Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Street. Udall’s play calls for a set comprising canvas stretched over wooden frames to represent houses with a street running between them. There are entrances to the stage from the end of the street and from two houses, one belonging to Dame Christian Custance, a wealthy widow betrothed to Gawin Goodlucke, and the other belonging to Ralph Roister Doister, a braggart who is determined to win Custance’s hand. Custance’s house is wholly populated by women; Ralph’s contains men.

Urged on by Mathewe Merygreeke, a prankster who regularly bilks Ralph of his cash, Ralph writes letters and serenades Custance, who angrily spurns him. The conflict develops into a farcical battle between the two houses as Ralph and his men attempt to invade Custance’s house. In the light of the combatants and Ralph’s suit, the attempted invasion seems sexual, but the threat is easily overcome as the women, armed with kitchen utensils, easily rout the invaders, including Ralph, who wears a kitchen pot for a helmet. When Gawin, the merchantman who has been away at sea, returns, all is resolved as the adventurous outsider is reunited with Custance, and the townsman admits defeat. In the true spirit of comedy, however, all are reconciled at the end of the play.

Ralph Roister Doister Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bevington, David M. From “Mankind” to Marlowe: Growth of Structure in the Popular Drama of Tudor England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962. Discusses Ralph Roister Doister in one chapter, commenting on the casting, Matthew Merrygreek’s debt to the old Vice character, and the play’s frequent allusions.

Downer, Alan S. British Drama: A Handbook and Brief Chronicle. East Norwalk, Conn.: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950. Explains the Roman influences on Ralph Roister Doister, discussing how Ralph represents the miles gloriosus, or braggart soldier. Stresses the moral intention of the author, assumed to be Nicholas Udall.

Eaton, Walter Prichard. The Drama in English. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930. Begins with English drama’s origins in the church and follows its progress into the market square. Chapters on the miracle plays, the moralities, and the interludes are followed by one titled “The First English Comedy—Ralph Roister Doister.”

Udall, Nicholas. Nicholas Udall’s Roister Doister. Edited with an introduction by G. Scheurweghs. Louvain, Belgium: Librairie Universitaire, C. Uystpruyst, 1939. The scholarly apparatus treats Udall’s life and the play’s sources. Copious notes elucidate vocabulary and other textual matters.

Whitworth, Charles Walters, ed. Three Sixteenth-Century Comedies. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. An accessible modern paperback edition containing Ralph Roister Doister. A long introduction sets these works in historical context, and footnotes facilitate reading.