Bethlem and Bridewell in The Honest Whore plays; Jackson, Ken
Studies in English Literature, 1500 - 1900
Bethlem and Bridewell in The Honest Whore plays
Byline: Jackson, Ken
Publication Date: 04-01-2003
SEL 43, 2 (Spring 2003): 395-413
History of Bethlem, a recently published account of London's notorious
psychiatric hospital ("Bedlam"), is very clear in its chapter dealing
with Bethlem and the stage on the relationship between the actual place
and the numerous Jacobean plays-such as Thomas
Dekker and Thomas Middleton's The Honest Whore, Part One
(1605), Dekker's The Honest Whore, Part Two
(1607), and Dekker
and John Webster's Northward Ho (1607)-that either refer to or depict
madness and madhouses: "Almost certainly the Bedlam scenes of Jacobean
drama do not portray the reality of the contemporary Bethlem hospital .
. . What the theatrical madmen say and do is largely a product of the
playwrights' imaginations and their dramatic requirements."1 The
History of Bethlem points out, for example, that at the time of these
plays Bethlem had only one "basketman," but Dekker
and Webster create two basketmen (the playwrights call them "keepers")
in Northward Ho.2 Furthermore, in The Honest Whore, Part One Dekker
and Middleton place the chapel by the "west end of the Abbey Wall"
while, in reality, "neither the Church nor the Chapel [of Bethlem]
stood in that relationship to the Long House [the main building holding
patients] or Master's House."3 One could add, perhaps, that the play is
set in "Millan," not London.
I will argue, however, that the
narrative of The History of Bethlem actually exposes a connection
between plays and place. The historians argue persuasively that the
hospital grew from a tiny monastic charity in the thirteenth century to
a small hospital for the insane after the Reformation before becoming a
large asylum and spectacle at the end of the seventeenth century. We
tend to think of Bethlem in its late-seventeenth-century form, an
architectural splendor built at Moorfields by Robert Hooke after the
1666 fire. This was the Bethlem that housed more than 150 patients and
attracted numerous visitors. In contrast, the Bethlem of the early
Jacobean period was a small hospital housing fewer than thirty patients
in the very poor St. Botolph's Parish. It was part of the "old" London
that John Stow tried to reclaim in the celebratory nostalgic language
of his Survey of London (1598); Bethlem was one of the London Royal
Hospitals formed in the middle of the sixteenth century to reestablish
some system of poor relief after the closing of the monasteries.4 The
problem of London's poor outgrew the hospitals and, in 1598, the nation
turned to the Poor Laws as a social welfare mechanism. In turn, this
system shift left the hospitals with little money to operate as funds
were directed into the Poor Law system.5 Perhaps to compensate for the
loss of funds, toward the end of the sixteenth century, it seems,
Bethlem governors started showing the mad to elicit charity, a
troublesome practice eventually abandoned because the governors could
not keep visitants from simply amusing themselves at the expense of
patients. The practice, then, had something of what literary scholars
might call a "grotesque" quality, a show that simultaneously could move
one to pity and laughter.6 While our refined sensibilities, our need to
conceal differences between giver and recipient, may suggest that such
laughter negates charity, early modern donors had less trouble
accepting the coexistence of compassion and entertainment.
is-or was-reality. But, in at least one instance, even if The History
of Bethlem misses the correspondence, it is also fiction. In The Honest
Whore, Part One we see much of the reality of Bethlem the historians
describe. In particular, we see the development of the charitable show
that constituted much of the hospital's history. The historians miss
the correspondence to the reality they describe so well elsewhere in
part because in looking for historical evidence they
overlook-understandably-dramaturgy. They overlook the complicated
dramatic engagement of madmen and visitants in the The Honest Whore,
Part One's conclusion, an engagement that corroborates their
description of Bethlem's charitable reality; and they ignore Part One's
relationship to The Honest Whore, Part Two, a play that uses Bridewell,
Bethlem's sister institution, in its conclusion and in the process
reveals more clearly the influence of early modern charity in both
plays.7 Bridewell, the palace turned into a prison or workhouse, was
designed to cure social ills by putting vagrants back to work and by
punishing prostitutes, bawds, and panders. Bridewell's charity, like
Bethlem's, poses problems for the modern reader.
