Philaster; or, Love Lies-a-Bleeding is a story of romantic intrigue set in the court of the King of Sicily revolving around conventional courtly entanglements like a princess being promised by her father to one man while she is actually in love with another and turns on the time-honored British stage tradition of character assumed by all to be a man divulging that, in fact, he has been a she masquerading as a he all this time.
Although the plot mechanics were already familiar to audiences when the play first premiered sometime between 1608 and 1610, the story is one of those rare 17th century productions that features an original narrative, albeit one very obviously trading in on themes made popular by Shakespeare. If there is any analogue to which Philaster can be said to most resemble in terms of narrative, it is probably the Bard’s Cymbeline in an indication of just how much more popular that Shakespearean effort was then than now.
Philaster is officially credited in the Stationers Register of 1619 as being written by “Francis Baymont and John Fletcher.” Baymont is today more often referred to with the spelling Beaumont and most scholars attribute the bulk of composition to him based upon similarity of style to other existing works know to be written by him. Fletcher is typically given credit for the play’s more obviously melodramatic scenes such as opening of Act I, parts of Act II and most of the latter half of Act V.
Although set in an exotic foreign location bearing little actual resemblance to reality, Philaster could be read by contemporary audiences as a commentary upon their own political situation. The story of a king maneuvering within the sphere of royal engagements for the diplomatic purpose of attaching his country to might of Spain bore obvious allusions to England’s James I hoping to marry his son Charles to the Infanta Maria Anna of Spain. The twist here is that rather endowing their own fictional tale with this layer of real-life court intrigue, negotiations for what would become known as the “Spanish Match” did not actually begin until 1614, at least four years after the play’s first performance.