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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: Bellafront, Mattheo, and Orlando

    At the end of 1 The Honest Whore, Bellafront managed, through intervention of the Duke, to get married to Mattheo, who, as the Duke pointed out, was to make amends for taking her maidenhead away from her: the price is marriage. Mattheo only yields when forced to. He attempts to refuse, but, as the Duke says, ‘then law shall compel’ (1HW, TLN 2858). Mattheo continues to believe that he has been ‘gulled’ (TLN 2870) and cuckolded (TLN 2873-75), as in his view Bellafront is simply a whore, and he has no obligation to her whatever. He speaks, even so, of accepting her as a common wench that he will try to make good (TLN 2876): this way he rationalises his acceptance of his lot as an act of kindness on his part. He even sounds half-decent when he says: ‘Come, wench, thou shalt be mine. Give me thy golls [= hands]’ (TLN 2880). And he ends his speech with ‘God give us joy’ (TLN 2882). Superficially, the match looks reasonably promising.

    110But fundamentally his rationalisation is just that: in his heart of hearts he does not want to get married to Bellafront, and he does so only because he has to. Throughout 1 The Honest Whore, he at all times regarded her as ‘my punk’ (‘my whore’), never as a marriage partner. It is not, however, the case that he treated her very badly; they had a relationship in which there was an element of affection, though his attitude was largely selfish and condescending. Bellafront is not actively in love with Mattheo the way she is smitten with Hippolito when he converts her, but she does not seem to be unhappy with Mattheo in 1 The Honest Whore, although she knows he has done, and is doing, her wrong. Her central concern is that he has in effect turned her into a whore, and that she would prefer to be married to him, because that makes her, at least in theory, a decent woman. She appears to be triumphant and pleased when she has secured him at the end of 1 The Honest Whore.

    Part 2 shows that, for a woman, to be married to a reluctant male partner whose character leaves much to be desired is in many ways worse than to be his mistress. She never had the opportunity to be exclusively Mattheo’s mistress, however, as he considered her a whore, and encouraged her to be one, i.e. not to have a sexual relationship just with him. Her choice was between continuing to be a prostitute or (if she could) to get married to Mattheo, and out of these two possibilities she much favoured the status of being his wife. From the moment that she actually becomes Mattheo’s wife, through the help of the Duke, she turns into an exemplary one, who, as women of the time were normally expected to do, always shows her husband loyalty, respect, and love, and never does things to antagonise him. She does, for sure, try to advise him to behave properly, but she does not block his path. In return he often behaves abominably towards her.

    The marriage is in many ways a prison for both of them, but she accepts that as cheerfully as she can, and with great strength, though not without emotional vulnerability. For Mattheo, the prison (as he views it) is one from which he constantly tries to escape by leaving the house and engaging in various bad actions, such as drinking, gambling, stealing, and whoring. At the beginning of 2 The Honest Whore, 1.1 , he is in prison because he has killed a man in a duel. Hippolito argues to the effect that the person whom Mattheo killed was a bad one, and also that the killing took place in ‘fair fight’ (TLN 148-53). This may well be true, and would provide a reason for the Duke to set him free and save his life. However, at the very least Mattheo is the kind of reckless person who does end up in prison while most people do not. A more careful and cautious man would have avoided his fate, and would not have left his wife without adequate money, compelling her to beg for his life. In a sense, what has happened seems to show, symbolically, a deterioration in Mattheo’s conduct. Already in 1 The Honest Whore he would spend much time on revelry and similar pastimes, with a marked distaste for tying himself to Bellafront or leading a domestic life, unless that involved such joys as consuming much alcohol. After his wedding, he obviously has behaved as though his home is a prison, and it seems therefore theatrically fitting that when we first hear of him in 2 The Honest Whore he is in jail. Once he is set free, it soon becomes evident that he will continue to live in such a way that he can only end up in further trouble.

