Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fletcher, John (1579-1625)
FLETCHER, JOHN (1579–1625), dramatist, a younger son of Dr. Richard Fletcher [q. v.], afterwards bishop of London, by his first wife Elizabeth, was born in December 1579 at Rye in Sussex, where his father was then officiating as minister. A ‘John Fletcher of London’ was admitted 15 Oct. 1591 a pensioner of Bene't (Corpus) College, Cambridge, of which college Dr. Fletcher had been president. Dyce assumes that this John Fletcher, who became one of the bible-clerks in 1593, was the dramatist. Bishop Fletcher died, in needy circumstances, 15 June 1596, and by his will, dated 26 Oct. 1593, left his books to be divided between his sons Nathaniel and John.
Fletcher's intimacy with Francis Beaumont (1584–1616) appears to date from about 1607. Aubrey states that there was a ‘wonderful consimility of phansy’ between the two poets; that they lived together on the Bankside in Southwark, near the Globe; and that they shared everything in common. Beaumont probably began his literary career before Fletcher; although the attribution to him of ‘Salmacis and Hermaphroditus’ (anonymously published in 1602, and printed in 1640 among ‘Poems by Francis Beaumont, Gent.’) is doubtful. The earliest of the plays attributed to ‘Beaumont and Fletcher’ is the ‘Woman Hater,’ which was entered in the ‘Stationers' Register’ 20 May 1607 and published anonymously in the same year. It is largely written in a mock-heroic style. Dyce assumed that it was wholly by Fletcher, but later critics more reasonably claim it for Beaumont, who had undeniably a rich vein of burlesque. The versification has none of Fletcher's peculiarities. Beaumont in 1607 prefixed some commendatory verses to the ‘Fox,’ and a similar compliment was paid to Jonson by Fletcher, who also commended ‘Catiline,’ 1611.
‘The Faithful Shepherdess,’ n. d., 4to, the unassisted work of Fletcher, was published not later than 1610 (probably in 1609), for one of the three persons to whom it was dedicated, Sir William Skipwith, died 3 May 1610. John Davies of Hereford, in the ‘Scourge of Folly,’ n. d. , has an allusion to Fletcher's pastoral. On the stage it was not successful, but the printed copy was ushered into notice with commendatory verses by Field, Beaumont, Jonson, and Chapman. The ‘Faithful Shepherdess,’ which was under some obligations to Tasso's ‘Aminta’ and Guarini's ‘Pastor Fido,’ is the most famous and the best of English pastoral plays. The lyrical portions supplied Milton with hints for ‘Comus.’ In January 1633–4 it was successfully revived at court. The ‘Scornful Lady,’ published in 1616, has a mention of the Cleve wars, which began in 1609. It was performed, as Mr. Fleay remarks, by the children of Her Majesty's Revels at Blackfriars, which theatre was in possession of the king's company after 1609. The ‘Scornful Lady’ is an excellent comedy of English domestic life, and was very popular both before and after the Restoration. The character of Vellum in Addison's ‘Drummer’ was sketched (as Addison himself informed Theobald) from that of the steward Savil. To Beaumont may be assigned the first two acts; they are chiefly written in prose, which Fletcher very rarely employed. In the later acts Fletcher seems to have had the larger share.
The ‘Maid's Tragedy,’ 1619, 4to, and ‘Philaster,’ 1620, 4to, were produced not later than 1611. Dryden asserts without authority that the ‘first play that brought Fletcher and Beaumont in esteem was their “Philaster.”’ Some modern critics have denied that Fletcher had any hand in ‘Philaster,’ but John Davies of Hereford, in the ‘Scourge of Folly’ , mentions this play, with the ‘Faithful Shepherdess’ and the ‘Maid's Tragedy,’ in his epigram to Fletcher. Detached passages in the fourth act and two scenes in the fifth (scenes three and four), with the rhetorical harangues in act i. scene 1, are in Fletcher's manner. But Beaumont's genius dominates the play; and the poetry at its highest is of a subtler quality than can be found in any play that Fletcher wrote singlehanded. ‘Philaster’ held the stage for many years. Elkanah Settle in 1695 produced a new version without success. Another alteration, the ‘Restauration, or Right will take place,’ was printed in the first volume of the ‘Works,’ 1714, of George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, and a third, by the elder Colman, was performed at Drury Lane in 1764. The ‘Maid's Tragedy’ was composed before 31 Oct. 1611, for on that day Sir George Buc licensed a play to which he gave the title of ‘The Second Maiden's Tragedy.’ In the first three acts Fletcher's hand cannot be traced to any noticeable extent; but he was mainly responsible for the fourth and fifth acts. Until the closing of the theatres the ‘Maid's Tragedy’ was frequently performed, and it again became popular at the Restoration. Waller absurdly turned it into a comedy by rewriting (in rhyme) the last act.
