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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2073

First produced: c. 1606

First published: 1607

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Romantic comedy

Time of work: Early seventeenth century

Locale: Milan

Principal Characters:

Oriana, a beautiful, witty, young girl

The Duke Of Milan, in love with Oriana

Count Valore, Oriana's brother

Gondarino, general of Milan, the woman-hater

Arrigo, a courtier

Lucio, a lord

Lazarillo, a glutton

A Mercer

A Panderer

Julia, a prostitute


In this play Beaumont, possibly with some assistance from Fletcher, attempted to do more than could be successfully accomplished in one work. The result is a comedy which has some good moments, but which contains much undigested material. Gondarino, who gives the play its title, is a character of Jonsonian humours who is motivated solely by a pathological hatred of women. Little is done with him, however; at the end of the play he remains unregenerate, a speaker of satirical truth in his anti-feminine attitude. Lazarillo, whose only aim in life is the consumption of rare delicacies of the table, is a Gondarino on a different level. In spite of his foolishness, he carries about him such an air of genial absurdity that his punishment, marriage to a prostitute, seems unduly harsh. Oriana is an emancipated woman—beautiful, witty, bold, yet honest as well. However, with an almost incredible stupidity she allows Gondarino to maneuver her into a highly compromising position. In addition, the play also presents satirical glances at the stupidity of middle-class citizens, the affectations of courtiers, and the dishonesty of the lower class. The plot, unfortunately, is not constructed with sufficient care to carry all the burdens placed upon it.

The Story:

Wandering the streets late at night with Arrigo and Lucio, the Duke of Milan discussed various affairs of state and talked about his personal life. That day he had been presented with the head of an umbrana, a rare and delicious fish, and he had ordered it sent to Gondarino. More important, he confessed his love for Oriana, a maiden whom he had seen but never spoken with.

Although the Duke's passion was still a closely guarded secret, the news of the umbrana's head had spread abroad. It was of particular concern to Lazarillo, a courtier whose consuming passion was food. Every day Lazarillo's boy scoured the court for information concerning novel dishes to be served at the various tables, and Lazarillo exercised his wits to secure an invitation to share the most appetizing. When Lazarillo learned that umbrana was available, he was beside himself; unfortunately, however, he did not know that the Duke had already given away the fish's head.

Valore, meanwhile, was doing everything in his power to persuade his sister Oriana not to present herself at court. Because she was only fifteen and had no experience in the world, Valore feared that the temptations of the court would override her good judgment. But Oriana was determined, and, after hearing her brother's warnings, she set out. Valore, left at loose ends, was glad to see Lazarillo approaching because he could count on being amused by the glutton's foibles.

Lazarillo quickly declined Valore's invitation to dine—he was after bigger game. His real business was to ask Valore to present him that morning to the Duke, from whom he hoped to extract in some manner an invitation to dinner. Valore was quite willing to make the presentation, but in order to increase the sport he ordered a professional intelligencer who happened to be at hand to shadow Lazarillo and to report any of his treasonable utterances to Lucio. While Valore was giving the spy these secret instructions, Lazarillo's boy learned that the fish's head was now to be found at Gondarino's house. Agreeing to meet Valore there later, Lazarillo hurried off in pursuit of a dinner invitation.

But Gondarino, having no use for the delicacy, had sent it off to his mercer, to whom he owed money, as a mollification. Gondarino, like Lazarillo, was ruled by one consuming passion, in his case a complete aversion to women. He was horrified, therefore, when a sudden hailstorm caused Oriana to take refuge in his house. He cursed her, reviled her, insulted her, not realizing that Oriana, who knew his reputation as a woman hater, had sought out his house deliberately in order to plague him. She answered his violence only with pleasantries. Oriana was not the only one who had been caught outdoors in the hailstorm, however; before long the Duke, Arrigo, and Lucio also made their way to Gondarino's house. Gondarino immediately petitioned to have Oriana removed, but the Duke, startled to find Oriana present, began to suspect that she had visited Gondarino for no virtuous purpose and that his host's bluster was feigned in an attempt to conceal a clandestine love affair. After a prolonged consultation with Arrigo and Lucio, the Duke decided to reserve judgment.

Meanwhile, Valore and Lazarillo also appeared, Lazarillo having sent his boy into the kitchens to inquire after the umbrana's head. Valore presented Lazarillo to the Duke, who received him cordially and even did him the honor of inviting him to dinner. Lazarillo declined, not wishing to be separated from the delicacy he had his heart set upon. Soon after the Duke's departure, however, Lazarillo was informed that the head was again missing. Once more he set out to track it down, Valore going with him. Oriana remained behind, vowing that she would dine with Gondarino; the more he protested, the more she resolved to pretend love for him in order to torment him.

Oriana was using all of her wiles on the woman hater when her campaign was interrupted by the return of the Duke, who was much distressed by his suspicions. After Oriana had left the room, he began to question Gondarino closely about his relationship with the girl. Gondarino, taking this opportunity to be revenged upon the troublesome baggage, swore to the Duke that all of his suspicions were true—that Oriana was a prostitute who had forced him to yield to her after she had pursued him for a long time. Believing, yet wishing to disbelieve, the Duke rushed out; but Gondarino's plans for Oriana were not yet terminated. When she reappeared, he pretended to have fallen in love with her. Having revealed that he had slandered her to the Duke, he swore to set matters straight again, and offered her a private house to which she could retire until the Duke should once more regard her with favor. Completely taken in, Oriana agreed.

