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“SS.

CYRIL AND METHODIUS” UNIVERSITY

FACULTY OF PHILOLOGY

“BLAZE

KONESKI“

SKOPJE

AN ESSAY

WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO MIDDLETON ’S PLAY

WRITTEN BY

PROFESSOR

Viktor Jovanoski

Rajna Koška-Hot

Viktor Jovanoski

SKOPJE

2012

I. CONTEXTS OF THIS TEXT The title is a proof enough: we have neither an intention of providing a new – meaning a different in comparison to the ones we have already consulted – interpretation of Women Beware Women, nor an interest to delve into some serious discussion with the authorities we are about to cite and sometimes not side with; some may argue – and may I be not excluded from that ensemble – that this – especially in an age as dynamical and ultra-productive as ours – makes this text rather purposeless; it is – if one considers self-evaluation a purpose less than that obligatory obliterating originality modern critics continually subvert both themselves and the Cannon with. Our angst with the former; our nostalgia with the latter. Richard A. Levin’s If Women Should Beware Women, Bianca Should Beware Mother (RL: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 37, no. 2, [Spring 1997], pp. 371-389) is as pretentious text as its title suggests: it claims that the neglected Mother is not the “plain-spoken throwback to an earlier and more innocent age” (373p), but the Conspirator Primus, the real schemer behind it all, the one who in fact betrays Bianca into a liaison with the Duke, at the same time fooling Livia (and the readers) into thinking her the fooled one. I do
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Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction

not see how anyone can be fooled by Levin’s arguments when most of the time they are not arguments at all: at one point he even claims that “Livia describes Bianca as having been ‘set forth’ at the Mother’s window (II.ii.2)” (378p), when in fact Livia says to Guardiano: “How, sir, a gentlewoman so young, so fair,/ As you set forth, spied from the widow’s window”. What happens to Bianca is mirrored in the interpretation: the concerned would speak of usage of the body, of the text (the comma might be a surplus). Levin would not admit it; Bianca as well. Charles A. Hallet’s The Psychological Drama of ‘Women Beware Women’ (CH: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 12, no. 2, [Spring 1972], pp. 375-389) follows how this attempt of adjusting instead of admitting defeat results in a brilliant study of “the psychological stages in the growth of a cynic” (375p). Anthony B. Dawson – in his ‘Women Beware Women’ and the Economy of Rape (AD: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 27, no. 2, [Spring 1987], pp. 303-320) is much more sympathetic to Bianca: kindled by a Howard Barker’s rewritten adaptation of Middleton’s play and his own interest in feminist criticism (303p), Dawson argues that in Women Beware Women economy, sex and power are complexly intertwined in “a fierce economy of sexual exchange” (304p) making both Bianca and Isabella currencies of that exchange with a prescription to a life that closely mirrors that of the (unliving) economy itself – seen, desired, stolen, promoted, killed off (312p). Similar position is taken up by Rajna Koška-Hot’s Isabella,
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only now Middleton’s – these three texts have chiefly been consulted: 1) Aristotle. Dawson’s references to scopophilia – 306-307p). Livia (RKHa: Метафората на дијамантот: студии за женскиот лик во англиската ренесансна драма. cf. no. 2. [Spring 1984]. juxtaposed to the last piece of pageantry in the play: the Masque. B. 24. vol. What may be considered as formal aspects of the play are analyzed both in J. 221-236) where a further examination of the objectification of women – a) in the petrarchan mode (229-230p. 11-22). 78-88) and in Neil Taylor’s and Bryan Loughrey’s collaborative effort Middleton’s Chess Strategies in ‘Women Beware Women’ (NT & BL: Studies in English Literature. Machiavelli and Female Characters in Jacobean Drama (RKHb: pp. 2) English Renaissance Drama/ Theatre of the Absurd/ Physical Theatre: Some Comparisons 4 . b) through pornoglossia (231p). pp. 1500-1900. vol. or c) through the prevailing economic (222-225p) and culinary metaphors (226-228p) – is pursued. pp. Batchelor’s The Pattern of ‘Women Beware Women’ (JBB: The Yearbook of English Studies. As far as the next chapter of our text is concerned –itself concerned with contexts. 341-354). the former dealing with the play as a dyptich of two prevailing scales of values – Venetian and Florentine (visually divided where traditional critics see a rupture: the entrance of the Cardinal in the Fourth Act) – maybe further argumented by the exquisite latter that explores the moral richness of the chess game as a game per se and as a dramatic metaphor in Women Beware Women. 2 [1972].Viktor Jovanoski Bianca.

