UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The audience as character in Beaumont and Fletcher plays Gilbert, Stuart Reid


The thesis studies the relationship of playwright, actor and audience in Beaumont and Fletcher plays from the period 1607 -c. 1625. The major concern of the thesis is with the involvement of the audience in the dramatic action or emotional pattern of the plays. In order to discuss this audience participation which is suggested as the primary focus of the dramaturgy of Beaumont and Fletcher, the thesis first attempts to establish the most usual audience of the plays. The private audience of the Second Blackfriars Playhouse is described as typical of the wealthy, often aristocratic audience for whom Beaumont and Fletcher wrote and whose taste both.determined many of the characteristics of Fletcherian plays and was itself influenced by those plays. As a result of this relationship between Beaumont and Fletcher and their spectators, it is suggested that the playwrights had a significant role to play in the evolution of the English drama from the Elizabethan theatre to the Restoration theatre. In fact, the sort of theatre which the Caroline theatregoers of 1625 were demanding of Fletcher was precisely the style of "heroic", romantic theatre which he had taught them to appreciate with Philaster in 1610. Philaster is seen as the play in which the earlier, unsuccessful attempts by each playwright merged, in collaboration, into a formula for popular success and an approach to the theatre which was totally histrionic. [footnote omitted] Assuming this audience and its tastes, fashions and behaviour patterns, the thesis investigates Beaumont and Fletcher's satire of the audience, suggesting that Fletcherian satire was directed not at individuals, but at groups in Jacobean society, most of which they could assume to be present in the playhouse. Beaumont and Fletcher were able, again through a thorough understanding of their audience, to work the various groups, prejudices and affections of their spectators against each other so that the satire was not directed from the stage to the auditorium, but in a total pattern throughout the playhouse. The emotional patterning of the plays is discussed as the centre of the Fletcherian design. The elaborate series of effects and often inappropriate stimuli by which Beaumont and Fletcher created a striking, involving emotional system is described. A King and No King and Valentinian are analyzed to demonstrate the emotional patterning. The participation of the audience within the dramatic action is then discussed. The thesis suggests that the audience performs as a corporate character in the plays and traces the complex, histrionic effects by which they are encouraged to do so. The use of disguise and the aside are specifically studied in this light. Finally, the larger implications of audience involvement are considered. Within the social milieu in which the plays are situated, Beaumont and Fletcher create a fictional world of the playhouse in which the involvement of the audience and actors become the whole action of a closed, microcosmic universe. These various, histrionic aspects work together to make the Beaumont and Fletcher plays exciting, if highly artificial creations that were popular in Jacobean England, are important in theatre history, and are of continuing theatrical interest today.

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