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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 739

John Fletcher’s Jacobean comedy Rule a Wife, Have a Wife focuses on the power dynamics of two couples. Set near Medina in Spain at the time of the kingdom’s wars with the Dutch republic, the play begins with an encounter between Perez, an officer of the Spanish army, and Estifania,...

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John Fletcher’s Jacobean comedy Rule a Wife, Have a Wife focuses on the power dynamics of two couples. Set near Medina in Spain at the time of the kingdom’s wars with the Dutch republic, the play begins with an encounter between Perez, an officer of the Spanish army, and Estifania, a mysterious veiled lady to whom he is very much attracted. On discovering that she owns a large and well appointed house and is therefore rich as well as attractive, Perez proposes to Estifania, and is accepted by her.

Meanwhile, Perez’s friend Don Juan was busy interviewing candidates to be officers in the Spanish army. He came across Leon, a strong and experienced soldier who was nonetheless highly stupid and incompetent. This makes him perfect for Margarita, the plays fourth principle character, a rich and beautiful heiress from a nearby town whose primary requirement in a husband is being foolish enough to miss her infidelities.

Leon and Margarita’s courtship takes them to the door of Estifania’s house, where the latter is enjoying a wonderful honeymoon with Perez. While Perez is angered by the interruption, his wife informs him that Margarita, who is her cousin, is trying to trick Leon into believing she is richer than she is so that he will marry her. She convinces him that they both should leave the house temporarily so that the deception can take place.

With Perez out of the way, Margarita reveals that she, in fact, owns the house, and she proceeds to organize and deliver a lavish party to which she invites a great many men, including the Duke of Medina. However, Leon reappears midway through the feast, having shed his air of stupidity, roaring to anyone who will listen that he won’t tolerate his wife’s behavior. A fight almost ensues between the duke and Leon at this point, the former being angered by the foiling of his plans with Margarita.

Perez, having found out about his wife’s true identity, then comes storming into the feast hall, complaining that she has stolen all his possessions. After Margarita admits the truth of this, Perez sets off to punish Estifania for her deception. When he finds her, however, Estifania convinces him that Margarita’s house is indeed his, and that he should return their to claim it.

With Perez gone again, Estifania turns her attention to selling her husband’s various possessions which, while worthless, she is able to sell for good money to a usurer called Cacafogo. Her strategy in achieving this is to convince the usurer, who is in love with Margarita, that they are Margarita’s possessions, and that any money raised will go toward liberating her from Leon.

Meanwhile, the duke seeks to get Leon out of the way by commanding him to go to Flanders as a cavalry officer. Margareta likes this notion, but she makes a show of being upset, bemoaning that she can hardly endure being separated so soon from her husband. Leon, however, checks the duke by arranging to have his wife and all her property brought with him to his post, at which point Margarita panics, claims unconvincingly that she is pregnant, and then bequeaths her property to Perez in a show of spite—though by this point, Leon, as her husband, is able to stop her from doing so.

Perez, foiled again and now angrier than ever, chases Estifania with a sword, intending to put an end to her, but she threatens to shoot him and he backs down. On being shown the money she has obtained in exchange for his possessions, he realizes how intelligent she is and decides to make the best of a bad job in his marriage.

Meanwhile, the Duke and the unfortunate Cacafogo arrive at Margarita’s house to seduce her. Cacafogo wanders into the wine cellar, where he becomes very drunk, and begins bellowing loudly. Margarita tricks the Duke into believing that this bellowing is the sound of Satan coming to claim him as punishment for his wanton deeds. Ashamed and scared, the duke brings his pursuit of Margarita to an end.

The play has a happy ending of sorts, with both couples having found a dynamic which works for them, Margarita submitting to Leon and Perez to Estifania. Nonetheless, Fletcher’s skeptical asides throughout the play suggest that such arrangements are not quite to the playwright’s liking.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1276

As they were discussing the gathering of their companies for the Dutch wars, Michael Perez and Don Juan de Castro were interrupted by two veiled ladies, one of whom desired Don Juan to carry a message to a kinsman serving in Flanders. Perez was much attracted by her companion, and the lady seemed equally drawn to him. In spite of his pleas, however, she would not open her veil, although she did instruct him to have his servant follow her to learn the location of her home and to call there later himself. This was done, and Perez was overjoyed to find that the lady, Estifania, was not only lovely but also the owner of a magnificent town house beautifully adorned with hangings and plate. Perez proposed on the spot and to his delight was accepted. Don Juan, meanwhile, was interviewing Leon, a young man recommended to him as an officer. Although he was strong and handsome and had seen previous service, Leon revealed himself to be the most incredible ass. When he showed himself to be both cowardly and immeasurably stupid, Don Juan dismissed him with little encouragement.