During this time Valore and Lazarillo had reached the court, where they discussed the matter of the missing umbrana in detail and at last received a report from the boy that it was to be found at Gondarino's mercer's house. Lazarillo hurried off again. Unknown to him, Valore's intelligencers had copied down bits and snatches of his words in such a way that they constituted evidence for high treason. They, in turn, hastened to Lucio to report.

In the meantime Gondarino's mercer, a man with a foolish respect for learning but not the slightest idea of what true learning was, discussed with a panderer the possibility of obtaining a bride for himself. The panderer, who had disguised himself as a scholar, had convinced the mercer that he could, by means of his art, arrange a match with an heiress. That very afternoon, he promised, the mercer's bride would be compelled by magic to appear at the panderer's house, and in order that she should be the less noticed as she was drawn irresistibly through the streets she would be dressed in a white waistcoat and torn stockings. Actually this woman was to be one of the panderer's stable of prostitutes. Just as the man was about to depart, the umbrana's head arrived from Gondarino; and the mercer, as a mark of favor, gave it to the panderer. Lazarillo, arriving a few moments later, learned the fish's new destination and set off after it again.

At the court Valore, closeted with the Duke, defended his sister's reputation while Gondarino waited outside the Duke's chambers with more lies to blacken it still further. When the two confronted each other, Gondarino offered to take Valore and the Duke to a place where Oriana's unchastity would be proved. Thus all parties began to converge upon a bagnio to which Gondarino had sent Oriana without her knowledge—the mercer to claim his bride, Lazarillo to seek the umbrana's head, and Gondarino, Valore, and the Duke to find out the truth about Oriana.

The mercer was the first to arrive. Having been assured by the panderer that the heiress waited within, he entered. Lazarillo next appeared upon the scene; he recognized the house for what it was, but, his appetite being stronger than his virtue, he also entered. He had just secured from Julia, a prostitute, an invitation to a supper at which the coveted fish's head was to be served when he was arrested for treason by the intelligencers. As he was dragged away, he promised Julia marriage if she would only save the umbrana until his return. Finally, the Duke, Valore, and Gondarino arrived and caught sight of Oriana at an upper window of the house. The sight of her was almost enough to convince the Duke. When Gondarino hailed her, however, she replied by asking leave to write Valore for her release.

The three noblemen returned to the palace, where a hot argument ensued. It was ultimately decided that Oriana's virtue would be put to a final test; if she failed it, she would die. As the Duke, Valore, and Gondarino watched from a concealed gallery, Arrigo confronted Oriana with the information that she was held guilty of unchastity and had been condemned to death. Oriana protested her innocence, but Arrigo was firm—she had been judged and she must die. Yet there was one way in which she could preserve her life; she could lie with Arrigo, who had the power to save her. When Oriana indignantly refused, declaring that she preferred death to dishonor, the Duke emerged from his hiding place to claim her for his bride. Gondarino was punished by being bound in a chair, helpless while, under Oriana's supervision, he was kissed and fondled by the ladies of the court.

Lazarillo, meanwhile, had been condemned by Lucio but pardoned through Valore's intervention. He returned to the bagnio, took Julia to the priest, and finally feasted on the umbrana's head. The mercer married the woman the panderer had produced. Thus he was taught the lesson that no man can be learned without labor.

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:

The usual thrust of romantic comedy—the boy meets girl theme—is in THE WOMAN HATER subordinated to the humours of the two main characters: the misogyny of Gondarino and the gluttony of Lazarillo. Their characters, however, are not sufficiently developed. Gondarino has no motivation for his extreme hatred of women (he calls Oriana, who is a stranger to him, a "filthy impudent whore," simply because she is a woman) beyond a mere hint that his dead wife had cuckolded him. Lazarillo, on the other hand, is less a glutton than a hyperbolic lover of rare and delicious foods; he is the most humorous of all the characters in the play. His anticipation of eating the umbrana's head leads him to personify it as a pure virgin—but he ends up marrying a prostitute in order to have his delicacy.

THE WOMAN HATER touches on the issue of the subjugation of the lower classes by the upper classes; Julia, the prostitute who marries Lazarillo in order to better herself, bitterly complains that she and her kind are but "apes" to the upper class. The main issue in the play, however, is men's subjugation of women.

Although the play may be considered pro-feminist, it contains a subtle anti-feminism which is even more sinister than the blatant misogyny of Gondarino. The Duke, who is a woman lover, believes it is her "nature / To wish to taste that which is most forbidden," a bias based on the Edenic myth. And Valore, also an ostensible woman lover, feels that his sister has risen "above" her sex in remaining chaste. Although Oriana insists that she has "shew'd my sexe the better," it is the Duke who has the last word, celebrating the triumph of "True love," to end the play harmoniously, in true comic fashion.

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