‘A King and No King,’ which in some respects is a more solid piece of work than the ‘Maid's Tragedy,’ was licensed for the stage in 1611 and printed in 1619, 4to. Arbaces, in his insolence and magnanimity, is certainly one of the most striking figures in the English drama. Garrick prepared an alteration of ‘A King and No King,’ in which he had intended to personate Arbaces; but at the last moment the play was withdrawn. Beaumont unquestionably had the chief share in the authorship; Fletcher's contributions were confined to the fourth and fifth acts.
‘Four Plays or Moral Representations in One,’ first printed in the 1647 folio, is an early work. Mr. Fleay adduces some arguments (Englische Studien, ix. 14) to show that it was brought out as early as 1608. The Induction and the first two pieces, the ‘Triumph of Honour’ and the ‘Triumph of Love,’ are usually and with probability ascribed to Beaumont, and the last two, the ‘Triumph of Death’ and the ‘Triumph of Time,’ to Fletcher.
The ‘Knight of the Burning Pestle,’ written in ridicule of such extravagant plays as Heywood's ‘Four Prentices of London,’ was published anonymously in 1613, 4to. W. B[urre] the publisher, in a dedicatory epistle to Robert Keysar, states that he ‘had fostered it privately in his bosom these two years,’ and that it was the elder of Don Quixote (i. e. Shelton's translation, which appeared in 1612) ‘above a year.’ Hence the date of composition cannot be later than 1611. From the same epistle we learn that the play was written in eight days and that it was not successful on the stage. It is probable that Beaumont had but slight help from Fletcher in this drollest and most delightful of burlesques, for Fletcher nowhere shows any inclinations towards the mock-heroic. At its revival in 1635 the ‘Knight of the Burning Pestle’ was received with great applause, as Brome testifies in the ‘Sparagus Garden;’ and it was occasionally acted after the Restoration.
‘Cupid's Revenge’ was published in 1615 as the work of Fletcher, but from internal evidence it is clear that Beaumont was concerned in the authorship. The colloquy between Bacha and Leucippus in act iii. scene 2 is in Beaumont's most strenuous manner; and in the second act his hand can be clearly traced. Mr. Robert Boyle (Englische Studien, viii. 39) detects the presence of a third author, and Mr. Fleay supposes that this third author was Nathaniel Field [q. v.] The play was acted by the children of Her Majesty's Revels at Whitefriars in January 1611–12. For the groundwork of the plot the playwrights were indebted to Sidney's ‘Arcadia.’
The ‘Coxcomb,’ first printed in the 1647 folio, was acted in 1612–13, and may have been produced earlier. The underplot, relating to Viola, may be attributed to Beaumont; but in other parts of the play we are more frequently reminded of William Rowley than of Beaumont or Fletcher. It is a somewhat unpleasing play. The ‘Captain,’ 1647, was composed some time before 20 May 1613, when Hemings and his company were paid for representing it at court. No portion can be definitely assigned to Beaumont; but Fletcher certainly had assistance from some quarter. Mr. Fleay suggests that ‘Jonson worked with Fletcher on the original play.’ There are occasional traces of Middleton's hand. The most powerful and most repulsive scene, act iv. sc. 5, cannot be ascribed to Fletcher, although he probably supplied the song ‘Come hither you that love.’
In honour of the marriage of the Count Palatine with the Princess Elizabeth, February 1612–13, Beaumont composed the ‘Masque of the Inner Temple and Grayes Inne,’ n. d., 4to, which was dedicated to Sir Francis Bacon. The songs are of rare beauty.
The ‘Honest Man's Fortune,’ 1647, was performed in 1613. In the Dyce Library is preserved the manuscript copy which was licensed in 1624 by Sir Henry Herbert for the king's company. It is entitled ‘The Honest Mans Fortune, plaide in the yeare 1613.’ The fifth act is plainly by Fletcher, and Mr. Boyle has given excellent reasons for ascribing the third act, or part of it, to Massinger. Mr. Fleay's suggestion that the fourth act (with perhaps part of the third) belongs to Field is very plausible. Acts i. and ii. are by some other playwright. Appended to the play is a curious copy of verses ‘Upon an Honest Man's Fortune. By Master John Fletcher.’ Not a trace of Beaumont's hand can be found in this comedy. Nor can any part of the ‘Knight of Malta,’ 1647, produced before Burbage's death (March 1618–1619), be safely assigned to Beaumont. Mr. Macaulay (A Study of Francis Beaumont, p. 196) gives the fifth act to him; but the poverty of the lyrical passages affords sufficient evidence that he was not the author. Three scenes (iii. 2, 3, iv. 1) are shown by Mr. Boyle to belong to Massinger, and to these may be added part of another (v. 2). The second act, which contains the strongest writing in the play, is wholly by Fletcher, who also contributed iii. 1. Some other dramatist wrote the first act and part of the fifth. No portions of ‘Thierry and Theodoret,’ published in 1621 and written probably about 1616, can be confidently given to Beaumont. The most impressive scene (iv. 1), in which Ordella declares her readiness to lay down her life for her husband, is unmistakably Fletcher's. In depicting womanly heroism Fletcher always overshoots the mark; when he essays to be profoundly pathetic he becomes sentimental. Massinger largely assisted him in this play, but the third act appears to be by some unknown author. ‘Wit at Several Weapons,’ 1647, produced about 1614, is a merry comedy of intrigue, and the scene is laid in London. In reading it we are strongly reminded of Middleton's town-comedies, or of the mixed work of Middleton and Rowley.
