London: Printed by Thomas Cotes for Andrew and William Crooke, 1639 [i.e. 1640]. First edition. First edition of "the best essay of Fletcher in the comedy of London life" (Schelling, I, p. 527). A highly popular work, it was frequently staged throughout the 17th century, including during the Interregnum when the theatre was officially banned. It is seldom encountered in commerce: the last copy to appear at auction was sold by Christie's in 2001.
Small quarto (176 x 131 mm). Early 20th-century red crushed levant morocco by Riviere & Son, spine and front cover lettered in gilt, board edges and inner dentelles gilt, marbled endpapers, edges gilt. Title page with woodcut ornament and fleur-de-lis borders; pp. 2-3 with woodcut head- and tailpieces composed of coroneted harps and flowers.
Typed bookseller's description loosely inserted; label of Arbury Library, Cambridge on front pastedown; "1660" in contemporary hand to title page; some leaves with signatures provided in pencil. Binding bright, mild offsetting to endpapers from turn-ins, a little closely cropped at upper and lower margins without loss to text, occasional small marks but clean overall. A fine copy.
Written largely in prose rather than verse, Wit Without Money was likely first performed in 1614 (one year after Beaumont's retirement and two before his death) and was entered into the Stationer's Register in 1639 as a solo composition by John Fletcher. Yet in their own time as in ours, "Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher are forever linked as the English language's greatest writing duo," and the title page attributes the work to both (Elizabethan Drama). "Fletcher began to work with Beaumont in about 1607, at first for the Children of the Queen's Revels and its successor, and then from 1609 until Beaumont's retirement in 1613 mainly for the King's Men at the Globe and Blackfriars theatres...the canon of Beaumont and Fletcher plays is approximately represented by the 52 plays in the folio Fifty Comedies and Tragedies (1679)...Of these not more than 12 are by Beaumont or by Beaumont and Fletcher in collaboration...the others represent Fletcher either unaided or in collaboration with other dramatists" (Britannica).
A comedy of wits in which the squandered misogynist Valentine meets his intellectual match in the wealthy Lady Hartwell, Wit Without Money was able to maintain its popularity in print and onstage through the tumult of the Jacobean period, during the Civil War and even through the "guerilla theatre" era of the Interregnum (Griswold). When monarchy and theatre both returned to England with the Restoration, it was among the first revived plays; Andrew Crooke released a 1661 quarto edition, and the Samuel Pepys documented his own attendance at a performance in 1663 (Pepys Diary Project).
ESTC S101208; Greg, II, 563(a); Lowndes, I, p. 137; Pforzheimer 374; Tannenbaum 593. Felix Emanuel Schelling, Elizabethan drama 1558-1642, 1908. Fine (Item #4858)