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.