Article Title

Wit Without Money: A Fletcherian Antecedent to Keep the Widow Waking


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

In 1927, C. J. Sisson published his now famous reconstruction of the two sordid London scandals which prompted Dekker, Rowley, Ford, and Webster to collaborate on a popular drama, now lost, called Keep the Widow Waking. The play was first presented at the Red Bull in 1624. Its farcical subplot mercilessly ridiculed a widow of means, one Anne Elsdon, who had been tricked into marriage by a disreputable tobacconist, Tobias Audley. Audley with the help of four seedy accomplices had lured Mrs. Elsdon to a drinking party, got her drunk, and after keeping her inebriated for nearly a week, not only forced her to sleep with and marry him, but ransacked her house of all valuables. The title of a broadside ballad, obviously written to advertise the play and further humiliate Mrs. Elsdon, reveals the playwrights' handling of their subject, for it is called "keeping the widow wakeing or lett him that is poore and to wealth would aspire gett some old rich widdowe and grow wealth.ye by her, to the tune of the blazing torch."1 The ballad, which gives the play's underplot in outline, celebrates the resourceful ingenuity of the young husband-to-be and tells of how he bests three rivals for the widow's hand, winning the prize himself by his superior wit. The final stanza of the ballad underscores the crude profit-ethic which characterized Audey's behavior in life and which clearly delighted audiences when it was reenacted on the stage:

Therefore lett yong men that are poore,

come take example here,

And you whoe faine would heare the full

discourse of this match makeing,

The play will teach you at the Bull,

to keepe the widdow wakeing.2

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