"Gender and Eloquence in Dekker's The Honest Whore, Part II,"

Critic: Viviana Comensoli
Source: English Studies in Canada, Vol. XV, No. 3, September 1989, pp. 249-62.



[(essay date 1989) In this essay, Comensoli argues that in the second part of The Honest Whore, "Dekker has included women in the Renaissance dictum that the practice of eloquence is 'the practice of power'."]

In Part I of The Honest Whore (1604), which Dekker co-authored with Middleton, the courtesan Bellafront tries to seduce the Count Hippolito, whose oration on the evils of her trade converts her to virtue (II.i.321-456).1 Hardin Craig has noted that Hippolito's formal diatribe, which effects Bellafront's conversion, "is in the form of the forensic declamations" written by young men "in schools and universities" during the sixteenth century: "The force of persuasion establishes remorse of conscience in her [Bellafront's] heart by presenting to her a true picture of her trade, and her conversion follows as a matter of necessity."2 Taking Craig's observation one step further, we note that Hippolito's declamation contains three elements which are traditionally associated with forensic rhetoric: the first is persuasion through judgement of former action, in this case the evil of Bellafront's trade (lines 326-423); the second is epideictic function, or the praise of virtue and the blame of vice, which informs all invective; and the third is deliberative function, or the consideration of a future course of action, namely Bellafront's perseverance in virtue (lines 425-56).3 Ostensibly, at least, the play supports the traditional psychological function of rhetoric as "reformative or reclamatory."4 Caxton, for one, in his translation of Miroir du Monde (1480) ascribes to the orator the ethical duty to "knowe the right and the wronge; ffor to doo wronge to another, who so doth it is loste and dampned, and for to doo right and reson to euery man, he is saued and geteth the loue of God his creatour."5 Lawrence Andrewe's expanded version of Caxton's translation further defines rhetoric as "a scyence to cause another man by speche or by wrytynge to beleue or to do that thynge whyche thou woldest haue hym for to do."6 Henry Peacham, writing in 1593, praises in similar fashion the figures of rhetoric as "martiall instruments both of defence & invasion" which permit us to "defend ourselves,invade our enemies, revenge our wrongs, ayd the weake, deliver the simple from dangers, conserve true religion, & confute idolatry."7 A warning sounded in many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century treatises on rhetorical and ethical practice "is that men will fall into vice without the good offices of the orator."8

Harry Keyishian, who finds the conversion scene in The Honest Whore, Part I strongly "sentimental," voices a common response when he writes that in the success of "the earnest, rational, puritanical Hippolito" who "not only resists temptation but converts his tempter ... Dekker gives victory to traditional morality."9 Yet, while Hippolito himself claims his intention has been to persuade Bellafront "mildly" and "not without sense or reason" (II.i.317), a number of ambiguities suggest the dramatists' uneasiness with forensic oratory as a universal form of persuasion. Throughout the play, Hippolito is frequently subject to sudden fits of melancholy as he mourns over the supposed death of his lover. Hippolito, observes a courtier moments prior to Bellafront's conversion, "betraies his youth too grosly to that tyrant melancholy" (II,i.204), a "disease" which Hippolito himself admits has made him "sicke" of love (IV.iv.103-04). At other times Hippolito is portrayed in a hot distemper, a condition which affects him as he enters Bellafront's home (II.i.244-48). The sensation of heat, according to medieval and Renaissance physiology, if caused by humoral imbalance, was a symptom of madness, which in turn was considered a "punishment for moral corruption."10 Indeed, Hippolito's diatribe attests to a corrupt rational faculty. His invective is based on Christian ascetic morality, but it is expressed with a new virulence. The prostitute's body is compared to a sewer that "receiues / All the townes filth" (II.i.325-26), and to a plague that has "maym'd and dismembred" as many men "As would ha stuft an Hospitall" (lines 332-33). The images of excrement and mutilation combine with a bewildering array of images of voluptuousness, disease, and death, in keeping with the extreme cynicism and fearfulness associated with melancholia:

O y'are as base as any beast that beares,
Your body is ee'ne hirde, and so are theirs.


A harlot is like Dunkirke, true to none,
Swallowes both English, Spanish, fulsome Dutch,
Blacke-beard Italian, last of all the French,
And he sticks to you faith: giues you your diet,
Brings you acquainted, first with monsier Doctor,
And then you know what followes. ...
Me thinks a toad is happier then a whore,
That with one poison swells, with thousands more
The other stocks her veines. ...


