It is hard today to realize that John Fletcher, the playwright who succeeded William Shakespeare* as chief dramatist to the King's Men, was once thought to be as great as or greater than his incomparable predecessor. In truth, Fletcher's greatest gift as a dramatist was his unerring sense of the apt social topic and moment in his drama. His tragedies Bonduca and Valentinian and his satirical tragicomedies with Francis Beaumont,* such as Philaster, explore the capri-ciousness of power and its corrupting influence, offering figures who comment upon the court of King James* and its sensibilities. His conscious development of the mixed genre tragicomedy is his most enduring contribution to English dramatic theory and practice. His play The Faithful Shepherdess, a pastoral tragicomedy, announces both its function as a tragicomedy and the playwright's right to determine the role and function of his art.
John Fletcher, born at Rye, England, on 20 December 1579, was not a stranger to controversy or public disregard, whence no doubt his instinct for political drama. His father, Richard, served as bishop of London until his second marriage caused him to lose favor with the queen and leave his family in penury when he died shortly thereafter. The playwright, who was at Cambridge Uni­versity from his matriculation in 1591 and was intended perhaps for a religious vocation, took a different direction somewhere between his arrival at the uni­versity and 1606, when The Woman Hater, the first work of his extensive canon, was written. His associations during that time brought him into the acquaintance of Francis Beaumont, with whom he collaborated on that first play. According to a famous passage by John Aubrey, the two young dramatists formed an intense bond altered only upon Beaumont's marriage in 1613. The two "lived together on the Banke side and...lay together; had one wench in the house between them . . . the same cloathes and cloak, etc, between them." Together in those first six years of Fletcher's career they produced, either individually or in collaboration, thirteen plays.
Fletcher's output continued to be prolific. The first folio of his works (1647) contains thirty-four plays, the second (1679) eighteen, including works Fletcher wrote on his own, many of his plays with Beaumont, and others done with Philip Massinger, his most extensive collaborator. He collaborated as well with Shakespeare (The Two Noble Kinsmen and All Is True, or Henry VIII), whose company he joined following Beaumont's retirement and death. According to legend, he died of the plague in 1625 while waiting in London for the delivery of a suit.
P. Finkelpearl, Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, 1990.
C. Leech, The John Fletcher Plays, 1962.
G. McMullan, The Politics of Unease in the Plays of John Fletcher, 1994.
Robin Farabaugh

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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