Authors: John Fletcher

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works


The Woman’s Prize: Or, The Tamer Tamed, pr. c. 1604

The Woman Hater, pr. c. 1606 (with Francis Beaumont)

The Faithful Shepherdess, pr. c. 1608-1609

The Coxcomb, pr. 1608-1610 (with Beaumont)

Philaster: Or, Love Lies A-Bleeding, pr. c. 1609 (with Beaumont)

The Captain, pr. c. 1609-1612 (with Beaumont)

Bonduca, pr. 1609-1614

Valentinian, pr. 1610-1614

Monsieur Thomas, pr. 1610-1616

The Maid’s Tragedy, pr. 1610-1611 (with Beaumont)

A King and No King, pr. 1611 (with Beaumont)

The Night Walker: Or, The Little Thief, pr. c. 1611

Cupid’s Revenge, pr. 1612 (with Beaumont)

Four Plays, or Moral Representations, in One, pr. c. 1612 (with Beaumont; commonly known as Four Plays in One)

The Two Noble Kinsmen, pr. c. 1612-1613 (with William Shakespeare)

The Masque of the Inner Temple and Grayes Inn, pr., pb. 1613 (masque; with Beaumont)

Henry VIII, pr. 1613 (with Shakespeare)

Wit Without Money, pr. c. 1614

The Scornful Lady, pr. 1615-1616 (with Beaumont)

The Nice Valour: Or, The Passionate Madman, pr. 1616(?)

The Mad Lover, pr. c. 1616

Love’s Pilgrimage, pr. 1616(?)

The Queen of Corinth, pr. 1616-1617

The Knight of Malta, pr. 1616-1618

The Tragedy of Thierry, King of France, and His Brother Theodoret, pr. 1617(?) (with Beaumont; commonly known as Thierry and Theodoret)

The Chances, pr. c. 1617

The Loyal Subject, pr. 1618

Sir John van Olden Barnavelt, pr. 1619 (with Philip Massinger)

The Humourous Lieutenant, pr. 1619

The Custom of the Country, pr. c. 1619-1620 (with Massinger)

The Little French Lawyer, pr. 1619-1623 (with Massinger)

Women Pleased, wr. 1619-1623, pb. 1647

The Island Princess: Or, The Generous Portugal, pr. 1619-1621

The False One, pr. c. 1620 (with Massinger)

The Double Marriage, pr. c. 1621 (with Massinger)

The Wild-Goose Chase, pr. 1621

The Pilgrim, pr. 1621

The Beggars’ Bush, pr. c. 1622 (with Massinger)

The Prophetess, pr. 1622 (with Massinger)

The Sea Voyage, pr. 1622

The Spanish Curate, pr. 1622 (with Massinger)

The Maid in the Mill, pr. 1623 (with William Rowley)

The Lover’s Progress, pr. 1623 (revised by Massinger, 1634)

A Wife for a Month, pr. 1624

Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, pr. 1624

The Elder Brother, pr. 1625 (with Massinger)

The Fair Maid of the Inn, pr. 1626 (with Massinger?)

Wit at Several Weapons, pb. 1647 (with Beaumont?)

The Works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, pb. 1905-1912 (10 volumes)

The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, pb. 1966-1996 (10 volumes, Fredson Bowers, editor)


John Fletcher, the fourth son of Richard Fletcher, who rose through the ecclesiastical ranks by the grace of Queen Elizabeth I, initially followed in his father’s footsteps, beginning studies as a pensioner at Benét College, Cambridge, in 1591. Richard, who became bishop of London in 1595, fell from the queen’s grace after his hasty second marriage that year. His death in 1596 left his family severely in debt, and John Fletcher was too junior in the family to inherit any of the few assets. Little is known of his life between his father’s death and the mid-1600’s. The premiere of the first play he wrote alone, The Faithful Shepherdess, heralded Fletcher’s trademark use of the eleven-syllable line with a so-called feminine, or unaccented, ending. Although the title character is the wholesome Clorin, it is the licentious but clever Cloe, the first of Fletcher’s “clever maidens in love,” who with her pursuit of the chaste Daphnis enthralls or enrages audiences.{$I[AN]9810000659}{$I[A]Fletcher, John}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Fletcher, John}{$I[tim]1579;Fletcher, John}

John Fletcher

(Library of Congress)

The 1609 quarto of this play sets forth Fletcher’s definition of the then-new form of theater that describes much of his work.

