I’m looking for a modern print edition…

of Beaumont, Fletcher, and Field’s The Queen of Corinth, and recalling how unfriendly the Beaumont-Fletcher canon is to researchers. A standard author search for “Beaumont, Francis” will generally bring up Philaster and The Knight of the Burning Pestle, and for “Fletcher, John” there’s The Faithful Shepherdess and The Woman’s Prize or The Tamer Tamed (and, in our library, some books on mushroom, pest, and disease control). You certainly don’t get the whole canon of either dramatist; most catalogues will only give title results for individual works, and not works in a collection (some libraries will provide such results, but only if they’re the kind of library that has enough money, time, and staff to take on the enormous task of cross-referencing and tagging every single anthology or collected works in the library; ours is decidedly not this kind of library).

But even searching for a “collected works” of either playwright yields spotty and incomplete results, because the two tended to work together, and  editors haven’t yet decided on a conventional way of publishing their works. Some have opted to produce editions of “Beaumont and Fletcher” works, with only the plays we know they certainly produced together, leaving the plays that each dramatist wrote individually to separate “Works of Francis Beaumont,” “Works of John Fletcher” multi-volume sets. Some editors have opted to publish all the major works by each dramatist individually along with their collaborations (sometimes choosing to indicate which plays belong to which dramatist, and sometimes opting to throw everything together in one messy stew of a book (i.e. most 18th- and 19th-century editions). But any of these  organisational practices are selective, and so there really isn’t a definitive “complete works” of either Beaumont, or Fletcher, or Beaumont and Fletcher. Occasionally, one can find the play one’s looking for in a collected works belonging to another dramatist (Fletcher and Massinger’s A Very Woman in a collected Massinger, for example). Some plays, however, don’t seem to make it into any modern edition at all. So The Queen of Corinth isn’t in any of the Beaumont/Fletcher/Beaumont-and-Fletcher collections we’ve got on the shelves in our library. Nor is it in the “Collected Nathan Field” (mainly because no such collection exists). And I can’t search the title through interlibrary loan because the RACER database is one of those that isn’t set up to search titles within a collection.

I suppose I could make note of all the possible collections of Beaumont and Fletcher that I can find through RACER and then search information on these editions online to find if any of them might actually have the plays I want (ugh). Or just read them in the EEBO facsimile (whee!); what’s lovely is that even though early modern editions of Beaumont and Fletcher and co. are still inconsistent in deciding which plays get credited to each dramatist, the early modern folk published far more single editions of plays than we do — and most of these editions are searchable by title in EEBO. Moreover, the EEBO folk are marvelous at tagging, and most title searches will also bring up the collected works that include the requested work (as well as any commendatory pamphlets or essays that ever mentioned the work).

At any rate, modern editions are useful, and informative, and often very pretty looking, but EEBO remains my most stable comps companion. Nevertheless, someone really really ought to start editing Nathan Field.

17 August 2011 ~ Hamilton

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