Beaumont died 6 March 1615–16, and appears to have given up dramatic work as early as 1614. Dyce printed from Harleian MS. 6057, fol. 34, some lines, ‘Come, sorrow, come,’ signed ‘I. F.,’ that may have been written by Fletcher on the occasion of Beaumont's death. Aubrey states, on the authority of Earle, that Beaumont's ‘main businesse was to correct the overflowings of Mr. Fletcher's witte,’ and Dryden declares that Beaumont was ‘so accurate a judge of plays’ that Ben Jonson ‘submitted all his writings to his censure.’ Little weight can be attached to these statements; but the stage tradition, that Beaumont was superior in judgment to Fletcher, is supported by sound criticism. In the most important plays that they wrote together Beaumont's share outweighs Fletcher's, both in quantity and quality. Beaumont had the firmer hand and statelier manner; his diction was more solid; there was a richer music in his verse. Fletcher excelled as a master of brilliant dialogue and sprightly repartee. In the management of his plots and in the development of his characters he was careless and inconsistent. But in his comedies the unceasing liveliness and bustle atone for structural defects; and in tragedy his copious command of splendid declamation reconciles us to the absence of rarer qualities. Fletcher's metrical characteristics are strongly marked. He sought by various devices to give greater freedom to the movement of blank verse. Thus he introduces redundant syllables in all parts of the line, and he is particularly fond of ending the line with an emphatic extra monosyllable, a practice in which he stands alone. Having introduced so much freedom into his blank verse, he was able to dispense almost entirely with the use of prose. Fletcher's verse, however, becomes monotonous, owing to his habit of pausing at the end of the line; and for tragic purposes it is wanting in solidity. His metrical peculiarities are of importance in helping us to distinguish his work from the work of his coadjutors.
The following fifteen plays may be confidently regarded as Fletcher's unaided compositions. ‘Wit without Money,’ 1639, 4to, was produced (as appears from a reference to the ‘dragons in Sussex,’ ii. 4) not earlier than August 1614. Langbaine says that he had often seen this comedy acted ‘at the Old House in little Lincoln's-Inn-Fields with very great applause.’ In the eighteenth century it was frequently performed at Covent Garden. ‘Bonduca,’ 1647, produced some time before Burbage's death (March 1618–19), presents in the person of Caratach a worthy portrait of a magnanimous soldier; and the frank, fearless boy Hengo, nephew of Caratach, is sketched with loving tenderness. An alteration of ‘Bonduca’ was produced and published in 1696; another, by the elder Colman, was acted at the Haymarket and published in 1778; a third, by J. R. Planché (entitled ‘Caractacus’), was performed at Drury Lane in 1837. ‘Valentinian,’ 1647, also produced before March 1618–19, displays to good effect Fletcher's command of dramatic rhetoric. It would be hard to overrate the delightful songs. A wretched alteration by the Earl of Rochester was printed in 1685. The ‘Loyal Subject,’ 1647, was licensed for the stage 16 Nov. 1618. Archas, the ‘loyal subject,’ in his submission (under the most severe provocations) to kingly authority, surpasses even Aecius in ‘Valentinian.’ The play was performed at Whitehall 10 Dec. 1633, and Sir Henry Herbert records that it was ‘very well likt by the king.’ The ‘Mad Lover,’ 1647, produced before March 1618–19, is a strangely grotesque piece of work, but it held the stage both before and after the Restoration. The ‘Humorous Lieutenant,’ 1647, is of uncertain date; but as Burbage's name is not found in the list of ‘principal actors,’ we may infer that the date of production is later than March 1618–19. In the Dyce Library is preserved a manuscript copy, dated 1625, with the title ‘Demetrius and Enanthe, a pleasant comedie, written by John Fletcher, Gent.,’ differing somewhat from the printed comedy; it was edited by Dyce in 1830. ‘Women Pleased,’ 1647, was probably produced about 1620. The most entertaining personage in this well-ordered play is the hungry serving-man, Penurio. Fletcher was indebted for his plot to three stories of Boccaccio's ‘Decameron,’ and to Chaucer's ‘Wif of Bathes Tale.’ From Sir Henry Herbert's ‘Office-Book’ it appears that three of Fletcher's plays were presented at court in 1621—the ‘Island Princess,’ 1647, the ‘Pilgrim,’ 1647, and the ‘Wildgoose-Chase,’ 1652. The first, which is of slender merit, was revived with alterations in 1669; again in 1687, with alterations by Nahum Tate; and in 1699 the play was turned into an opera by Motteux, the music being composed by Daniel Purcell, Clarke, and Leveridge. The ‘Pilgrim’ is of far more interest. Coleridge declared that ‘this play holds the first place in Beaumont and Fletcher's romantic entertainments’ (Remains, ii. 315). An alteration by Sir John Vanbrugh was published in 1700. When Humphrey Moseley brought out the folio of 1647 he was unable to obtain a copy of the ‘Wildgoose-Chase.’ This brilliant comedy was first published in 1652, 4to, ‘Retriv'd for the publick delight of all the Ingenious; and private Benefit of John Lowin and Joseph Taylor, servants to His Late Majestie. By a Person of Honour.’ In a dedicatory epistle Lowin and Taylor observe: ‘The play was of so general a received acceptance that, he himself a spectator, we have known him unconcerned, and to have wished it had been none of his; he, as well as the thronged theatre (in despite of his innate modesty), applauding this rare issue of his brain.’ Commendatory verses by Richard Lovelace and others follow the epistle. The first four acts of Farquhar's ‘Inconstant,’ 1702, are taken from the ‘Wildgoose-Chase.’ ‘Monsieur Thomas,’ probably one of the later works, was first published in 1639, with a dedicatory epistle by Richard Brome to Charles Cotton the elder, and with a copy of verses by Brome in Fletcher's praise. D'Urfey's ‘Trick for Trick,’ 1678, is little more than a revival of ‘Monsieur Thomas.’ The ‘Woman's Prize,’ 1647, was described by Sir Henry Herbert as ‘an ould play’ in 1633. ‘Upon complaints of foule and offensive matters conteyned therein’ he suppressed the performance on 19 Oct. 1633. The players brought the manuscript to him the next day for revision, and he returned it to them, ‘purgd of oathes, prophaness, and ribaldrye,’ on 21 Oct. It was acted before the king and queen 28 Nov., and was ‘very well likt.’ Fletcher wrote the ‘Woman's Prize’ to serve as a sequel to the ‘Taming of the Shrew;’ he lays the scene in England, and represents Petruchio in complete subjection to his second wife, Maria. ‘A Wife for a Month,’ 1647, was licensed by Herbert 27 May 1624. As Nicholas Tooley, who personated one of the principal characters, died in June 1623, this play must have been produced some time before it was licensed. It is a singular and powerful play, but its performance had been discontinued in the time of Langbaine, who mentions it as ‘well worth reviving.’ ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife,’ 1640, was licensed by Herbert 19 Oct. 1624, and performed at court twice in that year. It is among the very best of Fletcher's comedies, and met with great success. In 1759, having undergone some alteration, it was revived by Garrick, and it has been occasionally played in the nineteenth century. The underplot is founded on the eleventh of Cervantes's ‘Novelas Exemplares.’ Davies mentions a somewhat absurd tradition that the character of Cacafogo ‘was intended as a rival to Falstaff’ (Dram. Miscell. ii. 406). The ‘Chances,’ 1647, probably a late work, was deservedly popular. The plot is taken from ‘La Señora Cornelia,’ one of Cervantes's ‘Novelas Exemplares.’ In 1682 an alteration by Villiers, duke of Buckingham, who completely rewrote acts iv. and v., was produced at the theatre in Dorset Gardens; in 1773 Garrick brought out another alteration at Drury Lane; and in 1821 ‘Don John, or the Two Violettas, a musical drama in three acts,’ was played at Covent Garden.
Massinger's hand has been already traced in three plays—the ‘Honest Man's Fortune,’ the ‘Knight of Malta,’ and ‘Thierry and Theodoret,’ but there are many others to which he contributed. Sir Aston Cokaine, in his ‘Epitaph on Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. Philip Massinger’ (Poems, 1662, p. 186), expressly states: ‘Playes they did write together, were great friends.’ In an address ‘To my Cousin Mr. Charles Cotton’ (the elder Cotton) he mentions that Massinger was associated with Fletcher in the authorship of several of the plays published in the 1647 folio. Cokaine also addressed some lines of remonstrance to the publishers of the folio of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, Humphrey Moseley and Humphrey Robinson, saying that
… Beaumont of those many writ in few,
And Massinger in other few.