II. Рајна. 2007). 23-30). современост. Stability and Drama: the Period ‘Merrie England’ ruled over by the unmarried ‘Good Queen Bess’ – and later by James I – may have not been as marry: although prosperous age. феминистичка теорија. Скопје: Bigoss. 1965) have been read before writing this brief introduction. CONTEXTS OF THE PLAY 1. 27-46) is thoroughly read. Aristotle’s Poetics. but due to reasons of textual irrelevance – of if-relevant-ought-to-have-writtenan-introduction-longer-than-our-study type – is cited only once. Helen Wilcox’s Feminist Criticism in the Renaissance and Seventeenth Century (HW: A History of Feminist Criticism [edited by Gill Plain and Susan Sellers]. Politics and Gender in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (RKHd: pp. average life expectancy of 30 years and widespread sexual diseases that further shortened it. Some texts are too quoted to be source-quoted here. 3) Genre. for example.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction (RKHc: pp. 128-152) in Una Ellis-Fermor’s The Jacobean Drama: An Interpretation (UEF: London: Methuen & Co Ltd. Only few of the pages consisting the chapter on Middleton (pp. subordination of 5 . Cambridge University Press. 43-51) – all parts of one book (КошкаХот. Англиска драма: ренесанса. 2007. it was also a time of great inequality and enclosures that only reinforced it.

that after the short reigns of Elizabeth's brother and sister. The Age of Pericles lasted roughly a decade less. as well. Even on an unworthy occasion. however. It is a fact. It may have to do something with the theatre being a public entertainment and the need for gross and violent aesthetic stimulants in the age that represses its problems under the mighty hand of the ruler. her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom. of them – 648 have been preserved. or with Aristotle’s (and/or Renaissance’s) notion of tragic catharsis and Nietzsche’s idea of tragedy as a cure for instability and pessimism. The longevity of the reign and the outwardly projected image of stability are two of the three features that possibly best – and. England and France. but the quality also can only be compared to the aforementioned 6 . English vs Greek drama Between 1576 and 1642. 1192 new dramas were performed in England. Not only the quantity. most superficially – describe the Golden Ages of Ancient Greece. the Age of Louis XIV about three decades more. the third concerns both the birth and the prime of their drama. But it is a question worth mentioning. How is it that in the time of greatest stability the bloodiest literary genre is the dominant one – is a question that requires a longer exploration. Mostly – tragic drama. 2. more or less – both reigns as stable as Elizabeth’s.Viktor Jovanoski women and a number of witchcraft trials that additionally promoted it.

Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction periods (RKHb 11. at least – secular. Both in Ancient Greece and in France. Comedies are always – to a certain point. is not an organic part of the whole”. 1 7 . the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference. or but Rajna Koška-Hot makes a comparison only between English and Greek drama. must imitate one action and that a whole. even though – to round out the three even thoughs of this footnote – we use the generic term “drama” we mainly mean tragedy. The first important exception that should be noted: while Greek drama is mythological/religious. also. 2a) the importance of believability of the plot as well as 2b) the methods of characterization. and 3) the (un)importance of dramatic illusion. being an imitation of an action. if any one of them is displaced or removed. as far as possible. At least three other features differentiate the plays of these two periods (RKHb 12. 1) The Three Unities – unity of place. we follow the example – mainly because French Classical drama looked to revive the Ancient Greek Tragedy – even though we risk reductionism (French drama in the 17th century most surely did not have a ritualistic nature. English drama is secular (RKHb 11). to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun. time. the structural union of the parts being such that. RKHc throughout): 1) the attitude towards the Three Unities. RKHc 23)1. and action – are now known as Aristotelian Unities. 1451a 31-35) and mentioned the second one (“… Tragedy endeavours. even though it was almost exclusively mythological in content). although Aristotle might have prescribed only the last one (“…the plot.

or comic reliefs in serious plays. subgenres such as the revenge or the domestic tragedies. for example. decidedly detested. as they write show pieces for competition. Ancient Greek drama – and especially French Classical Theatre – can be analyzed through the importance of these unities: the plays almost never have a subsidiary plots. 2) The French believed in la vraisemblance or believability: the actions of the play should be believable. most of them last about a day or two and – with some reinterpretations of what unity of place means – do not even change the setting.Viktor Jovanoski slightly to exceed this limit”. Bad poets compose such pieces by their own fault. good poets. 1449b 12-13). All of these – consciously or unconsciously – the English dramatists ignored. and Ben Jonson. John Dryden and Alexander Pope could not grasp) mongrel-genres such as Shakespeare’s dark comedies. to please the players. and are often forced to break the natural 8 . Nevertheless. meaning – almost at the same time – that every single of deed of the characters should be motivated. such as most of the discussion between the Ward and Sordido in Women Beware Women (RKHd 45-46). for. I call a plot 'episodic' in which the episodes or acts succeed one another without probable or necessary sequence. they stretch the plot beyond its capacity. adding to this impurity (Voltaire. Aristotle divides these concepts – talking of the plot and the characters separately – but has few words of advice on both of them: a) “Of all plots and actions the episodic are the worst.

fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. again.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction continuity” (1451b 31-36). will be neither pitiful nor terrible. in the first place. again. Nor. that the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear. should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. imitate actions which excite pity and fear. as we have seen. as well as “In respect of Character there are four things to be aimed at. for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune. and most important. doubtless. satisfy the moral sense. Nor. A plot of this kind would. it must be good. but by some error or frailty” (1452a 311423b 10). though the woman may be said to be an inferior being. it merely shocks us. It should. and the slave quite worthless. yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity. This rule is relative to each class. Such an event. Now any speech or action that manifests moral purpose of any kind will be expressive of character: the character will be good if the purpose is good. then. but it would inspire neither pity nor fear. that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy.that of a man who is not eminently good and just. and also a slave. There remains. this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation. the character between these two extremes. it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear. It follows plainly. it possesses no single tragic quality. 9 . Even a woman may be good. First. therefore. moreover. be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. and b) “A perfect tragedy should.

of character indecorous and inappropriate. which. be inconsistent. of inconsistency. but the complexity of this question will not be further analyzed here. and the speech of Melanippe. the lament of Odysseus in the Scylla. we have Menelaus in the Orestes. character must be true to life: for this is a distinct thing from goodness and propriety. still he must be consistently inconsistent. Thirdly. English drama did not care for either of these things: their plots are almost always incoherent and contradict themselves (examples such as the double time scheme in Othello or Gloster’s trip to Dover are abundant). 3) Mimesis was the essence of art in Ancient Greece. However. as here described. Special attention must be devoted to the women in the plays who – according to Aristotle – should not be valorous or have unscrupulous cleverness (RKHb 18). the Iphigenia at Aulis – for Iphigenia the suppliant in no way resembles her later self” (1454a 15-31). calls into question the consistency of the characters (RKHc 27) (highly unmotivated deeds such as Hippolito’s decision to kill Leantio. who suggested the type.Viktor Jovanoski The second thing to aim at is propriety. of course. It was so everywhere until the twentieth 10 . but valor in a woman. or Livia’s accepted rapid change of mind in the last act of Women Beware Women – are numerous) (RKHb 14-20). There is a type of manly valor. The fourth point is consistency: for though the subject of the imitation. As an example of motiveless degradation of character. or unscrupulous cleverness is inappropriate.

epilogues. Coleridge’s plea for a willing suspension of disbelief was anachronically subverted by the use of inductions – prologues. 2 Again: reductive. But there is a peculiarity in 16th17th century English tragic mimesis2: it seems that the playwrights of this period were not only inconsistent and reluctant to use coherent characters in their plays. The breaking of the fourth wall in the Elizabethan and Jacobean drama is what – years later – Brecht would advise in an attempt to prevent “the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction century perhaps. Violence and Disease and distantly antedates Antonin Artaud’s request for Spectacularity and Cruelty in his The Theatre and Its Double (RKHc 24-5). Especially the latter one is obsessed with Murder. or mimes – all of them playful. Incest. masques. 3. And this brings Elizabethan tragedy closer to Modern drama than any other dramatic phenomenon dating before the twentieth century. but also were hesitant to believe that anyone does. 11 . as well as modern at the same time (RKHc 28-29). plays-within-the-plays. It was not only English. Elizabethan and Modern Drama Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi is a precursor of the Theatre of the Absurd – its peaks probably being Beckett and Ionesco – characterized with the absence of characterizations and coherent plots: both of them features of the Elizabethan and the Jacobean Theatre. and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer”.