In the country nearby, Margarita, a beautiful young heiress, was making preparations to return to town. She had but one object in view—pleasure—and she declared herself not at all adverse to a bit of wantonness if it should come her way. On the advice of Altea, her gentlewoman, she had decided that her reputation could be best protected if she married a foolish and complaisant man who would wink at her infidelities. In fact, Altea had just the man in mind, a fellow who was presentable enough but who had no more brains than an oyster and no sense of honor whatever. The man was Leon. When Margarita interviewed him she found him perfect for the role he was supposed to play, and she decided to wed him at once. She did not hear Leon whisper to Altea that he was a thousand crowns in her debt.

Margarita’s sudden appearance in the city was welcomed by all the gallants, but it interrupted the idyllic honeymoon of Perez and Estifania. The soldier was reveling in the possession of his bride’s mansion when Margarita and her entourage arrived at the door. Estifania did not seem altogether surprised; she pacified Perez by telling him that Margarita was a poor cousin trying to make the gentleman who accompanied her believe that she was rich in order to have him propose. The scheme made it necessary for Estifania and Perez to move into temporary quarters for a few days so that the ruse could be carried out. After Perez had left, the relationship between Estifania and Margarita became clear. Far from being a poor cousin, Margarita was the mistress and Estifania only the maid. It was Perez who had been thoroughly gulled.

Again in possession of her house, Margarita wasted no time. New hangings were placed in the rooms, couches were arranged in strategic locations, a magnificent dinner was prepared, and a company of gallants, including Don Juan and the Duke of Medina, in whom Margarita was especially interested, were invited to enjoy the feasting and entertainment.

The party was just beginning when Leon appeared, his air of stupidity and fecklessness entirely gone. Proudly he informed the guests that he was Margarita’s husband and master and that he intended to protect his honor to the utmost. Margarita was infuriated, but Leon quickly silenced her. The Duke, too, was sorely displeased that his plans for Margarita had gone so suddenly awry, and he angrily drew upon Leon. But the young man was quite ready to fight, and only Don Juan’s intercession restored calm and won a grudging apology from the Duke. Don Juan, in fact, was enchanted to see Leon’s sudden transformation.

The guests were going fairly amicably in to dinner when Perez burst in. From some women in his new lodging he had heard the truth about Estifania, and he had also learned that he was not the first husband she had cozened. Moreover, she had disappeared with all his possessions.

Having had the women’s story confirmed by Margarita, Perez hurried away again, determined to find Estifania and punish her. But when he met her on the street, Estifania was as angry as he; she had attempted to pawn his treasures and had learned that they were all false. In the mutual tongue-lashing that followed, Estifania emerged the winner. Having sent Perez back to Margarita’s house again, convinced that it was really his, she began to improve their fortunes by selling Perez’s worthless trinkets to Cacafogo for many times their value. She told him that they were Margarita’s possessions which her mistress was sacrificing so that she could raise money to escape from Leon.

The Duke had ideas of his own about separating the husband and wife: he had Don Juan deliver to Leon a commission to command a troop of horse and orders to leave for Flanders immediately. When she heard of this plan, Margarita protested, tongue in cheek, that she hardly could bear to be left by her new husband whom she was just coming to love. If only she could accompany him, she sighed, but that, of course, was impossible. At the most ardent point of her discourse she heard the sound of hammers. Leon had checked the Duke’s maneuver neatly. He intended to take with him to Flanders not only Margarita but also the complete furnishing of the house so that he could live like a gentleman in the garrison. As a last resort Margarita pleaded that she was pregnant, but Leon calmly reminded her that since they had been married only four days the news was somewhat too sudden to be credible. In spite of the protests of the gallants who were present, Leon remained firm; Margarita would accompany him. In a pique, Margarita gave the house and furnishings to Perez, who had by that time arrived to claim the possessions he believed his own, but Leon was so little troubled by this action that Margarita, almost in spite of herself, was compelled to express her admiration for him. Consequently, the gift was withdrawn, and Perez again was gulled.

Angered beyond measure, he once more sought out Estifania. This time he drew his sword to kill her, but she stopped him by covering him with a pistol. She then took the edge off his wrath by presenting him with the thousand ducats out of which she had gulled Cacafogo. Realizing that there were shortcomings on both sides of the match and that his wife was a great deal cleverer than he, Perez decided that he ought to make the best of his bargain.

Meanwhile, both the Duke and Cacafogo arrived independently to pay suit to Margarita. The usurer was diverted into the wine cellar, where he soon became drunk. The Duke, having gained entry to the house by pretending to be wounded in a duel, soon found a chance to be alone with her, but his passionate speeches were interrupted by Cacafogo’s drunken roaring from the cellar, a noise which, at Margarita’s suggestion, he took to be a devil haunting him because of his evil purpose. Half afraid and thoroughly ashamed by the lady’s virtuous replies, he became utterly discomfited and renounced his suit for good. This development completely satisfied Leon, who had overheard everything that was said. All ended happily as the bride and groom, now completely in love with each other, invited Perez and Estifania to take service with them.

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