the historians miss the connection between their own "charitable"
understanding of Bethlem hospital and the charity displayed in The
Honest Whore, Part One, one cannot blame entirely their lack of
literary interest. At the moment, those with literary training would be
the last to see any kind of charity in the Bedlam scenes of The Honest
Whore. While literary scholars challenge almost any claim to reality or
history, one understanding of history routinely goes unchallenged:
Michel Foucault's understanding of hospitals, prisons, and poor
relief.8 Charles H. Parker summarizes the dominant historiographical
tradition for contemporary literary scholars: "Influenced by studies on
criminology and Michel Foucault's model of the 'Great Confinement,'
many scholars . . . understand early modern social welfare policy to be
part of an overarching program to acculturate the poor to bourgeois
cultural standards . . . Foucault interpreted social welfare policies,
whether punitive or affirmative, as the implementation of bourgeois
discipline onto the poor . . . Thus, the social discipline approach to
early modern welfare emphasizes the vertical power relationship between
authorities and marginal folks."9 From this perspective, institutions
such as Bethlem and Bridewell simply controlled, confined, and excluded
members of the community. This historiographical tradition remains
securely intact for literary scholars even though most historians now
agree that in England the Poor Laws, rather than hospitals such as
Bethlem, realigned social relations "in more strictly hierarchical
terms."10 In England, as opposed to Foucault's France, the Poor Laws
rather than the hospitals defined state or national activity. Bethlem
was a London institution that, at various points, conflicted with the
state's efforts to establish a social welfare system. In addition,
older institutions such as Bethlem still allowed for face-to-face
interaction and integration between different elements in society-a
matter registered in the drama. Rather than simply exclude, hospitals
such as Bethlem fostered a sense of community or inclusion. Bethlem
patients had long been designated "deserving poor," a social group that
defined the margins of the community, perhaps, but from the inside
rather than the outside.
In considering Dekker and Middleton's use of
Bethlem in The Honest Whore, Part One and Dekker's
use of Bridewell in the se-quel, The Honest Whore, Part Two, literary
scholars see mainly through the distinctly uncharitable eyes of
Foucault. John Twyning, in a new book that looks at these institutions
and the drama with more care and intelligence than most, still
reiterates the mantra of our age: "both [Bethlem and Bridewell]
represented the dark side of the city's social and political profile"
and their "more underlying or insidious purpose was to redefine poverty
and the poor and to (re)locate physically and culturally those
considered less socially viable."11
One consequence of this
perspective is that we are likely to be confused by the tone of the
play and the setting of act V. And the play is difficult enough to
follow. Gasparo Trebatzi, the duke of Milan, seeks to prevent the
marriage of his daughter, Infelice, to a courtier from a rival family,
Hippolito, by faking his daughter's death. In his mistaken grief,
Hippolito swears off women and convinces a prostitute, Bellafront, who
has fallen in love with him, to reform. In the subplot, a citizen wife,
Viola, seeks to try the extraordinary patience of her linen-draper
husband, Candido; after several unsuccessful attempts to make him
"mad," she has him wrongfully committed to Bethlem where all the plot
twists are resolved. After uncovering the duke's deceit, Hippolito and
Infelice secretly meet there and by the time the duke discovers them
they are already married and he accepts his new "son." Bellafront, the
newly honest whore, turns up in disguise -somewhat surprisingly since
she left act III to seek reconciliation with her father rather than
shelter in Bethlem-and confronts the friend of Hippolito, Matheo, who
took her virginity.12 The duke insists Matheo marry Bellafront and the
play ends when the duke frees Candido and celebrates his patience as a
virtue all characters could acquire. In brief, the social conflict and
anger-starting with the duke's "high spleene" (I.iii.30) and his
rivalry with Hippolito's family -that generated so much of the plot are
alleviated in Bethlem.
For literary scholars steeped in
Foucault, the setting complicates rather than enhances the comedy. The
Bedlam setting tends to inhibit us from seeing any social harmony in
the play. Viviana Comensoli, for example, has argued that "the final
scenes of domestic comedy typically end in celebration of the reunited
couples amid 'joyfull mirth,' 'sportfull houres,' . . . and
'feast[ing]' . . . [but] the tragic tone of the Bridewell and Bedlam
episodes in The Honest Whore plays casts doubt upon the widespread
social regeneration promised by the Duke."13 Comensoli holds out the
possibility that Dekker and Middleton are
mocking the traditional comedic reconciliations by setting them in
Bedlam. If Comensoli is right, the play may be the most ironic of the
period. It looks like a precursor to John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. For
the language validating the citizen "hero" Candido is so strong that
both Dekker and Middleton would have to have
had both their tongues firmly embedded in their cheeks, and while I
might concede that possibility for the later Middleton, it seems highly
unlikely for Dekker. When in act I, for
example, the courtiers' scheme to vex Candido fails, they end up
repenting and commenting on his character: "Thou art a blest man, and
with peace doest deale, / Such a meeke spirit can blesse a common
weale" (I.v.228-9). The defense stands out because the play does not
offer it for any other character. They are all left implicated in the
"mad" world of Bedlam. The play concludes with Candido amplifying the
values of patience (V.ii.495-514) and the duke, the principal authority
figure, complimenting Candido's speech:
Thou giv'st it [patience] lively coulours: who dare say
He's mad, whose words march in so good aray?
Twere sinne all women should such husbands have.
For every man must then be his wives slave.
