Francis Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle was reputedly a failure. Scholars have puzzled over why the play apparently failed but perhaps they have missed the more interesting question. Why did it succeed? Although it seemingly failed at the Blackfriars, when performed by the Children of the Queen's Revels, in 1607, it was later performed at the Cockpit by Queen Henrietta Maria's Men in the 1630s (and then at St James' Palace, in 1636). The 1635 second quarto specifically mentions the play's theatrical venue on its title page and removes the references to theatrical failure which characterized the earlier quarto. There may be several reasons for the lack of critical attention afforded to this later, seemingly more successful production. The notion that the play may have succeeded may seem less interesting than the assumption that the play failed; part of the allure of Pestle derives from the assumption that modernity has been able to appreciate what early modernity did not. Scholarship has also tended to canonize originals and marginalize revivals. Similarly, the Caroline era has less critical cachet than the Jacobean period and the Cockpit has generated less interest than the Blackfriars, in part due to Shakespeare's association with the latter playhouse.

This article aims to redress matters by attending to a now familiar play in an unfamiliar context. Situating the play in relation to the known repertory history of the Cockpit it argues that the changing theatrical circumstances enabled Queen Henrietta's Men to recuperate a famous failure. This recuperation was not the inevitable consequence of the play's inherent brilliance but the result of a complex set of dramatic and political factors. The repertory of Queen Henrietta's Men was very different to the repertory of the Children of the Queen's Revels; in the 1630s Pestle was performed alongside the kind of plays which it satirized, thus changing, and intensifying, its intertheatrical connections.


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pp. 47-66
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