(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Matthew Merrygreeke, a happy young rascal who likens himself to the grasshopper of the fable, often has fun and money at the expense of Ralph Roister Doister, a well-to-do, doltish young man who brags long and loud of his bravery but fails to act anything but the coward when called to action. In addition, Ralph Roister Doister imagines himself in love with every woman he meets, and he swears each time he falls in love that he cannot live without the woman who most lately catches his eye. One day, meeting Merrygreeke on the street, he asserts that he is now madly in love with Dame Christian Custance, a widow reported to be wealthy. She captivates Roister Doister when he sees her at supper. Merrygreeke, anxious to please the man he constantly gulls, agrees to help Roister Doister pursue his suit. He assures the foolish braggart that the widow is certain to accept him and that Roister Doister ought really to try to marry someone of higher station and greater fortune.

Merrygreeke goes for musicians to serenade Dame Custance, while Roister Doister waits in front of the widow’s home. As he waits, three of the widow’s servant women come from the house and talk and sing. When they notice Roister Doister, he comes up, talks to them, and tries to kiss them. After talking with them for a time, Roister Doister gives them a love letter to deliver to their mistress. He boasts that he wrote it himself.

Given the letter by her serving-woman, Dame Custance is furious. She reminds her servants that she is an honorable woman, affianced to Gawin Goodluck, who is for some months on a sea voyage. Dame Custance refuses to break the seal of the letter, much less read it. Meanwhile, to further his suit, Roister Doister sends his servant to the widow’s house with some love gifts, a ring and a token in a cloth. The young servant, after some trouble, convinces the widow’s serving-women to take the gifts to their mistress, even though she was angry at receiving the letter.

Handed the gifts, the widow becomes even angrier, lectures her servants on their conduct, and finally sends a boy to find the man who delivered the gifts to her house. Merrygreeke, after many a laugh over what happened during Roister Doister’s suit, finally goes to Dame Custance and reveals his scheme for gulling Roister Doister. The widow says she would never...

(The entire section is 960 words.)