Francis Beaumont, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Renaissance Center Theater Company, Amherst, MA

Among plays about the theater, Beaumont’s Knight of the Burning Pestle stands out for its sheer lunatic energy. First staged around 1607, this Knight is a trove of mocking allusions to the theatrical pieces of the time, particularly the “citizen” plays displaying the bold adventures of London’s apprentice boys and the moralistic, materialistic “prodigal” dramas, in which the wayward learn harsh lessons in thrift and prudence. But even those theater-goers who are not scholars of Renaissance drama, and who have not come across such works as Thomas Heywood’s Four Prentices of London or the London Prodigal (of unknown authorship) can appreciate the over-the-top tour of Shakespearean highlights, particularly one sequence in which we move, at warp speed, from a parody of Romeo and Juliet (in which the apparently deceased lover bolts upright) to one of Macbeth (in which a ghost politely warns of his impending and inconvenient appearance at the dinner table).

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