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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

§ 9. Excellence of Fletcher’s stage effects

Fletcher excelled as a master of immediate stage effect, and none know better how to compensate for the want of higher artistic aims by variety of characters, and by a lively succession of incidents and actions, which leave the spectator no time to reflect upon the effect of the whole. His aim was to keep his audience well entertained, and he was often content to produce a series of effective situations, with no true principle of unity. Langbaine says,

  • I have either read or been informed that it was generally Mr. Fletcher’s practice, after he had finished three acts of a play, to show them to the actors, and after they had agreed upon terms, he huddled up the two last without that proper care which was requisite.
  • The statement is either true or well invented; and, if true, it would account for the phenomena observed in such plays as The Custome of the Countrey and The Pilgrim Fletcher’s almost regular practice was to take two separate stories, so that the play might not be deficient in persons and incidents, and to work them out side by side, establishing such links between them as he conveniently could, but often leaving them without vital connection. The desire for immediate effect leads to the frequent use of surprises in the development of the plot, and the introduction of incidents for which no due preparation has been made. Hence, also, a too great fondness for violent situations, and for the representation of extreme physical agony, as in Valentinian and A Wife for a Month. Naturally, stage conventions were utilised by such a dramatist in every possible manner, and a considerable part is played by sudden change of feeling, including violent and irresistible love, and dramatically unjustifiable conversion of character.