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FreeArchival Reflections

The Fortunes of Fletcher’s “Against Astrologers”


This essay charts the fortunes of the longest and most significant poem by John Fletcher (1579–1625), an author chiefly remembered for his work as a collaborative playwright. Despite its unique status in the Fletcher canon, the poem has never received sustained critical attention and, as this essay argues, scholars have relied for centuries on a corrupt and mutilated text. The poem was first published in the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher Folio under the title “Upon an Honest Man’s Fortune” as a paratext to the play The Honest Man’s Fortune (1613). Using evidence from seven early manuscript witnesses, this essay argues that the publisher Humphrey Moseley not only fabricated this title and dramatic connection but also omitted lines from the poem to fit it within the available print space. Reintroducing critics to Fletcher’s poem, this essay provides a new text, edited from a manuscript with a connection to Fletcher himself and containing twenty-three hitherto unpublished lines, and proposes the adoption of a new title: “Against Astrologers.” Considered on its own terms, “Against Astrologers” can be appreciated as a devotional work that expands our understanding of Fletcher’s literary career and the personal networks that influenced his writing.

There is a curious irony in the fortunes of John Fletcher’s poetry. On the one hand, Fletcher’s nondramatic verse has been all but ignored by scholars of early modern English literature, despite his status as the most important collaborator of that least ignored poet-playwright, William Shakespeare. The situation is perhaps understandable: no volume of his poetry was published during his lifetime, and the modest canon of about dozen extant poems, attributed to Fletcher with varying degrees of confidence, is vastly overshadowed by his prodigious dramatic output.1 To scholars today, Fletcher is rarely remembered as a poet at all. On the other hand, despite this scholarly amnesia, Fletcher is responsible for one of the passages of Renaissance verse most widely encountered by American readers. When Ralph Waldo Emerson published his now classic essay “Self-Reliance” (1841), he chose some unfamiliar Fletcherian lines to serve as an epigraph:

“Man is his own star, and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Command all light, all influence, all fate,
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”
Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Honest Man’s Fortune.2

Perceiving in these lines an adumbration of his own transcendentalist philosophy, Emerson would remain a passionate admirer of the long poem in which they appear: “I desire to read no better Hymn to a church of aspirants to virtue, than John Fletcher’s Epilogue to the Play ‘The Honest Man’s Fortune.’”3 While Emerson introduced the poem in its entirely to a wider readership by including it in his popular anthology Parnassus (1875),4 it is the enduring canonicity of “Self-Reliance” that has allowed Fletcher’s verses to enjoy a strangely robust afterlife in American culture. Thus, in an ironic twist of fate, although no lines of Fletcher’s poetry appear in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, they can be read in essentially every anthology of American literature on the market today.

The poem that Emerson so admired was first printed in the 1647 Folio volume Comedies and Tragedies Written by Francis Beaumont and Iohn Fletcher Gentlemen, published by Humphrey Moseley. While not (pace Emerson) explicitly identified as the epilogue to The Honest Man’s Fortune (1613), the poem was appended to the final page of that play under the heading “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune By Mr. John Fletcher.”5 If Emerson was captivated by the poem’s philosophical insights, the few literary scholars who have noticed it have been more attracted to the potential light it seems to shed on the poet himself. Indeed, John Fletcher has long proven elusive as an author in his own right. The publication of 1647 Folio made no effort to distinguish the authorship of the individual plays and centuries of subsequent readers were conditioned by some of the Folio’s paratexts to envision a model of collaborative authorship that effectively effaced the identity of either writer: “For still your fancies are so wov’n and knit, / ’Twas FRANCIS-FLETCHER, or IOHN BEAUMONT writ” (b1r). While the labors of twentieth-century scholars have done much to distinguish on stylistic grounds the canon of plays that might be considered exclusively Fletcherian, the same analyses have also served to reveal just how much of Fletcher’s extant writing was the product of wider networks of collaboration—not only with Beaumont and Shakespeare, but also with Philip Massinger, Nathan Field, William Rowley, George Chapman, and potentially others. If, in Gordon McMullan’s words, “Fletcher was, above all, a collaborator,”6 this collaborative promiscuity both consolidates Fletcher’s status as an indispensable figure in the Jacobean theater and explains why Fletcher has, until only recently, rarely been considered on his own terms. As Lucy Munro has summarized: “We are used to thinking of Fletcher in terms of ‘— and Fletcher.’”7 It is perhaps emblematic that the best-known play of Fletcher’s sole authorship, The Woman’s Prize (1610), is a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (1592): even writing alone, Fletcher is textually inextricable from his theatrical community. Moreover, as McMullan has recently explored, the very nature of dramatic writing provides a fundamental set of problems for the critic seeking to answer the question, “Who is ‘John Fletcher’?”8

In this light, “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune,” by far the longest of Fletcher’s extant poems, occupies a unique position in the author’s canon, not only offering an example of Fletcher at his most—to borrow the Emersonian phrase—self-reliant but also tantalizing scholars with a glimpse of the poet at his most personally revealing. In fact, the elevated subject matter of the poem so sharply differentiates it from Fletcher’s other largely dedicatory or commendatory verses that critics have been tempted to classify the poem as a kind of personal manifesto. The nineteenth-century editor Henry Weber called it “valuable proof of Fletcher’s religious and moral creed,” while the biographer Charles Mills Gayley enthused that this “utterance of Fletcher’s inmost personality” contained “the noblest lines he ever wrote.” Even a more circumspect A. C. Bradley conceded that the poem brings us “nearer than usual to the poet himself.”9 Such a prospect has proven especially appealing to Shakespearean scholars given that The Honest Man’s Fortune was first performed in 1613, in close proximity to the composition of the collaborative plays Cardenio (1612), All Is True (1612), and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), thus tempting scholars with insights into the mind of the man with whom Shakespeare was working. Compelled by this possibility, Lois Potter provided a modernized and annotated text of the verses in her definitive Arden edition of The Two Noble Kinsmen, commenting: “Since their title specifically ties them to the play, … it may be wrong to interpret them as a personal statement, but they are more like one than anything else that Fletcher wrote.”10

Whether or not we choose to read it as a personal manifesto, the poem published as “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” can reasonably be considered the most significant surviving work in Fletcher’s nondramatic oeuvre. However, despite this special distinction, Fletcher’s poem has yet to receive any sustained critical attention even at the most basic level and, as such, remains shrouded in mysteries and misapprehensions. Indeed, scholars have yet to confront the fundamental questions raised by the poem’s appearance in the 1647 Folio. If the poem is not presented as an epilogue to The Honest Man’s Fortune, what exactly is the poem’s relationship to the play? Can we even consider it an example of Fletcher’s “nondramatic” verse at all? And how reliable is the Folio text of the poem? These basic questions remain unanswered because scholars have left largely unexplored the life of the poem beyond the Folio, namely, its circulation in manuscript.11 If Lara M. Crowley has recently called attention to “the need to reassess Fletcher’s poetic canon” using manuscript evidence, the case of “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” provides a particularly clear example of the textual implications of this evidence.12 As Peter Beal notes in his Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450–1700, transcriptions of the poem appear in seven different seventeenth-century miscellanies, all plausibly dated before the poem’s first appearance in print.13 While these manuscript witnesses endorse the Folio’s attribution to Fletcher, they undermine almost every other facet of the Folio’s presentation of the poem upon which scholars have relied for centuries.

The present article attempts to untangle the textual complications surrounding this poem for the first time. I begin by revisiting the question of the poem’s alleged relationship to The Honest Man’s Fortune and the problems this connection raises. Turning to the manuscript witnesses, I argue that the Folio’s “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” represents a significantly distorted text of Fletcher’s poem published under an unauthoritative and deliberately misleading title. Indeed, charting the fortunes of Fletcher’s poem provides us with a revealing case study of how literary works could be treated in the seventeenth-century print shop. As I will argue, Humphrey Moseley’s decision to treat the poem as a paratext to The Honest Man’s Fortune was deeply consequential. At one level, the fabricated relationship between poem and play has discouraged later critics from considering the poem on its own terms. But more seriously, Moseley’s choice to print the poem as paratextual space filler adorning one of the Folio’s plays entailed a blatant indifference to textual fidelity: indeed, the publication of Fletcher’s poem in the 1647 Folio represents a clear case of a stationer mutilating the text of a poem in the interest of print space. In the final section of the article, I reintroduce critics to Fletcher’s longest and most significant poem by providing a new text, edited from a manuscript that has a demonstrable chain of connections to Fletcher himself, containing twenty-three hitherto unpublished lines. Discarding the misleading Folio title, I propose that scholars should rechristen the poem with an alternative found in one of the manuscript sources: “Against Astrologers.” Situated in the context of early modern astrology, the poem becomes legible as a devotional work that allows us to adjust our scholarly picture of Fletcher’s writing career, suggesting new avenues for criticism of the wider Fletcherian canon.