Hippolito's invective overstrains the epideictic function of praise and blame; his language debases and degrades its objects, stripping Bellafront of her humanity.

Another major complication surrounding Bellafront's conversion is that her transition to virtue has been incited by an erotic attraction to her reformer. This ironic twist, together with Bellafront's highly stylized repentance-speech, renders suspect her reformation:

                                                            Eyther loue me,
Or cleaue my bosome on thy Rapiers poynt:
Yet doe not neyther; for thou then destroyst
That which I loue thee for (thy vertues) here, here,
Th'art crueller, and kilst me with disdayne:
To die so, sheds no bloud, yet tis worse payne.

Exit Hipolito.

Not speake to me! not looke! not bid farewell
Hated! this must not be, some means Ile try.
Would all Whores were as honest now, as I.


The contradictory messages the spectator receives in Part I of the play give way to a more controlled comic plot in Part II (c. 1605-07), where Hippolito's moral backsliding and rhetorical limitations are confirmed, and where Dekker more forcefully and consistently questions the power of purely persuasive rhetoric to influence behaviour. Concomitant with this critique is the challenge at the heart of the play to another traditional assumption, namely that the practice of eloquence is the exclusive province of male virtue.


In Part II Bellafront is the patient wife of the spendthrift Matheo, who urges her to return to prostitution to cadge money. To intensify Bellafront's misery, Hippolito (who is married to the Duke's daughter Infelice) is now clearly lusting after Bellafront. A Jacobean audience familiar with the popular motif of the wife's temptation in domestic comedy would expect Bellafront to reject her suitor with piety and humility, and to follow up the rejection with a series of platitudes on the need for constancy in marriage and on the wife's duty to submit to her husband's will. Dekker, however, avoids the stock speeches of the patient wife, subjecting Hippolito both to Bellafront's eloquent resistance of the Count's advances and to Infelice's trenchant critique of the myth of the male's natural superiority. Both women defeat Hippolito in debate, even though his formal training in forensic oratory gives him a clear advantage.11

The play's analogues are a group of domestic comedies which were performed in the public theatres between 1600 and 1608. The chief dramatic paradigm is the testing of the wife's patience within a turbulent marriage. Michael Manheim observes that "a number of these comedies are built around a juxtaposition of tests, in which hypocrisy and deceit are revealed and condemned while virtue and patience are glorified."12 The testing motif is a major structure in Thomas Heywood's How a man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad (c. 1601-02) and in the anonymous Fair Maid of Bristow (c. 1603-04) and The London Prodigal (1604). The heroine is always an abused and patient wife whose trials move the plot forward. The husband-hero is a wastrel and a profligate whose backsliding precipitates his near-demise. Sometimes another principal character is a young man who is lusting after the heroine: "All three of these character types are tested: the youth by his lust, the husband by his bad luck, and the wife by the abuses of her husband on the one hand and the advances of the youth on the other."13 Only the heroine is morally equipped to pass the trials. In the dénouement, following the husband's and the youth's repentance, she meekly receives public commendation, and the play ends with a series of hortatory speeches on the necessity of wifely patience and modesty. Thus in How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad Mistress Arthur is subjected to the cruelty of her husband, who poisons her in order to please his whore. After being rescued by Anselm, the lusty but sympathetic youth who offers to marry her and alleviate her suffering, the wife modestly rejects his advances with mundane speeches in praise of fortitude and perseverance. She never relies on eloquence as a weapon. In all of these comedies, characterization is subordinated to the didacticism of the conductbooks and other writings on domestic behaviour. As Peter Ure suggests, the "ethical basis" of most domestic comedies is "the doctrine, reiterated everywhere in the treatises, that the wife should win her mate with mildness."14 Once the husband's reformation is secured, he must learn to command his household wisely and mercifully, although his success depends largely on his wife's virtue. How a Man May Choose, for example, ends with the reformed prodigal's advice to would-be husbands on how to choose between a good and a bad wife: "A good wife," we learn, will quietly "do her husband's will," endure provocation, and "conceal / Her husband's dangers," whereas "a bad wife" will neglect her "home" and be "cross, spiteful and madding."15