    This is in no sense Bellafront’s fault. Not only is her own life impeccable, but she treats him warmly after his release: ‘O my sweet husband, wert thou in thy grave / And art alive again? O, welcome, welcome!’ (TLN 603-04). He soon speaks about visiting ‘all the mad rogues now, and the good roaring boys’ (TLN 622-23), and wonders ‘how the inside of a tavern looks / now’ (TLN 628-29). Bellafront gently, though seriously, tries to dissuade him from going astray again, speaking about what he wastes in ‘those damned shops of hell / Those dicing-houses’ (TLN 635-36), and warning him against bad company: ‘A sort of ravens have hung upon thy sleeve / And fed upon thee’ (TLN 640-41).

    Interestingly, there is a residue of goodness in Mattheo which makes him aware that he needs to change his life, and this comes to the fore from time to time. On this occasion, he says: ‘Bellafront, Bellafront, I protest to thee, I swear, as I hope for my soul, I will turn over a new leaf’ (TLN 647-48). He probably even in part means what he says. But one difficulty, given the weakness of his character, is that the slightest distraction or temptation leads him away from his declared intention. This time, however, it is not bad company that comes to disturb him and his wife. To understand what is happening, we need a brief interruption to consider the identity of the unexpected visitor.

    115Earlier, when we examined Hippolito’s conduct and role in 2 The Honest Whore, we became aware that Hippolito encouraged Orlando, Bellafront’s father, to take an active interest in her, after he was made aware of his daughter’s situation. Orlando does decide, in 1.2 , that he will take up her cause, in the following words:

    ’Las, my girl! Art thou poor? Poverty dwells next door to despair; there’s but a wall between them. Despair is one of hell’s catchpoles, and lest that devil arrest her I’ll to her. Yet she shall not know me. She shall drink of my wealth as beggars do of running water, freely, yet never know from what fountain’s head it flows. Shall a silly bird pick her own breast to nourish her young ones, and can a father see his child starve? That were hard. The pelican does it, and shall not I? Yes, I will victual the camp for her, but it shall be by some stratagem. That knave there, her husband, will be hanged, I fear. I’ll keep his neck out of the noose if I can; he shall not know how.
    (TLN 423-34)

    Although this soliloquy does not provide a detailed strategy, we glimpse at the least the generosity and caring attitude of Orlando, which the Victorians loved so much and which in today’s cynical world is regarded by many as sentimental. Given that Orlando cares primarily for his daughter, who is in a situation of utter helplessness, and whom he has obviously totally forgiven her former life as a whore, I for one find his wish to help her utterly natural and commendable. His point is that he has the means, as a wealthy gentleman, to support her, and that he will do so. Similarly, although he can rightly see that his son-in-law is a ‘knave’, he will try to save him as well, for his daughter’s sake. (As Hippolito interestingly pointed out in TLN 376: ‘The getting of his life preserves your own.’)

    We may wonder why Orlando will keep his plans a secret from those whom he intends to benefit. That is a question also raised about, for example, the Duke in Measure for Measure. In both cases we see a device used that also occurs in other plays. Personally, I find the Duke in Shakespeare’s play harder to accept as realistic, or even wholly admirable, than Orlando. A Duke, as an authority figure, normally would find it difficult not to address serious matters under his formal supervision himself, and directly, as of course he should. Shakespeare uses the Duke in very theatrical fashion, but we often wonder why he does not intervene at critical moments, as his responsibility demands. Orlando has no such status or duty as the Duke.

    What the two have in common and makes them plausible enough is that they are engaged in testing out those from whom they remain disguised. This seems to me to make sense: the implication is that the observer will thus find out a great deal about those whom he watches, and will act in an informed capacity when once he does. It is, of course, possible to intervene, either in disguise or in one’s own person; but one encourages, by staying aside, independent development on the part of those who still need to find their own way. One also avoids embarrassment by being incognito: for example, Orlando’s disguise allows him to weep when he sees Bellafront after so many years, and to pretend that he is suffering from an ailment. Moreover, when one does choose to reveal oneself and points out what one has seen, one can make a maximum impact, not least because those whom one has observed cannot hide from the fact that one knows the truth about them.

