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Questioning the Classics

John Fletcher’s Rome is the first book to explore Fletcher’s engagement with classical antiquity. Fletcher was the most influential playwright of the Jacobean era, whose canon amounts to around 10 per cent of the extant plays of the early modern commercial theatre. Like his more celebrated contemporaries Shakespeare and Jonson, Fletcher wrote, alone or in collaboration, a number of Roman plays: Bonduca, Valentinian, The False One, and The Prophetess. Unlike Shakespeare’s or Jonson’s plays, however, Fletcher’s Roman plays have seldom been the subject of sustained critical discussion. This groundbreaking study examines these plays as a group for the first time, identifying disorientation as the unifying principle of Fletcher’s portrayal of imperial Rome. John Fletcher’s Rome argues that Fletcher’s dramatization of ancient Rome exudes a sense of scepticism regarding the authority of ancient models that is connected to his irreverent approach to classical texts. In doing so, the book sheds new light on Fletcher’s intellectual life, provides fresh insights into his vision of history, illuminates the interconnections between the Roman plays and the rest of his canon, and offers a corrective to dominant narratives that equate Shakespeare’s Rome with ancient Rome as perceived in the early modern imagination in general. As we approach the quatercentenary of Fletcher’s death in 2025, John Fletcher’s Rome offers a worthwhile reappraisal of a playwright who produced a dispirited yet vibrant dramatization of the ancient Roman world that shines as a uniquely gripping instance of the reception of the classical past on the early modern stage.

Fletcher and the classics
Domenico Lovascio

This chapter begins by providing an account of Fletcher’s education and then offers a thorough and systematic analysis of the ways in which Fletcher selected and approached his classical sources in the context of his writing practice, something that has never been done before in such a comprehensive way. This leads to the identification of a modus operandi that appears to have been distinctive to Fletcher’s deployment of the classics. Fletcher was fond of consulting works by historians of Late Antiquity (especially Greek ones) rather than those belonging to the ‘golden age’ of Latin historiography. This choice of unexpected sources seems to have had a role in determining the sense of disorientation that comes across as the cipher of Fletcher’s portrayal of Rome, especially insofar as those historians generally provided a depiction of Rome that tended to be more pessimistic than that offered by golden-age writers. This chapter then considers Valentinian and The Prophetess in close detail as two case studies that effectively exemplify Fletcher’s approach to his classical sources, which also characteristically entails what appears to have been a programmatic intention to combine well-known materials with recently published works. Finally, the chapter relates Fletcher’s de facto rejection of the grammar school canon in his dramatic writing to his depiction of scholars and learning in his plays, thereby shedding light on a potential connection between his life experiences and his portrayal of education.

in John Fletcher’s Rome
Shakespeare’s exemplary Roman plays
Domenico Lovascio

The chapter offers a survey of the debt of the Fletcher canon to Shakespeare’s Roman plays in general and then focuses on Valentinian, Bonduca, The False One, and The Prophetess. Valentinian is in conversation with Julius Caesar. Bonduca is shown to refashion motifs from Cymbeline and Antony and Cleopatra. The False One draws upon both Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. The discussion of The Prophetess sheds light on Fletcher and Massinger’s appropriation of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, particularly as concerns the depiction of Diocletian, who is modelled more after Shakespeare’s Antony than the historical emperor. Fletcher appears to put Shakespeare’s Roman plays on the same level as the accounts of the classical historians, interweaving Shakespeare’s dramatic retellings of Roman history with actual historical accounts. The Shakespearean example seems to direct the choices and decisions of the Fletcherian characters by bestowing on them a kind of prescience of future events. When Fletcher’s Roman plays are considered in the broader context of the King’s Men’s repertory, the possibility arises that the effect of this Shakespearean memory could have been enhanced if the same actors performed different roles in different plays. While Fletcher’s conversation with Shakespeare’s Roman plays spans his entire career, it intensifies in 1619–23, when he seems to have been attracted to previously unpublished plays and when work towards the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio was under way. The chapter ends by wondering whether Fletcher might have had a role in the First Folio’s preparation

in John Fletcher’s Rome
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Diarist and heiress
Jill Liddington
in Female Fortune
Politics and Religion - December 1834–May 1835
Jill Liddington

With a general election in January, Anne Lister needed to keep a sharp eye on her enfranchised tenants. Especially in the new Halifax constituency, every vote counted. She extracted every single Halifax vote that she could. Her Blue candidate, Wortley, won by just one single vote. The reaction of the Whig and the Radical mob was quite violent. Later it became known as ‘the window-breaking election’.