The poem titled “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” in Comedies and Tragedies Written by Francis Beaumont and Iohn Fletcher Gentlemen (1647) has long proven an awkward problem for editors of the Beaumont and Fletcher canon. Printed in italics in two columns on the final page of The Honest Man’s Fortune, the poem’s placement and its assigned title clearly imply some kind of relationship with the play to which it is appended (fig. 1).14 However, it is not evident what, exactly, this relationship could be. Unlike many other paratextual verses in the Folio, “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” is not identified as a prologue or an epilogue, and, at ninety-two lines, it could hardly have served as such in performance. Nor is any connection with the play evident from the poem itself: no characters are named, no narrative is referred to, nor do the verses even allude to the existence of any play or performance at all. Such a discrepancy raised editorial eyebrows as early as the eighteenth century. While the 1647 Folio’s placement of the poem immediately after the play was reproduced in the first critical edition of the Beaumont and Fletcher canon (1750), the editors of the 1778 Dramatick Works of Beaumont and Fletcher decided this tradition was not worth following. Choosing instead to relocate the poem to the edition’s frontmatter, the 1778 editors justified their intervention: “These Verses are in all former Editions printed at the end of the Comedy of The Honest Man’s Fortune: As they have not the least reference to that Play, we have chose to place them here.”15

Figure 1. 
Figure 1. 

Francis Beaumont et al., Comedies and Tragedies Written by Francis Beaumont and Iohn Fletcher Gentlemen (London, 1647), 5X4v. Courtesy Northwestern University Libraries.

This editorial decision to separate the poem from the play would prove to be short lived. In his 1812 edition of The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, Henry Weber restored the poem to its Folio position, commenting: “As the title-page [sic] evidently refers to this comedy, and as the poem seems to be a moralization on the subject of it, I have replaced these lines in the same situation they occupied before the last edition [of 1778].”16 The Reverend Alexander Dyce, in his own influential 1843 edition, followed Weber’s decision to restore the Folio placement without additional comment. And yet Dyce’s silence is striking given his possession of a manuscript copy of The Honest Man’s Fortune (Victoria and Albert Museum, MS Dyce 25.F.9), a transcript in the hand of the King’s Men scribe Edward Knight, prepared in 1625 as a replacement for the lost playbook that was licensed by the Master of the Revels for the original 1613 production.17 Although Dyce was the first to make editorial use of the manuscript by publishing its “many very important corrections of the text,” he failed to inform his readers that the verses “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” do not appear in the 1625 manuscript of the play at all.18 Since Dyce, the proximity of the poem with the play has remained consistent in the editorial tradition. In Fredson Bowers’s monument of new bibliography, The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon (1966–96), Cyrus Hoy’s edition of The Honest Man’s Fortune follows tradition by printing the poem after the play, which, given its peripheral status as nondramatic verse, is treated as an awkward inconvenience, effectively ignored in the editorial commentary.19

Arguably, the most consequential decision in the editorial history sketched above was Weber’s restoration of the Folio placement: dissenting from the 1778 editors’ claim that the poem had “not the least reference” to The Honest Man’s Fortune, Weber defended his editorial choice with a literary critical claim that the poem was “a moralization on the [play’s] subject.” Such a view has been endorsed in the twentieth century by such scholars as R. C. Bald and Philip J. Finkelpearl, who, while rejecting the poem’s status as an epilogue, nevertheless describes it as “an independent poem on the same theme as the play.”20 Such a designation has the effect of placing the poem in an ambiguous space between drama and poetry that discourages critical attention, a work not quite part of the play’s text and yet still tethered to and defined in relation to it. And yet an actual comparison of the poem with the play invites the question of whether the two can really be said to address the “same theme” at all. The most evident form of connection is of course the Folio title, which is echoed by the occurrence of the word “honest” twice in the poem, once in the lines quoted by Emerson, but more significantly in the poem’s final couplet, which closely repeats the imagery from the earlier passage: “Man is his own Star, and that soule that can / Be honest is the only perfect man” (lines 91–92). This punctuating statement that honesty is the condition for human perfection would seem to draw the clearest connection between the moral of the poem and the play’s titular subject. However, whether this lexical echo is matched by more substantial parallels is less clear.

The main narrative of The Honest Man’s Fortune concerns Montaigne, described in the 1679 folio’s list of dramatis personae as “an honest lord,” a sometime spendthrift who is driven to destitution after losing a lawsuit. Despite his prodigal past, Montaigne’s servants revere him and manage to protect him from an assassination attempt by the jealous Duke of Orleans. While Montaigne loses what little he has after being tricked by the rapacious Malicorn, he finds employment as a servant in the household of the eligible lady Lamira. His exemplary honesty prevents him from flattering Lamira’s suitors, and in the final scene, he shares his scathing indictments of the three bad suitors and recommends that Lamira marry the good Duke of Amiens. She chooses Montaigne himself. Throughout this play of virtue in adversity, Montaigne is the play’s emblem of stoic endurance of his bad fortunes: as he philosophizes upon learning of his financial ruin, “We cannot be more faithfull to our selves / In any thing that’s manly, then to make / Ill fortune as contemptible to us / As it makes us to others” (1.1.284–87). Such stoic resilience, expressed throughout the play, indeed resonates with “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune,” whose speaker rejects the power of “Want” to “make me groan,” and describes “Affliction” as “A deep allay whereby man tougher is / To bear the hammer” (lines 69, 85–87).

In other respects, however, the poem and the play sit in some tension. The play’s comic ending, in which Montaigne’s virtues are rewarded through marriage to the wealthy Lamira, jars with the poem’s denouement, in which the speaker declares his wholesale rejection of romantic attachments with the resolution, “My mistris then be knowledge and faire truth” (line 79). If the ultimate positions of the poem and play would seem to be incompatible, the main interests of the two works are also apparently at odds. The first third of the poem’s lines emerge from the speaker’s hostility toward astrologers, apostrophized in the poem’s opening line as “You that can look through Heaven, and tell the Stars.” Such a motivating polemic makes an odd pairing with The Honest Man’s Fortune, which features no astrologer characters like those who appear in Rollo, Duke of Normandy (1617) or The City Madam (1632) and who might provide a narrative foundation for the poem’s focus. Nor does the overarching moral of the poem fare any better: despite the lines so loved by Emerson, the main intellectual trajectory of the poem celebrates self-reliance on individual virtue far less than it advocates trust in God’s providence. Such a theological moral has no parallel in the play. In fact, so distinct are the concerns of the two works that Johan Gerritsen, editing The Honest Man’s Fortune, found the poem “totally unrelated to the play, except in so far as the final, summarizing couplet can also be considered as to some extent reflecting on the play’s theme.”21

Besides the evidence of the poem’s content, another problem arises in light of the play’s authorship. Although The Honest Man’s Fortune appears in the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio, modern attribution studies ascribe the play largely to Nathan Field, with limited contributions by Philip Massinger and Fletcher.22 In fact, Cyrus Hoy’s analysis finds Fletcher’s involvement only in the fifth act, in which he served as sole author only of 5.2 (88 lines) and 5.3 (50 lines) and collaborated with Field on 5.1 (94 lines) and the final scene, 5.4 (272 lines).23 If Hoy’s attributions are accepted as plausible, one wonders why Fletcher would have written an independent poem in connection to a play in which his own involvement was so circumscribed and, since the poem’s internal connection to the play’s narrative is nonexistent and to its themes tenuous at best, what he thought was to be gained by drawing the connection between poem and play in the first place.

Answers to such questions would also need to account for how Fletcher would have imagined readers encountering the poem, which in turn raises the question of the textual provenance of “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune.” The 1647 Folio was the work of the stationer Humphrey Moseley, who was assisted in his editorial labors by James Shirley and, possibly, Richard Brome.24 In his dedicatory address, “The Stationer to the Readers,” Moseley is unusually revealing about the manuscript copies from which he was working. Assuring the reader of the authority of the play texts as printed, Moseley boasts, “I had the Originalls from such as received them from the Authors themselves,” although acquiring these manuscripts required “Care & Pains … more then you’l easily imagine, unlesse you knew into how many hands the Originalls were dispersed” (A3r). We might entertain two possibilities that would explain and justify Moseley’s association of Fletcher’s poem with The Honest Man’s Fortune. One is that Moseley acquired the poem attached to the manuscript copy of the play; the other is that the manuscript copy of the poem was acquired separately and was associated with the play either by its title or, as Lois Potter proposes, because the Folio editors knew “some tradition linking it with the play.”25

To consider the first possibility, it seems unlikely that Moseley acquired the poem attached to the manuscript of The Honest Man’s Fortune that served as the printer’s copy. As discussed earlier, at ninety-two lines and containing no reference to any play or performance, “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” seems both too long and too irrelevant to have served as an epilogue: with no theatrical use, one would not expect the poem to have accompanied a manuscript used in the playhouse, and indeed it is not found in the transcript of The Honest Man’s Fortune prepared by Edward Knight for the King’s Men in 1625. Might Moseley’s “original” of the play have been a presentation manuscript specifically intended for a reading patron? Such a speculation is undermined by bibliographic analyses of the Folio text by Johan Gerristen and Cyrus Hoy, who have observed that the Folio’s textual confusions, misreadings, and the use of long dashes to indicate indecipherable passages all suggest that the compositors were working from messy and at times illegible authorial drafts that the King’s Men had retained and from which Knight produced his own transcript for the 1625 revival.26 That such a manuscript should have included a long and theatrically unnecessary poem seems hard to imagine.