[A] tragi-comedy is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants death, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy . . . so that a god is lawful in this as in a tragedy, and mean people as in a comedy.

Fletcher’s other early works were collaborations with Francis Beaumont, the son of a judge. The first evidence of their collaboration is revisions made by Fletcher to Beaumont’s The Woman Hater. Their earliest collaborations were staged by Paul’s Boys, a company of child actors, and by the Children of the Queen’s Revels at the Blackfriars Theatre. While at the Blackfriars, they came to the attention of the King’s Men. The pair continued to write for the Children of the Queen’s Revels, but Fletcher also began a fruitful relationship with William Shakespeare’s troupe.

The three major Beaumont and Fletcher dramas–Philaster: Or, Love Lies A-Bleeding, The Maid’s Tragedy, and A King and No King–are clearly joint efforts, in which most of the masques and moments of pure lyricism are certainly Fletcher’s. The three plays are notable also in challenging the idea of the divine right of kings, the touchstone of James I’s rule in England.

Soon thereafter Fletcher contracted to write exclusively for the King’s Men–one of only eight playwrights in that era so honored by any company. Bonduca, his first solo work for them, firmly established Fletcher as Shakespeare’s heir apparent. That play and Valentinian, also for the King’s Men, mark the high points of Fletcher’s solo dramas.

It was around that time that Fletcher and Shakespeare collaborated in a play titled Cardenio which was acted at court around Christmas of 1612, but whose text has been lost. The Two Noble Kinsmen is the only extant play on which the two definitely collaborated.

Fletcher’s influence on Shakespeare is apparent in Henry VIII. Because the duke of Buckingham’s farewell scene, for example, clearly evokes Fletcher’s style, poets and scholars, starting with Alfred, Lord Tennyson, have suggested that the play was a collaboration; however, Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623), compiled by two of the King’s Men, includes the play without mentioning Fletcher.

Fletcher succeeded Shakespeare as chief dramatist of the King’s Men around 1613, a position he held until his untimely death in the plague of 1625. His primary collaborator from 1616 on was another nobly born playwright, Philip Massinger. The highlight of their collaborations is The Custom of the Country, a bawdy comedy in which, as with The Faithful Shepherdess, chastity carries the day for reasons unknown. The play is graced with the lecherous Hippolyta, a more complex and mature theatrical rendering of Cloe, and makes clear that the “rights” of the ruler, no matter how extensive, do not include intrusion into the personal lives of his subjects.

Fletcher’s most notable solo work of those years–and the climax of the themes that run through his work–is A Wife for a Month. Evanthe is Fletcher’s greatest wholesome “clever maiden.” Her spurning of Frederick, acting king of Naples, sets off a chain of sexual and political imbroglios. The play also includes Fletcher’s enchanting masque of Cupid in act 2. Ben Jonson declared that, excepting himself and Shakespeare, only Fletcher and George Chapman could write real masques.

The first Beaumont and Fletcher folio was published in 1647. Only Shakespeare and Ben Jonson also had folios of their works published in that century. John Dryden’s An Essay on Dramatic Poesy (1688) cites Fletcher, Shakespeare, and Jonson as exemplars of the dramatic form. In later ages Fletcher’s reputation was questioned by Algernon Charles Swinburne, who credited Beaumont with writing most of the dramatic scenes in their plays, and many have followed in his path. Those seeking to explain the decline of English drama after the Elizabethan age focused on the tragicomedy as the cause and on Fletcher as that genre’s chief exponent. Some critics considered what John Dryden praised as the “certain gaiety in their comedies, and pathos in their more serious plays” as evidence that Fletcher’s contribution weakened the plays by eschewing elements of the Aristotelian thesis on “dramatic unity.”

