Francis Beaumont Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Francis Beaumont’s life varied significantly from that of the stereotypical Elizabethan playwright, who emerged from the trade class, worked his way through Oxford or Cambridge, and struggled for an insecure living by writing for the stage, the press, and occasional patrons. As the son of a wealthy Leicestershire judge descended from the Norman nobility, Beaumont seems not to have pursued either his education or his writing out of burning ambition or necessity. Entering Broadgates Hall (later Pembroke College), Oxford, at age twelve, Beaumont left a year later, on the death of his father, and never returned to the university. He turned instead to the family profession, law, being admitted to the Inner Temple in 1600, but, again, he did not complete his studies.

During this time, Beaumont became one of the habitués of the London literary scene, befriending such luminaries as Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson. Drayton called Beaumont and his brother John, a poet, “My deare companions whom I freely chose/ My bosome friends,” while the first quarto of Jonson’s Volpone (pr. 1606) includes commendatory verses by one “F. B.,” probably Beaumont. The playwright’s famous association with fellow dramatist John Fletcher began in these years also, with the first of their collaborations occurring about 1606. A bishop’s son, Fletcher shared with Beaumont an aristocratic heritage and Bohemian tastes. According to contemporary chronicler John Aubrey, the friends enjoyed “a wonderful consimility of phansey”: “They lived together on the Banke side, not far from the Playhouse, both batchelors; lay together; had one Wench in the house between them, which they did so admire; the same cloathes and cloake, etc. between them.”

Though immersed in the life of the city, Beaumont remained a member of the gentry, having inherited the family holdings on the death of his elder brother Henry in 1605. A verse letter to Jonson indicates his occasional sojourns at Grace-Dieu throughout his London years. Finally, in 1613, the same year that Shakespeare left London for Stratford, Beaumont ended his collaboration with Fletcher in order to marry Ursula Isley, heiress of Sundridge Hall in Kent, and return to country life. The marriage, which produced two daughters, abruptly ended three years later with Beaumont’s death, on March 6, 1616.

Francis Beaumont Biography (Renaissance Biographies, Revised Edition)

ph_0111204880-Beaumont.jpgFrancis Beaumont Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Early Life

Both Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher were products of the English upper class. The background of Beaumont, who was born in about 1584, was even more aristocratic. As a member of an old Anglo-Norman family, Beaumont was related by blood or marriage to a large portion of the English aristocracy. Many of these aristocratic connections came through his mother, Anne Pierrepoint. His father, a Court of Common Pleas judge and owner of Grace-Dieu Manor, was also named Francis. Francis the playwright was the third son of four children. The families of both Beaumont and Fletcher had a number of poets, including Beaumont’s older brother John and Fletcher’s younger first cousins, the Spenserian poets Phineas and Giles Fletcher.

Thus, the social circle—educated, urbane, and artistic—in which they were reared gave Beaumont and Fletcher a running start as Renaissance playwrights. They grew up with clever, informed talk and, unlike fellow playwright William Shakespeare, did not have to imagine how the upper classes who populated Renaissance drama lived. Their educations were rounded off at Cambridge and Oxford and at the London Inns of Court, England’s law school but also a center of literary and dramatic activity. Beaumont entered Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College), Oxford, in 1597, left without receiving a degree, and enrolled at the Inns of Court in 1600.

Neither Beaumont nor Fletcher completed his legal studies. In Beaumont’s case, the record is uncertain. Possibly he was not interested in law and gradually drifted into literary and dramatic endeavors. Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, an Ovidian narrative poem published anonymously in 1602 and in 1639 attributed to Beaumont, offers some evidence for this possibility. The next sure record, however, is in 1606, when Beaumont and Fletcher were practicing playwrights.

Life’s Work

At first, each of the two playwrights apparently practiced on his own, experiencing the kind of uneven success typical of apprentices. Both wrote for the private theaters, indoor playhouses that drew a more exclusive audience than the outdoor public theaters, and their first plays were acted by boys’ companies, then-popular offshoots of choir schools. Of the early plays attributed solely or mostly to Beaumont, The Woman Hater (c. 1606), a comedy, was fairly successful, but the masterful satire-burlesque The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607) was a flop when it was first performed. An early tragicomedy attributed solely or mostly to Fletcher, The Faithful Shepherdess (c. 1608-1609), was similarly unsuccessful. The two young playwrights might have overestimated the sophistication of their audiences or the child actors.

When and why Beaumont and Fletcher began collaborating are not exactly known, but the two were probably drawn together by similar backgrounds and common ties. As their commendatory verses to Ben Jonson’s Volpone: Or, The Fox (1606) make clear, both were “Sons of Ben.” Johnson’s satirical and critical inclinations undoubtedly influenced the two younger men; both socialized with Jonson’s famous circle at the Mermaid Tavern. In the poem “Mr. Francis Beaumont’s Letter to Ben Jonson,” Beaumont described the circle’s sparkling conversation:

What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid! Heard words that have been
So nimble and so full of subtill flame,
As if that every one from whence they came,
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolv’d to live a foole the rest
Of his dull life . . . .
We left an aire behind us, which alone,
Was able to make the two next companies
Right witty; though but downright fools, more wise.

In this situation, the idea for collaboration was not far off.

Beaumont and Fletcher not only became collaborators but also lived with each other, according to seventeenth century biographer John Aubrey in Brief Lives (1898): “They lived together on the Banke-side, not far from the Play-house, both batchelors; lay together (from Sir James Hales, etc.); had one wench in the house between them, which they did so admire, the same cloaths and cloake, etc., between them.” It is uncertain how much of this colorful bohemian picture can be attributed generally to the Renaissance cult of friendship and specifically to the Castor and Pollux myth that grew up around the “twins of poetry.” As a matter of fact, however, Beaumont and Fletcher do look somewhat like twins in the extant portraits (which might have been created with the myth in mind or might reflect typical idealization); both are depicted as Van Dyck cavalier types with wide poetic eyes, large, slightly aquiline noses, and reddish or light brown hair (curly in some portraits), mustaches, and beards (Beaumont’s...

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Francis Beaumont Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ben Jonson is said to have submitted all of his plays to Francis Beaumont (BOH-muhnt) for his advice before producing them, and John Dryden’s mouthpiece Neander in Of Dramatic Poesie: An Essay (1668) thought that Beaumont’s plays were more perfect than William Shakespeare’s. The third poet to be buried in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, preceded only by Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser, Beaumont was one of four children born to Judge Francis Beaumont and Anne Pierrepont Beaumont, a family closely related to the earls of Huntingdon. Educated at Oxford until 1598, Francis Beaumont followed in his father’s footsteps, as well as those of his brothers, and entered the Inner Temple in 1600. While there, he discovered a talent for poetry, in 1602 publishing Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, a mythological poem in the vein of Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander (1598).

In 1606, Beaumont, then twenty-one and independent of family support, began to write professionally, possibly because he had to make a living. From 1606 until 1612, he and John Fletcher composed approximately thirteen plays, either in collaboration or separately. These plays were written at first for the children’s theaters and then for the King’s Men at the Blackfriars Theater and the Globe. Beaumont’s association with Fletcher was not purely professional, however; according to John Aubrey, they shared not only their plays but also a house, their clothes, and a “wench.”

The collaboration of Beaumont and Fletcher ended in 1613 with Beaumont’s marriage to the heiress Ursula Isley and their move to her country estate in Kent. Beaumont probably continued to write poetry there until he suffered a stroke. When he died in 1616, Beaumont left behind one daughter, an unborn child, and a reputation that rivaled that of Shakespeare.

The esteem with which the plays...

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