John Fletcher (1579–1625) was a Jacobean
playwright. Following William Shakespeare
as house playwright for the King's Men
, he was among the most prolific and influential dramatists of his day; during his lifetime and in the early Restoration
, his fame rivalled Shakespeare's. He collaborated on writing plays with Francis Beaumont
, and also with Shakespeare on two plays.
Though his reputation has declined since, Fletcher remains an important transitional figure between the Elizabethan popular tradition and the popular drama of the Restoration
Fletcher was born in December 1579 (baptised 20 December) in Rye
, Sussex, and died of the plague in August 1625 (buried 29 August in St. Saviour's
). His father Richard Fletcher
was an ambitious and successful cleric who was in turn Dean of Peterborough
, Bishop of Bristol
, Bishop of Worcester
and Bishop of London
(shortly before his death), as well as chaplain to Queen Elizabeth
. As Dean of Peterborough, Richard Fletcher, at the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots
, at Fotheringay Castle
, "knelt down on the scaffold steps and started to pray out loud and at length, in a prolonged and rhetorical style as though determined to force his way into the pages of history". He cried out at her death, "So perish all the Queen's enemies!"
Richard Fletcher died shortly after falling out of favour with the Queen, over a marriage she had advised against. He appears to have been partly rehabilitated before his death in 1596 but he died substantially in debt. The upbringing of John Fletcher and his seven siblings was entrusted to his paternal uncle Giles Fletcher
, a poet and minor official. His uncle's connexions ceased to be a benefit and may even have become a liability after the rebellion of Robert Devereux
, the Earl of Essex, who had been his patron. Fletcher appears to have entered Corpus Christi College
, in 1591, at the age of eleven. It is not certain that he took a degree but evidence suggests that he was preparing for a career in the church. Little is known about his time at college but he evidently followed the path previously trodden by the University wit
s before him, from Cambridge to the burgeoning commercial theatre of London.
Collaborations with Beaumont
In 1606, he began to appear as a playwright for the Children of the Queen's Revels
, then performing at the Blackfriars Theatre
. Commendatory verse
s by Richard Brome
in the Beaumont and Fletcher 1647 folio
place Fletcher in the company of Ben Jonson
; a comment of Jonson's to Drummond
corroborates this claim, although it is not known when this friendship began. At the beginning of his career, his most important association was with Francis Beaumont
. The two wrote together for close on a decade, first for the children and then for the King's Men. According to an anecdote transmitted or invented by John Aubrey
, they also lived together (in Bankside
), sharing clothes and having "one wench in the house between them". This domestic arrangement, if it existed, was ended by Beaumont's marriage in 1613 and their dramatic partnership ended after Beaumont fell ill, probably of a stroke, the same year.
Successor to Shakespeare
By this time, Fletcher had moved into a closer association with the King's Men. He collaborated with Shakespeare on ''Henry VIII
'', ''The Two Noble Kinsmen
'' and the lost
'', which is probably (according to some modern scholars) the basis for Lewis Theobald
's play ''Double Falsehood
''. A play he wrote singly around this time, ''The Woman's Prize
or the Tamer Tamed'', is a sequel to ''The Taming of the Shrew
''. In 1616, after Shakespeare's death, Fletcher appears to have entered into an exclusive arrangement with the King's Men similar to Shakespeare's. Fletcher wrote only for that company between the death of Shakespeare and his death nine years later. He never lost his habit of collaboration, working with Nathan Field
and later with Philip Massinger
, who succeeded him as house playwright for the King's Men. His popularity continued throughout his life; during the winter of 1621, three of his plays were performed at court. He died in 1625, apparently of the plague. He seems to have been buried in what is now Southwark Cathedral
, although the precise location is not known; there is a reference by Aston Cockayne
to a common grave for Fletcher and Massinger (also buried in Southwark). What is more certain is that two simple adjacent stones in the floor of the Choir of Southwark Cathedral, one marked 'Edmond Shakespeare
1607' the other 'John Fletcher 1625' refer to Shakespeare's younger brother and the playwright. His mastery is most notable in two dramatic types, tragicomedy
and comedy of manners
Fletcher's early career was marked by one significant failure, of ''The Faithful Shepherdess'', his adaptation of Giovanni Battista Guarini
's ''Il Pastor Fido
'', which was performed by the Blackfriars Children
in 1608. In the preface to the printed edition of his play, Fletcher explained the failure as due to his audience's faulty expectations. They expected a pastoral tragicomedy to feature dances, comedy and murder, with the shepherds presented in conventional stereotypes—as Fletcher put it, wearing "gray cloaks, with curtailed dogs in strings". Fletcher's preface in defence of his play is best known for its pithy definition of tragicomedy: "A tragicomedy is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants .e., lacks
deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy; yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy". A comedy, he went on to say, must be "a representation of familiar people" and the preface is critical of drama that features characters whose action violates nature.
