Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fletcher and Massinger


'Saturday 16 May 1668

Up; and to the Office, where we sat all the morning; and at noon, home with my people to dinner; and thence to the Office all the afternoon, till, my eyes weary, I did go forth by coach to the King’s playhouse, and there saw the best part of “The Sea Voyage,” where Knepp I see do her part of sorrow very well. I afterwards to her house; but she did not come presently home; and there I did kiss her ancilla, which is so mighty belle; and I to my tailor’s, and to buy me a belt for my new suit against to-morrow; and so home, and there to my Office, and afterwards late walking in the garden; and so home to supper, and to bed, after Nell’s cutting of my hair close, the weather being very hot.'

Samuel Pepys (diary) was much taken with Elizabeth Knepp, who played in John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s “The Sea Voyage”.  Fletcher and Massinger wrote for the King’s Men company, a collaboration which apparently continues after death, with the two sharing a tomb.  Sir Walter Scott includes the two as part of his self-interview, in the introduction to “The Fortunes of Nigel”.

‘Captain. The White Lady of Avenel, I suppose?--You have told the
very story before.


Author. No--I beheld a female form, with mob-cap, bib, and apron,
sleeves tucked up to the elbow, a dredging-box in the one hand, and in
the other a sauce-ladle. I concluded, of course, that it was my
friend's cook-maid walking in her sleep; and as I knew he had a value
for Sally, who could toss a pancake with any girl in the country, I
got up to conduct her safely to the door. But as I approached her, she
said,--"Hold, sir! I am not what you take me for;"--words which seemed
so opposite to the circumstances, that I should not have much minded
them, had it not been for the peculiarly hollow sound in which they
were uttered.--"Know, then," she said, in the same unearthly accents,
"that I am the spirit of Betty Barnes."--"Who hanged herself for love
of the stage-coachman," thought I; "this is a proper spot of work!"--
"Of that unhappy Elizabeth or Betty Barnes, long cook-maid to Mr.
Warburton, the painful collector, but ah! the too careless custodier,
of the largest collection of ancient plays ever known--of most of
which the titles only are left to gladden the Prolegomena of the
Variorum Shakspeare. Yes, stranger, it was these ill-fated hands That
consigned to grease and conflagration the scores of small quartos,
which, did they now exist, would drive the whole Roxburghe Club out of
their senses--it was these unhappy pickers and stealers that singed
fat fowls and wiped dirty trenchers with the lost works of Beaumont
and Fletcher, Massinger, Jonson, Webster--what shall I say?--even of
Shakspeare himself!"


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