Come therefore you shall teach our court to shine,
So calme a spirit is worth a golden Mine,
Wives (with meeke husbands) that to vex them long,
In Bedlam must they dwell, els dwell they wrong.
short, the setting is appropriate in that it facilitates a humble,
meek, "charitable" conclusion fitting the charitable show developing as
its real life counterpart. The setting encourages a patient and
charitable response to the social madness seen in the play. We may
distrust Bethlem, but in 1604 Dekker and
Middleton had a decidedly different view.
his sophisticated and increasingly influential study of social
relations in late-sixteenth-century London, Ian Archer suggests that
"the social fabric [of the city] was highly flammable, but it failed to
ignite."14 Very real social and economic pressures could have produced
much more unrest than they did. The city's population had at least
doubled in the century and social and economic diversity increased.
Courtiers coexisted with merchants, churchmen, apprentices, and
prostitutes. Twyning points out that much of the population was in some
sense "dispossessed" from cultural settings that had provided more
stable identities. And amidst this swirl of a growing, dispossessed
population, social competition was increasingly visible. One of the
reasons the city did not "ignite" in the 1590s under the pressure of
social competition and social anger was the "elite's responsiveness to
popular grievances," a responsiveness which included the maintenance of
a "highly developed infrastructure" that demonstrated the elite's
concerns for social suffering.15 A number of institutions existed,
including the London Royal Hospitals, St. Bartholomew's, St. Thomas,
Christ's, Bridewell, and Bethlem, that helped ameliorate popular
grievances. The lower and middling sorts, Archer suggests, saw in these
places some effort to maintain the health of the whole commonwealth.
places were not simply instruments of social control, but a means of
mediating social disruption, places where "a matrix of communities"
overlapped and contributed to creating a common sense of identity.
Archer does not wish to efface the element of "social control" in
explaining how these institutions enabled the stability of Elizabethan
London, but he does wish to qualify it, suggesting that we have tended
to see these institutions as "crude" forms of "social control,"
ignoring how weak the elite's "formal coercive powers were."16 He
reminds us, one could say, with all the careful methodology of a modern
social historian, to what extent these places were charities. They were
charities both in the modern sense that they provided in some way for
the poor and disadvantaged, and in the older sense that they helped the
whole community live "in charity."
conclusion of The Honest Whore, Part One begins when the duke learns
that Infelice and Hippolito have made arrangements to marry at Bethlem,
and his men set off for the place determined to stop that event. The
secret arrangements of Hippolito and Infelice have clearly "vext"
(V.i.85) the duke whose efforts to thwart the marriage opened the play.
He learns here, too, that the "Doctor" who arranged Infelice's fake
death in act I has betrayed him. All his carefully managed plans
threaten to come unraveled: "ist possible? it cannot be, / It cannot
be" (V.i.93-4). Friar Anselmo, who will marry the couple, clearly
recognizes the duke's anger:
You presse me to an act, both full of danger,
And full of happinesse, for I behold
Your fathers frownes, his threats, nay perhaps death,
To him that dare doe this.
is important to note here before further considering the duke's
intended wrath that the playwrights introduce the place, Bethlem, as
"Bethlem Monastery" (IV.iii.168). Certainly in history, as in the play,
the place was known already as a type of lunatic asylum -a "mad-mens
pound" (IV.iii.170)-but the monastic designation has special
significance for our understanding of the play and place. As suggested
above, Bethlem was still a small hospital, a symbol of
sixteenth-century London charity, a subject, albeit a humble one, of
Stow's celebratory nostalgia. Candido, the upstanding citizen figure,
first names the "monastery."
And as also suggested above, while
many have assumed that visitors flocked to the spectacle of the mad,
chortling away at the perverse entertainment, the complicated
charitable show of Bethlem probably had just begun. The very existence
of the play, its first use of the place as a setting, indicates as
much. So does the language in the play. The duke knows Bethlem's name
and principal function, but he does not know its location.
Duke: How farre stands Bethlem hence?
Omn: Six or seaven miles.
notoriety and show will grow and change quickly in the early
seventeenth century, a growth paralleled on stage. When Middleton, with
William Rowley, returns to the use of a madhouse as a stage setting in
The Changeling (1622), the "castle-captain" Vermandero not only knows
the location of Alibius's madhouse-it is contained inside the walls of
Alicante-but he also knows the keeper and commissions a show of sorts
(III.iv. 247-5O). 17 But in 1604 the show of Bethlem does not appear to
have degenerated so completely into pure entertainment.
Honest Whore, Part One, the duke plans to arrive at Bethlem "As if we
came to see the Lunaticks" (V.i.110), but he also insists that they
meet at "some space of time / Being spent betweene the arrivall each of
other" (V.i. 108-9). The play assumes visiting the mad an acceptable
practice, but it also assumes that some rules of decorum apply. The
duke and his men cannot be seen arriving in a group as if out for pure
entertainment. I would suggest that these are the subtle rules
governing the exhortation and distribution of charity at the hospital,
the unwritten and flexible social rules governing the balancing act
between entertainment and compassion. Bethlem was, in some sense, a
laughing matter, but to see it as a place only of recreation is
To see the place as a torture chamber, as some might
be tempted, given, for example, John Webster's use of madmen in The
Duchess of Malfi (1612), is equally reductive. Candido's wife, Viola,
has the citizen wrongfully taken to Bethlem as part of her efforts to
"mad" him and his eventual placement there convinces her to repent; but
she does not repent because she fears his treatment there. She fears
only that her excessive actions truly will make him insane (V.i.1-70).