The homiletic basis of the genre is the conventional Renaissance notion that man perfects his virtue through command and eloquence, whereas woman perfects hers through obedience and silence. The notion evolved out of two major traditions: the Greek, which considered women naturally passive, and the patristic, which urged that women be silent as a consequence of Eve's glibness, which was responsible for the fall. "You are the one who opened the door to the Devil," wrote Tertullian of woman, "you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack"; "unable to remain silent," Eve made Adam "the carrier of that which she had imbibed from the Evil One."16 From the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century the resistance to women practising eloquence was widespread. Francis Barbaro, for one, claimed that "By silence, indeed, women achieve the fame of eloquence."17 The Aristotelian philosopher Francesco Robortello urged woman to submit her will to that of her husband on the basis of her moral weakness, which stemmed from faulty reasoning powers.18 Virtue, we are frequently reminded in philosophical discourses, originally meant the quality of manliness, vir meaning man. For the traveller Thomas Coryat, who in 1608 warned his fellow-Englishmen of the dangers of the "elegant ... Rhetoricall tongue" of Venetian courtesans,19 men's virtue is threatened by female eloquence, for "to encounter a 'public woman' is to risk the casuistries of a previously masculine discourse."20 As Margaret King, Ian Maclean, and Lisa Jardine have demonstrated, English and continental humanists also upheld social demarcations between men and women, despite their recommendations that women, who were considered morally equal to men, should be learned.21 Moral philosophers such as Erasmus, Agrippa, and Vives, while viewing male and female virtue as identical, and while allowing for women to be educated, nevertheless affirmed the orthodox view of woman's natural tendency toward silence and humility, and of man's duty to command eloquently. The educator Leonardo Bruni urged women to study the liberal arts, but warned that "Rhetoric in all its forms,--public discussion, forensic argument, logical fence, ...--lies absolutely outside the province of woman."22 Similarly, Neoplatonic works such as Castiglione's Book of the Courtier (1528) and Nicholas Faret's L'honnête homme (1630), which propose identical capacities for virtue in men and women, insist that women's domestic function requires them to practise certain virtues not required in men, that is, modesty and silence, releasing them from the need to cultivate virtues which relate especially to men's role in the household, namely courage and eloquence. "This strategy of argument," suggests Maclean, "may reflect ... no more than lip-service to the enhancement of the status of woman, and conservatism for its own sake, perhaps justified by a fear of the effects of social change."23

Dekker's rescue of the patient wife from a reductive dramatic tradition is the major achievement of The Honest Whore, Part II. Although the main plot, like its analogues, focuses on the plight of the wife, and ultimately upholds the virtue of patience--"Women," declares Bellafront at the end of the play, "shall learne of me, / To loue their husbands in greatest misery" (v.ii.468-69)--the action builds on a series of complications that displace orthodox structures and themes. In the Hippolito-Infelice action, marital conflict is resolved not through the wife's meekness but through the boldness of her language. In the Bellafront plot, the tests of the wife become the trials of a converted whore, who passes them with the aid of eloquence and courage as she struggles against economic destitution and social mistrust.


The issue of the wife's behaviour is thrown into relief in the confrontation scene between Hippolito and Infelice, who has learned of the count's desire for the former courtesan. Throughout the episode, Infelice capably directs the subject-matter and tenor of the conversation. Relying on reason and rhetorical virtuosity, she ultimately succeeds in exposing Hippolito's transgression by means of a riddle. "Expressing conflict between poser and solver," writes Linda Woodbridge, "riddles are often associated with women as with other classes not in authority--riddlers have power to make even an authority-figure look foolish."24 As "a natural tool for combat between the sexes," the riddle frequently "occurs as a marriage test."25 Infelice's verbal weapon is a complex form of the riddle known as emblematic vision, a type of metaphor which depends on "descriptive containment ... [whereby] the subject is not described but circumscribed ... [through] a circle of words drawn around it," and which is "closely related to ... the parable."26 The central image in Infelice's riddle is the clock, through which Hippolito is gradually forced to equate the absence of synchronism with discord in marriage (III.i.107-15). As the riddle increases in subtlety, Infelice displays an agile and inventive mind:

Hip. Why, Infelice, what should make you sad?

Inf. Nothing my lord, but my false watch, pray tell me,
You see, my clocke, or yours is out of frame,
Must we vpon the Workeman lay the blame,
Or on our selues that keep them?


