John Fletcher apparently wrote very little or no poetry. He may have collaborated with other playwrights in the composition of court masques, but no direct evidence has been introduced identifying his hand in entertainments of that kind.
Although John Fletcher wrote many plays alone, he is best known for those he composed in collaboration with Francis Beaumont. In fact, much of the criticism of these playwrights’ work regards them as an inseparable team. This practice has tended to obscure the technical brilliance of Fletcher’s own plays, many of which were revived successfully on the Restoration stage. In their collaboration, however, the two dramatists came to be recognized as the inventors and chief practitioners of a style of drama, tragicomedy that won enthusiastic applause from audiences at the Jacobean public theaters. Fletcher published a definition of the new genre in the preface to one of his earliest plays, The Faithful Shepherdess:A tragi-comedy is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is inough to make it no tragedie, yet brings some neere it, which is inough to make it no comedie: which must be a representation of familiar people, with such kinde of trouble as no life be questioned, so that a God is as lawfull in this as in a Tragedie, and meane people as a comedie.
Although the play to which this preface was appended proved unpopular with its audience, Fletcher, with the older Beaumont, went on to instant success in Philaster, one of his first collaborative efforts in the new form. This event was also notable because it cemented the playwrights’ connection with William Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men Beaumont and Fletcher continued to write for that company for the rest of their careers.
What attracted Jacobean playgoers to Philaster was its complicated but relatively fresh plot (no sources have been identified), romantic setting, and suspenseful denouement: The heroic prince discovers that the page who has served him faithfully throughout the play is in fact a woman—a woman who is deeply in love with him. The happy ending, however, leaves the audience with a sense of having been manipulated; Beaumont and Fletcher take little care to develop their characters or to motivate action. Even so, Philaster won the playwrights a reputation with the gentlemen and ladies who increasingly made up the audience at the Blackfriars playhouse.
Before Beaumont’s retirement in 1613, he and Fletcher worked together on several other plays, only a few of which were in fact tragicomedies. Other than Philaster, A King and No King is...
Appleton, William W. Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Press, 1969. Appleton analyzes the early collaborations, then proceeds to a critical investigation, unfortunately too brief, of Fletcher’s independent plays and later collaborations. He discusses the influence and critical reputation of Fletcher in the Restoration and in the 1700’s.
Clark, Sandra. The Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher: Sexual Themes and Dramatic Representation. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994. Examines gender roles and conventions in the dramatic works of Fletcher and Beaumont.
Cone, Mary. Fletcher Without Beaumont: A Study of the Independent Plays of John Fletcher. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1976. An insightful and thorough survey.
Finkelpearl, Philip J. Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Considers the plays in connection with the author’s three worlds: the country, the playhouse, and the Mermaid Tavern. Analyzes eight plays in depth for their political relevance. Among the themes discussed are the Anti-Prince, corruption of royal power, and tyrannicide.
Frey, Charles H., ed. Shakespeare, Fletcher, and “The Two Noble...