Yet Fletcher created a legacy of works, collaborative and solo, that includes more than half a dozen plays that rank with all but the cream of Shakespeare’s work. For his strong-willed, independent female characters alone–from Clorin and Cloe through Hippolyta and Evanthe–Fletcher should be credited as one of the brightest stars of his generation, and certainly as more than simply a pale reflection of his predecessor Shakespeare.

BibliographyAppleton, William W. Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Press, 1969. Appleton analyzes the early collaborations, then proceeds to a critical investigation, unfortunately too brief, of Fletcher’s independent plays and later collaborations. He discusses the influence and critical reputation of Fletcher in the Restoration and in the 1700’s.Clark, Sandra. The Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher: Sexual Themes and Dramatic Representation. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994. Examines gender roles and conventions in the dramatic works of Fletcher and Beaumont.Cone, Mary. Fletcher Without Beaumont: A Study of the Independent Plays of John Fletcher. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1976. An insightful and thorough survey.Finkelpearl, Philip J. Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Considers the plays in connection with the author’s three worlds: the country, the playhouse, and the Mermaid Tavern. Analyzes eight plays in depth for their political relevance. Among the themes discussed are the Anti-Prince, corruption of royal power, and tyrannicide.Frey, Charles H., ed. Shakespeare, Fletcher, and “The Two Noble Kinsmen.” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989. A look at the authorship of The Two Noble Kinsmen, an apparent collaboration of William Shakespeare and Fletcher. Bibliography and index.Gayley, Charles Mills. Beaumont, the Dramatist: A Portrait with Some Account of His Circle, Elizabethan and Jacobean, and of His Association with John Fletcher. 1914. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1969. Provides in-depth biographical background.Gossett, Suzanne. The Influence of the Jacobean Masque on the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. New York: Garland, 1988. An analysis of the Jacobean masque and its influence on the dramas of Beaumont and Fletcher. Bibliography and index.Leech, Clifford. The John Fletcher Plays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962. This good overview of Fletcher’s dramatic production contains separate chapters on the comedies, the tragicomedies, and the tragedies. Leech discusses Fletcher in connection with William Shakespeare and provides an appendix on dates of plays by these two writers plus Ben Jonson and Philip Massinger. The index is too slight.McMullan, Gordon. The Politics of Unease in the Plays of John Fletcher. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. A look at the political and social views held by Fletcher as they manifested themselves in his plays. Bibliography and index.Pearse, Nancy Cotton. John Fletcher’s Chastity Plays: Mirrors of Modesty. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1973. Pearse attempts to defend Fletcher’s aesthetics and morality and to oppose the contention that Francis Beaumont deserves the credit for all the moral quality of their collaborations. Investigates seventeenth century ideas about chastity and concludes that Fletcher creates chaste women who are greatly concerned with marriage and constancy. Not fully convincing to every reader.Squier, Charles L. John Fletcher. Boston: Twayne, 1986. A general study which contains individual chapters on the tragicomedies (where his influence and reputation were greatest), the tragedies (where he had little interest or strength), and the comedies(where his real genius appeared). Includes a section on Fletcher’s critical reputation in the last two centuries and on stylistic idiosyncrasies. Annotated bibliography.Waith, Eugene M. The Pattern of Tragicomedy in Beaumont and Fletcher. Edited by Benjamin Nangle. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1952. Waith believes that patterns began to form in the collaborations by 1608 and were fully developed by 1611 in A King and No King. Identifies eight different elements–ranging from characters to atmosphere–that compose the patterns. This valuable study contains analyses of nine early plays and many later ones. Lengthy index.
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