The Knight of the Burning Pestle

by Francis Beaumont

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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