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Beaumont & Fletcher's


Monday, December 16, 2019

7:30 PM | Lucille Lortel Theatre
Directed by Carl Cofield
Featuring Zach Appelman, Pun Bandhu, Lisa Birnbaum, Rajesh Bose, Robert Grant, Susan Heyward, Ezra Knight, Dela Meskienyar, Howard Overshown, Bhavesh Patel, Cara Ricketts and more to be announced!
This Jacobean romance doesn't just tug at the heart-strings, it tears them to pieces in the byzantine tale of Philaster, a disinherited prince, living in the court of an unfriendly king.

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In Beaumont and Fletcher’s tragicomedy Philaster, or Love Lies A-Bleeding, an Act Five revelation brings about an unexpected happy ending—unexpected at least for the characters; audiences familiar with the genre would have known to expect such theatrical sleights of hand.  A last-minute reversal of fortune (such as the discovery of long-lost children in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale) is one of the defining traits of tragicomedy, the most influential dramatic genre in England during the first half of the seventeenth century.  In the preface to his first published tragicomedy, The Faithful Shepherdess, Fletcher mocked the play’s original audiences for assuming that in a tragicomedy they would find characters “sometimes laughing together, and sometimes killing one another.” Apparently, some playgoers who expected laughing and killing were disappointed to have been served Fletcher’s more sophisticated dramatic fare. Influenced by Italian dramatic theory, Fletcher understood tragicomedy as a hybrid genre that put characters in perilous circumstances but ultimately saved them from death: such a play could explore provocative topics and represent heightened emotions without straying too far from a temperate middle road between comic frivolity and tragic devastation.
Combining a plot of erotic intrigue familiar from contemporary comedy (think Twelfth Night) with a plot of political intrigue familiar from contemporary tragedy (think Hamlet), Philaster is one of the most artful of the period’s tragicomedies. The two plots unite in the triangular relationship comprised of Philaster, the disinherited prince; Bellario, his loyal page; and Arethusa, the daughter of the usurping king. In certain ways, these are conventional types: the virtuous prince beloved of the people yet unable to take his rightful place; the delicate youth who acts as a go-between; the chaste but strong-willed princess who disobeys her father to pursue the man she loves. Yet for all their familiarity, these characters are estranged from us by their hyperbolic rhetoric, occluded motives, and enmeshment in the web of “opinions, errors, [and] dreams” that pass for truth in a corrupt court.  Why does Philaster believe the slanderous report of Arethusa’s dishonesty? What lies behind Bellario’s self-sacrificing devotion to his master?  When Philaster stabs Arethusa, why does she refer to this bloody encounter as their “private sport”?

By the end of the play, secrets are divulged, confessions delivered, and punishments doled out. Families and lovers are reunited. The King offers the lesson that princes should learn “to rule the passions of their blood.” But it is through these characters’ displays of passion—ranging from petty envy to noble indignation, from tender affection to jealous rage—that we come to understand why tragicomedy was the most popular genre of the seventeenth century.

Mario DiGangi, Professor of English, Lehman College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625) were the famous “double act” of Jacobean playwriting. They began their careers independently, but by 1606 they produced their first collaboration, The Woman Hater, a satire on London life. Together, they would write at least twelve plays, including their two most successful, Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding (1608) and The Maid’s Tragedy (1611). Although Beaumont retired from the theater in 1613, Fletcher continued writing for the stage until his death. He wrote plays alone and with other partners (including Shakespeare, whom he replaced as the leading playwright for the King’s Men), but it was his collaboration with Beaumont that endured in the public memory. Together, they made popular the tragicomedy, a mixed form that audiences adored.

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Casting subject to change.


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