The Knight of the Burning Pestle

by Francis Beaumont

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, 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.”

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