But is Bianca’s victory over the Cardinal (IV. they experienced a far more ambiguous fate in drama. 4.47-69) a rudiment of Shakespeare’s attitude towards women – because in Middleton’s time. Some of the character types of the era – such as the overreacher and the malcontent – may even be compared to the angry young man of the Sixties. far inferior to them in rational thought. but end up as victims in a male-dominated world (excluding the more or less passive Mother. Referred to as a “monstrous regiment” in prose writings as well as reality. 12 . women were widely considered to be a different species from men. this is true for all of the women characters in Women Beware Women).Viktor Jovanoski The German explicitly gives a nod to the Elizabethan Theatre as relevant to the development of his Verfremdungseffekt and the concept of the Epic Theatre (RKHc 29). Women Burdened by a chronic lack of education. women try to take control of their own lives and possibly the lives of others. a need to hide their own identity and a continual spur of attacks with biblical references coming from the opposite sex (HW). and led solely by their emotions. The ambivalent nature of women in Elizabethan tragedy may be explained as a product of a compromise: the Queen and the audience had different value systems (RKHd 4951).iii. The vulgar tirades and the shocking images in Jacobean literature may also be compared to the general features in In-Yer-Face Theatre. Especially in Jacobean drama.

The female characters “Middleton’s capacity for tragedy is inseperable from his other supreme gift. WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN 1. We are deeply skeptical of modern critical theory doing away with characters: I have never read a text bereaved of at 13 . his discernment of the minds of women: in this no dramatist of the period except Shakespeare is his equal at once for variety and for penetration” (UEF 149).Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction there was no Queen to be pleased – or a further investigation in the playwrights’ ideas of women should be conveyed? III.

I hope. Many readers would probably regret the ridiculously violent ending of Women Beware Women mainly because the play begins “as seventeeth-century Ibsen” (G. Hibbard. But thou dost not mean To go. LEANTIO Bianca. and imitate you? (III. sir. Rude and uncivil. R. sir. JBB 79): at least a comparison between Bianca’s walking away on Leantio and Nora leaving Torvald is obligatory. Has he so! And you the man would never yet vouchsafe To tell me on’t till now! you show your loyalty And honesty at once. Now I beshrew you heartily. and so farewell. mad. are you so insensible of your danger To ask that now? The duke himself has sent for you BIANCA To Lady Livia’s. The aforequoted passage is implicitly strained and may limp slowly enough to be preyed on by a deconstructionist: Middleton portrays female minds better then anyone while – see above – writing plays where characters are incoherent.Viktor Jovanoski least a momentary inherent recognition of the mimetical nature of Art. to a banquet forsooth. No? I shall prove unmannerly.252-262) 14 .i. whither now? BIANCA LEANTIO BIANCA Why. You say he sent for me. The scene in question is the following one: LEANTIO Why. to the duke.

Already criticized in the first chapter of this essay. but nevertheless are worth considering.4-5) is instrumental (if only by being the fooled one) in Bianca’s seducing. paradoxically. If so. Even a sentence analyzing a deed. we are obliged to read into the change Middleton made while adapting his sources: “In the Bianca plot. A) The Mother The weight of this kind may be unloaded of our sentences: we begin by suspending our disbelief. Richard Levin’s the only text I could find that considers for a wider analysis of the Mother. There are two reasons why we must mention it again: 1) the Mother. Both reasons maybe a byproduct of Middleton’s hastiness. featuring prominently in the first two acts of the play. In Malespini [his Ducento novelle is 15 . the character of the Mother may not ask for a deep scrutiny. even a word that refers to the world outside the play. Concerning the first one.ii. Middleton has allowed himself an economy over the relationship between Livia and the mother. even a thought of such a comparison makes all the objections against the inherent mimetical nature of art pointless. only to completely disappear after the first scene of the third one.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction However. being a friend of Livia’s (her “Sunday-dinner” and “Thursday-supper woman” – II. Even Eco would agree with me now. and 2) the text is rather unclear on whether she kept Bianca closed by Leantio’s standards. because she is the most consistent character of them all. I tend to believe that such a study is impossible and so far unwritten.

3 16 . Livia's niece.iii. Levin provides us with another – almost ridiculous – afterthought: “If her son's wife “In early modern English. However.ii. so – as Richard Levin suggests – she may want to do away with her as soon as possible. In addition. f7).ii.ii. Bianca a "gentlewoman" at II. her husband – the other schemer in Malespini – is substituted by Guardiano in the play] has to seek out the mother's acquaintance. this calls for a reinterpretation of her objections to Bianca’s eloping and a new understanding of her dissatisfaction with the life she is now having. but Middleton simplifies this by making them already acquainted. Signora Mandragone [equivalent to Livia.147. RL 387-8. this calls for another change: Livia and her son may now be representatives of the “fallen gentry” especially if Middleton wants to diminish the unlikeliness of the friendship: the Mother is called a “gentlewoman” at II. Isabella. A further impoverishment is looming with Bianca’s arrival.57. a "gentlewoman" at III. For a deeper understanding of the lack of joy she feels in the beginning. and one learns with surprise that the factor's mother is a Sundaydinner and Thursday-supper woman in the Livia household” (JBB 79).ii.Viktor Jovanoski Middleton’s main source for Women Beware Women]. f15] – and even Isabella in the beginning – is a proof enough).2263 (RL 373). although one has the feeling that she has been always poor (her submissive behaviour when around Livia [cf. it is an unlikely friendship.208 and 212” (RL 387. "gentleman" and "gentlewoman" are terms often (though by no means invariably) reserved for gentle rather than aristocratic status: Guardiano is a "gentleman" at II.l and III.