Refusing to yield to her husband's blandishments, and to the socially sanctioned role of silence, Infelice startles Hippolito with a bold parody of his former diatribe against women as the downfall of men. Hippolito's apostrophe

                                                            oh women
You were created Angels, pure and faire;
But since the first fell, tempting Deuils you are,
You should be mens blisse, but you proue their rods:
Were there no Women, men might liue like gods ...


is matched by Infelice's equally forceful injunction, through which she exposes his bombast and secures his admission of guilt:

Inf.                                                            Oh Men,
You were created Angels, pure and faire,
But since the first fell, worse then Deuils you are.
You should our shields be, but you proue our rods.
Were there no Men, Women might liue like gods.
Guilty my Lord?

Hip. Yes, guilty my good Lady.


Rather than forgive her husband, Infelice commands him from her--"Nay, you may laugh, but henceforth shun my bed" (III.i.193)--challenging both his intellectual and sexual dominance.

Infelice's exhortations, her parody of Hippolito's language, and her complaint about the treachery of men render her outspoken and wilful. Dekker, moreover, never subordinates Infelice's behaviour to a more conventional ideal.27 Throughout the play she insists on her need for self-expression in marriage, firmly rejecting the role of passive suffering. The latitude Dekker allows the aristocrat Infelice, whose rhetorical skills contrast sharply with the pious verse expected of patient wives in domestic comedies, can be partly attributed to verisimilitude with respect to class. A few women, notably rulers and others of aristocratic descent, were in principle allowed to cultivate eloquence in the public theatres, particularly in tragedy. Cinthio Giraldi, the sixteenth-century critic and playwright, observed that it was common theatrical practice for young ladies to be humble and for matrons to be not only decorous but servile as well: no woman of humble birth should exhibit wit, but aristocratic women, who were considered more knowledgeable and not strictly bound by domestic duties, were permitted to show more intelligence than their less sophisticated counterparts.28 In order to find other female characters on the English stage who unequivocally challenge the dictum of silence we must therefore go beyond the confines of domestic comedy, although most of these plays are written after The Honest Whore, Part II. Normally, with the exception of Webster's Vittoria Corombona and to a lesser extent the Duchess of Malfi, such characters are not, as Infelice is not, the central figures of the play. Their function, like Infelice's, is to expose the transgressions of a male who is usually central to the action: cases in point are Tamyra and Charlotte in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, Castabella in The Atheist's Tragedy, Marina in Pericles, and Hermione in The Winter's Tale.29 Even in an earlier play such as As You Like It, where an assertive female has the leading role, a strong ambiguity surrounds Rosalind's verbal dexterity, which she practises in male disguise. Dekker's portrayal of female sagacity therefore breaks completely with the general rule of decorum when he makes Bellafront, a former prostitute from the ranks of the Jacobean underworld and the main character in the play, Infelice's intellectual equal. Dekker's interest in portraying intelligent, articulate females seems to have influenced later domestic plays, among them Nathan Field's Amends for Ladies (1610) and John Ford's The Broken Heart (1633), both of which include strong female leads. This interest is also sustained in the collaborations in which Dekker's was likely the controlling hand, namely the Ho plays (1605-07), The Roaring Girl (c. 1608-11), and The Witch of Edmonton (1621).


On the one hand, the Bellafront-Hippolito debate is rhetorically familiar in that it defends the ethical value of constancy in marriage. Michael Manheim has noted that through Hippolito's "specious" attempts to corrupt Bellafront, Dekker "is showing that lust and adultery cannot logically be defended"; Manheim's claim, however, that "Bellafront's victory is not surprising"30 is not borne out by the dramatic and philosophical traditions which the play modifies. The unconventional appeal of the verbal conflict lies in the tension between Hippolito's rhetorical initiative, which is opportunistic and exploitative because it is ill-motivated,31 and Bellafront's, which, although it does not rely on specialist knowledge, is rational, imaginative, and well-motivated.

Appealing to the support of the men in the audience (IV.i.256-59), Hippolito vainly asserts that he will seduce Bellafront "with the power of Argument" (line 249). While his proposal that prostitutes have more freedom than other women is rhetorically embellished through figures and hypotheses, it is nevertheless based on faulty logic,32 as Bellafront's taunt implies:

                                                            If all the threds
Of Harlots lyues be fine as you would make them,
Why doe not you perswade your wife turne whore,
And all Dames else to fall before that sin?


