Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 11. Sources of his plays

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

V. Beaumont and Fletcher

§ 11. Sources of his plays

The stories which Fletcher uses for his plays are, perhaps, never of his own invention. Occasionally, he draws from historical or quasi-historical sources, as in Thierry and Theodoret, Valentinian, Bonduca, The False One, The Island Princesse and The Prophetesse; but he deals with these as with romance. The only example of a drama in which regard is paid to the truth of history is afforded by Barnavelt, which is based upon contemporary events in the Netherlands. He took stories from many various authors, from Bandello (through Painter’s Palace of Pleasure) from the AstrÈe of HonorÈ d’UrfÈ and from d’Audiguier; but the material which suited his genius best was that which he derived directly or indirectly from Spanish sources. To these, he turned comparatively late in his career; but, from the years 1619 onwards, he used them very freely. Among the Spanish stories of which he is known to have made use are Historia de Aurelio y de Ysabela, El EspaÑol Gerardo, no less than three of the Novelas Exemplares of Cervantes, and also his romance of Persiles y Sigismunda. Besides these, very probably, there were others which have not been distinctly identified. The abundance of incident and the lively style of narration in these stories exactly suited Fletcher’s purpose; but, even here, he usually follows his method of combining two stories together, so as to increase the number of characters and the bustle of the action. For the most part, it is evident that French or English translations of these Spanish stories were used by Fletcher in the construction of his plots, and it has been questioned whether he was acquainted with the Spanish language. The contemporary Spanish stage might have supplied him with abundant materials, and its methods in comedy were not very unlike his own; but Spanish plays were not very accessible to English readers; and, though the assumption has frequently been made that the Beaumont and Fletcher plays are partly founded upon Spanish dramas, it is to be noted that this has in no instance been actually shown to be the case. A recent attempt to prove that Loves Cure is taken from a comedy by GuillÈn de Castro can hardly be regarded as successful.