If Fletcher’s verses were unlikely to have accompanied the manuscript of The Honest Man’s Fortune itself, we are compelled to consider other means by which Moseley acquired his manuscript of the poem. As it happens, such a possibility is suggested by the transcriptions of Fletcher’s poem found in seven different manuscript miscellanies, all of which are plausibly dated before the publication of the Folio:27

BrBritish Library, Add. MS 25707, fols. 66r–67r (ca. 1620–50)
HaHarvard University, Houghton Library, MS Eng 626, fols. 10v–12r (ca. late 1630s)
HuHuntington Library, MS HM 198, Part I, pp. 1–2 (ca. 1637)
OeOxford University, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet. c. 50, fols. 78v–80r (ca. 1630s–40s)
OrOxford University, Bodleian Library, MS Rawl. poet. 160, fols. 45r–46r (ca. 1630s)
RoRosenbach Museum & Library, MS 239/23, pp. 85–90 (ca. 1630s)
YaYale University, Beinecke Library, Osborn MS b 197, pp. 123–25 (ca. 1639)

We might imagine the possibility that Moseley encountered Fletcher’s poem in such a miscellany and then took it upon himself to juxtapose the poetic text with the play.28 However, although the four manuscripts that offer an explicit authorial attribution (Br, Or, Hu, and Ya) all agree in endorsing the Folio ascription of the poem to John Fletcher, none of the extant manuscripts provides any warrant for associating the poem with the play. Not only are there no paratextual references to The Honest Man’s Fortune, but there are no manuscripts that even provide the title “Upon an Honest Man’s Fortune.” While Lois Potter assumed that the editors of the Folio were aware of “some tradition linking it with the play,” a closer investigation of manuscript sources casts grave doubts on Moseley’s handling of the poem.

Let us start with some textual considerations. While the manuscript witnesses predictably vary in some important respects, taken as group they provide compelling illumination of problems in the Folio text of the poem at scales both large and small. Some of the Folio’s corrupt readings have been detected by the poem’s prior editors; others have escaped notice. For example, although the Folio’s phrase “Your first unlike opinions” is mirrored in one of the manuscripts (Ro), five agree on the superior reading “unlicked” (Br, Ha, Hu, Oe, Or), alluding to the legend of the mother bear licking her newborn cubs into shape, as in Shakespeare’s image of the “unlicked bear-whelp / That carries no impression like the dam.”29 A mysterious line in the Folio, “A holy hermit is a mind alone” (line 70), is similarly clarified by the reading “mine” in four manuscripts (Br, Ha, Oe, Ro): the godly hermit is immune to the pains of privation, serving as his own rich “mine” of resources, reminiscent of The Two Noble Kinsmen, when Arcite consoles his beloved cellmate, “We are an endless mine to one another.”30 Another consistent variation between the Folio and the manuscripts has significant implications for our understanding of the poem’s message. The Folio prints the following four lines:

Doth not experience teach us all we can
To work our selves into a glorious man?
Love’s but an exhalation to best eyes
The matter spent, and then the fooles fire dyes?
(Lines 71–74)

For the Folio’s “Love’s,” the manuscripts agree on the reading “Is,” and with this single small variant, the passage’s meaning changes entirely:

Doth not experience teach vs all wee can
To worke our selues into a glorious man
Is but an exhalation to best eies,
The matter spent, and then ye fooles fire dies?
(Ha, fol. 11v)

While the Folio’s punctuation suggests that one’s self-fashioning into a “glorious man” is an appropriate goal, in the manuscripts experience teaches that this effort of self-fashioning is vain. We find a parallel for the vivid image of the falling meteor (“exhalation”) in Henry VIII when Cardinal Wolsey tragically describes his descent from “the highest point of all my greatness” with the same word: “I shall fall / Like a bright exhalation in the evening, / And no man see me more.”31 Both cases describe the transience of mortal gloriousness rather than love, as the Folio would have us believe. While the variants described above might be classified as scribal or compositorial misreadings, other variants seem less the result of inadvertent errors of transmission than deliberate intervention, such as the Folio’s avoidance of the name of God: “He is my star” (line 63, for the manuscripts’ “God is my star”) and “to bear the hammer” (line 87, for “to bear God’s hammer”).

Beyond these relatively minor linguistic differences, there are two more consequential ways in which the Folio text departs from the manuscripts. One is the final couplet, the Folio version of which (“Man is his own Star, and that soule that can / Be honest is the only perfect man”) differs completely from the lines found in all of the extant manuscripts: “Why should I stagger? arm’d then thus apace / I tread my fairest hopes new borne in Grace” (Ha, fol. 12r). The second, far more substantial, issue of textual variation is that every manuscript witness provides at least sixteen lines not paralleled in the Folio, most of which are concentrated in a single fourteen-line passage that appears in all of the manuscript witnesses and has hitherto never appeared in print.

Why does the Folio alone lack such an extended passage? One theory would be that the manuscript copy acquired by Moseley stemmed from a family of the texts not otherwise represented by the extant witnesses. However, a better explanation can be found by looking at the peculiar bibliographic features of the poem in relation to the immensely complex process by which the Folio was printed.32 In the interest of efficiency, Moseley distributed various plays to different printers, assigning each of them their own signature alphabet. At the end of each section of plays, Moseley added a catchword to the manuscript copy indicating the title of the play that was to begin the following section. However, Moseley’s original plan was complicated by a few factors, including the late discovery of several new play texts that he chose to add to the Folio as well as unanticipated problems with the printers he had chosen. While the text of The Honest Man’s Fortune was ultimately printed by Edward Griffin in his section 5 (5A–5R4 5S6 5T–5X4), the bibliographical evidence suggests that this was the result of a relatively late reassignment of responsibilities.33 Griffin seems originally to have been assigned six plays: The Sea Voyage, The Double Marriage, The Pilgrim, The Knight of Malta, The Woman’s Prize, and Love’s Cure. That Griffin thought Love’s Cure was to be his last contribution is evinced by the fact that the final quire of that play is a gathering of six leaves rather than the usual four, the final catchword reading “Queene of Corinth” (5S6r), the first play in section 6. Since Griffin had already completed printing his six originally allocated plays when he was asked to print The Honest Man’s Fortune, he was compelled to print the entire Honest Man’s Fortune group—both play and poem—as a standalone unit, which was most efficiently completed on six sheets (5T–5X4). Since he was able to end the play text on the top of the final page of the 5X quire, the only economically viable solution was to print the verses “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” within the blank space of that page.34 Given the strict spatial constraints facing Griffin, we are led to the conclusion that the absence of sixteen lines from Folio text of the poem does not reflect a variant manuscript tradition but rather a simple lack of physical space available to Griffin on the page: printing more than ninety-two lines of verse on 5X4v would have been impossible and it would seem cuts had to be made, which were most likely undertaken by Moseley himself.

However, making cuts to Fletcher’s poem was apparently not Moseley’s only textual intervention. As mentioned earlier, no manuscript witness provides the Folio’s concluding couplet, the lines that would seem to serve as the most compelling evidence of a connection between the poem and The Honest Man’s Fortune. If Moseley cut the text of Fletcher’s poem in order to fit it into the space of the page, it seems entirely possible that the Folio’s concluding couplet represents another deliberate intervention, this one made to justify the connection between the poem and the play beside which it appears. Moseley made a similar intervention in the Folio’s other long nondramatic poem, published under the title “M. Francis Beaumonts Letter to Ben Johnson, written before he and Master Fletcher came to London, with two of the precedent Comedies then not finisht, which deferred their merry meetings at the Mermaid” (3X3v). As Mark Bland has shown, the ending of the poem printed in the Folio differs substantially from the seventeen extant manuscript witnesses, indicating that Moseley rewrote the final five lines of the poem, most conspicuously adding on a final couplet that imagines Beaumont and Jonson toasting each other at the Mermaid: “Ben, vvhen these Scænes are perfect vvee’l taste vvine; / Ile drink thy Muses health, thou shalt quaff mine” (3X4r).35 Compared with his interventions to Beaumont’s poem, Moseley’s rewriting of the ending of Fletcher’s poem is even less artful, essentially repeating lines that had appeared earlier in the poem:

Man is his own star, and the soule that can
Render an honest, and a perfect man
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Man is his own Star, and that soule that can
Be honest is the only perfect man.
(Lines 33–34, 91–92)

Moseley’s motivation in this rewriting of the final couplet is obvious: to create the impression that the poem’s summative moral was about the value of being an honest man, thereby justifying the connection between the poem and The Honest Man’s Fortune. If, in Gerritsen’s opinion, the poem is “totally unrelated to the play, except in so far as the final, summarizing couplet can also be considered as to some extent reflecting on the play’s theme,” then the fact that this couplet was the work of Moseley should lead us to the conclusion that even the title “Vpon an Honest Mans Fortune” was may well have been yet another example of editorial interference to justify the poem’s inclusion in the Folio. And if both title and final couplet can be exposed as unauthoritative, the already tenuous fiber connecting the poem to the play effectively snaps.


