John Fletcher’s first complete play, The Faithful Shepherdess, was available in an undated quarto probably in 1609, although it may have been performed by a company of boy actors as early as 1608. In his dedicatory verse to Sir Walter Aston, Fletcher acknowledges the failure of the drama on stage, but he defends its virtues as a poetic “interlude”; in his introduction to the reader, he remarks upon the originality of its concept. A “pastoral tragicomedy,” the play is, according to the author’s famous definition of the new type, “not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths.” Although the play comes close to tragedy, “which is enough to make it no comedy,” its conclusion for the characters concerned is sober but not dreadful. As a model of tragicomedy, The Faithful Shepherdess is the first in a line of Jacobean dramas that became popular after Francis Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster (c. 1609) and William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline (pr. c. 1609-1610, pb. 1623).
From a historical point of view, The Faithful Shepherdess is interesting as a forerunner of the courtly masque during the period of Caroline (Cavalier) verse drama, 1625-1642. Unlike the more robust Elizabethan masques, notable for their lavish entertainments, rambling forms, and splendid pageantry, Fletcher’s play established a more nearly classical model, formally elegant, artificial, and finely...
(The entire section is 481 words.)