Philaster (fi-LAS-tur), the rightful heir to the Sicilian kingdom. Although he is popular with the people who should be his subjects and with several of his noblemen, he lacks the strength of character to attempt to regain his throne. His melancholy, poetic personality is that of a weaker Hamlet; he calls himself “a thing born without passion, a faint shadow that every drunken cloud sails over and makes nothing.” He is a typical romantic hero in his longing for refuge in a pastoral world and in his distraught reaction to Arethusa when he thinks she has been unfaithful to him. He shows, in his defiance of the king and Pharamond, occasional flashes of courage that foreshadow the resoluteness with which he finally takes over his kingdom.
The king of Calabria
The king of Calabria, usurper of the throne of Sicily. He is an autocratic ruler, one quickly angered when his wishes are opposed, but he fears Philaster’s popularity too much to give complete vent to his rage against the young prince. He is, like several of the fathers in the Shakespearean romances, redeemed by his recognition of his own wrongdoing and by the virtue and the love of Philaster and his daughter.
Arethusa (AR-eh-thew-zuh), the daughter of the king, betrothed by her father to Pharamond. She possesses the courage and resourcefulness of a Viola and a Rosalind, forthrightly telling Philaster of her love for him and plotting with her ladies to expose Pharamond’s wickedness. She is puzzled, but not overcome, by the accusations made against her and her page, Bellario, by the king and his court, and she remains true to Philaster in spite of his cruelty to her. It is she who arranges their marriage and saves him from death at the hand of her father.
Pharamond (FAR-uh-mond), the prince of Spain, Arethusa’s suitor. He is an arrogant braggart who well deserves the title, “prince of popinjays,” that Philaster bestows upon him. He loses the king’s favor by his seduction of Megra, Arethusa’s willing lady in waiting, but almost regains it through Philaster’s mistreatment of the princess. He receives well-merited calumny from the townspeople into whose hands he falls during the rebellion, and he is saved only by the intervention of Philaster, who sends him back to Spain.
Euphrasia (ew-FRAY-see-uh), the daughter of one of Philaster’s loyal lords. She disguises herself as a page, Bellario, to be near the prince, whom she secretly loves. She serves both Philaster and Arethusa loyally, and she resolves to remain with them, unmarried, after he has won his throne and his bride.
Dion (DI-on), Euphrasia’s father, a Sicilian lord. He pays necessary homage to the king, but he remains a firm supporter of Philaster’s claims. It is partly his loyalty to the prince that makes him too ready to believe the slanderous reports about Arethusa’s love for Bellario, a misconception for which he berates himself and asks forgiveness.
Cleremont (KLEHR-eh-mont) and
Thrasilene (thra-sih-LEE-nuh), two noblemen loyal to Philaster.
Megra (MEHG-ruh), a lady in waiting to Arethusa, attracted to every handsome man she meets. She welcomes Pharamond’s advances. She attempts to avenge the court’s discovery of her relations with the Spanish prince by malicious slandering of Arethusa and Bellario.
Galathea (gal-uh-THEE-uh), another of Arethusa’s ladies. Witty and sharp-tongued in her refusal of Pharamond’s offers and in her condemnation of Megra, she helps her mistress to unveil the prince’s infidelity.
Country Fellow, an honest rustic. On...
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the way to watch the king’s hunt, he finds Philaster in the act of wounding Arethusa and springs to the lady’s defense. He asks to see the king as his reward, but he vows to avoid “gay sights” in the future.
A Captain, the leader of the uprising against the king. He and his followers torment Pharamond with bloodthirsty threats and insults.
Appleton, William W. Beaumont and Fletcher: A Critical Study. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1956. This standard critical study of the playwrights’ collaborative work favorably compares Philaster to their earlier and later tragicomedies, discusses Shakespearean influences (tragic and comic), and shows how Beaumont and Fletcher modified traditional pastoralism.
Ashe, Dora Jean. Introduction to Philaster. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974. The introduction to this authoritative text, edited by Ashe, analyzes the play, dealing with such matters as genre, plot, characterization, the pastoral tradition, and political satire.
Davison, Peter. “The Serious Concerns of Philaster.” Journal of English Literary History 30 (1963): 1-15. Notes similarities between play dialogue and a speech by King James I, and between ideas in the play and writings of the king. Concludes that the playwrights were dramatizing contemporary political problems to influence public opinion.
Finkelpearl, Philip J. Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Claims that the playwrights dramatized the amorality of their age through political criticism of the monarch and court. Groups Philaster with The Maid’s Tragedy (1608-1611) and A King and No King (1611) as a trilogy about the consequences of a ruler’s intemperance.
Leech, Clifford. The John Fletcher Plays. London: Chatto & Windus, 1962. Wide-ranging study asserting that Philaster is notable for its variety, for how the playwrights deal with pretense, and for the importance of comedy in a largely serious play. Points out that Fletcher places stereotypical characters in atypical situations that provide novelty for audiences.