Rather than intensify fear, anxiety, or anger, the place alleviates
When the angry duke and his men arrive, bent on
punishment, they are literally "disarme[d]" (V.ii. 154). This occurs at
Friar Anselmo's insistence; part of his efforts, like Shakespeare's
Friar Lawrence, "To turne the ancient hates of your two houses / To
fresh greene friendship" (V.ii.378-9). But Dekker
and Middleton link the "disarming" to the visitors' engagement with the
patients and the complex show of charity they will see. When Friar
Anselmo first explains the patients to the visitors, he prepares them
for the grotesque charitable effect. That is, the patients may amuse
the visitors in some way, but that is in "spite of sorrow":
And tho twould greeve a soule, to see Gods image,
So blemisht and defac'd, yet do they act
Such anticke and such pretty lunacies,
That spite of sorrow they will make you smile.
show of Bethlem may have provided a perverse pleasure, but that does
not contradict its charitable purpose. It elicits smiles and pity.
encountering the first madman, the visitors seem much more amused than
charitably moved, but Anselmo prompts the visitors toward a gentler
response: "O, doe not vex him pray" (V.ii.184).18 Still, when the
madman explains that he is fishing for his five lost ships-the "losse
at Sea" (V.ii 173) that has driven him mad-the visitors respond only
with laughter (V.ii.200). This time the madman himself redirects the
visitors' responses: "Do you laugh at Gods creatures? do you mock old
age you roagues? is this gray beard and head counterfeit, that you cry
ha ha ha?" (V.ii.201-3). In other words, the madman and Friar Anselmo
seek to turn amusement into pity. They sound not unlike Shakespeare's
Lear (in a play produced at about the same historical moment) who
elicits pity from almost any audience:
Pray do not mock.
I am a very foolish fond old man,
Fourscore and upward and, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful, for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is; and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me,
For, as I am a man, I think this lady
To be my child Cordelia.
madman, also like Lear, misidentifies children and demonstrates
resentment (V.ii.203-20). When he becomes agitated by the visitors,
Anselmo threatens to "tame" him (V.ii.227) by whipping. Like Lear, the
madman pleads for justice: "whip me? what justice is this, to whip me
because Ime a beggar?-Alas? I am a poore man: a very poore man: I am
starvd, and have had no meate by this light, ever since the great
floud, I am a poore man" (V.ii.231-3). By the end of this encounter,
the visitors' responses have changed. Rather than laughter, we see pity
and appreciation for the hospital's work.
Omn. : A very pitious sight.
Cast.: Father I see you have a busie charge.
one is reading the play for historical evidence, rather than
dramatically, this important transformation from cruel laughter to pity
may be missed. The word "charity" does not appear, nor is there any
giving of alms, but the dramatic context registers the practices, or at
least the practices the Bethlem governors intended, at Bethlem. Twyning
notes that "the drama agitates our response in order to elicit an
understanding of the mad-poor, and their plight."20 I would add that
the mad-poor have the same effect on the characters in the play.
The next two madmen seem more directly connected to the plot of the
play. The first
Fell from the happy quietnesse of mind,
About a maiden that he lovde, and dyed:
He followed her to church, being full of teares,
And as her body went into the ground,
He fell starke mad.
this mad character is meant to have some charitable effect on the duke
who, in faking his daughter's death, almost drove Hippolito mad in act
I. We shall see that the angry duke becomes more sympathetic to
Hippolito. The second madman in this pair was married and "Was jealous
of a faire, but (as some say) / A very vertuous wife, and that spoild
him" (V.ii.253-4). Seeing this madman rant at all those he imagined
slept with his wife (V.ii.258-68) similarly prepares the duke and an
audience to better appreciate Candido's patience with his wife.
When Bellafront enters disguised as a madwoman, she implicates all the
visitors in the mad world of the play.
Bell: Doe not you know me? nor you? nor you, nor you?
Omn: No indeede.
Bell: Then you are an Asse, and you are an Asse,
and you are an asse, for I know you.
visitants lose their place as viewers; they become part of the mad
world of the play, part of the show. Earlier, as the group arrived at
the hospital, the "sweeper"-a former patient turned employee-made a
similarly inclusive remark in describing the range of patients in
Bethlem: "We have blockes for all heads, we have good store of wilde
oates here: for the Courtier is mad at the Cittizen, the Cittizen is
madde at the Country man, the shoemaker is mad at the cobler, the
cobler at the carman, the punke is mad that the Marchants wife is no
whore, the Marchants wife is mad that the puncke is so common a whore"
(V.ii. 144-9). The hospital here is simultaneously a figure for the
city and a place in the city which contains and mediates the social
anger or "madness" threatening public order discussed by Archer and
other historians.21 In this play Bethlem links and integrates all
elements of society.
