Beaumont was the son of Sir Francis Beaumont of Grace Dieu, near Thringstone in Leicestershire, a justice of the common pleas. He was born at the family seat and was educated at Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College, Oxford) at age thirteen. Following the death of his father in 1598, he left university without a degree and followed in his father's footsteps by entering the Inner Temple in London in 1600.
Accounts suggest that Beaumont did not work long as a lawyer. He became a student of poet and playwright Ben Jonson; he was also acquainted with Michael Drayton and other poets and dramatists, and decided that was where his passion lay. His first work, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, appeared in 1602. The 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica describes the work as "not on the whole discreditable to a lad of eighteen, fresh from the popular love-poems of Marlowe and Shakespeare, which it naturally exceeds in long-winded and fantastic diffusion of episodes and conceits." In 1605, Beaumont wrote commendatory verses to Jonson's Volpone.
Beaumont's collaboration with Fletcher may have begun as early as 1605. They had both hit an obstacle early in their dramatic careers with notable failures; Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle, first performed by the Children of the Blackfriars in 1607, was rejected by an audience who, the publisher's epistle to the 1613 quarto claims, failed to note "the privie mark of irony about it;" that is, they took Beaumont's satire of old-fashioned drama as an old-fashioned drama. The play received a lukewarm reception. The following year, Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess failed on the same stage. In 1609, however, the two collaborated on Philaster, which was performed by the King's Men at the Globe Theatre and at Blackfriars. The play was a popular success, not only launching the careers of the two playwrights but also sparking a new taste for tragicomedy.
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; both during his lifetime and in the early Restoration, his fame rivaled Shakespeare's. Though his reputation has been far eclipsed since, Fletcher remains an important transitional figure between the Elizabethan popular tradition and the popular drama of the Restoration. (P: Portrait of John Fletcher, circa 1620)
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, Southwark). 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 "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 the queen had advised against. He appears to have been partly rehabilitated before his death in 1596; however, 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 connections ceased to be a benefit, and may even have become a liability, after the rebellion of the Earl of Essex, who had been his patron.
Fletcher appears to have entered Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University 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 same path previously trod by the University wits before him, from Cambridge to the burgeoning commercial theatre of London.
In 1606, he began to appear as an author for the Children of the Queen's Revels, then performing at the Blackfriars Theatre. Commendatory verses 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 to a decade, first for the children and then for the King's Men. According to a legend 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.
By this time, Fletcher had moved into a closer association with the King's Men. He is commonly assumed to have collaborated with Shakespeare on Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the lost Cardenio, which is probably (according to modern scholarly consensus) 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 own 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 unabated 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 single 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, both of which exerted a pervasive influence on dramatists in the reign of Charles I and during the Restoration.
By the middle of the 1610s, Fletcher's plays had achieved a popularity that rivalled Shakespeare's and cemented the preeminence of the King's Men in Jacobean London. After Beaumont's retirement and early death in 1616, Fletcher continued working, both 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 major part of the King's Men's repertory until the closing of the theatres in 1642.
Aubrey's Brief Lives by John Aubrey
Series: Nonpareil Books (Book 77)
Paperback: 408 pages
Publisher: Nonpareil Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 2015)
Amazon: Aubrey's Brief Lives
"I love John Aubrey's writing more than is seemly - it's a marvelous, gossipy, informal, brilliant stew of information, rumour, history, and anecdote." - Neil Gaiman
The whole ferment of the Elizabethan age and the vigor of the century that followed come alive in these "brief portraits" that have been looted by scholars for centuries. Here are Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Thomas More, Shakespeare, Milton, Marvell, and countless others, who in these pages become not abstract names from a history book, but flesh and blood characters. Brief Lives was written by John Aubrey (1626-1697), the greatest gossip columnist of the seventeenth century. A hanger-on among the rich and famous, he left posterity a sprawling collection of notes, anecdotes, and morsels of gossip that the editor has cleverly sutured together into a series of unforgettable portraits. These men-flawed, vain, ambitious, vulnerable-are more alive and kicking in these pages, miraculously edited by Oliver Dick, than in any formal history. As Edmund Wilson writes in his introduction, "I have never read anything else that makes me feel in quite the same way what it must have been like to live then."
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