Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study

Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study

Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study

Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study

Excerpt

The 1616 Folio of Ben Jonson, the 1623 Folio of Shakespeare, and the 1679 Folio of Beaumont and Fletcher comprise the three great treasure-houses of Elizabethan and Stuart drama. Of the three, Beaumont and Fletcher find today the fewest readers, and certainly the fewest spectators. Yet for a century readers ranked them with Jonson and Shakespeare and for a century audiences applauded their work.

It has become commonplace to dismiss them as dramatists not for all time but for an age. Yet to be successful dramatists in the age of James I, the greatest age of English drama, is scarcely an indictment, and to enjoy enormous popularity through the Restoration, the second greatest period of English drama, not a trifling commendation. We might do well, perhaps, to reconsider our current neglect of them.

It is not difficult to account, in part at least, for this neglect. The sheer quantity of their work acts as a deterrent. The fifty-two plays of the 1679 Folio make up a formidable volume. Admittedly one must sometimes pick one's way through the rubbish before coming upon the treasure, but the treasure is there, and in an age when literary reputation so often seems in inverse proportion to literary output, it can be a pleasure to lose oneself in the rich amplitude of this volume.

The predominantly bibliographical nature of many studies of Beaumont and Fletcher has perhaps also served as a deterrent. While of invaluable assistance to the scholar, they have done little to stimulate the general reader's interest. In this study I have made no attempt to deal with bibliographical problems, nor can I hide my feelings of gratitude and relief that others have done so before me. My debt to them is clear, as it is to a number of recent scholars who have approached the work of Beaumont and Fletcher from a fresh critical point of view. My purpose has been both to synthesize a good deal of this material and to suggest, at least, an approach to their plays.

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