Fletcher appears to have been developing a new style faster than audiences could comprehend. By 1609, however, he had found his voice. With Beaumont, he wrote ''Philaster'', which became a hit for the King's Men and began a profitable connexion between Fletcher and that company. ''Philaster'' appears also to have initiated a vogue for tragicomedy; Fletcher's influence has been credited with inspiring some features of Shakespeare's late romances
(Kirsch, 288–90) and his influence on the tragicomic work of other playwrights is even more marked. By the middle of the 1610s, Fletcher's plays had achieved a popularity that rivalled Shakespeare's and cemented the pre-eminence of the King's Men in Jacobean London. After Beaumont's retirement and early death in 1616, Fletcher continued working, singly and in collaboration, until his death in 1625. By that time, he had produced or had been credited with, close to fifty plays. This body of work remained a big part of the King's Men's repertory until the closing of the theatres in 1642.
During the Commonwealth
, many of the playwright's best-known scenes were kept alive as droll
s, the brief performances devised to satisfy the taste for plays while the theatres were suppressed. At the re-opening of the theatres in 1660, the plays in the Fletcher canon, in original form or revised, were by far the most common fare on the English stage. The most frequently revived plays suggest the developing taste for comedies of manners. Among the tragedies, ''The Maid's Tragedy
'' and especially, ''Rollo Duke of Normandy
'' held the stage. Four tragicomedies (''A King and No King'', ''The Humorous Lieutenant
'', ''Philaster'' and ''The Island Princess
'') were popular, perhaps in part for their similarity to and foreshadowing of heroic drama. Four comedies (''Rule a Wife And Have a Wife'', ''The Chances'', ''Beggars' Bush
'' and especially ''The Scornful Lady'') were also popular. Fletcher's plays, relative to those of Shakespeare and to new productions, declined. By around 1710, Shakespeare's plays were more frequently performed and the rest of the century saw a steady erosion in performance of Fletcher's plays. By 1784, Thomas Davies
asserted that only ''Rule a Wife'' and ''The Chances'' were still on stage. A generation later, Alexander Dyce
mentioned only ''The Chances''. Since then Fletcher has increasingly become a subject only for occasional revivals and for specialists. Fletcher and his collaborators have been the subject of important bibliographic and critical studies but the plays have been revived only infrequently.
Because Fletcher collaborated regularly and widely, attempts to separate Fletcher's work from this collaborative fabric have experienced difficulties in attribution. Fletcher collaborated most often with Beaumont and Massinger but also with Nathan Field
, Shakespeare and others. Some of his early collaborations with Beaumont were later revised by Massinger, adding another layer of complexity to the collaborative texture of the works. According to scholars such as Hoy, Fletcher used distinctive mannerisms that Hoy argued identify his presence. According to Hoy's figures, he frequently uses ''ye'' instead of ''you'' at rates sometimes approaching 50 per cent. He employs em'' for ''them'', along with a set of other preferences in contractions. He adds a sixth stressed syllable to a standard pentameter verse line—most often ''sir'' but also ''too'' or ''still'' or ''next''. Various other habits and preferences may reveal his hand. The detection of this pattern, a Fletcherian textual profile, has persuaded some researchers that they have penetrated the Fletcher canon with what they consider success—and has in turn encouraged the use of similar techniques in the study of literature. ee:_[[stylometry
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Bibliography has attempted to establish the writers of each play. Attempts to determine the exact "shares" of each writer (for instance by [[Cyrus Hoy) in particular plays continues, based on patterns of textual and linguistic preferences, style and idiosyncrasies of spelling.
The list that follows gives a tentative verdict on the writing of the plays in Fletcher's canon, with likeliest composition dates, dates of first publication and dates of licensing by the Master of the Revels
, where available.
* ''The Faithful Shepherdess
,'' pastoral (written 1608–09; printed 1609?)
