The Honest Whore, Parts I and II Summary
by Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker

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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

In Milan, at the funeral of Infelice, daughter of Duke Gasparo, Count Hippolito refused to be restrained by his friend Matheo. Frantic with grief over the death of his beloved, he accused her father of having killed her. After a violent altercation between the two noblemen, the hearse was borne off. In Milan, also, Viola’s brother, Fustigo, had returned from sea, to find his sister married to Candido, a linen-draper, and unhappy because her husband was such a model of patience and good temper. In order to make Candido angry, Viola proposed to Fustigo—whom Candido had never seen—that he pretend to be her lover, and this plan was agreed upon.

In the meantime, at the ducal palace, it was revealed that Infelice’s death was only a trick produced by a sleeping-potion administered at her father’s command. Duke Gasparo admitted that Hippolito was a noble youth whom he would have welcomed as a son-in-law had it not been for a feud between the two families; he had, however, devised the stratagem of her supposed death to break up the love affair between her and the young count. When Infelice awoke, her father told her that Hippolito was dead. He then ordered her to go to Bergamo in order that she might recover from her grief. After she had gone, the duke’s physician offered to poison Hippolito and thus relieve the duke’s mind forever of the fear of a reunion of the lovers. To this plan the cold-blooded duke assented.

Meanwhile a merry group of Milanese gallants, planning a trick to try the famous patience of Candido, went to his shop and examined his wares, particularly a bolt of lawn at eighteen shillings the yard. When asked the length desired, one of them ordered only a pennyworth and insisted that it be cut from the middle of the piece, thereby ruining the entire bolt. To this fantastic order Candido acceded, to the fury of his wife. But the unruffled Candido served the gallants with wine and even remained calm when one of them walked off with a silver-gilt beaker. He quietly sent for the constable, got his goblet returned, and then invited the gentlemen to dinner.

After the dinner the gentlemen went to the house of a harlot named Bellafront, where they were joined by Hippolito and Matheo. Count Hippolito had never visited the house before and, still in a melancholy mood, he left after a few moments. When he returned to fetch Matheo, he found all the gentlemen gone and Bellafront alone. She immediately fell in love with him, but all she got in return was a long diatribe on the evils of prostitution. Repulsed, she tried to stab herself but was prevented by Hippolito, whose love she vowed to win at any cost.

The attempts to break the patience of Candido continued, as Fustigo put into execution the plan of pretending to be Viola’s lover. But the trick miscarried: Candido refused to be offended by his wife’s behavior. His loyal apprentices, not knowing the true situation, gave Fustigo a thorough drubbing. Next, the baffled Viola locked up his formal gown, so that, when he was summoned to a meeting of the city Senate, he lacked the proper clothes to wear. But the imperturbable Candido fashioned a gown out of a tablecloth. Wearing this and with a nightcap on his head, he went to the meeting.

Meanwhile Bellafront, chastened by her love for Hippolito, had resolved to give up her shameless life, and so had turned all the gallants out of her house. Her first seducer had been Matheo, who ironically told her that an honest whore is an impossibility. Still determined to win Hippolito’s love, Bellafront gained entrance to his house in the disguise of a page. There she found the count gazing at a picture of the supposedly dead Infelice. When Bellafront revealed her identity, he rudely repulsed her again, and she resolved to leave Milan. As she left the house, Hippolito received a note from the duke’s physician asking for an interview.

During these events, the drubbed Fustigo had hired two bullies to take revenge upon Candido’s...

(The entire section is 1,220 words.)