Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

The Knight of the Burning Pestle is a farcical pastiche written in 1607 by English Renaissance playwright Francis Beaumont, firstly published in 1613. The play is considered the first pastiche in literature, and it is a parody on the 1592 Elizabethan play The Four Prentices of London by Thomas Heywood...

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The Knight of the Burning Pestle is a farcical pastiche written in 1607 by English Renaissance playwright Francis Beaumont, firstly published in 1613. The play is considered the first pastiche in literature, and it is a parody on the 1592 Elizabethan play The Four Prentices of London by Thomas Heywood and the 1599 play The Shoemaker's Holiday by Thomas Dekker.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle tells two stories. The first one, is the story of a grocer who goes to see a production of a romantic comedy titled “The London Merchant,” with his family and his servants. However, he forces his way onto the stage, complaining that the play doesn’t do justice to the middle class. He suggests that the actors should incorporate a new character—a knight errant who will prove his chivalric virtue and honor by doing “valiant deeds.” The man chosen to play the knight is Rafe, the Grocer’s apprentice. The actors continue the play and try to include Rafe’s character, thus improvising more often, while the Grocer and his Wife comment from the side.

The second plot of the play is the plot of “The London Merchant.” This is the play’s subplot. It is a romantic comedy which builds to an expected climax—the two lovers, in this case the chivalric hero Jasper Merrythought and his beloved, the beautiful heroine Luce, are separated and forced to give up on their hopes of being together, because their families don’t approve of their love. Naturally, the plot is resolved when the families finally accept them as a couple and they all live happily ever after. The Grocer, however, is not satisfied with this ending and proposes that his “knight” should fight a giant and die a heroic death. After some debate, the Grocer’s wish is granted and “the knight” dies heroically. Thus, both stories have a pleasurable resolution of the plot and everyone is happy.

In his play, Beaumont often mocks some of his characters, which is essentially the main message of The Knight of the Burning Pestle. We are advised not to be self-centered and selfish, because we’re not the only people who matter in this world. Even though it received mainly bad reviews when it was firstly performed, The Knight of the Burning Pestle managed to win the hearts of critics, readers, and the theater audience with its later productions. The play is often compared to de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, as it is a satire on old chivalric romances.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 232

Stage

Stage. Only three lines into the Prologue of The London Merchant, a grocer, his wife, and his apprentice climb out of the audience onto the stage, interrupting the performance and transforming the stage from a simple setting for a specific play to what was known in the middle-ages as the “platea”—literally “the place.” The stage becomes everyplace and anyplace as the apprentice Rafe extemporaneously takes on the leading role (playing his master) in the play, which George retitles The Knight of the Burning Pestle.

The stage becomes a liminal space where the play and the play-within-the-play are staged simultaneously. Inspired by tales of knights-errant rescuing damsels in distress, Rafe sets out on a great adventure, traveling to Moldavia. Throughout his travels mention is made that the location changes from scene to scene but as the players are forced to improvise to accommodate Rafe’s character the stage becomes increasingly a site of the here and now as all attention is drawn to the reactions of George and Nell. All the while the “real” audience of Beaumont’s play is aware that George and Nell are actors performing roles and understand that while the play invites the audience to see the stage as a real location in time and space, this too is an illusion; the relationship turns back on itself as the audience understands that all they observe is artifice.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 232

Appleton, William E. Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study. Winchester, Mass.: Allen & Unwin, 1956. Discusses the play as a brilliant burlesque whose humaneness makes it unique. Attributes its initial failure on the stage to Beaumont’s misjudging his audience.

Beaumont, Francis. The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Edited by Sheldon P. Zitner. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1984. A scholarly edition whose lengthy introduction includes a detailed commentary and a review of the play’s stage history. Discusses the play’s antecedents and innovations.

Bradbrook, Muriel C. The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy. London: Chatto & Windus, 1962. A classic study of comic drama from its beginnings at mid-century to 1616, when William Shakespeare died. Many references to Beaumont place his works in the thematic and structural context of the period.

Doebler, John. “Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle and the Prodigal Son Plays.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1990 5 (1965): 333-344. An analysis of a key element in the play, showing how Beaumont includes most traditional prodigal son characteristics but not in the same way that his predecessors did.

Greenfield, Thelma N. The Induction in Elizabethan Drama. Eugene: University of Oregon Books, 1969. A study of the frame, or play within a play, device in drama of the period. Believes that in The Knight of the Burning Pestle Beaumont demonstrates the most successful use of the technique, particularly as a means of character development.

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