8-13). his crowning proof is Bianca’s dying admonition where “she speaks of ‘foes’ and so alludes to at least one other female betrayer. For example. but one has the notion that from this moment on – if not before – he stops being deductive and extrapolate conclusions from the text and starts being inductive and inducing meaning to the text./ When she’s in a good way to obedience” – I. because the Mother denies that the Duke has seen Bianca in the first act (I. 2) the Mother brings Bianca to the window. which Levin suggests may be more of a window display. As far as the second reason for this outtake on the Mother is concerned. Only if this is true. the Mother perhaps has incestuous feelings for Leantio” (RL 387.i.74-75). and b) even the Mother saw this (III. RL 378).i.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction makes her jealous. the second time calling Guardiano to look with him (II. the text may support a hidden intent.58-70) and has to be quieted by Leantio (“I pray do not you teach her to rebel.227-233) (cf. 4 17 . and this may even have another meaning – she is trying to sell her (RL 377)4. Who is this female betrayer likelier to be than the Mother.ii. only for later commentaries to show that a) it was not just a glance because the Duke looked twice. f24). at least three textual clues are of a momentary importance: 1) the Mother may seem to have spurred Bianca’s wishes for comfort even before the rape scene (I.i. than we have to accept another double time scheme. f9). Levin goes on applying his thesis to all of the Mother’s words.i. on whom Bianca depended as a newcomer to Florence?” (RL 385). which – even though it is because of other reasons – Levin does (388.107-112).

It would have been not much if. but women buy their masters. A further proof of this idea could be Isabella’s exclaim in the third scene of the 18 .Viktor Jovanoski Even a superficial reading of Bianca’s last words shows how far-fetching this conclusion is. AD 331). commonly They do but buy their thraldoms.17178) Isabella – says Rajna Koška-Hot (a 228) – maybe “the only female character expressing this kind of an understanding of the social and economic consciousness of women.ii. her maturity is suggested as being at an utmost intensity in these verses: When women have their choices. As far as the first one goes. a good look sometimes. RKHa 228. B) Isabella Both Isabella and Bianca may be compared to Shakespeare’s Juliet one way or another (cf. and bring great portions To men to keep 'em in subjectionAs if a fearful prisoner should bribe The keeper to be good to him. as well as a sense of their position in society. yet lies in still. And glad of a good usage. By 'r Lady. no misery surmounts a woman's: Men buy their slaves. Levin’s whole text may be described by the same adjective. the religious reverence for literary criticism in general was not threatened by a very similar heresy. at the same time being repulsed by both”. (I. today.

the most blest estate. In fact.iii.34-36) In these three lines.ii.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction third act. “It is true that all the imagery of the play creates a pattern which reduces love to lust.iii.179-80).229) – paradoxically she would end up being betrayed in an impurest commitment – Isabella is another strong female character. AD 306-7): What an infernal torment ‘twere to be Thus bought and sold and turned and pried into. a generalization is least of all excluded – have not deserved it." (I. Some critics. however. which seems Cf. whose tragic mistake – if we are to exclude the last scene – may be the most Aristotelian of all. but that she believes that they – even if the lines refer especially to the Ward and Sordido. 5 19 . “Either these lines are ironic. next to angels'. when alas The worst bit is too good for him! (III. “When blood that should be love is mixed with lust!” – I. in so far as the lines following the first of the two aforequoted monologues are these: "Yet honesty and love makes all this happy. Isabella continually shows contempt for the foolishness of her suitor. By adding to this a purer understanding of the differences between love and lust5 then any of the other characters (cf. / And. are reluctant to accept an one-sided view on Isabella. and lust to a saleable article in a corrupt society” (JBB 78). thus affirming her own intelligence. one of the most misogynistic scenes in English renaissance drama (RKHa 231. Isabella not only shows that she is aware of men’s objectification of women.