,'' tragedy (1610–14; 1647)
* ''Monsieur Thomas
,'' comedy (c. 1610–16; 1639)
* ''The Woman's Prize
, or The Tamer Tamed,'' comedy (c. 1611; 1647)
,'' tragedy (1611–14; 1647)
* ''The Chances
,'' comedy (c. 1613–25; 1647)
* ''Wit Without Money
,'' comedy (c. 1614; 1639)
* ''The Mad Lover
,'' tragicomedy (acted 5 January 1617; 1647)
* ''The Loyal Subject
,'' tragicomedy (licensed 16 November 1618; revised 1633?; 1647)
* ''The Humorous Lieutenant
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1619; 1647)
* ''Women Pleased
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1619–23; 1647)
* ''The Island Princess
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1620; 1647)
* ''The Wild Goose Chase
,'' comedy (c. 1621; 1652)
* ''The Pilgrim
,'' comedy (c. 1621; 1647)
* ''A Wife for a Month
,'' tragicomedy (licensed 27 May 1624; 1647)
* ''Rule a Wife and Have a Wife
,'' comedy (licensed 19 October 1624; 1640)
With Francis Beaumont:
* ''The Woman Hater
,'' comedy (1606; 1607)
* ''Cupid's Revenge
,'' tragedy (c. 1607–12; 1615)
* ''Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding
(c. 1609; 1620)
* ''The Maid's Tragedy
,'' Tragedy (c. 1609; 1619)
* ''A King and No King
,'' tragicomedy (1611; 1619)
* ''The Captain
,'' comedy (c. 1609–12; 1647)
* ''The Scornful Lady
,'' comedy (c. 1613; 1616)
* ''Love's Pilgrimage
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1615–16; 1647)
* ''The Noble Gentleman
,'' comedy (c. 1613?; licensed 3 February 1626; 1647)
With Beaumont and Massinger:
* ''Thierry and Theodoret
,'' tragedy (c. 1607; 1621)
* ''The Coxcomb
,'' comedy (c. 1608–10; 1647)
* ''Beggars' Bush
,'' comedy (c. 1612–13; revised 1622?; 1647)
* ''Love's Cure
,'' comedy (c. 1612–13; revised 1625?; 1647)
* ''Sir John van Olden Barnavelt
,'' tragedy (August 1619; MS)
* ''The Little French Lawyer
,'' comedy (c. 1619–23; 1647)
* ''A Very Woman
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1619–22; licensed 6 June 1634; 1655)
* ''The Custom of the Country
,'' comedy (c. 1619–23; 1647)
* ''The Double Marriage
,'' tragedy (c. 1619–23; 1647)
* ''The False One
,'' history (c. 1619–23; 1647)
* ''The Prophetess
,'' tragicomedy (licensed 14 May 1622; 1647)
* ''The Sea Voyage
,'' comedy (licensed 22 June 1622; 1647)
* ''The Spanish Curate
,'' comedy (licensed 24 October 1622; 1647)
* ''The Lovers' Progress
'' or ''The Wandering Lovers,'' tragicomedy (licensed 6 December 1623; revised 1634; 1647)
* ''The Elder Brother
,'' comedy (c. 1625; 1637)
With Massinger and Field:
* ''The Honest Man's Fortune
,'' tragicomedy (1613; 1647)
* ''The Queen of Corinth
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1616–18; 1647)
* ''The Knight of Malta
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1619; 1647)
* ''Henry VIII
,'' history (c. 1613; 1623)
* ''The Two Noble Kinsmen
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1613; 1634)
,'' tragicomedy? (c. 1613)
With Middleton and Rowley:
* ''Wit at Several Weapons
,'' comedy (c. 1610–20; 1647)
* ''The Maid in the Mill
'' (licensed 29 August 1623; 1647).
* ''Four Plays, or Moral Representations, in One
,'' morality (c. 1608–13; 1647)
With Massinger, Jonson, and Chapman:
* ''Rollo Duke of Normandy
, or The Bloody Brother,'' tragedy (c. 1617; revised 1627–30?; 1639)
* ''The Night Walker
, or The Little Thief,'' comedy (c. 1611; 1640)
* ''The Nice Valour
, or The Passionate Madman,'' comedy (c. 1615–25; 1647)
* ''The Laws of Candy
,'' tragicomedy (c. 1619–23; 1647)
* ''The Fair Maid of the Inn
,'' comedy (licensed 22 January 1626; 1647)
* ''The Faithful Friends
,'' tragicomedy (registered 29 June 1660; MS.)
