A Wife for a Month
The play was licensed for performance by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels, on 27 May 1624; it was acted by the King's Men. The partial cast list added to the play in the second Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1679 mentions Joseph Taylor, Robert Benfield, Richard Robinson, John Underwood, Nicholas Tooley, and George Birch. The list contains a contradiction, since Tooley died in June 1623 and could not have been cast in a 1624 production. Commentators have suggested this Tooley's name may be a mistake for that of John Lowin, or else that Fletcher may have drawn up the cast list when he was writing the play; the cast list would therefore reflect the author's intention rather than the onstage reality. Since Fletcher functioned as a house dramatist for the King's Men in the final phase of his career, this idea, while speculative, is not impossible. Fletcher's solo authorship of the play is undisputed.
A Wife for a Month was revived during the Restoration era, with Thomas Betterton in the cast; but it does not seem ever to have been popular. Samuel Pepys mentions it in his famous Diary, in his entry for 19 December 1662...but he notes having read the play, not having seen it on the stage. It was reprinted in a single-play edition in 1717. The play was also adapted during the period, as many of Fletcher's plays were; a version by Thomas Scott titled The Unhappy Kindness, or A Fruitless Revenge was acted at Drury Lane in 1697.
Critics have often responded negatively to the drama, calling it Fletcher's "lewdest" play, and complaining of its "oppressiveness" and its celebration of a "macabre marriage."
The play's plot turns on the idea of a tyrannical king who allows a man to marry the woman he loves...for a month, and without sexual relations. (If he violates the rule, she will be put to death.) At the end of that month, he will be executed.
- Oliphant, E. H. C. The Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher: An Attempt to Determine Their Respective Shares and the Shares of Others. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1927; p. 148.
- Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1978; p. 48.