The Woman's Prize Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

John Fletcher

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

The author of THE WOMAN’S PRIZE, John Fletcher, was born in 1579 into a well-placed family. He was the son of Richard Fletcher, the Bishop of London, and the cousin of the poets Giles and Phineas Fletcher. Little is known of his early life, but his father’s death left debts and a large family, and the young Fletcher must have needed to provide for himself.

By the early years of the seventeenth century, Fletcher had become connected with the King’s Men, one of London’s leading dramatic companies. He remained their most productive playwright until his death of the plague in 1625. His output was enormous by any standard: in 1679, a folio of fifty-two plays was published, of which fifteen were written by Fletcher alone, and at least thirty others were the result of his collaboration with other authors.

Fletcher is chiefly remembered in conjunction with Francis Beaumont with whom he wrote at least eight plays, but he also co-authored HENRY THE EIGHTH and THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN with William Shakespeare, and collaborated with Philip Massinger (among others) after Beaumont’s retirement. To form an idea of his productivity, one should note that he worked on more than four plays a year for the last twelve years of his life.

THE WOMAN’S PRIZE shows Fletcher’s unaided work at its best. As the subtitle suggests, the play is a sequel of sorts to Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. The continuation of the story of the woman-taming Petruchio, it is recorded that Fletcher’s play was better liked than Shakespeare’s when both were played at court in 1633, and after the Restoration, THE WOMAN’S PRIZE was revived.

But Fletcher’s play is more an extension of Shakespeare’s main idea than a simple continuation of the story. Only three of Shakespeare’s characters remain—Petruchio, Tranio, and Bianca—and the scene has been shifted from Padua to London. There are occasional references to the action of the earlier play, mainly concerning Petruchio’s reputation as a master at bending spirited women to his will, but Fletcher succeeds entirely in giving a different direction to his story.

Fletcher conceived of the idea of furnishing Petruchio with a wife who could tame him as effectively as he had tamed Katharina, Shakespeare’s “shrew.” We are told, as the play opens, that Kate has died, and Petruchio has remarried a gentle girl named Maria. Through the main action of Maria’s subjugation of Petruchio is skillfully woven a wholly new subplot, the successful resistance of Livia to an arranged marriage to an old man.

The plot of THE...

(The entire section is 1094 words.)