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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: The Candido Scenes

    Once Viola has come to understand properly what her husband is like and no longer wishes to upset him, one imagines that a happy marriage will be in store for them. Unlike Hippolito and Infelice, or Mattheo and Bellafront, they do not face an unknown future. It would therefore have been difficult and illogical for Dekker to present Candido and Viola in the same way as in 1 The Honest Whore, with Candido perpetually ‘patient’, and Viola a shrew. As Candido had been a quite major figure in 1 The Honest Whore Dekker must have thought it essential to offer his audience this engaging eccentric again rather than Viola, whose role had consisted of being a shrew, but who at the end of 1 The Honest Whore had ceased being one.

    Dekker’s solution was to preserve Candido, but not Viola. In 1.2 we are offered a new set of gallants, led by Lodovico (a knight), who remembers suddenly that the group has been invited to dinner at Candido’s house, to celebrate a new wedding, Viola now being no longer alive. The gallants all remember Viola as a shrew, and wonder whether Candido’s second wife will be similar. Lodovico even expressly says: ‘I pity he should marry again’ (TLN 243-44).

    85At the wedding feast in 1.3 it rather comes to look as though the fear of the gallants will prove justified. Candido stars in a lengthy panegyric on the city-cap worn by the majority of the guests, who, like himself, naturally enough are citizens. Dekker, with his sympathy for this group of Londoners, is truly in his element at this point, and it is amazing how interesting the lecture on their emblem turns out to be. The general atmosphere is vivacious and convivial. The Bride calls for a cup of claret (= ‘red’) wine (TLN 540), and all seems well. However, the harmonious scene is soon disturbed. A Prentice by mistake offers the Bride sack in a cup, and she immediately hits him on the lips. Obviously, here is a new shrew who knows no boundaries, and who has not been set any by Candido. Candido does not blame her, and points out that his Prentice made a mistake. In essence, this means that he is unjust to his Prentice in putting full blame for the incident on him while implying that the Bride has done nothing wrong. Nor does Candido’s attitude change when the Bride breaks a glass of claret which is offered to her. In fact, he defends her by saying that ‘she is not well’ (TLN 564).

    Inevitably, with this attitude on Candido’s part, shrewish behaviour will become the order of the day, and Dekker does not allow this new wife the same freedom as Viola had, who, before the happy ending of 1 The Honest Whore, managed to persuade officers to take Candido to Bethlem, on the grounds of supposed madness. The flaw in Candido’s character is that he confuses patience with permissiveness, and in this new play that flaw is finally dealt with. Lodovico advises Candido to establish proper boundaries, and this happens in a hilarious scene, 2.2 . Lodovico has thought of a way of solving the problem. He disguises himself as a would-be Prentice of Candido, and a strategy is decided upon, in which Lodovico will take the lead. First, Candido is made to call out for his wife. He tells her that he would like her to ensure that a bed and room will be ready for Lodovico, who, Candido explains, wishes to learn the trade of a linen-draper. She flatly refuses. Candido tries what to him is stronger language on her, but again without success. He rebukes her for the breaking of glasses and similar tricks. Eventually he explicitly says that he has been a shrew’s victim before, and announces, ‘Wife, I’ll tame you’ (TLN 970).

    He decides to teach her ‘fencing tricks’ (TLN 977) by using a wooden yardstick. The Bride responds by calling for an ell-wand, which is longer, and thus is a more effective weapon. The battle will be ‘for the breeches’ (TLN 994), i.e. ‘aiming at breeches only’ (although the wife does not wear any), and ‘so as to establish who does wear the breeches in the relationship’. In masterly fashion, Dekker does not let the opponents come to blows. Candido’s initiative has been enough, though he needed Lodovico to prompt him to take it. The Bride accepts that her role is not that of a shrew, but a conventional wife. She kneels, and states that she disdains ‘The wife that is her husband’s sovereign’ (TLN 1010). Clearly there is an echo of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew here, but Candido has asserted his authority, such as it is, in a far less hateful fashion than Kate’s husband did. He even says to his wife: ‘I’ll challenge thee no more. My patient breast / Played thus the rebel only for a jest’ (TLN 1018-19).