Although he claims to have been a friend of Massinger, Cokaine's information was derived from the elder Cotton, ‘Fletcher's chief bosome-friend informed me so.’ Shirley, who edited the 1647 folio (or advised the publishers), makes no mention of Massinger in his address to the reader. Humphrey Moseley in a prefatory note states that he had once had the intention of printing Fletcher's works by themselves, ‘because single and alone he would make a just volume;’ but he also is silent on the subject of Massinger. Internal evidence shows clearly that Cokaine was abundantly justified in claiming for Massinger a share in some of the plays printed in the 1647 folio. But Fletcher collaborated with others besides Massinger. Among the ‘Henslowe Papers’ is preserved a letter addressed to Henslowe by Field, Daborne, and Massinger, in which the three playwrights beg for an advance of 5l. to supply their urgent necessities; and to this letter, which was written some time before January 1615–1616, Daborne appends a postscript: ‘The mony shall be abated out of the mony remaynes for the play of Mr. Fletcher and ours’ (the play to which Daborne refers may perhaps be the ‘Honest Man's Fortune’). External and internal evidence agree in attributing to William Rowley a share in some of the dramas that pass as the work of ‘Beaumont and Fletcher;’ and it is certain that others were either altered or completed by James Shirley.
The ‘Queen of Corinth,’ 1647, was produced some time before March 1618–19, as one of the principal characters was personated by Burbage. Fletcher's hand can only be detected in the second act; the first and fifth acts are by Massinger, and the rest of the play appears to be by Middleton and Rowley. The fine tragedy of ‘Sir John Van Olden Barnavelt,’ first printed from manuscript by the present writer (A Collection of Old English Plays, vol. ii.), is unquestionably the joint work of Massinger and Fletcher. It was produced in August 1619, shortly after Barneveldt's execution. Mr. S. L. Lee (Athenæum, 19 Jan. 1884) discovered among the State Papers two letters of Thomas Locke to Carleton, the English ambassador at the Hague. On 14 Aug. 1619 Locke wrote that when the players ‘were bringing of Barnevelt upon the stage’ the Bishop of London at the last moment forbade the performance. On 27 Aug. he announced: ‘Our players have fownd the meanes to go through wth the play of Barnevelt, and it hath had many spectators and received applause.’ Mr. Boyle (Bullen, Old Plays, vol. ii., Appendix) has drawn up an elaborate analysis of the play, assigning to each their respective shares in the composition. To 1619 probably belongs the lost play of the ‘Jeweller of Amsterdam,’ which was entered in the ‘Stationers' Books,’ 8 April 1654, as the work of Fletcher, Field, and Massinger. Mr. Fleay's suggestion that the subject of this play was the murder of John Van Wely is highly probable. The ‘Little French Lawyer,’ 1647, written about 1620, is mainly by Fletcher; but Massinger's hand is seen in the first act, and occasionally in acts iii. and v. The character of La-Writ, which Coleridge declared to be ‘conceived and executed from first to last in genuine comic humour,’ is Fletcher's creation. ‘A Very Woman,’ printed in 1655 as the work of Massinger, was written by Fletcher and revised by Massinger. It is to be identified with a comedy called ‘The Woman's Plot,’ which was acted at court in 1621. On 9 Sept. 1653 it was entered in the ‘Stationers' Register’ by Humphrey Moseley under the title of ‘A Very Woman, or the Woman's Plot,’ as a play of Massinger. It was again entered by Moseley 29 June 1660 under the title of ‘A Right Woman;’ and in the second entry it is ascribed to Beaumont and Fletcher. In its present state it is probably (as Mr. Fleay observes) the version revised by Massinger for representation in 1634. The amusing scene in the slave market (iii. 1), and the still more amusing scene (iii. 5) in which Borachia is overcome by Candy wine, are in Fletcher's raciest manner, and the beautiful colloquy (iv. 1) between Almira and Antonio is in his sweetest vein of romantic tenderness. The ‘Custom of the Country,’ 1647, is mentioned in Sir Henry Herbert's ‘Office-Book,’ 22 Nov. 1628, as an ‘old play.’ Part of the story is taken from the ‘Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda,’ 1619, translated (through the French version) from Cervantes, and part from a novel in Cinthio's ‘Hecatommithi.’ Mr. Boyle adduces good reasons for assigning several scenes of this skilfully conducted play to Massinger; for the grosser portions Fletcher must be held responsible. Colley Cibber's ‘Love makes a Man,’ 1700, and Charles Johnson's ‘Country Lasses,’ 1715, were partly borrowed from this play. The opening scene, modelled on ‘Julius Cæsar’ (ii. 1), of the ‘Double Marriage,’ 1647, composed about 1620, is unquestionably by Massinger; and probably he contributed some scenes in the fourth and fifth acts. The ‘False One,’ 1647, composed about 1620, deals with the fortunes of Julius Cæsar in Egypt. The rhetorical passages are of very high merit, and the Masque of Nilus in the third act is a graceful lyrical interlude. Massinger's contributions are confined to the first and fifth acts. ‘Beggar's Bush,’ 1647, was performed at court at Christmas 1622. Coleridge is reported to have said, ‘I could read it from morning to night; how sylvan and sunshiny it is!’ The scenes in which the woodland life of the beggars is depicted are much in the manner of William Rowley (or Rowley and Middleton, as in the ‘Spanish Gipsy’). Mr. Boyle assigns to Massinger the first act and ‘act ii. sc. 3, act v. sc. 1 and 2 down to line 110;’ but Massinger's share is not clearly marked in this play. ‘Beggar's Bush’ continued to be popular after the Restoration, and three alterations have appeared, the last in 1815 under the title of ‘The Merchant of Bruges,’ when Kean took the part of Flores with success at Drury Lane. The ‘Prophetess,’ 1647, licensed by Sir Henry Herbert 14 May 1622, is an odd jumble of history and supernaturalism. Massinger's share was very considerable. An alteration by Betterton ‘after the manner of an opera,’ with a prologue by Dryden, was produced in 1690. The ‘Sea Voyage,’ 1647, an interesting romantic comedy licensed by Herbert 22 June 1622, is partly modelled, as Dryden observed, on the ‘Tempest.’ A poor alteration by D'Urfey, entitled ‘A Common-Wealth of Women,’ was produced in 1686 and published in the same year. The ‘Elder Brother,’ published in 1637 as a work of Fletcher, was probably revised and completed by Massinger after Fletcher's death. A contemporary manuscript copy (unknown to Dyce) is preserved in Egerton MS. 1994. Colley Cibber formed from the ‘Elder Brother’ and the ‘Custom of the Country’ his ‘Love makes a Man.’ Both the date and the authorship of the powerful tragedy the ‘Bloody Brother’ are uncertain. On the title-page of the first quarto, 1639, it is ascribed to ‘B. J. F.’ (Ben Jonson and Fletcher?); in the second quarto, 1640, ‘John Fletcher, Gent.,’ is given as the author's name. It had been entered in the ‘Stationers' Register,’ 4 Oct. 1639, as the work of ‘J. B.’ Mr. Fleay contends that the date is 1616–17, and that the authors were Fletcher, Massinger, and Field, with the assistance of Jonson in one scene, iv. 2. Mr. Boyle tentatively assigns iv. 1 to Daborne, who was not only incapable of writing it, but had probably retired from the stage and taken holy orders before 1617, its earliest possible date. A plausible view is that the ‘Bloody Brother’ was written in the first instance by Fletcher and Jonson, and that it was revised by Massinger on the occasion of its revival at Hampton Court in January 1636–7. It was one of the plays surreptitiously acted at the Cockpit in 1648; during the performance a party of foot-soldiers beset the house and carried off the actors in their stage habiliments to prison. After the Restoration it was very popular. The ‘Lovers' Progress,’ 1647, is a play of Fletcher's with large alterations by Massinger; the plot is taken from D'Audiguier's ‘Histoire Tragi-comique de notre temps,’ 1615. In the prologue the reviser, with the modesty for which Massinger was distinguished, declares himself to be
ambitious that it should be known
What's good was Fletcher's and what ill his own.