After Bellafront implicates the courtiers
in Bethlem's madness, she unmasks Hippolito and Infelice, but the duke
and his men have been disarmed. Hippolito, now married to Infelice,
tells the duke, "You cannot shed bloud here, but tis your owne, / To
spill your owne bloud were damnation" (V.ii.364-5). This reconciliation
is a contrivance, but the place in which it occurs matters. As the duke
You beseech faire, you have me in place fit
To bridle me, rise Frier, you may be glad
You can make madmen tame, and tame men mad.
could elicit cruel laughter rather than charity. It could be at moments
a place of perverse entertainment. In fact, in act IV of Northward Ho,
staged only two years after The Honest Whore, Part One, Bethlem is just
that: a diversion in the play, used only to amuse. But in The Honest
Whore, Part One the place is central and it encourages a specific form
of social compassion and harmony.
If we assume some
continuity of tone between The Honest Whore, Part One and The Honest
Whore, Part Two, there does exist additional literary evidence to
solidify the connections among the play, Bethlem, and charity. For, in
addition to "Bedlam's" reputation, some poor dramatic design clouds our
understanding of the comedic tone; a consideration of these dramatic
concerns is, then, helpful. If our historical distance from a cultural
understanding of Bethlem in 1604 makes the play difficult to
understand, the playwrights' somewhat haphazard comic structuring does
not help very much. Larry Champion points out the structural problems
of Part One: "the spectator in Part I does not, for the great bulk of
the plot, observe the action from a vantage of superior
knowledgeability. He is not led to anticipate a pattern of action which
provides the emotional assurance of comedy at the same time that it
sustains the absorbing interest of narrative, and consequently there
are several points at which the comic perspective is blurred."22 This
"uncertainty of tone and [comic] trajectory" produced some "moments of
inadvertent comedy," some misplaced laughter, at a recent production of
the play at the newly reconstructed Globe.23 But a brief examination of
The Honest Whore, Part Two, a much more carefully constructed play,
suggests the comdie tone and charitable sensibility in both plays.24
In The Honest Whore, Part Two, written by Dekker
alone, the playwright provides what Part One lacked: "a comic pointer
or comic controller."25 That is, Dekker
provides the audience with a character "visibly controlling the various
complications and providing through his actions and his comments a
sufficiently comic view for the spectator to rest secure that an
impenetrable circle of wit has exorcised any dangers of permanent
consequence."26 Dekker links this comic
controller's activities to his charitable intentions. Orlando
Friscobaldo ("Old mad Orlando"), Bellafront's father and Part Two's
comic controller, announces at the beginning of the play his intentions
to disguise himself and secretly help his recently repentant daughter
and her new husband, Matheo. After Hippolito informs Orlando that
Bellafront is alive and repentant, but suffering in poverty because of
Matheo's poor behavior, Orlando remarks
Las my Girle! art thou
poore? poverty dwells next doore to despaire, there's but a wall
betweene them; despaire is one of hells Catch-poles; and lest that
Devill arrest her, lle to her, yet she shall not know me; she shall
drinke of my wealth, as beggers doe of running water, freely, yet never
know from what Fountaines head it flowes. Shall a silly bird picke her
owne brest to nourish her yong ones, and can a father see his child
starve? That were hard; The Pelican does it, and shall not I. Yes, I
will victuall the Campe for her, but it shall be by some stratagem;
that knave there her husband will be hanged I feare, He keepe his necke
out of the nooze if I can, he shall not know how.
publicly refuses to help his fallen daughter, but acts secretly to help
by disguising himself as a "servant," Pacheco, who strangely wants to
serve the poor Matheo. While in disguise, Orlando discovers that
Hippolito's interest in helping Bellafront and Matheo steins from his
sexual desire for the prostitute he reformed in Part One. Bellafront
remains reformed, however, refuses the advances of Hippolito, and
Orlando and the duke secretly arrange for all to be brought to
Bridewell so that Matheo's poor behavior and Hippolito's desire can be
rectified. They attempt to "cure" their respective son-in-laws. In
Bridewell, Hippolito and Matheo are shamed into reforming and Orlando
makes public the private charity he has been offering all along to his
daughter and son-in-law. Candido, who plays a less prominent role here,
has also been brought to Bridewell (wrongfully) after he was tricked
into buying stolen goods. All the conflicts caused by immoral conduct
are resolved in Bridewell. Orlando thus succeeds in his task,
ultimately helping his daughter and her husband out of poverty. The
duke calls Orlando "the true Phisicion" (V.ii 191). This declaration is
no surprise to an audience who has known from the beginning of the play
that Orlando will control events-charitably.
enough, this comic controller with charitable intentions initially
might have had a role in Part One. Hoy suggests a starting point for
considering the relationship between the two plays: "If The Honest
Whore was not originally planned as a two-part play, it seems likely
that Part Two had been conceived before Part One was completed."27 Hoy
points out that, "near the end of IV.i of Part One,"28 Bellafront,
having failed to gain Hippolito's love, plans to leave the city and
return to her father.
