Chapter 3

THERE is a convenience in dividing the Beaumont and Fletcher plays into comedies, tragicomedies and tragedies, but there is often only a thin line of distinction between the genres. In Chapter I we noticed how A King and No King could have become a 'tragedy' if the authors had wished merely to give full exploitation to the theme of incest, bringing their revelation to bear only a little later in the sequence of events. And it is often difficult to decide whether a Fletcher play should be called a comedy or a tragicomedy. In the seventeenth-century Quartos and Folios the nomenclature is unreliable: The False One, which presents the meeting and relationship of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, is called a tragedy, yet all the main characters find in it a satisfactory ending; some manifest tragicomedies are called simply comedies. Of course, these terms were loosely used in the seventeenth century generally, but it must be recognised that for Fletcher it is not always easy to apply any principles of classification. He was never, as we know, over-deeply concerned in the destinies of his characters, and he gives few hints of either a personal or an inherited Weltanschauung. Rather, he is the speculator in human affairs, taking as his datum a situation that contains its own dynamic principle, letting it develop amusingly, or fatally, or unhappily but to an ultimate good fortune, according to the special properties of the situation and the persons involved. Sometimes, too, he uses double plots, one tragicomic, the other comic. Of the five plays I shall be making some detailed reference to


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The John Fletcher Plays


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