Further Critical Evaluation of the Work, Part 1 (Masterplots)

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482

Although THE HONEST WHORE, PART ONE, taken as a whole, is not a typical comedy of humors, some of its characters display the peculiarities common to the type. Indeed, the advertisement from the title page of the play—“With the Humors of the Patient Man and the Longing Wife”—identifies two characters who suffer from a form of psychological unbalance. Unlike Ben Jonson’s comedy of humors, in which the afflicted persons’ unbalance often approaches madness, the humors characters in this play appear to suffer milder derangements.

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The chief example from the subplot is Candido, the linen draper, whose patience—a Christian virtue usually considered admirable—is exaggerated to the point of stubborn eccentricity. Although Candido has “no more gall in him than a dove, no more sting than an ant,” he is rewarded for his meek forbearance with abuse instead of kindness. Candido’s problem is that his patient apathy torments his shrewish wife Viola, who is driven nearly lunatic in her futile attempts to rouse him. As the “longing wife,” Viola’s humor is rage. Nettled, she is ready to bite off her own tongue “because it wants that virtue which all women’s tongues have, to anger their husbands.” Count Hippolito, the protagonist from the main plot, also suffers early in the play from a humor, that of the “tyrant melancholy.” As a dour moralist, he lectures the whore Bellafront on her vice until he reforms her character. Sourly he listens to and rejects her protestations of love. In spite of his otherwise attractive quality as the faithful lover of Infelice, the count is—to modern readers—far too sober a hero to deserve the fullest sympathy.

The strength of the play is, however, in its plot rather than its characters. Complexly structured, THE HONEST WHORE, PART ONE has three distinct actions which are ingeniously entangled and finally unified. In the main plot, Count Hippolito seeks to wed Infelice. Opposed by her father, the Duke of Milan, Hippolito succeeds in his endeavor by overcoming obstacles that, in ROMEO AND JULIET, had proved tragic to the lovers. Though in the first act Infelice appears to be dead, she has merely been drugged. In the high subplot Bellafront, a harlot, first confounds her many lovers and later is driven desperate herself for love of Hippolito. She eventually marries her first seducer, Matheo. In the low subplot Candido, the model of patience, vexes his wife and is in turn persecuted by her. All the plots converge in the triumphant concluding scene at Bethlem Monastery (the madhouse). All the characters are revealed for what they are—virtuous and wise, or vicious and foolish. The ending, undeniably sentimental and pat, is difficult to accept as realistic. But the play, despite a few realistic scenes in the draper’s shop, is essentially a romantic entertainment and is meant to be amusingly heartwarming, not perfectly logical.

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Further Critical Evaluation of the Work, Part 2 (Masterplots)