The lowest fall can be but into hell,
It does not move him [Hippolito]. I must therefore fly,
From this undoing Cittie, and with teares,
Wash off all anger from my fathers brow,
He cannot sure but ioy seeing me new borne,
A woman honest first and then turn whore,
Is (as with me) common to thousands more,
But from a strumpet to turne chast: that sound,
Has oft bin heard, that woman hardly found.
Bellafront never meets her father, Orlando, in Part One, but she turns
up instead at Bethlem.
cannot recover whatever initial design there might have been, of
course, but Orlando's presence in Part Two suggests what history and
less than perfect playmaking have obscured in Part One: Bethlem and
Bridewell were conceived of by the playwrights as charities fitting for
harmonious, comedic endings. We can easily miss the charitable effect
the show of Bethlem has on characters, particularly the duke and his
men, in Part One; but with Orlando's help we can see clearly the
connection between charity and Bethlem's sister institution, Bridewell.
We still have to look beyond our prejudices, though, and understand
that charity differs from one historical moment to another. For
example, we may cringe when the first Master explains in Part Two that,
on occasion, Bridewell inmates are whipped. But this does not change
the fact that the play and playwright praise the institution and see
them as instruments of social harmony, appropriate settings for comedy:
Nor is it seene,
That the whip drawes blood here, to coole the Spleene
Of any rugged Bencher: nor does offence
Feele smart, on spitefull, or rash evidence:
But pregnant testimony forth must stand,
Ere Justice leave them in the Beadles hand,
As Iron, on the Anvill are they laid,
Not to take blowes alone, but to be made
And fashioned to some Charitable use.
believe the Master's language, to see Bethlem and Bridewell as
charities, is not to get lost in the ideological haze of civic
authorities. Instead, one sees that ideology working-working against
competing ideologies. Dekker juxtaposes the
hard London charity of Bridewell to the insidious charity of the
aristocracy. Orlando initially believes Hippolito when the courtier
shows a charitable interest in Bellafront: "we have few Lords of
[Hippolito's] making, that love wenches for their honesty"
(I.ii.167-8). Disguised as Pacheco, Orlando explains to Bellafront his
understanding of why Hippolito has provided her a secret gift of gold:
"it may be, he thinkes you want money, and therefore bestowes his almes
bravely, like a Lord" (II.i.234-5). Bellafront immediately and sharply
corrects him: "He thinks a silver net can catch the poore, / Here's
baite to choake a Nun, and turne her whore" (II.i.236-7). Next to
Hippolito's sinfully motivated "alms," the harsh and public charity of
Bridewell that Orlando works with later looks less cruel. Appearances,
Orlando notes at the end of act I, can be deceiving. He first asks,
"Is't possible the Lord Hippolito, whose face is as civill as the
outside of a Dedicatory Booke, should be a Mutton-Munger?"
(II.i.254-5). And then concludes: "All are not Bawds (I see now) that
keepe doores, / Nor all good wenches that are markt for Whores"
Part Two, like Part One, celebrates elements of
London normally not celebrated, parts that are not particularly
attractive on the surface. What Joost Daalder says of Part One applies
to Part Two: "Dekker's predominant intention .
. . is to show how certain people who are usually disapproved of by
society, or held in contempt, are worthy of serious sympathy. This is
true not only of the patients in Bethlehem Hospital . . . but also of
the honest (=chaste, virtuous) whore, Bellafront."29 I would extend and
revise these comments to include the institutions in the play. Bethlem
and Bridewell were not held in contempt by the London society in the
way we hold them in contempt, but they were emblems -unusual and humble
perhaps-of civic pride. Dekker's celebratory
description of Bridewell in act V of Part Two mirrors Stow's language.
Duke: Your Bridewell? that the name? for beauty strength,
Capacity and forme of ancient building,
(Besides the Rivers neighborhood) few houses
Wherein we keepe our Court can better it.
1 Master. Hither from forraigne Courts have Princes come,
And with our Duke did Acts of State Commence,
Here that great Cardinall had first audience,
(The grave Campayne,) that Duke dead, his Sonne
(That famous Prince) gave free possession
Of this his Palace, to the Cittizens,
To be the poore mans ware-house: and endowed it
With Lands to'th valew of seven hundred marke,
With all the bedding and the furniture, once proper
(As the Lands then were) to an Hospitall
Belonging to a Duke of Savoy. Thus
Fortune can tosse the World, a Princes Court
Is thus a prison now.
the language describing Bridewell is much stronger and more positive
than the language describing Bethlem in Part One should not suggest
Bridewell was admired and valued while Bethlem was not. Bethlem was
simply smaller, a less impressive building. Dekker's
greater control of tone and comic perspective produces the stronger
language that more clearly describes the institution's place in the
Just as the spectacle of the mad had a charitable
("pitious") effect on the duke and his men in Part One, a visit to
Bridewell in Part Two has a transformative effect on Hippolito and
Matheo. To reiterate some of the plot, in IV.ii Orlando and the duke
devise a scheme to "cure" Hippolito and Matheo. Lodovico, a courtier,
joins the plan to get Bots, a pander, and Horseleech, a Bawd, because
they have abused his friend Candido. For the duke, curing his
son-in-law involves a cure for the whole city.