The comparison with the extant manuscript witnesses reveals that Moseley’s treatment of Fletcher’s poem in the 1647 Folio has had two deleterious effects on the poem’s reception. First, it erroneously classified the poem as paratext, tethering it to a play to which it has no real relationship. Second, and more seriously, it canonized a deeply flawed and mutilated text of Fletcher’s poem. Even scholars who have seen in the poem the potential for Fletcher’s personal manifesto have universally relied on the incomplete Folio text: the manuscript-only lines have never before been published nor, apparently, have they ever been consulted. The need for a better text of the poem, one based on the manuscript sources rather than the Folio, is self-evident. Admittedly, the textual situation of the poem is far from straightforward: as discussed below, the manuscripts vary in specific readings and even in the overall length of the poem. However, we are aided by the fact that the most complete text of Fletcher’s poem is found in a manuscript with a demonstrable chain of connections to Fletcher himself.

The manuscript in question is British Library, Add. MS 25707 (Br), a folio miscellany compiled in the first half of the seventeenth century by the Skipwith family of Cotes, Leicestershire.36 While its substantial representation of Donne’s poetry is what first attracted the attention of scholars,37 more recent studies of the manuscript by Mary Hobbs and Arthur F. Marotti have revealed it to be intimately connected with the Skipwiths’ Leicestershire milieux, centering largely around the politician and poet Sir William Skipwith (ca. 1564–1610). As Lois Potter noted about this manuscript, the Skipwiths’ network of friends and neighbors provides a direct link to Fletcher himself, whose Leicestershire connections have been discussed by Philip J. Finkelpearl and, more extensively, Gordon McMullan.38 The Skipwith family was close, socially and physically, to Henry and Elizabeth Hastings, the Earl and Countess of Huntingdon, and to Sir John Beaumont of Grace Dieu, the brother of the playwright Francis Beaumont.39 It was perhaps through the Beaumonts that Fletcher made the acquaintance of the Hastings, who evidently became his most important patrons. His manuscript epistle to the Countess of Huntingdon contains the only example of Fletcher’s autograph hand, and Fletcher’s longtime collaborator Philip Massinger provides evidence of their close association when he writes “nor had Fletcher euer / Such Reputation, and credit wonne / But by his honord Patron, Huntington.”40 It was presumably through this network that Fletcher developed his personal connection to Sir William himself, evidenced in the first quarto of The Faithfull Shepheardess (1610?), which includes Fletcher’s dedicatory poem “To the inheritour of all worthines, Sir William Scipwith.” If Fletcher intended to send his play to the Leicestershire poet in hopes of patronage, there is of course good reason to believe other literary offerings were sent as well.

The Skipwith Manuscript—as British Library, Add. MS 25707 is now known—is itself a vivid document of this Leicestershire-London network of writers, gentry, and peers, containing addresses to the Countess of Huntingdon, a fragment of the 1607 entertainment performed at the Hastings’ Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle, verses by Sir William and the Beaumont brothers: as CELM notes, five poems by Francis Beaumont appear in the manuscript, and seven by Sir John, including his long Bosworth Field. In fact, the text of Fletcher’s poem appears in close proximity to poems by the brothers Beaumont and, while the manuscript contains over a dozen different hands, there is an evident connection in textual interest between Fletcher and the Beaumonts, since Fletcher’s poem is copied by the same scribe—referred to by Marotti as Hand F—who also copied two poems each by Francis and Sir John Beaumont.41 While Hand F subscribes Fletcher’s poem simply as “J. F.” (fol. 67r), the manuscript’s table of contents, written by Sir William’s son, Henry Skipwith, lists the poem with an affectionate touch that reinforces the impression of a direct connection: “verses by Jack: Flecher” (fol. 3v).42

The Skipwith Manuscript (Br) then offers us compelling external evidence to prefer its text of the poem as the basis for a new edition. However, this choice is not without its complications: Br’s text is hardly flawless and the major variants between the seven manuscripts of the poem reveal a more complex textual situation. A collation of the witnesses allows us to group the manuscript witnesses into three families. Br, the longest of the extant texts, represents a family unto itself. The two other families agree on the length of the poem but with some significant textual differences between them. The Folio text seems to have been based on an exemplar from the family represented by Hu, Or, and Ya. This conclusion is reached due to the absence of strikingly distinct readings characteristic of the third family, represented by Ha, Oe, and Ro, such as “drew / Lousy impostures” for “grew / Scabby and lousy” (lines 26–27) and “a perfect and an honest” for “an honest and a perfect” (line 34). The Folio text resembles the Hu-Or-Ya family much more closely, sharing with these manuscripts some readings not found in either Br or the Ha-Oe-Ro family, such as “Discourse” for “Dispute” (line 70) and “know” for “see” (line 105).43 Br can be distinguished from both of these families in a number of ways, chief among them the substitution of a six-line passage (lines 89–94) for a couplet shared by the other manuscripts, as well as a separate couplet (lines 99–100) not represented elsewhere. (Further readings unique to Br are listed in the appendix.)

Assessing the nature of the variants between these families poses a challenge for anyone seeking to reconstruct the textual transmission of the poem, not least since many seem less to resemble scribal sophistications or errors than they do authorial revisions.44 This possibility raises the thorny problem of chronology: even if we assume that Fletcher was himself responsible for three distinct versions of his poem, in what order did he produce them? Does Br represent an expansion of a shorter form of the poem, or does it represent an earlier version that was later cut down? In support of the latter possibility, the Br text is arguably inferior to the other families on stylistic grounds. Consider the beginning of the fourteen-line passage excised from the Folio. In the Ha-Oe-Ro family, the passage begins, “Can coyns soe noble as his owne stampes bee / Vnlesse wee blanch, or clipp them, but passe free?” (Ha, fol. 11v). The conceit, in which humans made in God’s image are likened to coins stamped with the face of the monarch (punning on “noble”), specifically alludes to the practice of economic tampering through blanching metal to produce forged silver coins and clipping the edges off of truly minted coins.45 This vivid image is comparatively vague in Br’s reading, shared with the Hu-Or-Ya family: “Can thinges soe Noble as his owne stamps bee / (vnles wee blanck those bewties) but passe free?” (Br, fol. 66r). Similarly, Br uniquely contains the reading “Our actions are our endes” (fol. 66r), a comparatively banal formulation of the exquisite phrase found in the other manuscripts, “Our acts our angels are.” These and other variants might lead one to believe that the Br version represents Fletcher’s earliest attempt, one sent to the poetry-loving Skipwith in a bid for patronage. It is to be hoped that a more rigorous stemmatic analysis will shed further light on these textual questions. For the purposes of the present article, Br has been chosen as the basis for the new edition not with any claim to its being Fletcher’s first draft, but simply by virtue of its being the most complete version of the poem with the best external evidence for a Fletcherian provenance.

There is a final textual issue to be resolved: if, as I have argued above, the title by which the poem has been hitherto known to scholars represents an unauthoritative and deliberately misleading creation by Moseley, how should we refer to it? While the poem goes untitled in six of the seven extant manuscripts, Huntington Library, MS HM 198, Part I offers us an alternative: “Against Astralogers” (p. 1). There is little reason to assume this title is authentically Fletcherian; however, there are two arguments in favor of adopting it. First, it is a more accurate description of the poem’s actual contents than the Folio title, with its implied dramatic connection. Second, we can find some supporting evidence that the Huntington title was not, in fact, unique. On October 7, 1639, the publisher William Wethered made the following entry in the Stationers’ Register:

Will: Wethered.Entred for his Copie vnder the 
 hands of Mr Hansley & Mr Bourne 
 warden Poems by ffrancis 
 Beomont. [sic] gent. vizt. Remedium 
 Amoris. The Passion of Christ.vjd
 wth diuers Elegies. Also a Poem 
 against Stargaizers &c. by Mr 
 Iohn ffletcher46 
While Wethered never ended up printing “a Poem against Stargaizers &c. By Mr Iohn ffletcher,”47 the title entered almost certainly indicates another transcription of the poem we have been tracking and, as such, although we do not have a print witness to Wethered’s copy, we may treat the Stationers’ Register entry itself as a witness to a descriptive title with which the poem was associated, one that supports adopting the title “Against Astrologers.”


