Article Title

“I Knew Not How to Call Her Now”: The Bigamist’s Second Wife in The Witch Of Edmonton and All’s Lost By Lust


David Nicol


The Witch of Edmonton, a 1621 domestic tragedy by Thomas Dekker, John Ford and William Rowley, dramatizes the cruel social logic by which the innocent second wife of a bigamist could be labelled a whore for having carnal relations outside of a legitimate marriage, and could experience relief when her death releases her from this paradox. Much has been written about this play’s depiction of women who suffer because they do not fit into the strict categories delineated by conventional morality, and recent studies have debated the extent to which its climactic image of social harmony allows some voice for such women, but this article proposes an overlooked context within which the original audience might have experienced the character of the second wife. Early modern English plays about bigamy are normally reluctant to address directly the problem of the second wife and her status, but William Rowley’s tragedy All’s Lost by Lust (c.1619-20), based on an Italian tale about violent revenge upon a bigamist, prefigures Witch in its detailed representation of a second wife. Rowley’s highly unusual play takes the character in a very different direction by having her violently contest her elision from the drama’s conclusion. Nonetheless, reading The Witch of Edmonton in the light of All’s Lost by Lust shows how Rowley and his collaborators were reworking in a more subtle form his representation of the bigamist’s second wife as a disruptive presence who challenges the moral structures that oppress her.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.