Hippolito's unsuccessful strategy in conquering Bellafront "By force of strong perswasion" (line 252) confirms Dekker's doubts about persuasion as a moral construct in itself, a view consistent with his treatment of rhetoric in his prose pamphlets. These rely substantially on the method of Peter Ramus, for whom logic alone is capable of discovering truth, while persuasion "belong[s] to rhetoric and [is] merely decorative and ornamental."33 Persuasion, according to a late sixteenth-century Ramian treatise, is the "arte of speaking finely,"34 and can be employed only after a premise has been logically proposed. For the Spanish logician Juan Huarte, who like Dekker supports natural ability in learning and speaking, refinement of speech does not in itself promote true eloquence, which is governed by understanding.35 Dekker's portrayal of an orator's use of persuasion to exploit and manipulate behaviour links him to a small group of English-Renaissance writers and commentators, including Shakespeare and Sidney, who could admit that if rhetoric could move the will to virtue it could also "enforce an evil cause, and impugne a good one."36

Hippolito's faulty reasoning thus cannot win over his opponent. But while Bellafront is not permitted to yield to her suitor, Dekker does not restrict her intellectual horizon. Bellafront's rejection of Hippolito is dramatically unorthodox not only because it claims for her a heretofore male prerogative, but also because it lends psychological depth to her character, an element conspicuously lacking in the play's analogues. The first half of her argument conforms in tone to a forensic oration. Bellafront's language is formal and logical as she marshals evidence from Biblical history and Common Law to uphold the sanctity of monogamy (IV.i.301-08). Her claim that in the city of London "one woman" is now "shared betweene three hundred" (309-10) leads to a lengthy deliberation on the evils of prostitution, only ostensibly imitating Hippolito's declamation in Part I:

Common? as spotted Leopards, whom for sport
Men hunt, to get the flesh, but care not for't.
So spread they Nets of gold, and tune their Calls,
To inchaunt silly women to take falls:


                                                            men loue water,
It serues to wash their hands, but (being once foule)
The water downe is powred, cast out of doores,
And euen of such base vse doe men make whores.


Like Hippolito's invective, Bellafront's relies on "mundane imagery--animals and sewage disposal,"37 however, a significant shift in focus renders Bellafront's oration more vital. Whereas Hippolito portrayed men as completely at the mercy of the whore's "prettie Art" and "cunning net" (Part I, II.i.279), her "tycing" charms (282) "hook[ing] in a kind gentleman" only to leave him pox-ridden (305-08), Bellafront offers a more authentic picture of her former trade in which poor and naïve young women are easy prey to a depraved libertine attitude. As she calmly and logically develops her points, the argument becomes a strategic indictment of a money economy which exploits women and sex:

                                                            Say you should taste me,
I serue but for the time, and when the day
Of warre is done, am casheerd out of pay:
If like lame Soldiers I could beg, that's all,
And there's lusts Rendez-vous, an Hospitall.
Who then would be a mans slaue, a mans woman?
She's halfe staru'd the first day that feeds in Common.


In the second half of the argument Bellafront unifies the disputation with subjective content, appealing to the spectator's understanding. Here Bellafront achieves eloquence through natural ability, highlighting the complexity of her experience.

Like an ill husband (tho I knew the same,
To be my vndoing) followed I that game.
Oh when the worke of Lust had earn'd my bread,
To taste it, how I trembled, lest each bit,
Ere it went downe, should choake me (chewing it).
My bed seem'd like a Cabin hung in Hell,
The Bawde Hells Porter, and the lickorish wine
The Pander fetch'd, was like an easie Fine,
For which, me thought I leas'd away my soule,
And oftentimes (euen in my quaffing bowle)
Thus said I to my selfe, I am a whore,
And haue drunke downe thus much confusion more.


The exemplum is an evocative description of the psychological effects of prostitution. In isolation these twelve lines, with their terse phrasing and gnomic tone, constitute an epigram. "What distinguishes, not simply the epigram, but profundity itself from platitude," observes Northrop Frye, "is very frequently rhetorical wit" employed in a verbal strategy which, unlike purely "persuasive rhetoric," seeks the fusion of "emotion and intellect."38 In the final couplet there is a powerful moment of self-confrontation as Bellafront's burdened spirit is revealed in the spondaic rhythms of her verse: "And háue drúnke dówne ths múch cnfúson móre." The term "confusion" signifies both moral and psychological stasis: its ethical denotation is the discomfiture of moral purpose; in Renaissance psychology, the term also refers to "mental perturbation or agitation such as prevents the full command of the faculties" (OED), a predisposition to madness.39

Bellafront's reformation, moreover, has not been portrayed schematically. A number of critics have noted that during another trial of Bellafront's patience, in which her husband orders her to pawn everything, including her gown, Bellafront's rebuke of Matheo flouts the convention urging wives to submit humbly and serenely to their husbands' will:40

Thou art a Gamester, prethee throw at all,
Set all vpon one cast, we kneele and pray,
And struggle for life, yet must be cast away.
Meet misery quickly then, split all, sell all,
And when thou hast sold all, spend it, but I beseech thee
Build not thy mind on me to coyne thee more. ...