    Let us now return to Mattheo. He, as we have seen, promises Bellafront to turn over a new leaf after his return from prison (TLN 647-48). But, as Bellafront points out to him: ‘One knocks at door’ (TLN 651). Generally, the visitor would most likely be a gallant with whom Mattheo will go out to drink or gamble, but in this case the visitor has the opposite effect: Mattheo does not leave. Orlando is disguised as a servant, ‘Pacheco’, and seeks to serve Mattheo in that capacity. ‘Pacheco’ explains that the last person he served was ... Orlando. Although Mattheo cannot afford to hire ‘Pacheco’, he proceeds to do so, ignoring Bellafront’s warnings about their poverty. The disguised Orlando soon finds out a great deal about his son-in-law. Assuming the role of Pacheco, he encourages Mattheo to speak freely about his father-in-law (i.e. himself) by hinting that (as Pacheco) he was sacked. Thus Mattheo’s nasty attitude to Orlando is soon revealed, and without inhibition. At the same time, Bellafront is of course also tested by this experiment, and she shows her loyalty to her father, even though the two fell out years before, and have not seen each other since. Orlando also gives Mattheo twenty pounds to look after for him, and observes how Mattheo obviously intends to waste it totally and without shame (TLN 719-22). Again Bellafront compares favourably with Mattheo in her conduct, for she asks Orlando to return Hippolito’s gifts to him. Thus Orlando learns at quite an early stage that his daughter is a wonderful person and very much worth saving, while it is Mattheo who causes all the troubles in the marriage.

    120We see, with Orlando, more of the couple. At the earliest opportunity Mattheo, taking Pacheco with him, now goes out gambling. The consequences of this disastrous excursion are observable in 3.2 . Mattheo does not even speak to Bellafront upon their return; Orlando, instead, reports what has happened. Mattheo’s losses have been enormous, and as a result he has spent, sold, or pawned (which produces much the same outcome), almost anything of value that he had with him, including his cloak and his rapier, both of which are expensive possessions. Matters are bad enough, but would have been yet worse if Orlando (as Pacheco) had not provided some essential help, so that, for example, Mattheo still has his doublet. One might expect Bellafront to attack her husband, but she manages to show some real sympathy for him, asking ‘How does my sweet Mattheo?’ (TLN 1309). He blames his bad luck on his dice, even stressing that he used his own; in other words, he was not ‘tricked’ by someone else’s.

    However, he is not inclined to accept any responsibility for what has happened, and proceeds to ask Bellafront for money. We should realise that he literally has no money – even Orlando’s twenty pounds are gone (as Orlando mentions at TLN 1344-45). Mattheo’s immaturity and selfishness now truly come to the fore: ‘Must have money, must have some, must have a cloak and rapier and things’; and he can think of a way of obtaining what he wants: ‘Will you go set your lime-twigs and get me some birds, some money?’ (TLN 1319-21). He intends to rely on the fact that ‘sex sells’.

    Bellafront is so used to her new existence as a respectable woman that she does not at once grasp what he is alluding to: ‘What lime-twigs should I set?’ (TLN 1322). Obviously, Mattheo wants her once again to offer her services as a prostitute. As she does not take the hint, he resorts to an alternative act of selfishness: he takes off her gown, and threatens her with ‘I’ll pawn you, by th’Lord, to your very eyebrows’ (TLN 1333). Orlando in vain tries to persuade him to let Bellafront keep her gown, which was not only a valuable possession around 1600, but also made a woman look respectable. Without some such outer garment she would be viewed as a whore. Mattheo, however, orders Orlando (‘Pacheco’) to go to a pawnbroker and borrow ten ducats, as he paid twenty for the gown originally. Orlando takes the gown with him, while Bellafront weeps.

