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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

§ 15. Qualities of language and style in Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays

It was said by Dryden in An Essay of Dramatick Poesy that in Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays the English language perhaps arrived at its highest perfection; and certainly, for purity of phrase and vocabulary, for simplicity of expression and for absence of conceits and violent metaphors, they present an admirable model both of the more poetical and the more familiar style of dramatic expression. This merit of style was recognised by their contemporaries, especially with regard to Fletcher, as we see from the prologue to The Chances and in compliments such as are addressed to him in the next generation by Berkenhead.

  • No savage metaphors (things rudely great)
  • Thou dost display, nor butcher a conceit:
  • Thy nerves have beauty which invades and charms,
  • Looks like a princess harness’d in bright arms.
  • But the praise must also be shared by Massinger, whose poetical eloquence contributes much to the grace of style which characterises the later romantic plays mentioned in this chapter, and who may be said to have taken the place of Beaumont by Fletcher’s side in this respect, though inferior to him in constructive skill and in power of dramatic presentation. It is probable that the popularity of Beaumont and Fletcher on the stage in the latter part of the century, together with the acceptance of their language by Dryden as a standard of pure English, had more influence than is commonly acknowledged upon the development of English style during that period in the direction of classical simplicity.