The Old Wives' Tale by George Peele Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Antic, Frolic, and Fantastic, three pages, are lost at night in an English forest. There they encounter Clunch, a blacksmith, who takes them to his cottage to spend the night in comfort and safety. When Madge, Clunch’s wife, offers them food, they refuse it; Antic asks for a story instead. Oddly enough, Antic thereupon goes to sleep with old Clunch; his companions stay up to hear Madge’s story. Once upon a time, a king had a daughter of great beauty. This daughter was stolen away. The king sent men in search of her until there were no men left in the realm except her brothers. Finally they, too, went in search of their sister. It was a magician disguised as a dragon who had kidnapped her. This magician imprisoned her in a great stone castle. The magician also placed at the crossroad a young man who by enchantment appeared by day as an old man, but who by night was changed into a bear.

At this point in Madge’s tale two young men appear and declare dejectedly that they have arrived in England in search of their sister, Delia. They have given alms to an old man whom they encounter at a crossroad. In return for their kindness, the old man repeats a verse for them and tells them to say to anyone who asks about the rhyme that they had learned it from the white bear of England’s wood.

After the brothers leave, the old man tells aloud his own story. He had been happily married to a beautiful woman in Thessaly. Sacrapant, a sorcerer, had fallen in love with her and had enchanted the husband, Erestus, so that now, by day, he appears to be an old man and by night a bear. His beloved Venelia, under the influence of Sacrapant, becomes a lunatic. Distracted, she runs past the crossroad and is recognized by Senex, as Erestus is called in his enchanted form of an old man.

A farmer named Lampriscus, knowing a bear’s fondness for sweets, gives Erestus a pot of honey. Lampriscus discloses that he is twice a widower; by his first wife he has a beautiful daughter who, in her pride and petulance, is a great burden to him; by his second wife he has another daughter who is ugly and deformed. Erestus directs Lampriscus to send his daughters to the well to drink of the water of life; there they will find their fortunes.

Huanebango, a braggart who claims that he can overpower sorcerers, and Booby, a peasant, arrive at the crossroad. Both seek to win the favor of the fair lady enchanted by Sacrapant. Huanebango refuses to give alms to Erestus; Booby, however, gives him a piece of cake. Erestus predicts that Huanebango will soon be deaf and that Booby will go blind.

In his study room, meanwhile, Sacrapant discloses that he, the son of a witch, has transformed himself into a dragon and has kidnapped Delia, the daughter of the king. Delia enters the study and sits down to a magic feast with her captor. As the pair dine,...

(The entire section is 1168 words.)