    With Orlando gone, Bellafront interestingly encourages Mattheo, as a gambler, to set ‘all upon one cast’ (TLN 1362). Her purpose in this, I would infer, is to force him to see his own situation very sharply for what it is, and hence also hers. At this point she clearly realises that Mattheo wants her to sell herself again. She tells him to spend all, but to be aware that he should not count on her to produce any money: ‘To get it wouldst thou have me play the whore?’ His immediate reply is ‘’Twas your profession before I married you’ (TLN 1367-68). Not only does he fail, or refuse, to see that he made her a whore originally by not marrying her after he seduced her, but he would make her a whore again even though now she is his own wife.

    By this time the audience is not likely to have much sympathy and respect for Mattheo, while tragedy looms for Bellafront. The situation in essence seems insoluble, unless perhaps somehow Orlando (who does not hear this conversation) intervenes. But just as matters seem to reach a nadir, salvation of sorts is near – for Mattheo, at least. Lodovico arrives. While Mattheo is hardly deserving of being pampered, it turns out that Lodovico has heard of his difficulties, and has come to help him, saying:

    I give myself unto thee – prithee use me.
    I will bestow on you a suit of satin
    And all things else to fit a gentleman,
    Because I love you.
    (TLN 1443-46)

    125I see these words, and the whole dramatic situation here, as full of rich though painful irony. Quite recently, the deserving Bellafront was deprived of her gown. As it happens, just before Lodovico delivers his promise to Mattheo, Orlando has come back with the six ducats he has managed to get for the gown from a broker. At the very time when Bellafront is in fact indecently dressed because Mattheo has stolen her gown, he, himself, not only is promised a new expensive suit, but also receives, from Orlando, the money for which Bellafront’s gown has in effect been sold. And matters become yet more densely ironic: Mattheo concludes that no doubt the promise of the new suit arises from Bellafront having (without his knowing) obtained Lodovico as a new client, and, as well, he says he will turn her into a bawd. After that, he goes out on his own, with the six ducats.

    We observe here just how vulnerable Bellafront is, as a woman. Her husband can take her gown – a very important possession – from her, and keep the money he receives for it; and, as a gallant (though poor) he has a friend (a wealthier gallant) who is willing to buy him a splendid new suit. While Mattheo shows no love for Bellafront and wants to turn her into a whore or even a bawd, Lodovico tells Mattheo that he loves him. The one very minor consolation for Bellafront is that Orlando has in fact received eight ducats from a broker, and sensibly has kept two for her. The noble Bellafront, who has reason to be absolutely furious with her husband, tells Orlando: ‘Thou shouldst have given him all’ (TLN 1462). She does, however, admit her unhappiness: ‘Like waves, my misery drives on misery’ (TLN 1464).

    Orlando, though a man with a constructive mindset, in a soliloquy at the end of this scene does realise what kind of person Mattheo is: ‘He riots all abroad, wants all at home; he dices, whores, swaggers, swears, cheats, borrows, pawns’ (TLN 1466-68). For the time being he will not yet intervene; he fears, however, that in the end Mattheo will prove a total disappointment, and come to grief ‘on the ropes’ (TLN 1471). The audience is thus kept in suspense: probably Orlando means that, whether or not he intervenes, a man like Mattheo will surely come to a very bad end anyway.

    At the end of this superb scene ( 3.2 ), Orlando has been able to see at first hand what life his daughter and son-in-law are leading, but they in their turn have not seen him as Orlando, only as Pacheco. As this play aims to achieve a comic ending, with reconciliation of people that can be brought together, it is, of course, essential that Bellafront and Mattheo encounter Orlando ‘as himself’. This means that in 4.1 Orlando appears to them unannounced and undisguised, chiefly to read them the riot act about their life, and without revealing any knowledge which he has derived as Pacheco. Mattheo appears the more objectionable because he is wearing, with pride, the new suit Lodovico has promised him, though he has not paid the tailor for it. Orlando knocks on the door, and Bellafront lets him in, obviously excited. As may be expected, Mattheo offends and irritates Orlando, who himself is unstinting in his criticism. Bellafront behaves well, insisting that she is not, as Orlando pretends to believe, a whore. She explains to him, also, that her life is very hard, as she has no money, and that she may be forced to adopt her old ways unless Orlando offers material assistance. In this she is partly prompted by Mattheo, who seizes any opportunity to obtain money from others, but she is also telling Orlando the truth about herself. Orlando, however, does not give in, pointing at the new suit, for example, as evidence that there is money in the house. The trouble is not, he implies, that the couple is not able to obtain money, but that Bellafront’s plight is caused by the utterly selfish behaviour of Mattheo, who can easily get money from both Lodovico and Hippolito. Orlando is thus right to insist that, as a couple, they are not poor enough for him to offer financial assistance, painful though it is for him to adopt this attitude.