we tend to paraphrase it here. Hallet’s essay on the psychological drama of Women Beware Women deals with Livia and Bianca exclusively and – probably needless to say to the ones having read it – was an enlightening experience to us. especially if we have already dedicated separate titles to the remaining two female characters. 20 .i181-187.208-228) are as ironically sad and as brilliantly rich as one may wish for in a play. not only on Isabella's part. Still. C) Livia and Bianca It might be a mistake to group the two most important characters in the play under one title. Her joyous monologues in the first scene of the second act (II. or they register an uncontrolled ambivalence. Accommodation is another keyword. this makes this distich even more interesting because it is now infused with dramatic irony: Isabella would very soon find herself in a position identical to the one he may be suggesting here.192204.i.Viktor Jovanoski unlikely. however: Charles A.i. Hallet uses the word cynic. II. We do this on purpose. II. there is not one single sentence in the passage that suggests that these are the only possible meanings of the couplet: Isabella may mean that even if a woman marries. but on that of the play as a whole” (AD 311). love and honesty – which are in no way exclusive to the marriage – may give her energy to endure. The basic relationship that Hallet suggests between the two characters is a reflecting one: Bianca in the end becomes what Livia is at the beginning of the play. With an exception or two.

Hallet’s no exception: “Livia is a cynic of the first water. Hallet shows that “[n]othing about Livia transcends the commonplace realm of experience”. her only victory is ideological: she proves that they are happy because of naivety: “As a cynic. With Livia – there can be no mystery: by comparing her to few similar characters in Jacobean tragedy.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction Livia is almost always pointed out as the most dominating figure in the play. As a consequence they are not only deluding themselves but they are also deceiving others about their true natures. an Aunt Sally/Helene Deutsch betrayer of womankind (AD 312 ff). Consequently. It is the real world of everyday existence where wise men and fools are equals because it is a world with the spiritual dimension sheared off. she is willing to play the bawd” (CH 378). Livia believes that there are people who have not embraced the truth about themselves. RKHb 16-17). almost always again – she is described as an evil puppeteer (RKHa 222. Her world – and she defines the world of the play – is monodimensional. there is no potential of either a higher synthesis of knowledge or even a fall into diabolism. 232. These delusions both amuse Livia (she is touched to find people are still so naive) and challenge her (there is a proselytizing aspect to her 21 . Within such a universe. she believes that there is nothing good in this world and “since the notion of a pure woman violates Livia’s sense of reality. there can be no tragedy” (378). She has no gain from having Isabella and Bianca seduced (CH 377). an experienced widow with “an infinite and all-embracing worldliness” (JBB 82).

an unerring eye” (CH 379). she expects to live happily ever after. Livia sees herself as one who creates the right conditions for unmasking people to themselves. She is modest and probably genuinely in love with Leantio. She knows that though most people believe that their actions stem from adherence to a moral code. 22 . Bianca is introduced as an innocent. even adding a religious note to her elopement: “Heaven send a quiet peace with this man’s love” (I. Like Leantio.i. but that the conditions have not been right. This. especially if Freudian psychoanalysis is summoned while: “The clearest dramatization of what the process does to her is the aftermath of the rape scene. And she knows that the reason some have not become cynical in pursuit of the good life is not that they differ in moral makeup from those who have. would make Bianca’s reaction after the rape even more absurd.Viktor Jovanoski cynicism which causes her to delight in the conversion of others). but disastrously unrealistic view of life” (CH 380). Una Ellis-Fermor refers to Women Beware Women as one of Middleton’s unforgettable studies of “the process by which a nature may be dislocated by a sudden jar or shock of evil fate” (142). With both Isabella and Bianca she has. alas.127). she thinks of Florence as her new country because there here love was born – is a portrait of her “touchingly naïve. however. the truth is that for most there is no law but the law of their own appetites and well-being. The monologue containing this verse – she exchanges her fortunes for her new mother’s successes. They want the good life. where the shift from modest innocence to brash experience is indecently rapid-condensed into a twenty-line speech.