While Bellafront's suffering is consistent with the humanist view of patience and endurance as the area where female virtue equalled that of men, she shares with Infelice a bold disregard for the ethic of silent submission, altering the paradigm of eloquence and courage as male virtues.


In the subplot, orthodox schemes are further undermined through parody and farce. The hero of the subplot is Candido, the patient linendraper who in The Honest Whore, Part I was married to the shrew Viola. In Part II Viola has died, and we meet the linendraper on the day of his wedding to a new wife whom Dekker never names (she is merely called "Bride" throughout the play). The wedding scene is interposed between Act I, scene i, which establishes the Hippolito-Infelice conflict, and Act II, scene i, which introduces the Bellafront-Matheo action. The wedding is celebrated amid abundant food and drink, contrasting sharply with the abject poverty of Bellafront's household and the domestic conflicts of the main plot. However, the festivity is suddenly interrupted when the Bride cuffs a servant for serving her sack instead of claret. Candido hurriedly makes excuses for her, and she leaves the celebration in anger. Candido's marital difficulties serve throughout as "a broadly comic parallel to the more complex issues of the main plot."41 The testing pattern in the subplot, for instance, directly echoes the testing of patience in the main plot; more importantly, it parodies conventional formulas for a happy marriage. The courtier Lodovico, who secretly sets out to cuckold the linendraper's wife, pretends to be a concerned friend who desires to coach Candido in taming his rebellious wife.

Lod. This wench (your new wife) will take you downe in your wedding shooes, vnlesse you hang her vp in her wedding garters.

Can. How, hang her in her garters?

Lod. Will you be a tame Pidgeon still? shall your backe be like a Tortoys shell, to let Carts goe ouer it, yet not to breake? This Shee-cat will haue more liues then your last Pusse had, and will scratch worse, and mouze you worse: looke toot.


Lodovico's barnyard imagery--"the Hen shall not ouercrow the Cocke" (120-21)--and his advice to the linendraper to "Sweare, swagger, brawle, fling; for fighting it's no matter, we ha had knocking Pusses enow already" (109-11) underscore a primitive attitude toward sexual conflict, which is never disputed by the linendraper. Lodovico's crude invectives against women and his claim that wives must be forcefully commanded by their husbands because "a woman was made of the rib of a man, and that rib was crooked" (111-12) mimic the traditional theological and scholastic view of woman's imperfection, a view severely undercut by the qualifications in the main plot.

Because Candido must uphold his reputation as a model of patience, he agrees to be coached by Lodovico "In any thing that's ciuill, honest, and iust" (I.iii.116). Convinced by Lodovico's promise that the coaching will be in jest, Candido agrees to master his wife, although his eagerness for the game undermines his concern with civility: "A curst Cowes milke I ha drunke once before, / And 'twas so ranke in taste, Ile drinke no more. / Wife, Ile tame you" (II.ii.72-4). Alexander Leggatt has observed that the battle between Candido and his wife "is conducted on the level of slapstick, with symbolic overtones: they prepare to fence, he with a yard and she with an ell. 'Yard' being a common term for the male sex organ, its use here suggests an elemental sexual conflict."42 The comic theatricality of the testing leads to an equally absurd conclusion in which the couple is reconciled when the wife kneels in willing submission to her husband, promising to be forever patient and silent only if he will master her (II.ii.104-15). Only after the Bride has learned the lesson of humility does Candido reveal to her Lodovico's true identity, admitting his anger was in jest. Ironically, aggression, not patience, has brought about the reconciliation. Candido has learned that women desire their husbands to exert their dominance, but farce and parody have exposed the folly of the platitude.

The farcical behaviour of husband and wife in the subplot is thus counter-pointed by the resolutions of the main plot, where Bellafront's eloquence and frankness are as admirable as her patience, and where Infelice's virtues include a strong will and independence of mind. Through these complications Dekker has included women in the Renaissance dictum that the practice of eloquence is "the practice of power."43


1The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1953-61), 2. Further references to Parts I and II of the play will be to this edition.