Ile try all Phisicke, and this Med'cine first:
I have directed Warrants strong and peremptory
(To purge our Citty Millan, and to cure
The outward parts, the Suburbes) for the attaching
Of all those women, who (like gold) want waight,
Citties (like Ships) should have no idle fraight.
act V at Bridewell, when Matheo seeks to implicate the innocent
Bellafront in his wrongdoing, Orlando reveals himself and humiliates
Matheo (V.ii. 179). A transformation takes place in the characters not
unlike the transformation Bridewell was supposed to enact. The
characters are shamed into better behavior. This transformation, as the
transformation in Part One, is easily missed if one neglects dramatic
context. Hippolito points out the transformation in a single, but
important line: "Tis a good signe when our cheekes blush at ill" (V.ii.
Bridewell allows Orlando to perform publicly and more
effectively the private charitable deed he set out in act I. After the
humiliating "cure" of Matheo and Hippolito, Dekker
presents a display of prostitutes. Having watched this display,
Bellafront decides to stay with her husband-for all his flaws-rather
than return to her former life. For Orlando this is the correct
decision: "let goe his hand: if thou doest not forsake him, a Fathers
everlasting blessing fall upon both your heads" (V.ii.475-7).
in Part One, the setting facilitates a harmonious ending. Clearly it
seems, particularly in light of the work of Bethlem historians, Dekker
and Middleton did not use these institutions ironically. These
institutions were used because they were figures for a humble charity
in early modern London that engaged and integrated many elements of the
Even though The History of Bethlem, an account of
London's notorious psychiatric hospital ("Bedlam"), disavows any
substantial connection between the hospital and Thomas
Dekker and Thomas
Middleton's The Honest Whore, Part One (1605), this essay argues that
the historians' narrative actually exposes a clear relationship between
play and place. The historians suggest that the hospital began an
organized effort to show its mad inhabitants around 1600, not for
perverse entertainment, but to elicit charity. This real charitable
"show" corresponds to the odd and confusing conclusion of Dekker and Middleton's play and Dekker's
sequel, The Honest Whore, Part Two.
Jonathan Andrews, Asa Briggs, Roy Porter, Penny Tucker, and Keir
Waddington, The History of Bethlem (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 139.
See also Andrews, "A History of Bethlem Hospital c. 1600-1750" (Ph.D.
diss., Univ. of London, 1991), which informs much of The History of
Bethlem, and his "'Hardly a Hospital, But a Charity For Pauper
Lunatics'?: Therapeutics at Bethlem in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Centuries," in Medicine and Charity before the Welfare State, ed.
Jonathan Barry and Colin Jones (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 63-81;
Patricia Allderidge, "Management and Mismanagement at Bedlam,
1547-1633," in Health, Medicine, and Mortality in the Sixteenth
Century, ed. Charles Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979),
pp. 141-64; and Allderidge, "Bedlam: Fact or Fantasy?" in The Anatomy
of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, ed. W. F. Bynum, Roy
Porter, and Michael Shepherd, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1985), 2:17-33.
2 Andrews et al., p. 136. All references to Thomas
Dekker in this essay come from vol. 2 of
Fredson Bowers's edition of The Dramatic Works of Thomas
4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1955; rprt. 1970); the
historians' "basketmen" are actually called "keepers" in the play
(IV.iii. 163). Subsequent references will appear parenthetically within
the text by act, scene, and line number. See also Cyrus Hoy's
Introductions, Notes, and Commentaries to Texts in The Dramatic Works
of Thomas Dekker, 4
vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981). For earlier discussions
of Bethlem and the stage see in particular Robert Reed, Bedlam on the
Jacobean Stage (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1952), who writes
that drama provides "the most extensive evidence of the contemporaiy
popularity of Bethelehem Hospital as a place of amusement" (p. 23).
3 ''Andrews, History of Bethlem, p. 136.
"Of all these Hospitals . . . you may reade ... of good and charitable
provisions made for the poore, by sundrie well disposed Cittizens"
(John Stow, Survey of London, ed. C. L. Kingsford, 2 vols. [Oxford:
Oxford Univ. Press, 1908], 2:145).
