Comedies and Tragedies

Chrzanowski 1647bThe names Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher are inexorably linked in the annals of Jacobean theater because of their highly successful dramatic collaborations. It is perhaps through their mutual friendship with Ben Jonson that they formed their partnership in 1607–08. At the time Fletcher was twenty-nine, and Beaumont was twenty-three. Together, they wrote a string of very popular plays including Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cupid’s Revenge, Scornful Lady, The Maid’s Tragedy, A King and No King, and Philaster.

Tragically, Beaumont died in 1616. Fletcher would continue writing dramas, some in collaboration with others, until he died of the plague in 1625. In 1647 bookseller Humphrey Robinson published Comedies and Tragedies, a folio purported to contain all the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher that had not previously been printed. Since nearly all of Beaumont’s dramas had already been published, most of the plays in collection are works by Fletcher alone or Fletcher in collaboration with other playwrights. Of the dramas in the volume, Beaumont is thought to have a hand in just three: The Captaine, The Coxcombe, and Four Playes (or Morall Representations) in one. Nonetheless, the handsomely printed collection, exemplified by the present copy, is widely referred to as the works of Beaumont and Fletcher.

In Jacobean times the works of Beaumont and Fletcher were the new fashion for courtiers and theater-goers from all levels of society. Their plays were wittily written but superficial, providing great entertainment with a wide variety of types of characters enmeshed in a lively succession of events that were full of surprises and usually ended happily. The first performances of Philaster (1608) and The Maid’s Tragedy (1609) were groundbreaking: they introduced melodrama to the stage. In addition to their comedies, the playwrights developed a new form of English drama, the tragicomedy, which involves a serious matter, but a tragic ending is avoided.

Dramas identified with the names Beaumont and Fletcher grew to be better liked upon the stage than those by Shakespeare. Moral corruption was widespread in the upper classes of society in the time of King James. Shallow and frivolous entertainment became preferred over the tragedies of Shakespeare or even his comedies, which often were infused with moral lessons.

Comedies and Tragedies was first published during the Civil War. The plays continued to be popular in the reopened theaters during the Restoration.

Chrzanowski 1647b *

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675