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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

§ 7. Features assignable to Beaumont

In the plays which there is good reason to attribute partly or entirely to Beaumont, characteristics of style appear that are quite different from those which we have noticed in Fletcher’s work. We find here a type of verse which rather resembles that of Shakespeare’s middle period, with a small proportion of double endings, few redundant syllables in other parts of the verse, no marked tendency to pause at the end of the line, but a measured eloquence, and a certain rounded fulness of rhythm, which lend themselves well to poetical narrative and description. With this, there are tolerably frequent instances of occasional rime at the end of speeches and, also, elsewhere, and a free use of prose as the language of ordinary conversation. In verse passages, instead of a succession of short sentences, we notice a tendency, rather, to complex structure, and to enlargement by repetition or parenthesis, though without any failure in lucidity, and usually with a faultless balance of clauses. Such sentence and verse structure as we have in the following passage is quite alien to Fletcher’s style:

  • It were a fitter hour for me to laugh,
  • When at the altar the religious priest
  • Were pacifying the offended powers
  • With sacrifice, than now. This should have been
  • My rite, and all your hands have been employ’d
  • In giving me a spotless offering,
  • To young Amintor’s bed, as we are now
  • For you. Pardon, Evadne; ’would my worth
  • Were great as yours, or that the king, or he,
  • Or both, thought so! perhaps he found me worthless:
  • But till he did so, in these ears of mine
  • These credulous ears, he pour’d the sweetest words
  • That art or love could frame.
  • In addition to the more external marks of style, we note in these plays a feature which is hardly to be found in any of Fletcher’s admitted work, namely, the element of burlesque or mock-heroic. The Woman Hater, which abounds in this form of humour, is now generally assigned to Beaumont alone, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle is admitted to be either entirely, or almost entirely, his.

    Apart from these, the dramas which, upon critical grounds, can, with confidence, be attributed to the joint authorship of Beaumont and Fletcher are the following: The Scornful Ladie, Philaster, The Maides Tragedy, A King and no King, Cupid’s Revenge, The Coxcombe and Four Plays in One. A few others, as Wit At severall Weapons, The Nice Valour, Loves Cure and The Little French Lawyer, have been assigned partly to Beaumont, not so much on the evidence of style, as because it has been thought that, in their original form, they date from a time when Beaumont and Fletcher were working in partnership. But the assumption of an early date for these plays is extremely doubtful, and, even if this were admitted, it would not follow that the attribution of part authorship to Beaumont was correct.

    From the above list, the superiority of Beaumont’s genius in “tragedy”, that is to say, drama upon the tragic level of seriousness, is apparent, for it includes the three most celebrated plays of this kind in the whole series. And, when we come to examine these plays more closely, we find reason to believe that the principal part in them was decisively taken by the younger writer. The plotting and construction of Philaster, The Maides Tragedy and A King and no King in spite of obvious faults, show a firmer hand than is visible in any of Fletcher’s later work, and it is significant that no source has been found for the plots of any one of these three plays, which, not improbably, are of the authors’ own invention. In the essential feature of artistic unity, they suggest the work of the young dramatist who, according to tradition, was consulted by Jonson about his plots, and it seems probable that, in constructive faculty at least, Beaumont was markedly superior to his colleague. Beaumont shows much the same liking for romantic incidents which we find in Fletcher, and sometimes gives a happy solution of an otherwise tragic plot; but he has far more intensity of conception, and in some of his work this is combined with an effective use of tragic irony, such as we do not find in Fletcher’s more loosely constructed drama. His characters, too, are more original and striking, and it seems probable that the remarkable creations of Evadne and Arbaces are to be attributed chiefly to Beaumont. Of the more ordinary characters, certain particular types seem to belong especially to him, the love-lorn maiden, for example, as exemplified by Euphrasia in Philaster and by Aspatia in The Maides Tragedy and the poetical and romantic young man, as shown in the persons of Philaster and Amintor. Fletcher’s heroines, however deep in love, are less poetical, more full of resource and less pure-minded than Beaumont’s maidens; while his young men have more of the fashionable gentleman and less of the idealist than these rather sentimental heroes. A peculiar vein of tenderness and delicacy marks some of Beaumont’s delineations of lovers in the less exalted sphere, as the Gerrard and Violante of The Triumph of Love, and the Ricardo and Viola of The Coxcombe. Beaumont, as has been already observed, shows a more distinct affinity than Fletcher with the older Elizabethan school. In pure comedy, Jonson is his master; but, even here, the imitation of Shakespeare is frequent, and still more so in Philaster, which has many points of contact with Hamlet and with Cymbeline, the latter of which was produced, perhaps, in the same year. Fletcher, also, has imitations of Shakespeare; but they are neither so numerous nor so close as those of his partner.