Francis Beaumont (1584-1616)

BeaumontFrancis Beaumont was born third son of Francis Beaumont, justice of the Court of Common Pleas, at Grace-Dieu, Leicestershire, in 1584. He entered Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College), Oxford in 1597 with his brothers Henry and John, but left without taking a degree and entered the Inner Temple to study law in 1600. It seems, however, that he studied little, and there is no evidence of him ever practising law.

      Beaumont's first published verse was prefaced to his brother John Beaumont's The Metamorphosis of Tobacco (1602). The same year saw the publication of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (1602), a sub-erotic Ovidian epyllion. It appears Beaumont began spending his time at the Mermaid Tavern, befriending Ben Jonson. By 1607, Beaumont was referring to Jonson as his "dear friend" in the verses prefixed to Jonson's Volpone, and Jonson, equally affectionately, replied: "How do I love thee, Beaumont, and thy Muse!"

      It is not known exactly when Beaumont met John Fletcher, nor whether they met at the Mermaid, through Jonson, or through a company for which both were writing, but their collaboration in playwriting would become famous. They may have started collaborating as early as 1605, the year in which Beaumont's first play, the prose comedy The Woman Hater was written for the popular children's company Boys of St. Paul's. They were certainly working together from 1607 onwards, even though it is now generally accepted that Beaumont was the sole author of The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), a witty comedy.

      Beaumont and Fletcher apparently replaced Shakespeare around 1609 as chief dramatists of the King's Men. In quick succession they wrote Philaster (c.1609), The Maid's Tragedy (c.1610), and A King and No King (1611). Beaumont and Fletcher seem to have been very in touch with the popular taste, and were able to cater to it brilliantly, writing one success after another. Next, they wrote Cupid's Revenge (c.1611), The Coxcomb (1612), The Scornful Lady (c.1613) and The Captain (1613).

      The promising partnership came to an end quite soon, however, when Beaumont married an heiress, Ursula Isley of Sundridge, in 1613 and left the stage. Of the 50 or so plays ascribed to Beaumont and Fletcher, only seven or eight can be confidently said to be Beaumont's work in any significant part. Francis Beaumont died suddenly of a fever in 1616 and was mourned by many, not least by his closest friend, Fletcher. Beaumont was buried in Westminster Abbey. The first collected edition of the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher came out in 1647.

Editions and Criticism

  1. Bliss, Lee. Francis Beaumont.
    Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
  2. English Literature: An Illustrated Record. Vol II, part II.
    Richard Garnett and Edmund Gosse, Eds.
    New York: The MacMillan Company, 1904.
  3. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Ian Ousby, Ed.
    Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998. 67.

Article Citation:

Jokinen, Anniina. "Life of Francis Beaumont." Luminarium.
              10 Sept 2003. [Date when you accessed the page].

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