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Friday, December 21, 2012

John Fletcher and Shakespeare

When Shakespeare retired from the theatre, John Fletcher (baptised 20 December 1579) replaced him as house playwright for the King's Men.

He is believed to have collaborated with Shakespeare on Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen and the lost Cardenio play.

There is some dispute about how much of these plays Fletcher wrote. Harold Bloom thinks that "only a few touches" of Henry VIII were written by Fletcher, for example.

Who was John Fletcher? He was the son of a priest, who at one time was chaplain to Queen Elizabeth. His father died, and he was taken into the home of his uncle, whose status seems to have been seriously diminished after the failed Essex Rebellion.

Fletcher went to Cambridge, and while he may have intended to follow in his father's path, the London stage was calling, and he became a playwright.

He wrote many plays over his career, and many of them were written in collaboration with others.

He had some success on stage in the last years of Shakespeare's career, and how he came to be the resident playwright for the King's Men is anyone's guess. Stephen Greenblatt thinks that Shakespeare "handpicked him as his successor."

In my version of Hamlet, I have a different notion of who John Fletcher was and what role he played in Shakespeare's life.

I will explore the character of John Fletcher in my future versions of Shakespeare's plays, but suffice to say that I think Fletcher was more than just a playwright, and his position in the King's Men had certain strings attached.

How did Fletcher join Shakespeare's company?

If he did work with Shakespeare, did Shakespeare have a choice, or was it forced upon him by King James?

Were the plays written by both Shakespeare and Fletcher really collaborative, or did Fletcher finish plays Shakespeare had not finished?

It may be easier to assume that there is nothing or little to be said about John Fletcher -- but I think there is much more to the story.

I would find it hard to believe that the official playing company for the King was free from political influence and coercion -- from within and from without.


David B. Schajer

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