Fletcher’s longest, most philosophically engaged poem can now be approached afresh. In what follows, I reintroduce the poem to critics not with the aim of providing an exhaustive excavation of the poem’s intellectual interventions but rather to offer one account of how the newly restored text of the poem allows it to speak on its own terms and to shed new light on Fletcher’s career. To start, adopting the Huntington title allows us to dislodge the interpretive obligation of reading Fletcher’s poem in relation to The Honest Man’s Fortune and to appreciate a more relevant context: the early modern culture of astrology.48 Of the two branches of astrology, Fletcher’s poem concerns what was known as judicial astrology, which produced predictions tailored toward specific individuals using charts of the heavens constructed based on their hour of birth or at the moment they asked specific questions of an astrologer. While most early moderns agreed on the postulates of natural astrology, judicial astrology became a frequent object of suspicion, its critics sharing Francis Bacon’s assessment that astrologers’ practices were founded on nothing but superstition.49 On stage, dramatists found rich comic possibilities in satirical depictions of predatory or foolish astrologers, such as the Astronomer in Lyly’s Galatea (1584), the mad “astrologian” in Webster’s Duchess of Malfi (1613), Albumazar the Astronomer in Thomas Tomkins’s Cambridge play of the same name (1615), or Stargaze in Massinger’s The City Madam (1632).50 Fletcher himself was one of the main authors of Rollo, Duke of Normandy (1617), in which the charlatan astrologers La Fiske, De Bube, and Norbret represent thinly veiled send-ups of the contemporaneous prognosticators Nicholas Fisk, Captain Bubb, and the almanac maker Thomas Bretnor.51 In their long satirical scene, the prognosticators pore over the Duke’s “scheme,” an astrological chart depicting the arrangements of the heavenly bodies at the time of his birth into the various celestial “houses.”52 Norbet’s analysis is characteristic of the astrologers’ dialogue: “I see’t, see the Planets / Where, how they are dispos’d; the Sunne and Mercury, / Mars with the Dragons taile, in the third house, / And pars fortunæ in the Imo cœli.”53 If the dramatic ridicule of astrological practices in Rollo seeks to expose the profession’s practical inefficacy shrouded by a smoke screen of jargon, “Against Astrologers” develops this satirical impulse into a more philosophically grounded critique.54

Fletcher’s poem begins as the speaker challenges astrologers to “Find out my star” and “Observe my fate” (lines 11, 13), this ostensibly neutral tone becoming increasingly satirical as the speaker instructs the astrologers to “Sweep clean your houses, and new line thy schemes” (line 14), drawing on the same terms of art mocked in Rollo. The satire in turn grows into an explicit rejection of astrological pretensions when the speaker declares that God’s providence is beyond human comprehension. The attention of the poem shifts from the astrologers themselves to the human desire to know one’s fate rather than simply trusting in God’s providence: “O man, thou image of thy maker good, / What canst thou fear when breathed into thy blood / His spirit is that built thee?” (lines 45–47). This question, with its biblical allusion to the creation of Adam, inaugurates a long series of such questions in which the speaker challenges the addressee with the manifest signs of God’s providential care for humanity. As Lois Potter aptly observed in editing the Folio text, the questions recall those asked by God in Job 38–41.55 The importance of this passage is even more salient in the manuscripts, where the question series is nearly doubled in length, thirty-two lines compared to the Folio’s eighteen lines. And while God’s questions to Job serve to illustrate his power, the questions asked by Fletcher’s speaker serve as evidence of God’s unwavering attention to humanity, even in states of affliction, punctuated with the speaker’s rejection of the human impulse to look to the stars for guidance and to replace a fixation on astral influence with trust in the divine: “God is my star: in Him all truth I find, / All influence, all fate” (lines 77–78).

“Against Astrologers” is, at its heart, a devotional poem, and while its toying with astrological jargon recalls the satirical impulse of plays such as Rollo, the specifically theological objection against judicial astrology resonates with the serious assaults mounted by some Protestant writers.56 Perhaps most saliently, Fletcher’s critique of astrology’s incompatibility with a trust in God’s providence resembles no one so much as John Calvin, whose Contre l’astrologie, translated into English in 1561, concludes with a resounding dismissal of judicial astrology as “a curiositie not onelye superfluous and vnprofitable: but also euill & wicked: seinge it dothe driue vs away both from the trust and confidence that we ought to haue in God and from the consideration that he would yt we should haue both of his iustice mercy and iudgment and also of the duty which we do owe to our neighbours.”57 If the poem’s satire of astrological jargon echoes the conventions of the theater and if an examination of its circulation in manuscript places it in the context of Fletcher’s literary patrons, the theological thrust of the poem itself rather directs our attention to a different Fletcherian network: his “overwhelmingly ecclesiastical family.”58 While Fletcher’s brother Nathaniel, cousin Phineas, and uncle William Atkinson all persued careers in the church, the most significant of all was Fletcher’s own father, the distinguished preacher Richard Fletcher.59 After delivering a sermon to Queen Elizabeth in 1587, days after the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, Richard Fletcher was appointed bishop of Bristol in 1589 and, even more significantly, in 1591 became “chief almoner, the most prestigious court appointment open to a bishop.”60 Although Fletcher was translated to Worcester in 1593, he continued to reside at Chelsea in his capacity as almoner and, soon after, he was granted his highest office, bishop of London, which he received in January 1595. Despite falling out with Queen Elizabeth shortly before his death, Fletcher was remembered as a politically savvy preacher, as noted by Sir John Harington, translator of Orlando furioso: “He could preach well and would speak boldly, and yet keep decorum.”61 In fact, in the assessment of Peter E. McCullough, Richard Fletcher enjoyed “one of the most successful careers of any preacher at Elizabeth’s court, and perhaps the closest any Elizabethan churchman came to the Jacobean model of a court preacher-prelate epitomized by Lancelot Andrewes.”62

Considered in the context of his family, the language of John Fletcher’s “Against Astrologers” becomes strongly redolent of early modern sermons. Although it begins as an apostrophe to astrologers, its use of the first person plural (“Our actions are our ends” [line 37]) precipitates a shift of addressee, “O man, thou image of thy maker good” (line 45), as the speaker directly challenges those who doubt God’s providential care for humanity. This unbroken sequence of rhetorical questions, occupying over a quarter of the poem (lines 45–76), is strikingly reminiscent not just of scripture, but also of the rhetorical techniques of preaching. This sermonic heart of the poem proves galvanizing for the speaker himself, shifting back to the first person singular (“God is my star” [line 77]) to express his renunciations of wealth, glory, romantic love, and even bodily comfort. In its closing lines, the devotional trajectory of the poem ultimately leads him to dismiss sickness and death itself, “at longest but another night” (line 110), and from this imagined death, the rebirth of faith: “Why should I stagger? Armed then thus, apace / I tread, my fairest hopes new born in grace” (lines 111–12). Whereas Moseley’s erroneous couplet severely distorted the trajectory of the poem, we now see a poem culminating not in a flat restatement of the value of honesty but with the renewal of faith, expressed in the image of a forward march (“apace / I tread”), punning on the metrical feet with which this rebirth has been accomplished. The poem’s motivating polemic against astrologers thus proves to be a vehicle for the speaker to express an exemplary personal narrative of renewed faith for the benefit of his readers. Recent research by Arata Ide has refuted the identification of John Fletcher the writer with the “John Fletcher of London,” who was recorded as a “Bible clerk” at Cambridge University in 1593,63 thereby removing the evidentiary basis for earlier biographers’ assumption that Fletcher had been groomed for a career in the church as had his elder brother Nathaniel. However, “Against Astrologers” might be read as evidence that John Fletcher did attempt to use the resources of his literary career to experiment, if only momentarily, with the family profession.

If Fletcher himself remains something of an enigma, the scholarly neglect of his longest and most significant poem might be considered both a contributing cause and a symptom: the indispensable Jacobean playwright, almost always conceived in relation to his networks of theatrical collaboration, has simply not been imagined as a poet at all. As a first step to rectifying this neglect, this article has attempted to establish a clearer picture of his longest, most ambitious poem by dispelling some misapprehensions perpetrated by the 1647 Folio: its corrupt text, misleading title, and manufactured connection with the play The Honest Man’s Fortune. While severing the link between poem and play has the unfortunate consequence of depriving us of a reliable date of composition and, with it, the temporal proximity between Fletcher’s poem and his Shakespearean collaborations, it also allows us to take the poem more seriously as a work in its own right. Removing the interpretive burden of reading the poem in light of one particular play paves the way for scholars to explore in greater detail its engagements with astrology, stoicism, and Protestant theology, and perhaps provoke new lines of inquiry to reconsider the Fletcherian dramatic canon as a whole. At the very least, the poem can now be appreciated as an anomaly in Fletcher’s surviving canon that enriches our understanding of his range as a writer, his personal and professional networks, and the scope of his literary career.


