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  • Title: The Honest Whore, Parts 1 and 2: Analysis of the Plays
  • Author: Joost Daalder

  • Copyright Digital Renaissance Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Joost Daalder
    Peer Reviewed

    The Honest Whore, Parts 1 and 2: Analysis of the Plays

    Part 2: An Important and Interesting Sequel

    The sequel, 2 The Honest Whore, was almost certainly written once 1 The Honest Whore proved a major commercial success, and the logical time for it to have been composed and produced would have been 1605, although there is no record showing that this in fact happened. Very often, at any time in history, a second play tends to be weaker than the first, often because it does ‘much the same thing’, and less successfully to boot. Although this view has sometimes been expressed about 2 The Honest Whore, most of the critics mentioned have, on the contrary, found 2 The Honest Whore the better play, and a charge of repetition, on any significant scale, really does not stand up. One of the advantages of 2 The Honest Whore, it is usually argued, is that it is more obviously unified: while the three plots of 1 The Honest Whore create the pleasure of variety, they are not, some feel, necessarily firmly integrated, either structurally or thematically. And in any case 2 The Honest Whore definitely covers new ground.

    In 2 The Honest Whore the ‘romantic’ plot is not continued or replaced by a new one. The reason, one surmises, is that such a plot had already been offered in 1 The Honest Whore, and resulted in a marriage, as well as reconciliation between the young lovers and the Duke. In 2 The Honest Whore, Dekker’s interest is not, as it was in 1 The Honest Whore, in what happens to young people before they settle into marriage, but in what happens after the marriage has commenced. Hippolito and Infelice are thus of course presented, and examined, as an apparently ‘normal’ couple, but Dekker also devotes much energy to exploring the relationship between Mattheo and Bellafront now that they find themselves in a formal and ‘respectable’ union. Consequently, 2 The Honest Whore is not in any sense a sequel which repeats what happened in 1 The Honest Whore, but a work which takes the primary stories of 1 The Honest Whore further, exploring in considerable depth, and at a later point in time (some years afterwards), the characters and relationships of the four main young people who were also featured in 1 The Honest Whore. The Candido scenes, which had always been somewhat separate from the interlaced ‘romantic’ and ‘morality’ plots in 1 The Honest Whore, still play a part in 2 The Honest Whore, but less prominently so than in the earlier play. One reason is no doubt that Candido could be seen, in 1 The Honest Whore, as an implicit model for Bellafront, as he displayed superb self-discipline and demonstrated how to maintain ‘patience’ (Stoic endurance) in the face of adversity.

    As a converted whore, Bellafront showed already in 1 The Honest Whore that she, too, had a similar ability, and as she never wavers in her goal she herself becomes, in 2 The Honest Whore, a model of Candido’s virtues, and, it has to be added, at a far deeper level, in the face of intensely painful provocation. She is, in fact, more reminiscent of Patient Grissil than Candido. Her role as a former whore makes matters harder, as men generally continue to see her as a whore. This is their fault, however, and she does not al all deserve the treatment she is subjected to; nor is she in need of such treatment to prove her penitence, as some aver. Her penitence was obvious enough from the moment of her conversion. It is a matter of the heart, and, if we think in Christian terms, one between her and her Maker. That Maker would not select people like Mattheo, a person who misjudges her and is grossly immoral himself, to mete out punishment to her.

    80In the main 2 The Honest Whore is certainly not ‘romantic’, or ‘comic’ in the sense of ‘funny’. On the whole it operates, rather, within the ‘morality’ tradition, and shows the difficulty of successful relations between men and women in marriage, especially for the women, as they, while suffering, tolerate ongoing misbehaviour on the part of the men. Dekker is not writing a feminist text or developing a blue-print for social reform, but his sympathy is strongly reserved for the women, and his distaste for the men. In its own way, this is a feminist play, with an acute diagnosis of what is wrong with the behaviour of men (worse, it seems, in marriage than before it), and the remarkable forbearance and strength of the women who are their victims. The play also exhibits Dekker’s gift for realism and his psychological insight. At the end something like a general resolution, such as is generally found in comedy, is offered to us, but it has been achieved at great pains, and it is not characterised by abundant festive joy. As on many occasions the action is primarily of a tragic nature, and comparative happiness is only achieved at the end, I feel it is very appropriate to see this play as a tragicomedy – more so than 1 The Honest Whore.

    In principle, it might be argued that the certainty of a comic ending is almost guaranteed by the introduction of the disguised Orlando, Bellafront’s father, who at an early stage takes an active interest in her welfare, and who, outside the Candido scenes, is among the main characters the one truly admirable man in the play. But the audience, although comforted by his existence, can never know for sure to what extent he will succeed in his good intentions, and as his disguise restricts him, Dekker has plenty of scope for showing us tragic events that Orlando does not avert. His role obviously bears a similarity to the Duke’s in Measure for Measure, and there are other similarities between the two plays, which of course many have noted.[21] Even so, there were other plays written at about the same time which explored similar matters, and it would be quite exaggerated – considering also the many differences – to see Shakespeare’s play straightforwardly as a ‘source’ for 2 The Honest Whore, although undoubtedly it was a major influence.

    I shall now discuss 2 The Honest Whore in more detail, starting this time with the Candido scenes, which do throw some interesting light on the play as a whole, but are otherwise best discussed at the beginning to allow us afterwards to concentrate fully on the main events and characters in the play.