5 See, in particular, Paul
Slack, The English Poor Law, 1531-1782 (London: Macmillan, 1990) and
Slack's Poverty and Policy in Tudor and Stuart England (London:
Longman, 1988); see also Ian Archer, The Pursuit of Stability: Social
Relations in Elizabethan London (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,
6 See my '"I Know Not / Where I Did Lodge Last Night?':
King Lear and the Search for Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital," ELR 30, 2
(Winter 2000): 21340, and my "Bedlam, The Changeling, The Pilgrim, and
Protestant Critique of Catholic Good Works," PQ 74, 4 (Fall 1995):
373-93. Most scholars still tend to treat the charitable show of
Bethlem as simply perverse entertainment. see Michael MacDonald,
Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth-Century
England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981) who calls Bedlam "the
longest running show in London" (p. 121); and Steven Mullaney, The
Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England
(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988) who, in discussing the tendency
to call Bedlam a theater, writes "the theatrical metaphor is hardly
inappropriate, if it can be called a metaphor at all" (p. 72). Most
recently, William C. Carroll, in Fat King, Lean Beggar. Representations
of Poverty in the Age of Shakespeare (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press,
1996), has written that "The 'Bedlam poor' are thus just another form
of popular entertainment, culturally equivalent to various urban
curiosities, or to such theatricalized spectacles as bear-baiting or
'stage-plays'" (p. 100).
7 According to The History of Bethlem,
Bethlem was "separately administered from the later sixteenth century
[to the nineteenth century] by the joint Bridewell and Bethlem Court of
Governors" (p. 156). Hoy says "it is to be assumed" Part Two was
written shortly after Part One, noting an entry for the play "in the
Stationers' Register on 29 April 1608" (2:68).
8 The History of
Bethlem is very much connected to a larger, sophisticated effort to
refine and modify the influence of Michel Foucault's Folie et Deraison:
Histoire de la Folie a L'age Classique (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1961).
See, in particular, Rewriting the History of Madness: Studies in
Foucault's "Histoire de la Folie, " ed. Arthur Still and Irving Velody
(London: Routledge, 1992); and, for the perspective of literary
scholars, see Carol Thomas Neely, "Recent
Work in Renaissance Studies: Psychology; Did Madness Have a
Renaissance?" RenQ44, 4 (Winter 1991): 776-91. Joost Daalder, in
"Madness in Parts 1 and 2 of The Honest Whore: A case for Close
Reading," AUMLA 86 (November 1996): 63-79, also critiques the influence
of Foucault, although from a much different perspective.
Charles H. Parker, The Reformation of Community: Social Welfare and
Calvinist Charity in Holland, 1572-1620 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1998), p. 14.
10 Archer, p. 258.
11 John Twyning,
London Dispossessed: Literature and Social Space in the Early Modern
City (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998), pp. 21, 23. Twyning
understands that Bethlem was not a state mechanism but an
"interstitial" site "which display[s]" the "frustrations of conflicting
authorities"-mainly the city and the crown (p. 10). As he puts it,
Bethlem "denied the authorities easy acts of social containment" (p.
12). Despite his more sophisticated understanding of Bethlem in
history, Twyning still sees a substantial critique of the institution
in Dekker's plays. They offer "simultaneously
an exclamation and critique of the claims of civic power and the ethos
of the city" (p. 11). This "balanced" response is attractive, but the
"critique" he sees depends largely on his understanding of the show of
Bethlem. Like so many, he sees Bethlem's show as pure entertainment and
this, I think, clouds his reading of the play.
change in plans suggests that the two parts of The Honest Whore may
have been conflated initially. The possible connection is discussed
13 Viviana Comensoli, "Household Business": Domestic
Plays of Early Modern England (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1996),
14 Archer, p. 257.
15 Archer, p. 259.
17 The Changeling, ed. N. W. Bawcutt (London: Methuen, 1958).
18 For contrast, see Daalder who argues "There can be no doubt that Dekker
disapproves of Friar Anselmo's attitude to lunatics" (p. 73). Daalder's
view seems determined by the "whipping" that is later threatened, but
whipping was a standard means of patient management. His anachronistic
skepticism about Bethlem, however, does not prohibit him from seeing
the plays as eliciting "sympathy" for its less fortunate characters (p.
19 Rene Weis, King Lear: A Parallel Text Edition (London: Longman,
1993), p. 270.
20 Twyning, p. 31.
Similarly, Twyning argues that "social conflict is not discrete but
interconnected as each character is paired with some other form of
aggravatingly maddening behavior . . . The play revels in a long
running pun on social anger and mental instability" (p. 30).
22 Larry Champion, "From Melodrama to Comedy: A Study of the Dramatic
Perspective in Dekker's The Honest Whore,
Parts I and II," SP 69, 2 (April 1972): 192-209, 196.
23 John Mullan, "Scenes from a Deranged Marriage," TLS 4978 (28 August
1998), p. 19.
24 Hoy's remark that Part Two might be Dekker's
"finest play" (2:16) sums up much twentieth-century criticism.
25 Champion, p. 200.
27 Hoy, 2:68.
29 Daalder, p. 68.
Ken Jackson is an assistant professor of English at Wayne State
University. He is completing a book on Bethlem and the stage.
Copyright Johns Hopkins University Press Spring 2003