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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

    145Part 2: Bridewell

    Bethlehem and Bridewell were sister institutions, administered by the same body. Ken Jackson sees both places primarily as charities.[26] At the same time, Bridewell was, for many of its inmates, a prison – however, not just one of punishment, but also serving as a house of correction (so ‘charitable’ in that sense). For us it is difficult to see e.g. fierce whipping (such as arrested whores had to undergo) as anything other than punishment, and no doubt that was one of its functions, but punishment also served the purpose of ‘correction’ in that it was hoped that the same offender would not transgress again, and – at the very least – set an example to others, who would supposedly learn what misbehaviour to avoid. I agree with Jackson that Foucault emphasises the negative, inhumane aspects of institutions like these too much. Nevertheless, I see them as less enlightened than Jackson does.

    Even so, while I feel that Mattheo and Hippolito are partly ‘punished’ at Bridewell, I also acknowledge that a primary purpose of their appearance there is that they are to be ‘purged’ into better behaviour, and thus are – successfully, it seems – ‘corrected’. Although the process of correction in their case is not directly due to Bridewell itself, Bridewell is part of an environment in which improvement is meant to, and can, occur.

    The parading of some notable whores on stage for one thing serves as a spectacle and a form of entertainment. At the same time, their presence has a significant moral purpose as well. These women show great coarseness, vulgarity, and lack of repentance, and are determined to continue to sin, both to their own detriment and that of the community. We see very much what Bellafront is not; how right she was to opt for her conversion in 1 The Honest Whore; and how marked and stark a choice other whores – those already part of the ‘profession’ or those considering participation in it – have to contemplate. Thus the merit of Bellafront’s conversion, and the injustice of those who refused to believe in it, is fully confirmed by everything that happens at the end of Part 2. And it is strongly implied that those who deny the possibility of conversion in fact ultimately continue to promote sin. Bellafront’s conversion should be seen as realistically possible and desirable, not as something produced by sentimentality on Dekker’s part.