This play is unquestionably a revised version of the ‘Wandering Lovers,’ a play licensed 6 Dec. 1623, and may be identified with the ‘Tragedy of Cleander’ (ascribed to Massinger), which was performed at Blackfriars 7 May 1634. A play called ‘The Wandering Lovers, or the Picture,’ was entered in the ‘Stationers' Register,’ 9 Sept. 1653, as a work of Massinger. In spite of the puzzling after-title the entry probably refers to the ‘Lovers' Progress.’ The ‘Spanish Curate,’ 1647, was licensed 24 Oct. 1622. Both plot and under-plot are taken from a Spanish romance (of Gonçalo de Cespides), which had been translated into English by Leonard Digges under the title of ‘Gerardo the Unfortunate Spaniard,’ 1622. The excellent comic scenes are Fletcher's, but the more serious portions of the play belong to Massinger. In the preface to his alteration of ‘Philaster,’ 1763, the elder Colman states that the ‘Spanish Curate’ had been recently revived without success. An alteration was acted at Covent Garden in 1840. ‘Love's Pilgrimage,’ 1647, a romantic comedy of high merit, appears to be almost entirely by Fletcher. In the first act are found some passages that occur, with slight alterations, in Ben Jonson's ‘New Inn,’ published in 1629. Weber's explanation, which Dyce accepted, is that Shirley introduced these passages when he revised Fletcher's play. Mr. Fleay is of opinion that ‘Love's Pilgrimage’ was written as early as 1612, and that Ben Jonson was the borrower. He urges that the disputed passages are ‘distinctly Fletcher's in style and metre;’ but this is a very bold assertion, for nothing could be more Jonsonian than Colonel Tipto's elaborate enumeration of his various articles of finery (New Inn, ii. 2; Love's Pilgrimage, i. 1). Nor is it possible to accept Mr. Fleay's identification of ‘Love's Pilgrimage’ with the lost play ‘Cardema’ or ‘Cardano,’ acted in 1613. The story of ‘Love's Pilgrimage’ is taken from ‘Las dos Doncellas,’ one of the ‘Novelas Exemplares’ of Cervantes. ‘Love's Cure,’ 1647, has an allusion to the Russian ambassador who was in England in 1622; and there are references to the renewal of the war between Spain and Holland, and to ‘the miraculous maid in Flanders’ who ‘lived three year without any other sustenance than the smell of a rose.’ The date would seem to be about 1623, and the play is probably by Massinger and Middleton. Mr. Fleay fixes 1608 as the date of the original production, and contends that ‘Love's Cure’ is an alteration by Massinger of a play by Beaumont and Fletcher. The ‘Nice Valour, or the Passionate Madman,’ 1647, is an amusingly eccentric comedy. In v. 3 mention is made of a prose-tract that was not published until 1624, but the original play may have been written earlier. Mr. Fleay suggests that much of the play was rewritten by Middleton. The verbal quibbles are strongly suggestive of Middleton, and the poetry is frequently in his manner. To this play belongs the beautiful song ‘Hence all you vain delights,’ which gave Milton hints for ‘Il Penseroso.’ In a contemporary commonplace-book preserved among the Malone MSS. the song is ascribed to William Strode; but Fletcher's claim to this and the other songs in the ‘Nice Valour’ cannot be seriously disputed. Fletcher's hand can hardly be traced in the ‘Laws of Candy,’ 1647, which is largely by Massinger. The principal plot is taken from the ninth novel of the tenth decade of Cinthio's ‘Hecatommithi.’ The ‘Fair Maid of the Inn,’ 1647, licensed for the stage 22 Jan. 1625–6, was brought out after Fletcher's death. Only a small portion can be assigned to Fletcher; the chief contributors seem to have been Rowley and Massinger. Part of the story is drawn from ‘La Ilustre Fregona,’ one of Cervantes's ‘Novelas Exemplares.’ From Sir Henry Herbert's ‘Office-Book’ it appears that the ‘Maid in the Mill,’ licensed 29 Aug. 1623, and acted three times at court in that year, was a joint work of Rowley and Fletcher. The plot is taken partly from Gonçalo de Cespides's ‘Gerardo,’ and partly from a novel of Bandello. To Fletcher may be safely assigned the whole of the first act, part of the third, and the early part of v. 2 (scene between Otrante and Florimel). The ‘Night-Walker, or the Litte Thief,’ was published in 1640 as the work of John Fletcher. Herbert's ‘Office-Book’ shows that this comedy was ‘corrected’ by Shirley in 1633. We learn from the same source that it was acted at court before the king and queen in January 1633–4, and was ‘likt as a merry play.’ Langbaine says that he had seen it acted by the king's servants with great applause both in town and country. Weber plausibly conjectured that the ‘Night-Walker’ is an alteration by Shirley of Fletcher's ‘Devil of Dowgate, or Usury put to Use,’ mentioned by Sir Henry Herbert as ‘a new play’ in October 1623. The ‘Coronation,’ printed in 1640 as a work of Fletcher, was licensed in February 1634–5 as written by Shirley, who in 1652 claimed it in a list of his plays appended to the ‘Cardinal.’ There is no reason for supposing that Fletcher had any hand in it. The ‘Noble Gentleman,’ 1647, was licensed on 3 Feb. 1625–6. It is impossible to assign to Fletcher any portions of this poor play. Still worse is the ‘Faithful Friends,’ which was entered in the ‘Stationers' Register,’ 29 June 1660, as a work of Beaumont and Fletcher. Weber printed it in 1812 from a manuscript which is now preserved in the Dyce Library.
The ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ is stated on the title-page of the first edition, 1634, to have been written by Fletcher and Shakespeare. It is difficult to ascribe to Shakespeare any share in the conduct of the plot, but it is infinitely more difficult to conceive that any other hand wrote the first scene (with the opening song), Arcite's invocation to Mars (v. 1), and the description of the accident that resulted in Arcite's death (v. 4). Outside Shakespeare's later plays there is nothing that can be compared with these passages. To Fletcher belong acts ii., iii. (with the exception of the first scene), iv., and v. 2. Mr. Boyle has shown that Massinger had a hand in the ‘Two Noble Kinsmen,’ and some of the Shakespearean portions have suffered from Massinger's interpolations. There is no reason for supposing that Shakespeare and Fletcher worked together on this play. Shakespeare's contributions may have been written (towards the close of his career) for a revival of the old play of ‘Palamon and Arsett,’ mentioned by Henslowe in 1594, and these ‘additions’ may have come into the hands of Fletcher and Massinger after Shakespeare's death.
It is generally agreed that Fletcher was largely concerned in the authorship of ‘Henry VIII.’ That play in its present state appears to be in the main a joint production of Fletcher and Massinger, composed about 1617, some Shakespearean passages (notably the trial-scene of Catherine) having been incorporated. Wolsey's famous soliloquy, ‘So farewell to the little good you bear me’ (iii. 2), and his parting words to Cromwell, may be safely attributed to Fletcher, who must also be held responsible for Cranmer's somewhat fulsome prophecy at the close of the play. The ‘History of Cardenio,’ entered by Humphrey Moseley in the ‘Stationers' Register,’ 9 Sept. 1653, as a joint work of Fletcher and Shakespeare, is to be identified with the lost play ‘Cardano’ or ‘Cardema,’ acted at court in 1613. Late seventeenth-century entries in the ‘Stationers' Register’ carry no authority so far as Shakespeare is concerned.
A comedy, the ‘Widow,’ composed about 1616, was printed in 1652 as the work of Jonson, Fletcher, and Middleton. It was attributed to the three dramatists on the authority of the actor Alexander Gough, but appears to belong wholly to Middleton.
Fletcher was buried on 29 Aug. 1625 at St. Saviour's, Southwark. ‘In the great plague, 1625,’ says Aubrey (Letters written by Eminent Persons, vol. ii. pt. i. p. 352), ‘a knight of Norfolk or Suffolk invited him into the countrey. He stayed but to make himself a suite of cloathes, and while it was makeing fell sick of the plague and died. This I had from his tayler, who is now a very old man, and clarke of St. Mary Overy's.’ Sir Aston Cokaine, in his ‘Epitaph on Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. Philip Massinger,’ wrote that Fletcher and Massinger were buried in the same grave. Dyce supposed that ‘the same grave’ means nothing more than ‘the same place of interment,’ but there is no reason why the words should not be accepted in their literal sense.
Fletcher is seen at his best in his comedies. Few poets have been endowed with a larger share of wit and fancy, freshness and variety. Such plays as the ‘Wildgoose-Chase’ and ‘Monsieur Thomas’ are a feast of mirth from beginning to end. The ‘Faithful Shepherdess’ is (not excepting Ben Jonson's ‘Sad Shepherd’) the sweetest of English pastoral plays; and some of the songs scattered in profusion through Fletcher's works are hardly surpassed by Shakespeare. In tragedy he does not rank with the highest. ‘Bonduca’ and ‘Valentinian’ are impressive works, but inferior to the tragedies that he wrote with Beaumont, the ‘Maid's Tragedy’ and ‘A King and No King.’
Beaumont and Fletcher's plays were collected in 1647, fol., prefaced by various copies of commendatory verses; and a fuller collection appeared in 1679, fol. An edition in 10 vols., commenced by Theobald and completed by Seward and Sympson, was published in 1750; another, under the general editorship of the elder Colman, appeared in 1778, 12 vols.; an edition by Weber in 14 vols. followed in 1812; and in 1840 George Darley wrote an introduction to the 2-vol. edition. The latest, and by far the best, edition is that of Alexander Dyce, 11 vols. 1843–6.[Dyce has collected the scanty material for Fletcher's biography in the memoir prefixed to vol. i. of his edition of Beaumont and Fletcher; and his prefatory remarks before the various plays supply full bibliographical and other details. Mr. Fleay in his Shakspere Manual, which must be regarded as a tentative essay, and in papers contributed to the New Shakspere Society's Transactions, has rendered very valuable aid towards distinguishing Fletcher's work from the work of Beaumont and others. His paper on the chronology of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays in the ninth volume of Englische Studien deserves attention. Mr. Robert Boyle's investigations in Englische Studien, and in the Transactions of the New Shakspere Society, are particularly important for the light they throw on Fletcher's connection with Massinger. Mr. Macaulay's Study of Francis Beaumont, 1883, is brightly written.]