Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Florence. City in the Tuscany region that was one of Italy’s main centers of culture and political intrigue in the seventeenth century. The main plot’s adulterous triangle derives from an actual Florentine scandal surrounding an unfaithful Venetian bride. Although Middleton’s Venetian source sympathized with Bianca, Middleton himself does not blame her fall entirely on Florence’s immorality. However, he does suggest living in an alien city whose inhabitants she describes as “all strangers to me, Not known but by their malice,” made her more vulnerable to seduction.

Widow’s house

Widow’s house. Home to which Leantio, in the opening scene, brings his stolen Venetian bride, intending to hide the “treasure” of her beauty “under this plain roof.” In the first striking use of upper-and lower-stage dynamics, a window in this house displays Bianca to the duke, below, riding to St. Mark’s Temple. Soon afterward, Bianca despises both fidelity and the poverty of her mother-in-law’s house.

Lady Livia’s house

Lady Livia’s house. Home in a higher-class milieu, dominating the second and third acts, where both Bianca and her subplot counterpart, Isabella, are betrayed into sexual corruption by Livia. Here, in an even more dramatic counterpoint of upper-and lower-stage actions, Middleton has the duke rape Bianca in an alcove while, below them, Livia defeats the mother-in-law in a chess game that clearly parallels the sexual “game” upstairs. Here Livia also facilitates her brother’s incestuous affair with their niece, while simultaneously promoting Isabella’s loveless marriage to a lascivious idiot. Although fashionable, Livia’s home resembles a house of prostitution.

Duke’s court

Duke’s court. Palatial and decadent setting for the play’s last two acts, in which luxury, lust, and treachery prove fatal for six sinners. In the final scene, a masque celebrating the duke’s marriage to Bianca ends in mass death, upheaving “the general peace of Florence.”

Women Beware Women Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dawson, Anthony B. “Women Beware Women and the Economy of Rape.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 27, no. 2 (Spring, 1987): 303-320. Argues that Middleton presents female characters as trapped in an economic hierarchy that reduces them to commodities for male use. This presentation is complicated by a need to maintain a conventional Elizabethan perception of women as naturally corrupt.

Holmes, David M. “Women Beware Women and The Changeling.” In The Art of Thomas Middleton. Oxford, England: The Clarendon Press, 1970. Places the play within the context of Middleton’s late work. Asserts that Bianca is vulnerable to seduction because of a repressive upbringing that does not prepare her for a morally corrupt world.

Kistner, A. L., and M. K. Kistner. “Women Beware Women: Will, Authority, and Fortune.” In Middleton’s Tragic Themes. New York: Peter Lang, 1984. Asserts that Middleton insists upon the individual moral responsibility of his characters. Characters ignore their awareness of sin in order to satisfy their overriding will, thus bringing on catastrophe.

Ribner, Irving. “Middleton’s Women Beware Women: Poetic Imagery and the Moral Vision.” Tulane Studies in English 9 (1959): 19-33. Investigates the play’s characterization, action, and imagery; concludes that the play is an incisive social commentary on the destructiveness of avaricious ideals.

Wigler, Stephen. “Parent and Child: The Pattern of Love in Women Beware Women.” In “Accompaninge the Players”: Essays Celebrating Thomas Middleton, 1580-1980, edited by Kenneth Friedenreich. New York: AMS Press, 1983. Examines three dominant love relationships of the play, which demonstrate a similar parent-child incest pattern and explain the stylistic shift in the final act. Suggests that a possible source lies in Middleton’s biography.