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The last presentation of our play in the seventeenth century, so far as I have discovered, was in 1682. According to Genest", it was acted that year at the Theatre Royal, which had been restored in 1674.
After 1682 the play seems to have sunk into an oblivion more profound and lasting than that to which its earliest auditors consigned it. Many of the other productions of its authors held their vogue through the whole of the eighteenth century, and a few of them, notably The Maid's Tragedy, were occasionally acted, with alterations, during the early part of the nineteenth century. But The Knight of the Burning Pestle, as a stage performance, was forgotten. This was inevitable, after the manners which it depicts had become obsolete, and the literary and theatrical singularities which it burlesques had become foreign to the knowledge of general audiences.
The old comedy seems to have slept between its book-covers for over two hundred years. So far as I am aware, it has been only recently revived, and, moreover, only in America. Five presentations of it have been given in this country within the last decade, two at Yale University, one in New York City, one at Stanford University, and one in Chicago.
The first of these performances was accomplished on March 28, 1898, by graduate students in English at Yale, being the outgrowth of a Seminary in the Jacobean Dramaa. It was witnessed chiefly by the officers of the English department, but proved to be so successful that it was repeated before a wider audience in Warner Hall, New Haven, on April 29, 1898. The comedy was enthusiastically received by a general audience in New York City, March 26,
· Genest, English Stage 1. 348.
1901, when it was acted by students of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts at the Empire Theatre. These several presentations approximated a reproduction of the old-time settings and environments of the stage. A more complete realization of the Elizabethan setting, however, was effected at Stanford University in March, 1903, when the comedy was set forth by students on an improvised Elizabethan stage. This structure was modeled in part on the stage of the Swan Theatre as represented in a rough drawing of its interior made about 1596 by Johannes de Witt, a Dutch visitor to London. The last recorded production of the play was given on Dec. 19, 1905,
in Chicago, by pupils of the School of Acting of the Chicago Musical College. The chosen stage in Chicago was that of the Studebaker Theatre. It also was set to resemble as nearly as possible de Witt's drawing of the Swan Theatre.
The authorship of The Knight of the Burning Pestle is a matter of dispute. It is questioned whether the comedy was composed by one or by both of the playwrights to which it is attributed, and, if by both, whether Beaumont or Fletcher was the principal workman. For the determination of this problem, it is here practicable merely to adopt the methods of solution which have been formulated by the critics for the detection of single or double authorship in other debatable plays traditionally ascribed to the collaboration of the dramatists, and for the severance of their individual shares in plays of which the double authorship is undoubted.
Throughout the investigations, the external proofs
fall into two general groups
chronological and documentary. Chronologically, Beaumont could have written, wholly or partially, only those plays which originated before 1616—the year of his death. Documents bearing upon the problem are of little value: prefatory verses, prologues, dedications, and titlepages assign the plays to Beaumont and to Fletcher, singly and conjointly, and are filled with contradictions and inaccuracies.
Manifestly, the internal proofs form the surest basis of judgment, subject, wherever possible, of course, to the regulative weight of dates. The internal tests whereby Beaumont and Fletcher's editors made their apportionments have been chiefly literary. As such, their effectiveness depended upon the critic's personal power of discerning differences in quality between plays known to have been written by the dramatists separately, and the subsequent application of his results to the apportionment of plays in which they may have collaborated. A more closely critical and scientific investigation was begun in 1874 by F.G.Fleay in a paper entitled Metrical Tests as applied to Fletcher, Beaumont, and Massinger, which was read before the New Shakespeare Society. This system of metrical inquiry has since been elaborated and improved by R. Boyle, G. C. Macaulay, and E. N. Oliphant. Through the successive experiments, a critical canon has been developed, which is a fairly reliable instrument for the solution of this problem of authorship.
It is necessary to our purpose to summarize only the methods of the metrical critics, since, latterly at least, they have absorbed all that is of value in the purely literary tests, and have added the positive scientific data essential to proof.
In his study of those of Fletcher's plays which
were written after the death of Beaumont, Fleay discovered the following metrical peculiarities: 1. A very large number of double or feminine
endings. 2. Frequent pauses at the end of the lines. 3. Moderate use of rimes. 4. Moderate use of short lines. 5. Complete absence of prose. 6. An abundance of trisyllabic feet.
With these criteria, Fleay proceeded to examine the doubtful plays, i. e. those produced before Beaumont's death. He applied to them the test of Fletcher's metrical peculiarities, and those of Beaumont in one of the latter's confessedly independent productions, viz. the first half of Four Plays in One. He discovered that the distinguishing marks of Beaumont's metre, as determined by this play, are as follows:
1. A relatively small use of double endings.
Boyle, in his articles entitled Beaumont, Fletcher, and Massinger, in Englische Studien, Bände V-VIII., practically adopted Fleay's tests, and added the test of the light and weak endings prevalent in Fletcher's
He laid particular emphasis upon double endings, because of the far greater proportion of such endings in Fletcher's acknowledged plays over plays of Beaumont's sole or partial authorship.
G. C. Macaulay, in his Francis Beaumont, 1883, and E. H. Oliphant, in The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, Englische Studien, Band XIV., continued the investigation of metre. They found, as did their predecessors, especial significance in Fletcher's use of redundant
syllables in all parts of the line, but particularly at the end; his rise of emphasis in end-pauses, even upon weak syllables; and the absence of prose. Conversely, they found the plays to which Beaumont contributed distinguished by an unrestricted freedom in the use of run-on lines, though with a comparative freedom from redundancy, and by prose passages not requiring dignified expression. They broadened, however, the scope of differentiation. They recognized that metrical characteristics are an outgrowth of the matter, and of the general style of expression. That is, they united literary and metrical considerations of the plays. Proceeding upon this basis, they discovered that Fletcher's looseness of metre corresponds to a looseness in sentence-structure and plot, and to a certain shallowness and instability in the mental and moral temperament of the dramatist; on the other hand, that the regularity of metre in Beaumont is accompanied by the periodic or rounded style of speech, approximate regularity and effectiveness of plot, depth in the general conception, rich powers of humorous characterization, tragic power of a high order, and a large degree of moral earnestness. One specific quality attributed to Beaumont is his faculty for burlesque, an element which nowhere appears in Fletcher's independent work.
Let us now consider how the various sorts of evidence point to the authorship of The Knight of the Burning Pestle. The title-page of the First Quarto bears the date of 1613. This is definite proof that the play originated during the years when collaboration was possible. Other external evidences are inconclusive. In the dedication prefixed to the First Quarto, Burre, the publisher, speaks of the parents of the play, but he also speaks twice of its