Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


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...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

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.