This appendix provides a modernized text of Fletcher’s poem using as a base text the version of the poem transcribed in British Library, Add. MS 25707, fols. 66r–67r. While I have followed the substantive readings of Br closely, I have added punctuation liberally in the modernized text, often guided by Ha. In a limited number of cases where Br’s readings seem untenable, I have made emendations on the basis of other manuscript sources: these are documented below as are the substantive variants between Br and the other extant witnesses, including the six other manuscripts and the 1647 Folio (1647).64 In the list of variants, “om.” stands for “omitted in” and a sigma (Σ) refers to all texts except Br. While the text below is offered without commentary, readers are invited to consult the helpful explanatory notes in Lois Potter’s edition of the Folio text.65

Against Astrologers

 You that can look through heaven and tell the stars,
 Observe their kind conjunctions and their wars,
 Find out new lights and give them, where you please,
 To these men’s honors, pleasures, or their ease;
5You that are God’s surveyors and dare show
 How far and when and why the winds do blow,
 Know all the charges of the dreadful thunder,
 And when it will shoot over or fall under,
 Tell me, by all your art I conjure ye—
10Yes, and by truth—what shall become of me?
 Find out my star, if each one as you say
 Hath his peculiar angel and his way.
 Observe my fate; next, fall into your dreams,
 Sweep clean your houses, and new line thy schemes,
15Then say your worst. Or have I none at all?
 Or is it burnt out lately, or did fall?
 Or am I poor, not able a full flame,
 My star like me not worthy of a name?
 Is it your art can only work on those
20That deal with dangers, dignities, or clothes,
 With love, or new opinions? You all lie.
 A fishwife hath a fate and so have I,
 But far above your finding. He that gives,
 Out of His providence, to all that lives,
25And no man knows His treasure, no, not you.
 He that made Egypt blind, from whence you grew
 Scabby and lousy that the world may see
 Your calculations are as blind as ye;
 He that made those stars that you daily read,
30Which only find you knowledge how to feed,
 Hath hid this from you. Your conjectures all
 Are drunken things, not how, but when they fall.
 A man is his own star, and that soul that can
 Render an honest and a perfect man,
35Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
 Nothing to him falls early or too late.
 Our actions are our ends, our good or ill,
 Our fatal shadows which walk by us still.
 And when our stars in labor we believe,
40It is not that they govern but they grieve
 For stubborn ignorance. All things that are
 Made for our general uses are at war,
 Even we amongst ourselves, and from our strife
 Your first unlicked opinions got a life.
45O man, thou image of thy maker good,
 What canst thou fear when breathed into thy blood
 His spirit is that built thee? What dull sense
 Makes thee suspect in need His providence?
 Can things so noble as His own stamps be,
50Unless we blanch those beauties, but pass free?
 What though the frozen want afflict thee sore,
 Is not He god of heat, too, and of store?
 Doth not He see thee, though the distance be
 Not to be numbered ’twixt desert and thee?
55Doth not He take thy vows, wipe off thy tears,
 And store thy prayers up, though made in fears?
 Doth not He know thee? Can that hand forget
 His workmanship? Can time or fortune let
 What He determines? All that we call rod,
60Is it not His to make thee feel a God?
 And when through this hell, thou hast found a heaven,
 Doth not He shed His grace to keep thee even?
 Who made the morning, and who placed the light
 Guide to thy labors? Who called up the night
65And bid her fall upon thee like sweet showers,
 In hollow murmurs to lock up thy powers?
 Who gave thee knowledge? Who so trusted thee
 To let thee grow so near Himself, the Tree?
 And must He be distrusted? Shall His frame
70Dispute with Him, “Why thus or thus I am?”
 Who made the angels shine, thy fellows all,
 Nay even thy servants when devotions call?
 Oh canst thou be so stupid then and dim
 To seek a saving influence and lose Him?
75Can stars protect thee, or can poverty,
 Which is the light of heaven, put out His eye?
 God is my star: in Him all truth I find,
 All influence, all fate, and when my mind
 Is furnished with His fullness, my no glory
80Shall outshine all their age, and all their story.
 The hand of danger cannot fall amiss
 When I know what and in whose power it is,
 Nor want, the curse of time, shall make me groan:
 An holy hermit is a mine alone.
85Doth not experience teach me all we can
 To work ourselves into a glorious man
 Is but an exhalation to best eyes,
 The sun’s heat spent and then the fool’s fire dies?
 Were I in love and could that tempt my will
90To anything that my belief calls ill,
 To an idolatry unheard of yet,
 Bowing my body to a tailor’s wit?
 Could I believe again that she love me,
 As only by a strong faith that must be?
95Were she as perfect good as we can aim,
 The first was so, and yet she lost the game.
 My mistress, then, be knowledge and fair truth;
 So I enjoy all beauty and all youth,
 All constancy, and that that woman never
100Could bring in dowry with her: life forever.
 For though to time her rules and laws she lends,
 She knows no age nor to corruption bends.
 Friends’ promises may lead me to believe,
 But that man that’s his own friend knows to give.
105Affliction, when I see it, is but this:
 A deep allay whereby man tougher is
 To bear God’s hammer, and the deeper still
 Till we arise more image of His will,
 Sickness an humorous cloud ’twixt us and height,
110And death at longest but another night.
 Why should I stagger? Armed then thus, apace
 I tread, my fairest hopes new born in grace.
View Table Image: 1 | 2 | 3

Emendations to the Base Text

42 are at] Σ, or that Br. 48 thee] Ha Oe Or Ro 1647, the Br Hu Ya. 50 blanch] Ha Hu Oe Or Ro Ya, blank Br, om. 1647. 55 off] Ha Ro, of Br Oe Or Hu Ya, om. 1647. 67 gave thee] Ha Oe Or Ro 1647, gave the Br Hu Ya. 68 thee] Ha Oe Or Ro 1647, the Br Hu Ya. 87 exhalation] Ha Hu Or Ro 1647, exaltation Br Ya, om. Oe. 103 lead] Ha Hu Oe Or Ro 1647, learne Br, lend Ya. 112 tread] Σ, head Br.

Substantive Variants

1 tell] count Or. 2 their … their] there … there Ya; kind] kinds Oe Ro. 3 where] as Hu. 4 these] those Or 1647; men’s] men Σ; or their] to those Ha Or Ro Ya 1647, to these Hu Oe. 5 dare] can Σ; show] shewe Ha. 6 when] where Ha Oe Ro; winds do] wind doth Hu Or Ya 1647. 12 Hath] Have Ha Hu Oe Ro Ya 1647. 14 thy] your Σ; schemes] seames Hu Oe Or Ro Ya. 16 did] did’t Hu Or. 17–18 transposed in Ya. 17 able] om. Oe; a] to Ya, no 1647. 18 not worthy] unworthy Σ. 19 Is it] or can Hu; can] butt Hu. 20 or] and Hu Or Ya 1647. 21 You] Yee Ha Oe Ro. 26 made] mad Oe; grew] drew Ha Oe Ro. 27 Scabby and lousy] Lowsie impostures Ha Oe Ro; may] might Σ. 29 those] all the Hu Or Ya 1647; all those Ha Oe Ro; that you] you Σ. 30 Which only find you] And from them filch Ha Hu Oe Ro, And from thence filch Or Ya 1647. 31 you] yee Ha Oe Ro. 32 not how, but when] uncertain till Ha Oe Ro. 33 A] om. Σ; that] the Hu Ya 1647. 34 an honest and a perfect] a perfect and an honest Ha Oe Ro. 35 Commands] Command 1647; light] lights Oe. 36 falls] fall Ha Ro; early] earthly Ro Ya. 37 Our actions are our ends] Our acts our angels are Σ. 38 which] that Σ. 39 our] the Σ. 40 in labor] are laboring 1647. 43 amongst] among 1647, om. Oe; our] this Ha Hu Oe Ro, the Or 1647, vs Ya. 44 unlicked] unlike Ro 1647, vnlist Ya; opinions] opinion Or Ya. 45 maker] makers 1647; good] God Ha Oe Ro. 47 is] is it Or. 48 thee] the Hu Ya; suspect in need] in neede suspect Oe; His] thy Or, that 1647. 49–62 om. 1647. 49 things] coins Ha Ro, Coyne Oe; stamps] stamp Or. 50 those beauties] or clipp them Ha Oe Ro, thes beautys Ya. 51 though] if Or; the] thy Ha Hu Or Ro Ya; thee] the Hu Ya. 53 not He] he not Ha Oe Or Ro; thee] the Hu. 54 numbered] measured Σ; thee] the Hu. 55 not He] hee not Oe. 56 up] too Ha Oe Ro; though made in] ridding thy Hu; fears] teares Ya. 57 not He] hee not Ha Oe Or Ro; thee] the Ya. 58 His] its Or, The Ya. 60 Is it not His] It is Oe; thee] the Ya; feel] feele there is Oe. 61 thou hast] thou’hast Ha, thou’st Oe. 62 not He] he not Oe Or; keep] made Oe, hold Ha Hu Or Ro Ya 1647. 65 bid] bad Oe; her] it Ha Oe Ro; thee] the Hu Ya. 67 thee] the Hu Ya. 68 thee] the Hu Ya. 69 And] om. Σ; He] he then Σ. 70 Dispute] Discourse Hu Or Ya 1647; or] and Or 1647. 71 Who] He Σ; shine] thine Σ. 73 and] so Σ. 76 of] to Or Ya 1647; put out] blind Ha Oe Ro. 77 God] He 1647. 79 no glory] poor story Σ. 80 outshine] outlive Σ; their… their] there… there Ya; story] glory Σ. 83 curse] cause 1647; time] him Hu Or Ya, man 1647. 84 An] A Σ; mine] mind Ya 1647, life Hu Or. 85 me] us Σ. 87–88 om. Oe. 87 Is] Love’s 1647. 88 sun’s heat] matter Ha Hu Or Ro Ya 1647. 89 tempt my will] bright star bring Σ. 90 To anything that my belief calls ill] Increase of wealth, honor, and every thing Ha Hu Oe Ro Ya, Increase to wealth, honour, and every thing 1647, Increase or wealth, honor, & every thing Or. 91–94 om. Σ. 96 game] ayme Or. 97 be] by Oe. 99–100 om. Σ. 101 For] And Σ; rules] lights Σ. 102 nor] that 1647. 104 that man that’s] hee that’s Ha Oe Ro, he that is 1647; to] how to Ha Oe Ro; give] live 1647. 105 when I see it, is] when I know it, is Hu Or Ya 1647, is at height no more Ha Oe Ro. 106 allay] tryall Hu, alloy Ya. 107 God’s] the 1647. 108 Till we] Still we Ha Hu Oe Or Ro Ya, We still 1647. 109 height] light Σ. 111–12] Man is his own Star, and that soule that can | Be honest is the only perfect man 1647. 111 then thus] thus; then Oe.


