Welcome to Episode #46 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

I believe that if you want to understand Shakespeare's plays, then understanding the life of William Shakespeare, the man, is essential. This podcast is designed to help you explore early modern England as Shakespeare would have lived it by interviewing the historians, performers, authors, and experts that know him best.

John Fletcher was a prominent playwright during William Shakespeare’s lifetime, whose work came close to eclipsing that of the bard during the height of his popularity in early modern England. Friends, as well as colleagues with The King’s Men, Shakespeare and Fletcher collaborated on several key plays of Shakespeare like Henry VIII as well as Two Noble Kinsmen. John Fletcher was so prominent and important during the life of the bard that after Shakespeare’s death in 1616, it would be John Fletcher who took over the healm of the King’s Men to run the playing company under James I. Understanding the life of John Fletcher provides a unique window into the life and times of William Shakespeare and our guest today has done an extensive amount of research into John Fletcher as well as his relationship to Shakespeare. We are delighted to welcome Lucy Munro as our guide into the life of John Fletcher and his friendship with William Shakespeare.


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Lucy Munro, is a professor of early modern literature at King’s College London, and author of an entire chapter on John Fletcher in the recent book The Shakespeare Circle.  

Dr Lucy Munro took her BA in English Language and Literature at Manchester University, moving to King’s College London for her MA and PhD. She worked at the University of Reading and Keele University, where she taught for the English, Film and Media degree programmes, before returning to King’s in September 2013.

She is Secretary of the Marlowe Society of America, Publicity Officer for the Malone Society, and a member of the Architecture Research Group at Shakespeare’s Globe and the steering group of the London Renaissance Seminar. Learn more and connect with Dr. Munro here.

 

In this episode, I’ll be asking Lucy about :

  • Was being a playwright profitable enough to be worth the risk?

  • Why was it Fletcher and not Heminges, Condell, or even the Burbages, who all represent arguably equal contenders for the top spot in the company?
  •  Who was John Fletcher to William Shakespeare?
    …and more!

A man in much esteem with the king, and truly 
A worthy friend

Third Gentleman

Henry VIII, IV.1

Giles Fletcher

John Fletcher was raised by his paternal uncle, Giles Fletcher, after his biological father, Richard Fletcher died. Richard, serving as a bishop under Queen Elizabeth (and a supporter of Mary I), had fallen out of favor with the Queen over an ill-advised marriage and died shortly after this disagreement, in ill health and substantially in debt. The upbringing of John and his siblings fell to the uncle, who was a minor official at court, with substantial connections. Under Queen Elizabeth, Giles would be appointed Master of Requests after serving as an official ambassador to Russia in 1588, and publishing the treatise, Of the Russe Common Wealth, in 1591. Aspirational and politically minded, Giles was once under the patronage of Robert Devereux, during the Essex Rebellion. Giles' connections at court were only somewhat useful to his nephew, John, as he established his place in society. [ Claire Asquith shares about Shakespeare's relationship to the Essex Rebellion in Episode 22 of That Shakespeare Life. ]

 

Francis Beaumont

John Fletcher was a prolific collaborator, working with William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, as well as writing for the Children of the Queen's Revels in the early 1600s. His most famous collaboration, for which he would go down in history as part of a famous duo not unlike Rodgers and Hammerstein, is when he wrote with Francis Beaumont. 

Frequently studied as a pair, Beaumont and Fletcher wrote together for close to twenty years, and there's a legend which suggests they even lived together before Beaumont married in 1613. Immortalized as a pair by the 1647 folio featuring their collaborative works, Beaumont played a critical role in John Fletcher's career. 

 

Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) Painted by an unknown artists in the mid 1700s, and it is unknown what painting was used as a reference.

Title page of the 1634 Quarto. Source

Collaborations with Shakespeare

John Fletcher was the house dramatist for The King's Men for decades, successfully collaborating with William Shakespeare on at least two plays, and from other historical records we believe Shakespeare and Fletcher collaborated on the lost play, Cardenio, as well. Fletcher helped Shakespeare write Two Noble Kinsmen around 1613-1614. It was likely performed before Jonson's play, Bartholomew Fair, which was first performed in 1614, because that play references Two Noble Kinsmen, which leads historians to conclude Shakespeare and Fletcher's play was popular among audiences at the time. Fletcher also collaborated with Shakespeare on Henry VIII, under the alternate title of All is True, the production of which used the famous canon fire that was responsible for the Globe theater burning down when the thatch roof caught fire in 1613. That performance would mark the end of Shakespeare's formal career in theater, as all indications are that the bard retired to Stratford Upon Avon after the Globe burned down.

 

The very persons of our noble story 
As they were living; think you see them great, 
And follow'd with the general throng and sweat 
Of thousand friends

Chorus

Henry VIII, Act I

Solo Plays 

While Fletcher's collaborations are those for which he is most well known, he wrote a string of very successful solo plays as well. He wrote for the Blackfriars as well as The Globe. Here's a list of a few of the plays he wrote. All except the first one, The Faithful Shepherdess, which was his one marked failure, were well received. 

 

 

 

Portrait of John Fletcher by unknown artist. The date is also unknown, but was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery before 1939 More information on the portrait here.

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