2Hardin Craig, The Enchanted Glass: The Renaissance Mind in Literature (1935; rpt. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), p. 175.

3For a comprehensive account of the features of forensic rhetoric and its development in England, see Richard J. Schoeck, "Lawyers and Rhetoric in Sixteenth-Century England," in Renaissance Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. James J. Murphy (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1983), pp. 274-91.

4Brian Vickers, "'The Power of Persuasion': Images of the Orator, Elyot to Shakespeare," in Renaissance Eloquence, pp. 411-35; p. 420.

5Caxton's Mirrour of the World, ed. O. L. Prior, EETS, OS 90 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1913), p. 36.

6The Arte or Crafte of Rhethoryke (1524), ed. F. I. Carpenter (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1899), p. 26.

7The Garden of Eloquence, ed. W. G. Crane (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1954), sig. ABivr.

8Vickers, p. 420.

9Harry Keyishian, "Dekker's Whore and Marston's Courtesan," English Language Notes, 4 (1967), 262, 264. Mary Leland Hunt, in Thomas Dekker: A Study (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1911), p. 97, praises the dramatic impact of Bellafront's conversion as "a slow process involving the horror of past vileness, the anguish of rejected love, and continued hunger, blows, and abuse." Similarly, for Anne M. Haselkorn, in Prostitution in Elizabethan and Jacobean Comedy (New York: Whitson, 1983), the conversion is "very gradual and realistic" (p. 118), Dekker's "Puritan morality" requiring "that the sinner must suffer in order to achieve purification and true redemption" (p. 125). Alfred Harbage, in Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1952), considers the play "a tract against prostitution" (p. 197).

10Lillian Feder, Madness in Literature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1980), p. 101. See also Michael MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety and Healing in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 182-83.

11Dekker's accomplishment in portraying Bellafront's defeat of Hippolito in debate has been noted by Madeleine Doran, in Endeavors of Art: A Study of Form in Elizabethan Drama (Madison, Wis.: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1954), p. 222; M.-T. Jones-Davies, in Un Peintre de la Vie Londonienne: Thomas Dekker, 2 vols. (Paris: Didier, 1958), 2, 198-99; Michael Manheim, in "The Thematic Structure of Dekker's 2 Honest Whore," Studies in English Literature, 5 (1965), 378; and Anne M. Haselkorn, Prostitution in Elizabethan and Jacobean Comedy, pp. 126-27. However, none of these critics locates the play's rhetorical innovations within the broader philosophical context of classical or Renaissance notions of male and female eloquence.

12Manheim, "The Thematic Structure of Dekker's 2 Honest Whore," 365.

13Manheim, 365.

14"Marriage and the Domestic Drama in Heywood and Ford," English Studies, 32 (1951), 202. See also Andrew Clark, Domestic Drama: A Survey of the Origins, Antecedents and Nature of the Domestic Play in England, 1500-1640, 2 vols. (Salzburg: Universität Salzburg, 1975), 2, 251.

15Thomas Heywood, How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad, in Robert Dodsley, A Select Collection of Old English Plays, 4th edn., ed. W. Carew Hazlitt, 14 vols. (1874-1876; rpt. New York and London: Blom, 1964), 9, 96.

16Disciplinary, Moral and Ascetical Works, trans. Rudolph Arbesmann, Sister Emily Joseph Daly, and Edwin A. Quain (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1959), pp. 118, 200. For a detailed discussion of misogyny in patristic teachings see Marina Warner, "Second Eve," in her Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: Knopf, 1976), ch. 4.

17"On Wifely Duties," in The Earthly Republic, ed. B. Kohl and R. Witt (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1978), p. 206.

18In libro politicos. Aristotelis disputatio (Venice, 1552), p. 175.

19Coryat's Crudities (1611; rpt. Glasgow: James MacLehose, 1905), 1, 405; cited in Ann Rosalind Jones, "City Women and Their Audiences: Louise Labe and Veronica Franco," in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 304.

20Ann Rosalind Jones, p. 304.

21Margaret L. King, "Book-Lined Cells: Women and Humanism in the Early Italian Renaissance," in Beyond Their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past, ed. Patricia H. Labalme (New York and London: New York Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 66-90; Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman: A Study in the Fortunes of Scholasticism and Medical Science in European Intellectual Life (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980), ch. 4; Lisa Jardine, "'O decus Italiae virgo' or, The Myth of the Learned Lady in the Renaissance," The Historical Journal, 28 (1985), 799-819.

