Republicanism in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster


Judy H. Park


The article examines the engagement of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s tragicomedy Philaster with contemporaneous political critiques of monarchical sovereignty. It argues that Philaster stages the possibilities of republicanism and the mixed constitution well before the direct assault on monarchy in the English Civil War made a constitutional republic possible in England. My reading of Philaster draws attention to the play’s persistent concern with the humanist notion of the vita activa, which suggested that the collective action of subjects in the interests of the commonweal could form a bulwark against tyranny by offering counsel to sovereigns. The dominant tendency in literary criticism is to align Philaster with political conservatism while overlooking its relevance to proto-republican debates in early modern political discourse, while many historians tend, analogously, to understate the presence of a republican current in English political thought preceding the English Revolution. In contrast to both assumptions, my reading of Philaster analyzes the emerging conceptions of republicanism in the play and its broader cultural context, and it stresses the potentially subversive, even revolutionary implications of the play. Against the conventional assumption that Fletcherian tragicomedy expresses royalist convictions, I argue that a closer look at Philaster demands that we reassess the politics of tragicomedy as a genre.

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