Yes, I resorted to visual notes in order to keep track of all the cons, bed tricks, and letters gone awry. Brome’s A Mad Couple Well Match’d is an excellent play, though (I suspect my inability to keep up with the plot on first reading reflects more about my own attention span than Brome’s writing — though the edition’s weird type may be partly responsible for my confusion.) Be wary: if the picture doesn’t entirely spoil the plot, the final paragraph below (following the excerpt) does.
Wat. I have set on a course.
Car. What, quickly, what is’t?
Wat. To set up a male bawdy house. […] You are handsome, lovely, and I think able to do one Man’s worke, two or three such Gentlemen more which I know, and can describe to you, with the wayes I’le finde to bring in custome shall fill your purses —
Car. And empty our bones. I ever had enough of one Mistress Variety would destroy me. No Gentlemen can be able to hold it out. They are too weake to make common He whores. (1.1)
While fortuitous timing allows Careless to (disappointingly) escape Wat’s plan, the play does disprove his assertion that Gentlemen are too weak to make “He whores.” A Mad Couple is, I think, the first early modern comedy I’ve read where a woman actually wins the entire con game. Lady Thrivewell arranges the bed trick that exposes her nephew’s profligacy, oversees the marriage of that same nephew to a wealthy widow, transforms the whore into a wife (again through marriage), humiliates the wittol and his wife, and exposes her husband’s excessive sexual appetite. She is the only character who possesses any reason or knowledge in the play, and Brome’s play doesn’t seem to feel the need to explain or excuse this phenomenon. The final scene does end with the males explaining the plot to each other, and resuming their roles as patriarchs (Lady Thrivewell curiously absent while her husband delivers the epilogue), but their irrationality has already been exposed.
More Brome to follow.
31 May 2009 ~ St. Catharines
Brome, Richard. A mad Couple well Match’d. Brome’s Dramatic Works Vol.1. Ed. Shepherd. New York: AMS, 1966. 1-99.