I am grateful for the insights and suggestions offered by the anonymous reader for Modern Philology.

1. As with many early modern poets, the canon of Fletcher’s nondramatic verse is difficult to establish. The verse published in Fletcher’s lifetime consists of three dedicatory poems in The Faithfull Shepheardesse (London, [1610?]), ¶1r–2r, and commendatory verses to two of Ben Jonson’s plays: Volpone (London, 1607), A3v, and Catiline His Conspiracy (London, 1611), A3v–4r. The only clearly contemporary specimen of Fletcher’s poetry in manuscript is his verse epistle to the Countess of Huntingdon (Huntington Library, MS HA 13333): see W. W. Greg, English Literary Autographs, 1550–1650 (Oxford University Press, 1932), item 93, discussed in Gordon McMullan, The Politics of Unease in the Plays of John Fletcher (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994), 20–22; and Dianne Mitchell, “The Absent Lady and the Renaissance Lyric as Letter,” English Literary Renaissance 49, no. 3 (Autumn 2019): 316–19. Besides the poem examined in the present article, the only other explicit attribution made posthumously in print in the seventeenth century is the poem “Hither we come into this world of woe,” first published anonymously in Walter Porter, Madrigales and Ayres (London, 1632), A4r, but ascribed to “Mr. J. Fletcher” in Henry Lawes, Second Book of Ayres and Dialogues (London, 1655), A2v. That Fletcher composed one of the commendatory poems to Salmacis and Hermaphroditus is implied by the attribution “J. F.” in Poems: by Francis Beaumont, Gent. (London, 1640), A4r, although the same poem had been signed “A.F.” in the first edition (London, 1602), A3v, leading some critics to doubt Fletcher’s authorship. See J. Payne Collier, The Works of William Shakespeare, 8 vols. (London, 1844), 1:cxvi; William A. Ringler Jr., “The 1640 and 1653 Poems: By Francis Beaumont, Gent. and the Canon of Beaumont’s Nondramatic Verse,” Studies in Bibliography 40 (1987): 133; Philip J. Finkelpearl, Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher (Princeton University Press, 1990), 25 n. 61. Other possibly Fletcherian poems have occasionally been proposed by scholars. Alexander Dyce attributed to Fletcher the poem “Come, sorrow, come,” which is subscribed “J. F” in British Library, Harley MS 6057, fol. 34r–v, where it appears between two songs from Fletcherian plays; see Dyce, ed., The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, 11 vols. (London, 1843–46), 1:liii–liv. Similarly, Charles Cathcart has proposed Fletcher as the author of the dedicatory poems signed “I. F.” in two books by John Weever: Faunus and Melliflora (London, 1600), A3r, and The VVhipping of the Satyre (London, 1601), A4v; see “John Fletcher in 1600–1601: Two Early Poems, an Involvement in the ‘Poets’ War,’ and a Network of Literary Connections,” Philological Quarterly 81, no. 1 (Winter 2002): 33–51. More recently, Lara M. Crowley has noted that British Library, Stowe MS 962, a seventeenth-century verse miscellany largely reliable in its attributions, names “Io: ffletcher” as author of the famous elegy on Richard Burbage (fols. 62v–63v); see “Attribution and Anonymity: Donne, Ralegh, and Fletcher in British Library, Stowe MS 962,” in Manuscript Miscellanies in Early Modern England, ed. Joshua Eckhardt and Daniel Starza Smith (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014), 145–49. As Crowley emphasizes, there is an evident “need to reassess Fletcher’s poetic canon, incorporating extant manuscript evidence unknown during preparation of the most ‘recent’ edition of Fletcher’s non-dramatic verse in 1846” (146–47).

2. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays (Boston, 1841), 35.

3. Ronald A. Bosco, ed., The Topical Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 2 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993), 223.

4. Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed., Parnassus (Boston, 1875), 155–57.

5. Francis Beaumont et al., Comedies and Tragedies Written by Francis Beaumont and Iohn Fletcher Gentlemen (London, 1647), 5X4v. Subsequent citations of the 1647 Folio will appear parenthetically in the text. Dates for dramatic works follow Martin Wiggins, in association with Catherine Richardson, British Drama, 1533–1642: A Catalogue, 10 vols. (Oxford University Press, 2012–).

6. Gordon McMullan, “Fletcher, John,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, ed. David Scott Kastan, 5 vols. (Oxford University Press, 2006), 2:332.

7. Lucy Munro, “His Collaborator John Fletcher,” in The Shakespeare Circle: An Alternative Biography, ed. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 305.

8. See Gordon McMullan, “The Strange Case of Susan Brotes: Rhetoric, Gender, and Authorship in John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed, or How (Not) to Identify an Early Modern Playwright,” Renaissance Drama 47, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 177–200.

9. Henry Weber, ed., The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, 14 vols. (Edinburgh, 1812), 1:lxiii; Charles Mills Gayley, Francis Beaumont: Dramatist (London: Duckworth, 1914), 215–16; A. C. Bradley, “Beaumont (1585–1613) and Fletcher (1579–1625),” in The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward, 4 vols. (London, 1890), 2:44.

10. Lois Potter, ed., The Two Noble Kinsmen, rev. ed. (London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2015), 10.

11. The exception is Lois Potter, whose brief comments about the manuscript transmission of the poem (ibid., 373) will prove important to my discussion below.

12. Crowley, “Attribution and Anonymity,” 146.

13. Peter Beal, Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450–1700 (hereafter CELM), FlJ 9–15,

14. When quoting from the Folio text of the poem below, I romanize the text printed in italics for the sake of legibility and give the line numbers parenthetically. The entire poem appears on 5X4v of the Folio.

15. The Dramatick Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, 10 vols. (London, 1778), 1:cxxxiv.

16. Weber, Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, 11:253.

17. The manuscript is edited in Johan Gerritsen, ed., The Honest Mans Fortune: A Critical Edition of MS. Dyce 9 (1625) (Groningen: Wolters, 1952); and Grace Ioppolo, ed., The Honest Man’s Fortune (Manchester: Malone Society, 2012).

18. Dyce, Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, 3:331. On Edmond Malone’s earlier use of the manuscript, see Ivan Lupić and Brett Greatley-Hirsch, “‘What Stuff Is Here?’ Edmond Malone and the 1778 Edition of Beaumont and Fletcher,” Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America 111, no. 3 (September 2017): 311–13.

19. Cyrus Hoy, ed., The Honest Man’s Fortune, in The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, gen ed. Fredson Bowers, 10 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1966–96), 10:107–9. Quotations from the play refer to this edition.

20. See R. C. Bald, Bibliographical Studies in the Beaumont & Fletcher Folio of 1647 (Oxford University Press for the Bibliographical Society, 1938), 36; and Finkelpearl, Court and Country Politics, 212 n. 1 (quotation from Finkelpearl).

21. Gerritsen, Honest Mans Fortune: A Critical Edition, lxviii.

22. Hoy, Honest Man’s Fortune, 4. On possible contributions by Robert Daborne and Cyril Tourneur, see Wiggins, British Drama, 1533–1642, 6:333; and MacDonald P. Jackson, “Cyril Tourneur and The Honest Man’s Fortune,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 32 (2019): 203–18.

23. Cyrus Hoy, “The Shares of Fletcher and His Collaborators in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon (IV),” Studies in Bibliography 12 (1959): 100–108.

24. Jitka Štollová, “‘This Silence of the Stage’: The Play of Format and Paratext in the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio,” Review of English Studies 68, no. 285 (June 2017): 517.

25. Potter, Two Noble Kinsmen, 373.

26. Gerritsen, Honest Mans Fortune: A Critical Edition, xliii–liii; Hoy, Honest Man’s Fortune, 5, 11. Cf. W. W. Greg, Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1931), 1:290.

