1. When was the play first performed?
26 December 1611.
2. Where was the play first performed?
At the Court for King James in Whitehall by Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men. It would then have played at the Blackfriars.
3. Who wrote it?
Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. John Fletcher (1579-1625) came from a distinguished family (his father was chaplain to Queen Elizabeth) and attended university at Cambridge. Francis Beaumont (1584-1616), the son of a prominent Leicestershire family, went to Oxford (at age 13) and later received legal training at the Inner Temple. He seems never to have practiced law but was active in London literary circles. He wrote The Knight of the Burning Pestle (which the ASC has produced three times). Beaumont and Fletcher teamed up on some of the most popular plays of the day, all of them for Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men. (They also roomed together for a time and were said to have shared a mistress). Beaumont married well and retired from the stage in 1613; he died in 1616, also the year of Shakespeare’s death. Fletcher, having collaborated with Shakespeare on Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, went on to succeed him as the King’s Men’s chief playwright until his death in 1625.
4. How is this work like Shakespeare’s?
It might be more accurate to think of Shakespeare’s late plays as being like Fletcher and Beaumont’s. Their work pioneered the genre of tragicomedy, plays whose romantic plots bring their heroes and heroines into great danger of dying but do not kill them. Shakespeare’s final plays, especially Cymbeline (aka Imogen), Pericles, and The Winter’s Tale, could be cashing in on the popularity of the earlier work of Fletcher and Beaumont.
5. How is this play unlike Shakespeare?
The plays of Beaumont and Fletcher work to make audiences uncomfortable during the play but let them off the hook at the end of the show. Many of Shakespeare’s plays work in the opposite way.
6. What do critics think about this play?
Despite the fact that the play lays the groundwork for its ending, critics complain that the resolution of the play is contrived.
7. How successful has the play been?
For a century after its first production: very. In 1647, during the English Civil War—five years after the Puritans closed the theatres— the authorities had to shut down a rogue production of the play at the Salisbury Court Theatre. During the Restoration the play was so popular that the diarist Samuel Pepys saw it five times. In this century, the most consequential production of the play was the American Shakespeare Center’s in 2005 during our first Renaissance Season; its success persuaded us to continue with this experiment.
8. What character should I especially look for?
Bessus, a Falstaffian braggart, provides the play’s comic relief and was one of the most popular characters on the Early Modern stage.
9. What scene should I especially look for?
The scene in which King Arbaces first meets his sister Panthea and refuses to recognize her.
10. What is the language like?
Exotic and witty.