``Built more for use than show'': Reception of the Beaumont and Fletcher canon, 1607--1685

Date of Completion

January 1996


Theater|Literature, English




The dissertation presents the Beaumont and Fletcher canon in an interpretive light that traces, through adaptations written during the Caroline reign, Interregnum, and Restoration, developments that solidified its affiliation with royal prerogative. Contrary to previously-held notions, recent examinations of the Beaumont and Fletcher canon reveal that these playwrights rarely advocated Stuart ideology. Beaumont and Fletcher's popularity throughout the seventeenth century instead relied upon later royalists' appropriations of their canon; subsequently, their undeserved monarchic affiliation informed later centuries' more negative perceptions of them. The dissertation illustrates seventeenth-century culture's role in shaping the important themes, accepted concerns, and inclinations of Beaumont and Fletcher's canon for both itself and for succeeding centuries.^ From the early seventeenth century to the present, Beaumont and Fletcher's aristocratic ties dictate nearly all critical appraisals. Their employment at Blackfriars, masque participation, and reluctance to openly mock court behavior--especially during the actual years of collaboration--further strengthens critics' pro-monarchical readings. Yet, as recent cultural and literary studies suggest, the Beaumont and Fletcher canon, like that of Shakespeare and Jonson, often displays simultaneously a subversive and transgressive poetics alongside its seemingly pro-monarchical ideology, one which questions hierarchized political systems operating under Elizabeth and the Stuarts.^ These transgressive poetics increase after Beaumont's 1613 retirement, when Fletcher wrote alone or collaborated with others, including Shakespeare. By Fletcher's 1625 death, much of the canon shows a less subservient bent. However, succeeding seventeenth-century dramatists removed these subversive passages and temporarily lifted the playwrights to a status more favored than even Shakespeare. While these alterations further popularized the canon, they also intensified the royalist conception of Beaumont and Fletcher. The adapters fashioned the texts into royalist propaganda, culminating in the publication of Humphrey Mosely's 1647 folio. After Mosely's publication, Beaumont and Fletcher's status as absolute monarchist advocates fully emerged. Victorious Royalist factions in 1660 advanced this conception even further by staging these productions.^ This stage dominance soon led, however, to a rapid popular decline. Royalist affiliation became permanently associated with Beaumont and Fletcher's works in a time increasingly moving away from the absolutism accompanying the monarch. While the adapters increased Beaumont and Fletcher's royal affiliations, they thus tainted the canon for future generations who began to see both playwrights as mere puppets of the once absolute Tudor and Stuart courts. And as the theaters aligned themselves with a more bourgeois audience who preferred Shakespeare and Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher faded from the stage, and, more importantly to future generations, from the canon. ^