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and 1603; and the greater proportion of these were written by two, three, or four poets, in combination. At a later period these copartnerships became less frequent, but they still continued common, till the destruction of the stage, during the civil wars, by the ruling fanatics. 7
The dramatic alliance between Beaumont and Fletcher was, perhaps, originally induced by this universal practice of the age; but the immediate causes which led to it were different and more honourable; not the urgency of providing for their subsistence, but their strict intimacy in private life, the similarity of their disposition and habits, and the wonderful congeniality of their genius. From an expression in Sir William Davenant's prologue, written for a revival of the WomanHater, it may be inferred, with a considerable degree of probability, that Fletcher began to be actively employed in writing for the stage about the year 1605. If he actually wrote as early as 1596, his endeavours were probably insignificant, and confined to a share in some of the
The prevalency of similar alliances among the Spanish dramatists of the seventeenth century has been noticed by the editor on another occasion.-See the Dramatic Works of John Ford, Edinburgh, 1810, 8. vol. I. p. xiv.
dramas of the time, in conjunction with other poets.
The period of the continued partnership between Beaumont and Fletcher does not seem to have commenced till about the year 1608. In 1606, or 1607, Fletcher produced the comedy of the Woman-Hater, without the assistance of his friend. In this play, which was acted by the children of St Paul's, Fletcher followed the footsteps of Ben Jonson, then at the height of his fame, with very considerable success; but, if we may believe the tradition mentioned by Dryden, that our poets produced two or three unsuccessful plays before the appearance of Philaster, the Woman-Hater must have met with a reception similar to that which The Knight of the Burning Pestle and The Faithful Shepherdess subsequently experienced.
Another early composition, which Fletcher wrote before he entered into a regular and continued coalition with Beaumont, is the tragedy of Thierry and Theodoret, which, from the epilogue, seems to have been the first which he furnished for the king's servants, who acted at Blackfriars, and whom, in the sequel, he regularly supplied with dramatic novelties, both in
conjunction with Beaumont, and after the death of the latter, when he depended principally on the exertions of his own unassisted imagination.
The first play, by which the united poets received any extensive reputation, according to a tradition mentioned by Dryden, who lived near enough to the time in which our authors flou-rished to have received authentic information, was Philaster, or Love lies a-bleeding; and Mr Malone has, with considerable probability, conjectured the first appearance of that drama to have taken place in 1608 or 1609. That the audiences of those days should have been blind to the excellencies of the Woman-Hater will not be thought strange, when we reflect that The Faithful Shepherdess and The Silent Woman were condemned at a time when their respective authors were at the full zenith of reputation. But the excellencies of Philaster were so striking, that they could hardly fail to obtain the applause they are so justly entitled to. The account, however, in the quartos, that the play was" divers times acted," is not so flattering as we should have expected; but, it must be recollected, that the inhabitants of the metropolis were at that time familiarised with productions of the first rank from the pens of Shakspeare and
Jonson. Macbeth, Lear, Julius Cæsar, and Volpone, had appeared shortly before, and, though Philaster possesses excellencies little inferior to those of the plays just enumerated, they are not of so prominent and striking a nature. A cir cumstance, which does not seem to have been usual at the time, took place; the present play was performed both at the court-theatre in the Blackfriars, and at the Globe, which was chiefly frequented by the citizens.
We have no account of any plays by our authors having been brought on the stage in the year 1609; but, as there are several which are known to have been written by them conjointly, the dates of which cannot now be ascertained, it is not likely that the year passed without their offering some production to the public. In the year 1610, The Maid's Tragedy is conjectured to have been brought on the stage. The
• Winstanley, whose testimony is unfortunately not of the highest value, relates a well-known anecdote which seems to refer to The Maid's Tragedy. As our poets were planning the plot of one of their tragedies at a tavern, (probably their favourite resort, the Mermaid in Cornhill,) Fletcher was overheard by some of the people of the house, to say, "I'll undertake to kill the king." Information was given of this apparently treasonable design; but the poet's real purpose being explained to have been the murder of a theatrical monarch, he was dismissed without any further troublesome inquiry.
great excellence of that drama ensured it a favourable reception, and, undoubtedly, contributed in no small degree to extend the fame of the poets, who began to be considered as rivals not unworthy to cope with Shakspeare and Ben Jonson. They were, however, not uniformly successful. Either in this, or one of the years immediately preceding, Fletcher brought on the stage his Faithful Shepherdess, a dramatic pastoral, in which he successfully rivalled the delightful productions of Tasso, Guarini, and Bonarelli. The exquisite beauty of the poetry, combined with as much dramatic effect as could be expected from the nature of the piece, induced his literary friends to augur a degree of success equal to that which the Italian poems, just mentioned, had obtained in their own country: but the work was not calculated for the gross appetite of the vulgar; and, like many of the noblest productions of the stage, it suffered a complete condemnation from the audience. This unjust decision roused the indignation of Fletcher's most illustrious literary friends, and they were anxious to express their admiration of the poem, and the indignant sensations of their minds at the treatment it had received.'
Vol. IV. p. 6, et seq.