Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554
The Knight of the Burning Pestle is a 1607 comedy in five acts, written by Francis Beaumont. It incorporates three genres: First, it is considered the first pastiche ever written in English, as it is a parody of Thomas Heywood's The Four Prentices of London and Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday; second, it is considered a satire, as it mocks the chivalric romances of the Elizabethan era; finally, because of its humor, the play is considered a farce as well.
The play presents two plot-lines. The first plot tells the story of a grocer and his wife, who interrupt a play (“The London Merchant”) in order to bring justice to the middle class. They demand of the cast to incorporate a new character in the play—a knight errand, who will do heroic deeds. The second plot explores the play that the grocer and his wife interrupted, and tells the story of a young man named Jasper who falls in love with his master’s daughter, Luce.
The main characters of the play can be categorized according to the plot-line. In the first plot, the main characters are obviously the grocer, his wife, and his apprentice. The grocer and his wife are two conceited and judgmental people, who believe that they know the answers to all problems, and are extremely devoted to their businesses. Even though they criticize the romantic chivalry, they are also very romantic themselves, as they idealize their values and their opinions as much as a romantic hero would idealize love.
The grocer’s apprentice, Ralph, is the man who is chosen to play the knight errand in the play. Much to the delight of the cast, he successfully manages to portray his assigned character, and even encourages the actors to improvise more in order to present a better play and include his “story” into the original one. Thus, Ralph proves his intelligence and resourcefulness.
In the second plot, the main characters are the merchant, his daughter, his daughter’s potential suitor, his apprentice and his apprentice’s parents. The merchant, Venturewell, is the title character in “The London Merchant,” and he is the stereotypical strict father who wishes his daughter to marry a man of his choosing. His daughter, Luce, is a beautiful young lady who falls in love with the hero of the story and wishes to marry out of love. Her potential suitor, Humphrey, is a fine and respectable man, who is chosen by the Merchant to be his daughter’s husband.
The Merchant’s apprentice, Jasper Merrythought, is the stereotypical hero of the story; he is kind, brave and just, and his one desire is to be with Luce. His father is a man who simply enjoys life. He spends his days drinking and singing, and occasionally, sparing a few wise words. His mother, however, is the polar opposite of his father; she is cold, calculating, and serious, and seems to like her spoiled younger son Michael, much more than Jasper.
Each plot has a different resolution: in the first one, "the knight" dies a heroic death, and in the second one Jasper and Luce can finally be together. Thus, The Knight of the Burning Pestle presents a satisfactory ending for both the grocer, his wife, and the actors, but also for the characters in “The London Merchant.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 669
A citizen (George), a London grocer. He takes his wife and servant to the theater and insists that the actors include in their play the exploits of some member of his profession. He frequently comments on the progress of the action, reassures his wife, and suggests at intervals additional adventures for his hero.
Nell, his naïve wife, who is given to malapropisms. Deeply concerned for the welfare of the characters in the play, she alternately advises them, sympathizes with them, and discusses their difficulties with her devoted husband.
Ralph (or Rafe), their servant, well known for his histrionic talents. Encouraged by his mistress, he steps into the play within the play as George’s grocer-hero, the Knight of the Burning Pestle. The knight is, like Don Quixote, an avid reader of romances, and he resolves to win honor and the favor of his lady, Susan, “the cobbler’s maid in Milk Street,” by rescuing distressed damsels. His heroic efforts to aid Mistress Merrythought and Humphrey are doomed to failure, but he wins, in his own view, a signal victory over the giant Barbaroso, the village barber.
George, the knight’s witty apprentices. They accompany him on his adventures, acting as his squire and his dwarf, and take great delight in using the courtly phrases their master teaches them.
Venturewell, a strong-minded, quick-tempered London merchant. He is continually infuriated by his apprentice Jasper and his daughter, who thwart his plan to marry the girl to a foolish but wealthy tradesman. Cowardly at heart, he is gulled by Jasper, who appears to him as a ghost, and he agrees at last to allow the marriage of the young couple.
Luce, his daughter. She speaks to Jasper in the extravagant language of a romantic heroine, but she participates in his schemes to deceive her father with a resourcefulness that marks her as the pert tradesman’s daughter she is.
Jasper, her sweetheart, Venturewell’s brash young apprentice. He also plays the romantic figure, especially when he threatens Luce with death to test her constancy. He readily dispenses with his heroics when he beats Ralph and, later, plays dead to trick his master.
Humphrey, Luce’s well-meaning, rather unintelligent suitor, who inevitably finds himself at the wrong end of a cudgel, outwitted by Jasper. Even Venturewell, his staunch supporter, is turned against him in the end. He speaks in rhymed couplets that heighten the effect of his stupidity.
Merrythought, Jasper’s impecunious father. He lives convinced that there will be food and drink on his table in time for his next meal and meets every experience, good or bad, with a song.
Mistress Merrythought, his shrewish wife. She refuses her blessing to Jasper and, to spite him, leaves home with her favored younger son and the money she has saved for the child. Her husband rejoices at her departure and forces her, much to her chagrin, to sing to him before he will let her return.
Michael, her young son.
Host, attendants at the Bell Inn, where Ralph visits. They refuse to enter so fully into the spirit of chivalry that they will overlook the twelve shillings the knight owes them, but they gleefully propose a quest for him, an attack on the giant, “ycleped Barbaroso.”
Nick, the barber, who participates willingly in the Host’s game with Ralph.
The First Knight
The First Knight and
the Second Knight
the Second Knight (Sir Pockhole), the barber’s patients, “prisoners” freed by Ralph and his squire.
Pompiona, the princess of Moldavia, who appears in one of the scenes suggested by George the grocer. The knight, loyal to his Susan, refuses her offer of her hand.
William Hammerton, a pewterer.
George Greengoose, a poulterer. He and Hammerton are members of a troop of soldiers whom Ralph leads through the city, following another of George the grocer’s requests.