Places: The Knight of the Burning Pestle

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1613

First produced: 1607

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Early seventeenth century

Places DiscussedStage

Stage. Knight of the Burning Pestle, TheOnly three lines into the Prologue of The London Merchant, a grocer, his wife, and his apprentice climb out of the audience onto the stage, interrupting the performance and transforming the stage from a simple setting for a specific play to what was known in the middle-ages as the “platea”–literally “the place.” The stage becomes everyplace and anyplace as the apprentice Rafe extemporaneously takes on the leading role (playing his master) in the play, which George retitles The Knight of the Burning Pestle.

The stage becomes a liminal space where the play and the play-within-the-play are staged simultaneously. Inspired by tales of knights-errant rescuing damsels in distress, Rafe sets out on a great adventure, traveling to Moldavia. Throughout his travels mention is made that the location changes from scene to scene but as the players are forced to improvise to accommodate Rafe’s character the stage becomes increasingly a site of the here and now as all attention is drawn to the reactions of George and Nell. All the while the “real” audience of Beaumont’s play is aware that George and Nell are actors performing roles and understand that while the play invites the audience to see the stage as a real location in time and space, this too is an illusion; the relationship turns back on itself as the audience understands that all they observe is artifice.

BibliographyAppleton, William E. Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study. Winchester, Mass.: Allen & Unwin, 1956. Discusses the play as a brilliant burlesque whose humaneness makes it unique. Attributes its initial failure on the stage to Beaumont’s misjudging his audience.Beaumont, Francis. The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Edited by Sheldon P. Zitner. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1984. A scholarly edition whose lengthy introduction includes a detailed commentary and a review of the play’s stage history. Discusses the play’s antecedents and innovations.Bradbrook, Muriel C. The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy. London: Chatto & Windus, 1962. A classic study of comic drama from its beginnings at mid-century to 1616, when William Shakespeare died. Many references to Beaumont place his works in the thematic and structural context of the period.Doebler, John. “Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle and the Prodigal Son Plays.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1990 5 (1965): 333-344. An analysis of a key element in the play, showing how Beaumont includes most traditional prodigal son characteristics but not in the same way that his predecessors did.Greenfield, Thelma N. The Induction in Elizabethan Drama. Eugene: University of Oregon Books, 1969. A study of the frame, or play within a play, device in drama of the period. Believes that in The Knight of the Burning Pestle Beaumont demonstrates the most successful use of the technique, particularly as a means of character development.
Categories: Places