There were protests about the legality of the tactics used by Wortley’s supporters. Anne and Ann, up at Shibden, were not immune. The West Riding newspapers printed among their marriage announcements that of Captain Tom Lister to Miss Ann Walker. Anne took this public lampooning in her stride; but Ann found it more difficult.

Meanwhile, Anne continued with her coalmining developments at Shibden. High up, isolated Walker pit (named in honour of Ann) would always be small-scale; below Shibden, however, Anne planned her larger and more ambitious Listerwick pit. And she did not stop there: she wanted to obtain a licence for Northgate, the imposing house in Halifax she had inherited. She wanted to run it as a profitable town-centre inn (then known as a ’casino’).

in Female Fortune
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September 1834–November 1834
Jill Liddington

Ann Walker had now moved in to live at Shibden with Anne, her elderly father, irritating sister and much loved aunt. However, Ann Walker had an inconvenient number of relatives living locally – notably the Priestleys in Lightcliffe and the Rawsons down in Halifax. They were suspicious as to why this shy wealthy heiress should leave her own home for Shibden. The Rawsons’ suspicions about Anne Lister further sharpened, as she began to develop her own coalmines – in competition with theirs.

in Female Fortune
June 1835–September 1835
Jill Liddington

After the death of their brother, Ann Walker and her sister Elizabeth had inherited the large and sprawling Crow Nest estate. The division of their property was always going to be complex. Especially when Captain Sutherland, Elizabeth’s husband, grew suspicious of Anne Lister’s motives in dividing the estate. Luckily, the transactions were handled by smooth-talking lawyers.

September ended with a public stone-laying ceremony at Anne’s Northgate Casino in Halifax. Given the recent newspaper lampooning, this was a brave move. It went off without incident, and helped establish a public respectability for Anne and Ann’s relationship. But of course, behind some of the smiles, real tensions remained.

in Female Fortune
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The Anne Lister Diaries, 1833–36 - Land, gender and authority
Author: Jill Liddington

"Female Fortune is the book which inspired Sally Wainwright to write Gentleman Jack, now a major drama series for the BBC and HBO.

Lesbian landowner Anne Lister inherited Shibden Hall in 1826. She was an impressive scholar, fearless traveller and successful businesswoman, even developing her own coalmines. Her extraordinary diaries, running to 4–5 million words, were partly written in her own secret code and recorded her love affairs with startling candour. The diaries were included on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2011.

Jill Liddington’s classic edition of the diaries tells the story of how Anne Lister wooed and seduced neighbouring heiress Ann Walker, who moved in to live with Anne and her family in 1834. Politically active, Anne Lister door-stepped her tenants at the 1835 Election to vote Tory. And socially very ambitious, she employed architects to redesign both the Hall and the estate.

Yet Ann Walker had an inconvenient number of local relatives, suspicious of exactly how Anne Lister could pay for all her grand improvements. Tensions grew to a melodramatic crescendo when news reached Shibden of the pair being burnt in effigy.

This 2022 edition includes a fascinating Afterword on the recent discovery of Ann Walker’s own diary. Female Fortune is essential reading for those who watched Gentleman Jack and want to know more about the extraordinary woman that was Anne Lister.

Town meets country
Jill Liddington
in Female Fortune
December 1833–August 1834
Jill Liddington

Anne Lister returned to Shibden, and her relationship with Ann Walker was reignited. By February 1834, their ‘marriage’ did seem settled. Rings were symbolically exchanged; and Anne wrote in code of Ann’s ‘being under no authority but mine’. On Easter day, at Goodramgate church in York, ‘our union’ was solemnized by taking the sacrament together. Then, after travelling for three months in France and Switzerland, they returned together to Shibden.

in Female Fortune