''The Nice Valour'' may be a play by Fletcher revised by Thomas Middleton
; ''The Fair Maid of the Inn'' is perhaps a play by Massinger, John Ford
and John Webster
, either with or without Fletcher's involvement. ''The Laws of Candy'' has been variously attributed to Fletcher and to John Ford. ''The Night-Walker'' was a Fletcher original, with additions by Shirley for a 1639 production. Some of the attributions given above are disputed by scholars, as noted in connexion with ''Four Plays in One''. ''Rollo Duke of Normandy'', an especially difficult case and source of much disagreement among scholars, may have been written around 1617 and later revised by Massinger.
[Logan and Smith, pp. 70–72.]
The first Beaumont and Fletcher folio
of 1647 collected 35 plays, most not published before. The second folio of 1679 added 18 more, for a total of 53. The first folio included ''The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn
'' (1613) and the second ''The Knight of the Burning Pestle'' (1607) are widely considered to be solo works, although the latter was in early editions attributed to both writers. ''Sir John Van Olden Barnavelt'', existed in manuscript and was not published till 1883. In 1640 James Shirley's ''The Coronation
'' was misattributed to Fletcher upon its initial publication and was included in the second Beaumont and Fletcher folio
* Academy, Students' ''Famous English Renaissance Dramatist-Five-John Fletcher''. 2011. 1–115. Print.
* "Biographical Sketches: Sir Walter Raleigh. Benjamin Jonson. Lord Francis Bacon. Beaumont and Fletcher. John Selden." ''The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature (1844–1898)'', 46.2 (1859): 287.
* Birch, Dinah. "The Oxford Companion to English Literature (7 Ed.)."''Oxford Reference''. Oxford University Press, 2009.
* Finkelpearl, Daniel. ''Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher''. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
* Fletcher, Ian. ''Beaumont and Fletcher.'' London, Longmans, Green, 1967.
* "Front Cover." ''John Fletcher''. Charles L. Squier. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986. Twayne's English Authors Series 433. ''Gale Virtual Reference Library''. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
* Gurr, Andrew, and Farah Karim-Cooper. ''Moving Shakespeare Indoors: Performance and Repertoire in the Jacobean Playhouse''. 2014.
* Hoy, Cyrus H. "The Shares of Fletcher and His Collaborators in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon." ''Studies in Bibliography.'' Seven parts: vols. 8–9, 11–15 (1956–1962).
* Ide, Arata. "John Fletcher of Corpus Christi College: New Records of His Early Years." ''Early Theatre'', 14.1 (2011): 63–77.
* "John Fletcher". ''Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.'' Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016 http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Fletcher.
YourDictionary, 16 March 2016.
* Kirsch, Arthur. "Cymbeline and Coterie Dramaturgy." ''ELH'' 34 (1967), 288–306.
* Leech, Clifford. ''The John Fletcher Plays''. London: Chatto and Windus, 1962.
* Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith.''The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama.'' Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1978.
* Masten, Jeffrey A.
"Beaumont and/or Fletcher: Collaboration and the Interpretation of Renaissance Drama." ''English Literary History'' 59 (1992): 337–356.
* McMullan, Gordon. ‘Fletcher, John (1579–1625)’, ''Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press'', 2004
* Oliphant, E.H.C. ''Beaumont and Fletcher: An Attempt to Determine Their Respective Shares and the Shares of Others''. London: Humphrey Milford, 1927.
* Sprague, A.C. ''Beaumont and Fletcher on the Restoration Stage''. London: Benjamin Bloom, 1926.
* Waith, Eugene. ''The Pattern of Tragicomedy in Beaumont and Fletcher''. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952.
John Fletcher (1579–1625), Dramatist Sitter associated with 13 portraits
National Portrait Gallery
Category:English Renaissance dramatists
Category:Alumni of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Category:People from Rye, East Sussex
Category:Burials at Southwark Cathedral
Category:English dramatists and playwrights
Category:17th-century male writers
Category:17th-century English dramatists and playwrights
Category:17th-century deaths from plague (disease)
Category:English male dramatists and playwrights
Category:English male poets
Category:People associated with Shakespeare