John Fletcher (1579-1625) was a Jacobean playwright.
Fletcher was born in December, 1579 (baptized December 20) in Rye, Sussex, and died of the plague in August 1625 (buried August 29 in St. Saviour's, Southwark). He went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University at the age of eleven, but it is not known whether he took a degree, though he had some reputation as a scholar.
Along with William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, Fletcher was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the most gifted and influential of the Jacobean dramatists. He succeeded Shakespeare as chief dramatist for the leading company of London, the King's Men. Unlike Shakespeare, Fletcher was not a shareholder in the company. He became one of the eight people regularly under contract as writers for the various London theater companies from 1590 to 1642, along with Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker, Philip Massinger, Shakespeare, James Shirley, William Rowley, and Richard Brome. His mastery is most notable in two dramatic types, tragicomedy and comedy of manners, both of which exerted a pervasive influence on dramatists in the reign of Charles I and during the Restoration.
His father, Richard, was an ambitious and successful cleric who was in turn Dean of Peterborough, bishop of Bristol, Bishop of Worcester, and bishop of London as well as chaplain to the queen. As dean of Peterborough it was Richard Fletcher who at the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, at Fotheringay "knelt down on the scaffold steps and started to pray out loud and at length, in a prolonged and rhetorical style as though determined to force his way into the pages of history" and who cried out at her death, "So perish all the Queen's enemies!" John Fletcher was eight at the time. Fletcher was also a cousin of Elizabethan poet Phineas Fletcher.
Beyond the record of his plays the details of his life are scanty. Between 1609 and 1625, it is estimated that Fletcher was involved in the writing of forty-two plays. At least twenty-one of them have been shown to be collaborations including work of Francis Beaumont, Nathan Field, Shakespeare, Rowley, and Massinger. Only nine of Fletcher's plays were published in his lifetime.
He wrote The Tamer Tamed, a comedic sequel to The Taming of the Shrew in 1611, just twenty years after Shakespeare wrote the original.
Fletcher's early career was marked by one significant failure. Fletcher himself explains the failure of The Faithful Shepherdess, his adaptation of Giovanni Battista Guarini's Il Pastor Fido, in his prologue to the printed edition of the play. According to Fletcher, the audience did not understand the nature of true (that is, Italian) tragicomedy.
In that case, Fletcher appears to have been developing his new style faster than audiences could comprehend. The success he enjoyed later, however, derives only in part from his being favored with audiences who understood what he was about. By the middle of the 1610s, Fletcher and his collaborators had transformed the stylized action and acerbic satire of the first plays. By the middle of the decade, Fletcher's plays had achieved a popularity that rivalled Shakespeare's and which cemented the preeminence of the King's Men in Stuart London.
During the Commonwealth, many of the playwright's best-known scenes were kept alive as "drolls," the brief performances devised to satisfy the taste for plays while the theaters were suppressed. At the re-opening of the theaters in 1660, Fletcher's plays, in original form or revised, were by far the most common fare on the English stage. In fact, it was only in the early 1700s that Shakespeare's plays were revived more frequently than Fletcher's.
Since then Fletcher has increasingly become a subject only for occasional revivals and for specialists.
(An exact chronology or even attribution of the plays is almost impossible. So popular were the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher that joint authorship was claimed for plays written singly or in collaboration with others.)
Plays Authored Singly
Written with Francis Beaumont