Hallet makes a bold move to the realm of the consciousness: “When Bianca calmly walks into the room we are somewhat shocked. We expect the events in a plot to touch the participating characters.ii. on Guardiano who betrayed her. In drama actions have consequences. she adjusts” (CH 380). "a stranger. "no couple greater." and has embraced the treachery though she "hates the traitor. to unhinge them in some way. I had a difficulty accepting Bianca’s – nevertheless – rhetorically exquisite monologue following up the rape scene (II. to make them suffer. everyone probably has. which in the early part of the speech is aimed at the Duke. deflecting her anger away from the Duke and coming to love him. Hallet is tempted again to a comparison or two to show that events such as the Duke’s rape have “a shattering impact on the central character”. The difference is that while everyone tries to explain this – more or less – subconsciously. in life they need not. a jar or a shock cannot be ‘processized’. and in real life. Bianca acts as people do in life." By the end of the speech. After all. such sharp changes must be temporized if one wishes to make them blunter. Characters in drama act that way – that is drama." In internalizing the rape as guilt.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction Anticipating the finale of the play. she first blames her beauty ("Why should I / Preserve that fair that caused the leprosy?" [II.421-444). What makes Bianca different is that she “does not respond.ii.424-25]). 23 . But Bianca does not respond as characters do in plays. then turns her anger. she is "acquainted" with sin. she displays the classic pattern of the victim succumbing to and embracing the inevitability of redefined power relations” (AD 312).

average men choose almost exclusively the first. “the average man. That is why at the end of the second act we can witness the birth of a new cynic. in life that is not necessary. in life they need not do so. That is why we live in Huxley’s Brave New World and not in More’s Utopia. Aristotle’s as well as Hegel’s tragic heroes are greater then life.Viktor Jovanoski In drama the events make people examine life and redefine their values in terms of their experiences. This I can relate to: Livia is experienced enough to know that one may succumb to the pleasures in life all the more easily and that between the instinct for self-preservation and the desire for justice. The remainder of the play – in the words of Hallet – “is a chronicle of the growth of cynicism in the young Bianca” (CH 382). 6 24 . She is betting on the non-consequential nature of life. the Renaissance is anthropocentric enough to know that the demigods have departed long ago. In drama secrets come to light. will adjust to anything if only adjustment is possible”.6 In Hallet’s opinion. Bianca is a dramatic character acting very undramatically. It is a happy coincidence that the rape scene coincides with Bianca’s anagnorisis and Dawson’s Further analysis of the passage may lead us to a new assessment of the believability as a principle. In that respect Middleton has imbued her with more actuality than perhaps any other previous character in Elizabethan or Jacobean drama” (CH 381). The beginning of Chapter III has already added a sentence or two on the margins of this interesting idea. according to Middleton. Our further thoughts we choose to keep for ourselves.

7 25 . that is. Bianca further expresses the “boldness” she gained after the rape: If he would take some voyage when he's married.45-46).i. However. she manages during the course of the scene to work herself up into a state of defiance which will allow her to take up with the Duke with what to her mind is a clear conscience. because Barker believed in “liberation of woman through sexual violence” and that even though desire leads to the grave it also leads to perception – can not be more correct 7 (303. I take the liberty of saying this. she does away with love: she thought that Leantio loved her – but now under the shock of seduction. 317-318). “Having proven to herself that she has been betrayed by those who should have provided for her. In the banquet scene (III. But Bianca is still – on some level – the same Bianca from the beginning. even though I have never seen the play. she just seeks excuses: “Must I live in want / Because my fortune match'd me with your son?” (III. without ever accepting the moral responsibility for her choice” (CH 383). First of all. her consequent loss of innocence and the realization that he is subjecting her to a state of privation – the glow of marriage has worn off (CH 382). to continue the relationship of her own accord. it is only synchronic with Hallet’s further assessment of Bianca’s metamorphosis.ii). In this state Bianca is able to agree to accept the role of the Duke's mistress. I rarely do this.Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction scathing review of Barker’s adaptation of Women Beware Women – where Sordido rapes Bianca before her wedding.

but if so.231-234) This attitude toward marriage contradicts the one expressed in the opening act. especially the last few verses. her idyllic vision will still be tarnished. Even retrospectively. This is only one of the many symmetries and ‘transferrals’ one may here Cf.30-33) As witnessed a little later in the scene where she encounters Leantio again. but only because Bianca was adulterous. that makes her a sinner. and scarce be seen Once in nine year together. Bianca has even already adjusted her own language to the one used by once the predator8. in sadness. as in her monologue in the first scene of the fourth act. Restraint Breeds wandering thoughts. as many fasting days A great desire to see flesh stirring again. Leantio’s speech III.i. (III.i. (IV.Viktor Jovanoski Dangerous. or long enough. she must start a crusade against the whole world that will inevitably end in her defeat. swears to never keep her daughters so stern. where she blames her “woman’s fortune” again. because even if Leantio accept her loss of innocence. lamenting that 'Tis not good.ii. a wife then Might make indifferent shift to be content with him. If marriage is still sacred to her. which she will never accept. In the constant search of an untarnished future she chooses to reinterpret herself. To keep a maid so strict in her young days. 8 26 .82-109.