    Orlando also points out something else, which is of crucial importance for the development of the plot. He (as himself) reveals to Mattheo that he is aware that ‘Pacheco’ (‘a man of mine’) has joined Mattheo, and that he knows that Mattheo and Pacheco have together robbed ‘two poor country pedlars’ (TLN 1728). In fact these are two men of his own, and it is part of Orlando’s series of tests and devices that he has given Mattheo and Pacheco the opportunity to steal from them. As ‘Pacheco’ is a participant, he will at a future moment be able to reveal his participation in events, and thus the robbery is something which Orlando can officially report and use to have Mattheo arrested.

    130It is becoming necessary that such a step is taken, as Mattheo’s behaviour will become the more dangerous the longer he is allowed to do as he pleases. In this scene ( 4.1 ), after Orlando has left, Bellafront offers Mattheo a meal which he praises. When he asks her where she bought the mutton, she says that a neighbour sent it to him, and he immediately experiences this as an assault on his ego, accusing her of begging. He becomes so enraged that he takes up a stool to beat out her brains, but fortunately ‘Pacheco’ arrives just in time to prevent him from engaging in domestic violence. We can, however, see how Mattheo’s degradation is proceeding apace.

    A further interesting development now occurs. Mattheo mentions to ‘Pacheco’ that Orlando knows about the robbing of the two pedlars, but, far from being intimidated by this, he now proposes that the two of them (Mattheo and Pacheco) should proceed to rob Orlando himself. At this point Orlando, on his own, decides to take action to halt Mattheo’s conduct:

    Her [Bellafront’s] sinking will be brought
    If rescue come not. Like a man-of-war
    I’ll therefore bravely out. Somewhat I’ll do,
    And either save them both or perish too.
    (TLN 1869-71)

    The need for action is the more pressing not only because of Mattheo, but also because Hippolito, at this time in hot sexual pursuit of Bellafront, is a threat in the form of financial temptation. Orlando hence decides that the time has come for him to obtain the support of the Duke. There is now a need for actions to be set in motion against both Mattheo and Hippolito.

    In 4.2 , we see how matters are progressing. The Duke has agreed with Orlando (as himself) that it will be appropriate to issue a warrant to arrest Mattheo on account of the robbery of the two pedlars, and the proposed fleecing of Orlando. To make sure that this plan will succeed, discretion is needed, and only Lodovico will accompany the disguised Orlando, who as Pacheco will obtain the services of a constable and ‘billmen’. At the same time, the Duke has a more than casual interest in ensuring that his erring son-in-law Hippolito will arrive at Bridewell. He engages in a great stunt to bring this about, announcing a purge of the suburbs (similar to that of Henry VIII or more recently James). Ostensibly this is intended to arrest Bellafront, and thus to spur Hippolito on. Only whores ‘of note’ will be caught (TLN 2173).

    In 4.3 , Mattheo is arrested as arranged, along with Bots and Horseleech. In 5.1 , Lodovico tells Hippolito that Bellafront is imprisoned in Bridewell. However, as Lodovico says in a soliloquy, his statement is merely ‘false fire’ (TLN 2425), designed to provoke the obsessive Hippolito to hasten towards Bridewell. The plan is, according to a scheme involving Orlando, the Duke, and Lodovico, to bring together at Bridewell – a significant public institution – people whose misdeeds need to be revealed for all to hear. ‘Shaming’ is, in cases like those of Mattheo and Hippolito, more important than e.g. imprisonment, since what is being aimed at is a change in character and conduct. We cannot at this point overlook what is planned for Hippolito, since both he and Mattheo need to be taught a lesson at the same time. That way, too, Bellafront, whose existence is endangered by both, is protected. The Duke, of course, is primarily interested in the welfare of Infelice, who is badly treated by Hippolito, but her unhappy situation results from that lecher’s interests in Bellafront.