    Thus we have here, very early on in the play, a scene in which a new marriage has in the event started promisingly, and happiness appears to be in store. The reason why this pleasing outcome is established so early is not just that Dekker is writing a sequel which must not be a repetition of 1 The Honest Whore, but also that this couple provides a norm against which we can measure the relationships between other married men and women, notably Hippolito, Infelice, Mattheo, and Bellafront. The scene not only occurs at an important moment, but is totally unlike any scene in which we saw Candido and Viola together. There is good reason for this. In 1 The Honest Whore, Dekker wanted to show us that eventually Viola would not ‘win’, and that she would come to her senses once she knew what life without Candido was like. But that still left us with the question whether Candido himself could have steered the relationship differently. This scene shows that he could – and should – have done so. Fortunately, he has now reached better insight.

    Another new experience awaits him which is considerably less pleasing. So far, Candido has not been challenged by truly evil people. In this play he is. I do not refer to 3.3 , in which he is challenged in such ways as we were also presented with in 1 The Honest Whore. This play as a whole, however, offers a much tougher world, and we see how Candido is subjected to it in 4.3 . His dealings there are with Mattheo, who in this play is a much worse character than in 1 The Honest Whore, and with the seedy bawd Mistress Horseleech, as well as with the mischievous pander Bots, the most loathsome character in the play, who at the end is punished accordingly.

    90Mattheo has stolen some pieces of lawn (TLN 2212) which he intends to sell to Candido, whom he has invited to his home to see them, though he has not told Candido about the people he will meet. When Candido arrives, he is immediately confronted by the sight of a large amount of alcohol which is ready to be consumed. Moreover, Lodovico, showing himself in a less favourable light than in 2.2 , instructs Horseleech to kiss Candido, which to him, and anyone, is a revolting experience (for one thing, she stinks ‘worse than fifty polecats’, TLN 2270-71). When Candido finds out that she is a bawd he wants to leave, but Mattheo will not let him go, and urges Bots to drink to Candido and to teach him to ‘fly high’ (TLN 2278). In other words, the plan is to force Candido to adopt the dissolute habits of the people he is with.

    But it gets worse. Bots does not drink to Candido, but commands Candido to drink wine, threatening Candido that if he refuses he will stab him with his dagger. This is the kind of threat Candido has not had to put up with before, and we come to see that ‘patience’ can only take one so far. Candido is urged to drink wine against his wish, and moreover is told to pledge a whore. A theoretical alternative would be to have himself stabbed. That would be the more courageous solution, which perhaps a Stoic should prefer. However, Candido does drink – and to Horseleech. The incident causes him great anguish. He hardly manages to consume the wine, which to him is a poison, and he can scarcely get up. He also decides he will never again drink a whore’s health. But meanwhile his enemies have succeeded in humiliating and tormenting him.

    The severity of his suffering is quite unlike anything which we saw in 1 The Honest Whore, and although he does remain ‘patient’, he is also shown as more vulnerable and pitiable than before. Furthermore, it is revealed, by a constable, that the pieces of cloth that he has bought from Mattheo were stolen, and that he is thus (even if unintentionally) a fence. Accordingly he is arrested and taken to prison, namely Bridewell. Again, this appears to be an incident his ‘patience’ cannot altogether successfully deal with: there is a difference between being wrongly considered mad, and rightly – even if only on technical grounds – being perceived to assist a thief.

    Of course, he is still eventually set free, but this time it is the Duke who, at the very end of the play, praises his virtue, and even declares: ‘A patient man’s a pattern for a king’ (TLN 2995). Candido himself does not deliver anything like the resounding, confident speech which was so impressive at the end of 1 The Honest Whore (TLN 2922-36).

    No doubt Dekker still believes in the value of Stoicism as a mental attitude. Even so, Candido appears more vulnerable and fragile in 2 The Honest Whore. In 1 The Honest Whore, he saw no need to confront his wife in the way that he came to accept as necessary in this play. And he did not suffer the humiliation of drinking to a whore or getting arrested while in the possession of stolen goods. He has, even if not in theory, in practice lost some of his seeming glamour and invincibility. But we can more readily identify with him as a human being as a result.