And he makes a pretty good case that Women Beware Women lacks a tragic realization.ii. a technique we have already seen Livia demonstrate with gusto” (CH 386). the deadly snares That women set for women. that “her moral status declines. that “Bianca’s eyes remain closed”. “She has mastered another of the cynic's defences against the rest of the world.209-214)] 27 .i. because – just like Livia – cynics remain as such until the end. the technique of smelling out the weaknesses in others. Bianca goes further: she puts a finger on the Cardinal’s faults. until it is restored by her death – she is ‘saved’ by the very sadism that has made the story” (AD 312).Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction observe concerning Bianca: very soon Leantio’s situation will almost equate hers (once married. For one. without pity Either to soul or honour! learn by me To know your foes: in this belief I die. she still fails to blame herself for anything[: O. even in the end. (V.265-277). It is suggested more then once that Bianca sees her faults in the end (RKHa 225). then fallen into adulterous relationships which improved their material positions) and in the next act – after being scorned by the Cardinal – the Duke would apply her tactics of adjusting to achieve a morally correct state (IV. This would be incongruent to Hallet’s portrayal of her as a cynic.

Batchelor. a level at which Livia can successfully play the hostess. if the code of social success were the only code operating in the play.202203). but her last egoistic and materialistic words may stain even this of Bianca’s loves: Pride. honours. ambition. You must all down together. In Act Notice that again she excludes herself from sin once again: all the other are strangers. In the first act the ducal procession. one assumes that Livia and the mother are in a private parlour. “[n]ot known but by their malice” (V. (V. and the Duke can appear as a gracious and condescending guest. there's no help for 't.Viktor Jovanoski even though she knows herself that she has lived badly: “But my deformity in spirit's more foul. 9 28 .ii. The verses following this couplet show that the Duke is the only one she has known and loved9. beauty. the progress of its settings would suggest a triumphant comedy. writes J.204-205). 'the monument and all'. and there finds the Duke. The banquet scene operates at the level of fashionable society. The pageantries: the Game of Chess and the Masque “Each act”. greatness. The game of chess in Act II takes place at the level of Livia in her domestic rather than her public role. / A blemished face best fits a leprous soul” (V. and with each pageant we move up the social scale.ii. B.216-217) 2. in which the Duke sees Bianca.ii. passes under the mother's house and therefore operates at the mother's social level. youth. “has a piece of pageantry. and not in the grand reception rooms of the palazzo Bianca is taken off by Guardiano to see these rooms.

then. A table follows that only overviews the multiplicity. It combines with the chess game to suggest that play.22) . teaches a general distrust.nor as passive 29 . be it mimetic (as in the masque itself) or diversionary (as in chess).chessmen actors .the wedding procession in Act iv. Neil Taylor and Bryan Loughrey dedicate a whole essay on two of these pageantries. both mirroring each other. and both showing the moral ambivalences of the metaphors Middleton employs. a further analysis may be found in their brilliant study: THE GAME OF CHESS THE MASQUE HIERARCHICAL/ MIMESIS (WAR/LIFE) : DISGUISE chessmen – chessmen characters – characters (kings  pawns) (Juno Pronubo  nymphs) HIERARCHICAL/FATE : PUPPETEERING players . is to be trusted neither as active participation . Scene 3. and are indeed royal occasions . and the masque (part of the wedding celebrations) in Act v” (84).Women Beware Women: A Brief Introduction iv and Act v the pageants operate at the Duke's level.for "In time of sports death may steal in securely" (V.ii.characters HIERARCHICAL (WIN/LOSE)/FRIENDSHIPS : BETRAYALS player – player actor .actor VOYAEURISM / DECEPTION the game – the nonmasque – stage-audience players IRONY / VERFREMDUNGSEFFEKT / DOUBLING theater-audience – the theater-audience – stageseduction – the game of audience – the masque chess 1 2 3 4 5 Taylor and Loughrey’s conclusion – “[The] masque.

CONTENTS 30 . inclusive warning. Middleton moves on from chess to the masque because the latter provides a richer and more complex statement of the possibilities of deception. 171-72).ii. as a result. Men and women. and. a title that pretty precisely portrays the dark world of Jacobean tragedy”.Viktor Jovanoski entertainment . beware men and women” (352) – is almost the same as Rajna Koška-Hot’s (a 236): “maybe the most adequate title of the play should be Men Beware Men. and great mischiefs / Mask in expected pleasures’ (V. generates a broad.for it is an area where you may observe how ‘Destruction plays her triumph.