    135What happens to Bellafront herself? We might expect to see her arrested as a whore ‘of note’, but this does not happen. The arrest is not, of course, necessary. The Duke trusts Orlando enough to allow him (in disguise) and Bellafront to come to Bridewell together in 5.2 . Bellafront, aware of Mattheo’s arrest, immediately pleads with the Duke to treat him mercifully (TLN 2489-92). Ironically, despite his many misdeeds, she is not only always inclined to forgive, or accept, but also to love him. It is evident that any punishment which deprives her of Mattheo would deeply wound her. Again, somewhat later, she says: ‘Be good to my poor husband, dear my lords’ (TLN 2554). This is when Mattheo confesses to having robbed the ‘pedlars’ (Orlando’s men acting as such). Mattheo fully expects to be hanged. He is asked whether he had an accomplice. Astonishingly, he accuses his wife, causing those present to be aghast. Bellafront calls on the servant who participated, Pacheco, to accuse her. She is not much concerned about her own life, but wishes to make sure that if Mattheo is to be punished Pacheco will also be.

    Orlando – still disguised as Pacheco – confesses that his hand ‘was in the pie’ (TLN 2583), but, significantly, also explains that Bellafront did not take part in the robbery: ‘she neither consented to this felony nor knew of it’ (TLN 2589). The Duke, immediately believing ‘Pacheco’ (whom he knows to be Orlando) asks Mattheo what prompts him to kill his wife (TLN 2590). Mattheo, revealingly, admits that he would not have ‘this whore laugh at me as I swing, as I totter’ (TLN 2594). He proceeds to spin a fantastic tale according to which he has caught Bellafront and Hippolito in bed together. Hippolito to his credit defends Bellafront utterly, and not least her absolute chastity.

    At this moment complete clarity needs to be achieved, so that the theatre audience will know precisely how to judge the suspected characters on stage. The best witness, as it obviously seems to Dekker, and as others in practice accept, is Orlando. He has thoroughly disapproved of his daughter as a prostitute, so cannot be accused of undue bias. He has considerable standing in the community as a gentleman of note and sound morals. He, and he alone, has actual, substantial knowledge of what has happened, having been close to most of the action throughout the play, either disguised or in his own person. He not only has observed the conduct of Mattheo and Bellafront, but also that of Hippolito and Infelice.

    Orlando thus removes his disguise and presents the unadorned truth, in plain and stark words. This is, when all is said and done, the high point of both plays, when anything that can be solved will be, and when much harm can be repaired. Crucially, and one hopes definitively for all who hear him, Orlando reveals that Bellafront is not a whore. This is, of course, an unequivocal truth, even though Mattheo, and many others, have never truly been able to see her as a pure, redeemed woman. Mattheo, Orlando says, is a knave, which, however strongly Bellafront loves him, is true. Hippolito is declared to be ‘honest’, probably because in spite of his pursuit of Bellafront he ultimately respected her refusal of his advances, and has strongly defended her chastity to all present. Infelice is declared to be a ‘right lady’ (TLN 2635).

    According to this assessment, Mattheo (as a ‘knave’) deserves punishment, and this is still hanging over his head. However, the Duke says to him: ‘Your father has the true physician played’, to which Mattheo answers at once: ‘And I am now his patient’ (TLN 2643-44). He admits, crucially, that he is ‘ill’ and proves willing to accept Orlando as his healer; thus he reveals, at this pivotal moment, a complete change of heart. We are obviously asked to accept that quite suddenly – in one of the play’s most important conversions – Mattheo can see, as in a flash, that he must change his life. Thus true improvement, and the harmony of a comic ending, now become a real possibility. Dekker stresses particularly that progress of this nature is communal to the extent that Mattheo’s problem needs assistance from others, but that ultimately it is above all such goodness as is innately part of his soul which must bring about his salvation, and reintegrate him into the community.

