism of his fellow-worker.
Moreover, these two men working together produced a composite providing just the needed bridge from the drama of 16001608 to that of 16081625. Fletcher became the leader in the drama of 16121625, the latter the date of his death. Indeed, his influence dominates to the closing of the theatres in 1642, and even beyond. During all this time he was certainly as popular as Shakespeare, and probably more so. Beaumont, on the other hand, in his love of poetry for its own sake, in his fondness for romantic
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