The Puritan Widow (c. 1607)
|Our dear friend Wat has exposed us as the lazy frauds we are, by submitting a new entry for our Holzknecht Redivivus series -- another play that our man Holz seems to have neglected. At least, it's not in my copy. (But what is in my copy, I notice, is -- just before the Index of Plays and Playwrights -- a sort of amazing woodcut called "A Fight with a Snail," which might be right for some future revival of our Woodcut Captioning Contest...).|
So: thanks again to Wat, and here it is:
(You can also find it here, at his blog).
The Puritan Widow, by Thomas Middleton, c.1607
Widow Lady Plus, a citizen’s widow
}her two daughters
Edmund, son to the Widow Plus
Sir Godfrey, brother-in-law to Widow Plus
George Pieboard, and scholar and a citizen
Peter Skirmish, an old soldier
Captain Idle, a highwayman
Corporal Oath, a vainglorious fellow
Nicholas St. Antlings }
Simon St. Mary Overies } serving men to Widow Plus
Sir Oliver Muckhill, a suitor to the Widow Plus
Sir John Pennydub, a suitor to Moll
Sir Andrew Tipstaff, a suitor to Frank
Sheriff of London
} two of the sheriff’s sergeants
Dogson, a yeoman
Widow Plus mourns her deceased husband and she and Frances swear not to marry, though Sir Godfrey points out that they now have much to offer. Moll and Edmund, however, pledge to enjoy life. The impoverished scholar Pieboard (stand-in for Peele?) and the furloughed soldier Skirmish talk about their poverty, with Pieboard beginning to scheme for ways to fleece the Widow Plus. They meet and follow their friend Captain Idle, on his way to prison for turning to robbery. Corporal Oath and the puritanical Nicholas, Simon, and Frailty meet and exchange barbs; Oath is going to prison to find help for Idle and Nicholas realizes that the captain is his cousin, resolving to try to help him as well. At the Marshalsea, Pieboard and Skirmish learn of Idle’s offense, the simpleton Nicholas arrives and protests that he’ll do anything to help his cousin. Idle asks him to steal Sir Godfrey’s very expensive necklace to be pawned for Idle’s bail. Nicholas balks at the sin of “robbing” but agrees that “nimming” is not forbidden in the scriptures. Pieboard then reveals his plan: when the chain goes missing, Godfrey will storm, and Nicholas is to tell him that his imprisoned kinsman can conjure and reveal the location of any object including the necklace. Surely, Godfrey will bail Idle to regain his necklace. Meanwhile, Pieboard will work other plans for fleecing the widow.
While Moll plots to find a husband, the Widow berates Godfrey for suggesting that she remarry, and turns away three courtiers who come to her door offering themselves to her and her daughters. When the pious scholar Pieboard arrives, he tells the Widow that he is in communication with her husband, who suffers in purgatory for his hypocritical, puritanical dealings. Though the Widow knows the truth of his dealings, she cannot admit them. Pieboard prophesizes that a fight will break out before her door, leading to bloodshed and a death, and that Godfrey will suffer a loss; if it does not happen, the Widow and Frank will go mad and Moll will be dumb, but if it does, then the Widow and Frank will marry and Moll will be prevented. In soliloquy, Pieboard explains how he’ll bring this to pass: he will have Skirmish and Oath fight at the Widow’s door, then slip a sleeping potion to Oath while ministering to his wound, making him appear temporarily dead; when Skirmish is about to be executed for the murder, Pieboard will intervene to revive Oath and gain a reputation as a miracle worker. Finally, Nicholas arrives with Godfrey’s chain and hides it in the rosemary bush as agreed.
Skirmish makes small talk with the Widow’s servants until Oath arrives and they quarrel about calculating time (Oath calls Skirmish a fool for not understanding military time, i.e. that 17 is the same as 5 o’clock). In the brawl, officers arrive to carry off the wounded Oath, just after Pieboard administers his potion; Skirmish, who didn’t realize that was part of the plan, finds himself arrested for murder. The Widow feels reluctant relief that Pieboard’s prophecies have come to pass, saving her from madness, and tries to comfort Godfrey who raves at the loss of his chain. Nicholas mentions that his imprisoned cousin may be able to divine its location. Pieboard thrills that his plan is moving along, but despairs when Puttock and Ravenshaw arrest him for the debts he owes his landlady. He persuades them that a paper in his pocket is a masque he’s written for a nearby gentleman, and that if they’ll take him to that man’s house before they go to the Counter, he will use the payment to settle his debts to the landlady, pay them double their fees, and treat them to a feast. He picks a random gentleman’s house, gains entry, and in hushed conference talks the nobleman into helping him with his trick. They enter further into the house for his “payment,” where Pieboard sneaks out the back door. The sergeants are left to lament their foolish trust of a debtor. Pieboard arrives at the Marshalsea and helps the nervous Idle prepare for the role of conjuror. Godfrey arrives having expunged Idle’s crimes and solicits him to help him with the chain, offering a huge reward. The foolish Nicholas almost wrecks the plot a few times, but at last the conjuror Idle and the seer Pieboard, having consulted their almanac, agree to meet Idle the next day at noon to conjure up a devil who can find the chain.
Moll plans her marriage to Pennydub whose country father has just died and left the fortune to him. The Widow tries to put off Muckhill and Tipstaff and when she learns that the conjuror has arrived, she must show them into her gardens to be rid of them. Godfrey and excited Edmund show Idle and Pieboard into the parlor and warn them to keep the devil from burning the tapestry and the plaster. They exit into another room to watch and listen through a keyhole. Idle puts on a good show and the timid Godfrey and Edmund retreat further. When they return, Idle says that the devil has gone and has left the chain on the rosemary bush in the garden. While Godfrey goes for the chain, Edmund remains behind and Idle and Pieboard convince him they have made him invisible. He strikes Godfrey who sees him as plain as day. The Widow finds herself enamored of Idle. Meanwhile, a procession dragging Skirmish to the gallows and Oath in his coffin passes the Widow’s door. Pieboard promises to take Skirmish’s place if he cannot revive Oath, which he does. While relieved, Skirmish promises to get even with Pieboard for the narrow escape. Godfrey calls for a banquet to celebrate the return of his chain, the miracles that have happened, and the marriage of the Widow to Idle and Frank to Pieboard. (There’s still an Act Five, of course...)
The foolish Edmund and Frailty quibble over the details of the festivities. Pieboard and Idle arrive for the nuptials. Moll and Pennydub make their own preparations. Informed by Skirmish, the disgruntled Muckhill and Tipstaff plot to ruin the wedding by hiring a nobleman, whose words naturally carry extra weight, to defame the tricksters and support the courtiers. As the Widow’s party heads to church, the nobleman interrupts, reveals how Pieboard and Idle have tricked the Widow and Sir Godfrey. To make the Widow feel better, the nobleman proffers the love of Muckhill and Tipstaff, whom Godfrey now seconds. The nobleman declares that this happy ending has been brought about to make the heavens rejoice.