27. Dating follows CELM. The sigla are my own.

28. One reasonable inference is that Moseley came across Fletcher’s poem in the same source in which he encountered the other nondramatic poem interpolated into the 1647 Folio, Beaumont’s letter to Jonson (3X3v–3X4r), discussed below. Tellingly, both poems do appear in two extant miscellanies, Ha and Hu (CELM, BmF 107, 110).

29. William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part Three, ed. Randall Martin (Oxford University Press, 2001), 3.2.161–62.

30. Potter, Two Noble Kinsmen, 226 (2.2.79).

31. William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, Henry VIII, ed. Gordon McMullan (London, Arden Shakespeare, 2000), 3.2.223–27. The passage is generally ascribed to Fletcher (449). McMullan also cites lines from Thierry and Theodoret in a scene attributed by Hoy to Fletcher: “kings from height of all their painted glories / Fall, like spent exhalations, to this center” (4.1.105–6).

32. The following discussion draws on Bald, Bibliographical Studies; Johan Gerritsen, “The Printing of the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio of 1647,” Library, 5th ser., 3, no. 4 (March 1949): 233–64; and Robert K. Turner, “The Folio of 1647,” in Bowers, Dramatic Works, 1:xxvii–xxxv.

33. Bald, Bibliographical Studies, 36; James P. Hammersmith, “The Proof-Reading of the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio of 1647: Sections 4 and 8D–F,” Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America 82, no. 4 (December 1988): 587–88; and Gerritsen, “Printing,” 254, and Honest Mans Fortune: A Critical Edition, xxxv.

34. In other paratextual materials in the 1647 Folio, we can see printers specifically trying to fill the final pages of their quires, such as the prologue to The Fair Maid of the Inn (7G4v); the prologue and epilogue to The False One (2S4); and the prologue and epilogue to The Coxcomb, each appearing on a separate page (2P3v and 2P4r).

35. Mark Bland, “Francis Beaumont’s Verse Letters to Ben Jonson and ‘The Mermaid Club,’” English Manuscript Studies, 1100–1700 12 (2005): 150.

36. Margaret Crum, ed., The Poems of Henry King (Oxford University Press, 1965), 58–59; Mary Hobbs, Early Seventeenth-Century Verse Miscellany Manuscripts (Aldershot: Scolar, 1992), 61–67; Joshua Eckhardt, Manuscript Verse Collectors and the Politics of Anti-courtly Love Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2009), 233–35; and Arthur F. Marotti, “Neighbourhood, Social Networks and the Making of a Family’s Manuscript Poetry Collection: The Case of British Library, Additional MS 25707,” in Material Readings of Early Modern Culture: Texts and Social Practices, 1580–1730, ed. James Daybell and Peter Hinds (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 185–207.

37. For an example of the Skipwith Manuscript’s continuing value for Donne studies, see Lara M. Crowley, Manuscript Matters: Reading John Donne’s Poetry and Prose in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2018), 121–72.

38. Potter, Two Noble Kinsmen, 373; Finkelpearl, Court and Country Politics, 25–39; and McMullan, Politics of Unease, 14–36. Similarly, McMullan notes that Fletcher’s poem appears in the manuscript close to Thomas Pestell’s verses to the Countess of Huntingdon (280 n. 43).

39. James Knowles, “Marston, Skipwith and The Entertainment at Ashby,” English Manuscript Studies, 1100–1700 3 (1992): 171–72; Marotti, “Neighbourhood, Social Networks,” 194–96.

40. Philip Massinger, “The Copie of a Letter Written vpon Occasion to the Earle of Pembrooke Lo: Chamberlaine,” in The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, ed. Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson, 5 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1976), 4:390. Edwards and Gibson date the poem ca. 1615–20.

41. CELM, BmF 146 (fol. 60v), BmF 34 (fols. 62r–63r), BeJ 7 (fol. 59r–v), and BeJ 41 (fols. 63v–64r).

42. On the identification of Henry Skipwith’s hand, see Marotti, “Neighbourhood, Social Networks,” 203–4n.

43. Some other variants, such as “the” for “thee” (especially in Hu and Ya), seem to be based less on substantial variation than orthographic eccentricities introduced in a shared source text.

44. On authorial revision generally, see Gary Stringer, ed., The Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne, vol. 7, pt. 1, The Holy Sonnets (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 111–12.

45. Ceri Sullivan, Rhetoric of Credit: Merchants in Early Modern Writing (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), 80–81.

46. Stationers’ Company Archive, TSC/1/E/06/03 (Register of Entries of Copies: Liber D, 1620–1645), 456. See Edward Arber, ed., A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554–1640 A.D., 5 vols. (London, 1875–94), 4:482.

47. Wethered collaborated with Laurence Blaikelocke on the 1640 Poems by Francis Beaumont, Gent., and although Fletcher’s poem appears in Blaikelocke’s expanded 1653 edition of the Poems as “The Honest Man’s Fortune” (L4r–L5r), Blaikelocke’s copy was clearly the 1647 Folio rather than Wethered’s manuscript; see Ringler, “1640 and 1653 Poems,” 136–37; and James P. Hammersmith, “The Printer’s Copy for Francis Beaumont’s Poems, 1653,” Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America 72, no. 1 (First Quarter 1978): 74, 80, 86.

48. For a valuable recent account of astrological debates in England, see Phebe Jensen, “Causes in Nature: Popular Astrology in King Lear,” Shakespeare Quarterly 69, no. 4 (Winter 2019): 205–27. For further broad overviews, see Don Cameron Allen, The Star-Crossed Renaissance: The Quarrel about Astrology and Its Influences in England (1941; New York: Octagon, 1966); Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England (1971; London: Penguin, 1991), 335–458; and Brendan Dooley, ed., A Companion to Astrology in the Renaissance (Leiden: Brill, 2014).

49. Brendan Dooley, “Astrology and Science,” in Dooley, Companion to Astrology, 240. The robust body of such critical writing in sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries included such titles as William Fulke, Antiprognosticon (1560); Henry Howard, Defensative against the Poison of Supposed Prophecies (1583); John Harvey, Discursive Problem Concerning Prophecies (1588); John Chamber, Treatise against Judicial Astrology (1601); and John Melton, Astrologaster (1620).

50. On the broader literary reception of astrological ideas, see Allen, Star-Crossed Renaissance, 147–246; Katherine Walker, “‘Daring to Pry into the Privy Chamber of Heaven’: Early Modern Mock-Almanacs and the Virtues of Ignorance,” Studies in Philology 115, no. 1 (Winter 2018): 129–53; and Jensen, “Causes in Nature.”

51. Dyce, Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, 10:438; Hugh G. Dick, ed., Albumazar: A Comedy, by Thomas Tomkis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1944), 45; and Bertha Hensman, The Shares of Fletcher, Field and Massinger in Twelve Plays of the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, 2 vols. (Universität Salzburg, 1974), 2:267. On the complexities of authorship in this play, see Peter Culhane, “Rollo, Duke of Normandy, or The Bloody Brother,” in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online,

52. For a detailed explication of the dialogue, see J. C. Eade, The Forgotten Sky: A Guide to Astrology in English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984), 191–97.

53. Rollo, Duke of Normandy, ed. George Walton Williams, 4.2.164–67, in Bowers, Dramatic Works, 10:227.

54. Fletcher’s poem is mentioned in passing as a “scathing attack” on astrologers in Dick, Albumazar, 45.

55. Potter, Two Noble Kinsmen, 375n.

56. On the complex relationship between astrology and Protestant theology, see Robin B. Barnes, Astrology and Reformation (Oxford University Press, 2016).

57. John Calvin, An Admonicion against Astrology Iudiciall (London, [1561]), E8v.

58. McMullan, Politics of Unease, 11. The argument that follows is indebted to a suggestion in Gerritsen, Honest Mans Fortune: A Critical Edition, lxviii.

59. On Richard Fletcher, see Patrick Collinson, Godly People: Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism (London: Hambledon, 1983), 399–428; Finkelpearl, Court and Country Politics, 15–16; McMullan, Politics of Unease, 4–11; Peter E. McCullough, “Out of Egypt: Richard Fletcher’s Sermon before Elizabeth I after the Execution of Mary Queen of Scots,” in Dissing Elizabeth: Negative Representations of Gloriana, ed. Julia M. Walker (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 118–49; and Brett Usher, “Fletcher, Richard (1544/5–1596),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

60. Usher, “Fletcher, Richard (1544/5–1596).” On this position, see R. A. Houston, “What Did the Royal Almoner Do in Britain and Ireland, c.1450–1700?,” English Historical Review 125, no. 513 (April 2010): 279–313.

61. John Harington, A Briefe View of the State of the Church of England (London, 1653), C1v.

62. McCullough, “Out of Egypt,” 120–21.

63. Arata Ide, “John Fletcher of Corpus Christi College: New Records of His Early Years,” Early Theatre 13, no. 2 (2010): 63–77, esp. 71–72.

64. While the collation does not record deleted readings or other eccentricities in the manuscripts besides the poetic text, it seems worth noting here the mysterious marginalium in the Yale manuscript, “*Be hang’d” at line 10 (Ya, p. 123).

65. Potter, Two Noble Kinsmen, 373–77.