22De Studiis et Literis, in William Harrison Woodward, Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators: Essays and Versions (1897; rpt., ed. Eugene F. Rice, Jr., New York: Teachers College, Columbia Univ., 1963), pp. 119-33; p. 126.

23The Renaissance Notion of Woman, p. 56.

24Linda Woodbridge, "Black and White and Red All Over: The Sonnet Mistress Amongst the Ndembu," Renaissance Quarterly, 40 (Summer, 1987), 285.

25Woodbridge, 285.

26Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1957; rpt. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971), p. 300.

27Dekker's "feminist statement," writes Anne Parten of Infelice's speech in III.i.186-90, "is allowed to stand uncorrected" ("Masculine Adultery and Feminine Rejoinders in Shakespeare, Dekker and Sharpham," Mosaic, 17, I [Winter 1984], 13).

28Cinthio Giraldi, Discorsi intorno al comporre de i romanzi, delle comedie, e delle tragedie (Venice, 1549), pp. 259-63; 271-76; cited in Doran, Endeavors of Art, p. 221.

29Simon Shepherd, in Amazons and Warrior Women: Varieties of Feminism in Seventeenth-Century Drama (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1981), p. 112, notes that "in the case of female avengers" the women express "doctrines that were supposedly anathema to the assumed orthodoxy of patience," but the reason the dramatists do not temper these characters' outspokenness is that "they are not in the central focus" of the action.

30"The Thematic Structure of Dekker's 2 Honest Whore," 378.

31On the problem of rhetorical presentation which is opportunistic and which therefore subverts the ideal ethical function of rhetoric as the unveiling of truth, see Lisa Jardine, Francis Bacon: Discovery and the Art of Discourse (London and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 15-6.

32Manheim, 377.

33Peter C. Schwartz, "Ramus and Dekker: The Influence of Ramian Logic and Method on the Form and Content of Seventeenth-Century Pamphlet Literature," diss., Bowling Green, 1978, p. 38.

34Dudley Fenner, The Artes of Logike and Rhethorike (Middleburg, 1584), sig. Dlv; cited in Schwartz, p. 38.

35Examen de Ingenios: The Examination of Men's Wits (1594), trans. Richard Carew, ed. Carmen Rodgers (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars Facsimiles and Reprints, 1959), p. 13; cited in Don Abbott, "La Retórica y el Renacimiento: An Overview of Spanish Theory," in James J. Murphy, ed., Renaissance Eloquence, pp. 95-104; pp. 98-9.

36Vickers, "'The Power of Persuasion': Images of the Orator, Elyot to Shakespeare," p. 421. "Where the theorists stress the power of rhetoric to reclaim men from evil to good," writes Vickers (p. 423), they are silent about "its relation to, or propensity to be used by, evil" (p. 421).

37Manheim, 378.

38Anatomy of Criticism, p. 329.

39See Lillian Feder, Madness in Literature, p. 103.

40See Manheim, 369-70; M.-T. Jones-Davies, Un Peintre de la Vie Londonienne, 2, 198-99; and G. Nageswara Rao, The Domestic Drama (Tirupati: Sri Venkateswara Univ. Press [1978?]), ch. 1.

41Larry S. Champion, Thomas Dekker and the Traditions of English Drama (New York: Peter Lang, 1985), p. 47. Like many commentators, Champion considers the Candido action dramatically significant only insofar as it "sharpens the comic tone" of the play: "this material consists of comically stylized characters and of anecdotal incidents arranged and developed to parallel the events of the main plot and thus to strengthen the perspective through which the spectators realize the fuller comic possibilities of the entire play" (p. 48). For Manheim, Candido's role as "the 'patient husband' who finally subdues a shrewish wife ... is little more than a comic reversal of the Matheo-Bellafront action" (p. 372, n. 5).

42Alexander Leggatt, Citizen Comedy in the Age of Shakespeare (Toronto and Buffalo: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1973), p. 92.

43Nancy Struever, "Lorenzo Valla: Humanist Rhetoric and the Critique of the Classical Languages of Morality," in James J. Murphy, ed., Renaissance Eloquence, pp. 191-206; p. 204.

Source: Viviana Comensoli, "Gender and Eloquence in Dekker's The Honest Whore, Part II," in English Studies in Canada, Vol. XV, No. 3, September 1989, pp. 249-62.