    140Hippolito, too, realises he must redeem himself, and thus is right to say: ‘’Tis a good sign when our cheeks blush at ill’ (TLN 2645-46). As I suggested before, the statement must be seen as applying to both men: both have done wrong, are now ashamed of their behaviour, and are right to blush at their ‘ill’ (their evil, and their ‘sickness’, which must now be healed). At this point, too, the misunderstanding concerning Candido’s acting as a ‘fence’ is cleared up, and to all intents and purposes a comic ending has been achieved. However, Dekker wants to see Bots punished, and to display a number of Bridewell whores on stage. More essentially, from a moral point of view, he takes the development of a happy ending yet further, so as to clinch it absolutely and, not least, so as to remove any doubt as to whether Mattheo and Bellafront truly want each other.

    The Duke has absolute authority, and can thus determine what will occur. In a comedy not everyone is inevitably saved: indeed, some people do deserve punishment and get it. Therefore the incurable Bots is to be thoroughly punished and banished. This is an instance of purging and cleansing. The arrested whores will, moreover, stay in Bridewell. With respect to Mattheo, however, the Duke is content to let Orlando decide what should be his lot. In this case, there is, after all, as most people would see it, a choice: Mattheo appears to repent, and to be on the mend, morally, but he is, even so, guilty of punishable offences.

    Dekker implies that, from the moment when Mattheo declared himself Orlando’s ‘patient’ (TLN 2644), and showed himself ashamed by blushing, he and Bellafront, who very much wants him to stay alive, become a close couple. Deep down, Mattheo, though often treating Bellafront badly, has in his own way always loved her, and now, in his new state of conversion, he seeks to be fully in harmony with her. Thus it would be logical for a production to present the two as showing mutual affection after TLN 2646, where Hippolito has commented on Mattheo’s blushing. Their intimacy should surely be in evidence, on stage, from that moment on, and still be visible when the Duke asks Orlando to pass final judgement at TLN 2958: ‘Now good Orlando, what say you to your bad son-in-law?’

    In a further test, Orlando tells his son-in-law, and his wife, that Mattheo should be hanged. What, it seems to be implied, he wants to be absolutely certain of is that not only Bellafront wants Mattheo, but that he wants her as strongly. So Orlando is to elicit a show of affection. By insisting on harshness, Orlando in fact provokes love. He makes both partners aware of the appalling nature, and consequences, of a life of crime, and of the need for better behaviour on Mattheo’s part. Orlando also transfers the final verdict on Mattheo to Bellafront, who is unambiguous in her judgement: knowing that she runs a risk, she would still rather confront misery in her marriage than lose her husband. But, in truth, both show themselves entirely affectionate to each other, so we may perhaps conclude that it is now likely that Mattheo is genuinely a different, transformed man.

    This, in Orlando’s judgement, makes a permanent resolution possible, and he offers Mattheo and Bellafront the gift of living in his house, at his expense, but – sensibly – while keeping his own money. And, provided that Mattheo behaves properly (there is still a further test involved), he will inherit Orlando’s estate. Today a father like Orlando would no doubt pass on his estate to his daughter rather than his son-in-law, but for its time what Orlando foresees and provisionally plans is entirely conventional. And his point is certainly not just that he acknowledges Mattheo’s rights as a husband, but that he will only pass on his estate to him if he is truly reformed and treats Bellafront well. If that happens, the problem of a woman not inheriting becomes far less acute, as a well-behaved husband will make her happy. The Honest Whore plays stress the need for people to treat each other well rather than that they advocate social reform, even though Dekker demonstrates very acute awareness that the social arrangements of his day often tended to militate against the interests of women.