The Knight of the Burning Pestle
Perhaps a different title might be in order.
Although obviously not the correct title of the play, it might have been more appropriate for Beaumont's play, "The Knight of the Burning Pestle". Why? Because essentially there are three plays in one, and the result reflects the relationship between audience and theater in a certain box in box feel.
Francis Beaumont, born in roughly 1584-1585, was a student at Broadgates Hall, Oxford in 1597, and began as a lawyer at the Inner Temple, an association of law and justice. As his father had worked as a lawyer there, it came that Beaumont, as well as his two older brothers, also came to work at the Inner Temple.
Beaumont began his writing career during his time at the Inner Temple, beginning with “Grammar Lecture” for one of the Christmas revels. His elder brother, John, was also interested in the writing of plays, but as inheritor of the family estate, had to keep his attention on other affairs. Eventually, Francis Beaumont turned to playwriting, with the publication of The Woman Hater in 1606. This play involved social and political satire, along with parodies of current theater conventions with language and comical action. These traits became apparent in his next play, The Knight of the Burning Pestle. However, this play was his last solo play, perhaps because of a lack of success in performance.
Beaumont had already been working somewhat with John Fletcher, born in 1579, as the latter had edited The Woman Hater not long after the initial performance in 1606 by Children of Paul’s. As the two were friends, they worked together in the future to produce more plays, such as The Maid’s Tragedy. He died in 1616.
The story of the London Merchant involves the tension involved with class and love. Jasper, the Merchant's apprentice, is in love with Luce, the Merchant's daughter. After being dismissed by his master for loving Luce, Jasper spirits Luce away and the two flee from the Merchant so they can be together. Unfortunately the Merchant catches up to them, wounding Jasper and taking Luce back.
At this point, Luce has been locked away in her room and only the Merchant or her betrothed, Humphrey, can visit her. Jasper hatches the plan where he fakes his death and asks that Luce be allowed to see his body. He then manages to smuggle her out of the house through use of the coffin, and he escapes by confronting the Merchant in the guise of a ghost.
The play ends with the the Merchant finally letting be the love between Luce and Jasper, and a song from Jasper's father, Old Merrythought, who has sung his way through the play.
The Knight of the Burning Pestle stars Rafe as the Knight, who begins as a Grocer and ventures about to protect others, as a romantic or gentile knight would do. Eventually, he learns of the giant Barbaroso, who has killed various many knights and ladies, and has kept many captive as well. Soon, Rafe comes to the home of Barbaroso, whereupon the two fight. Rafe wins the battle, keeping Barbaroso alive as he sends his squires to free the captives. Then he gives mercy to Barbaroso, and continues on his journey.
Eventually, Rafe comes to the court of the King of Moldavia, where the daughter of the king, Pompiona, comes to love him. Unfortunately for her, Rafe is already promised to someone else, and so he continues on his way (after giving various gifts of money). He was then chosen as the Lord of May, whereupon he danced in costume for everyone.
Finally, Rafe calls soldiers together and leads his men to battle as the leader of the group at Mile End, during the Peasants' Revolt. He then returns home to his post as Grocer, and in a battle with Death, loses. As a result, he dies, giving a long dramatic monologue at the end of his life.
George and Nell are two citizens who, unhappy with the theater for having produced many plays decrying the rising middle class, demand that the theater troup allow them to see a play of their own choosing, "The Knight of the Burning Pestle", with Rafe as the star. They then proceed to watch the play, which takes place at the same as the original production of "The London Merchant" and make many comments and requests, much of which affects "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" and even "The London Merchant" to a degree. At the end of the play, they leave the theater much as an audience might, though Nell invites everyone to dinner.