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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 562

Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton is a play about couples who fall in and out of love with each other. The play is a tragedy and was published in the 1600s.

Leantio is newly married to Bianca, the daughter of a wealthy family. Leantio is not wealthy; this creates...

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Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton is a play about couples who fall in and out of love with each other. The play is a tragedy and was published in the 1600s.

Leantio is newly married to Bianca, the daughter of a wealthy family. Leantio is not wealthy; this creates insecurity for him over the relationship. Leantio's mother is also concerned about Bianca's former wealthy situation and thinks that Bianca might not be happy living with her and her son. Leantio tells his mother that they have to keep Bianca hidden because, otherwise, men might fall for her and then he would lose her. When he leaves to go to work, Bianca is sad but somewhat cheered by a religious procession she sees passing by. In it, she sees the Duke of Florence, and readers can tell that they are both intrigued by each other.

Nearby, two wealthy families are discussing the potential marriage of Ward and Isabella. Ward is immature and uncouth; Isabella wants nothing to do with him. Her aunt, Livia, and father, Fabricio, are both representing her in the marriage discussions. Her uncle, Hippolito, is in love with Isabella, and they are very close. However for Isabella, it is only friendship. She is very upset when she finds out that he is in love with her. Livia has a different reaction; she tells Hippolito she will help him woo Isabella. She tells Isabella that she was born of an affair and is not related by blood to Hippolito. Isabella and Hippolito begin an affair, though she does not change her plans to marry Ward.

Livia also gets involved in the relationship between the Duke of Florence and Bianca. She invites Leantio's mother over and gets her to discuss Bianca, who the Duke still does not know the identity of. When Bianca comes over, she is introduced to the Duke, who immediately attempts to woo her. She gives into him begrudgingly when he says that she cannot refuse, because he is more powerful. While she somewhat enjoys her time with him, she is still furious that Livia set her up.

Once Leantio comes home, he knows something is wrong. He is not sure what it is until his family is dining with the Duke and Bianca leaves with him. The power dynamic is such that he cannot protest. Meanwhile, Livia sees Leantio and immediately falls in love with him, offering to be his mistress.

The affairs continue until Leantio mocks Bianca and the Duke finds out about the affair between Leantio and Livia. The Duke and Hippolito decide that to protect Livia, Leantio needs to die. The Duke also thinks it is a good idea because then Bianca will be free to marry him. Leantio dies, and, in her grief, Livia tells Isabella that she lied—Isabella has been in an incestuous relationship with Hippolito.

When a masquerade is held to celebrate the Duke of Florence's impending marriage, the scheming finally reaches its zenith. Hippolito is shot with poison arrows and impales himself on a sword. Isabella poisons her aunt with incense and is killed by Livia when liquid gold is poured on her. Bianca plans to poison the Cardinal, as she thinks that he is planning to supplant the Duke. However, the Duke drinks the poison. In distress, she kisses the dead Duke and then finishes his poisoned drink.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 963

Leantio, a Florentine merchant’s clerk, marries Bianca, a beautiful and well-born Venetian, and brings her to his mother’s house. On her arrival there, she responds graciously to his mother’s words of welcome and speaks of her love for Leantio. He, in turn, informs his mother of Bianca’s luxurious background and of his inability to equal it. He explains also that Bianca is a great prize who must be kept hidden from other men’s eyes. His mother fears that Bianca will be discontented with her new and poorer home.

In a richer house, Livia entertains her brother Fabricio, the father of Isabella, and Guardiano, the uncle of a rich and foolish boy called the Ward. They discuss the proposed marriage between the Ward and Isabella. Livia, protesting against loveless marriages, lectures Fabricio on man’s unfaithfulness and woman’s obedience and declares that she will never remarry. When Isabella is sent for, Fabricio declares that her uncle Hippolito will surely follow her in her married state because they are as inseparable as links in a chain. Isabella’s ideals, especially her ideas on marriage, are in marked contrast to the Ward’s foolishness and vulgarity. She dreads marriage to him and regards it as slavery. This is her explanation to Livia, who sends Hippolito to comfort her. At that time, Isabella’s conscious feelings toward her uncle are those of deep friendship. Unaware at the time of any sexual attraction toward him, she is horrified and sadly leaves him when he tells her he loves her as a man loves his wife.

When Leantio finally leaves Bianca at his mother’s house and returns to his work, Bianca weeps bitterly. She is distracted from her grief by the noise and excitement of the annual religious procession to the cathedral. Deeply impressed by the noble bearing of the duke of Florence, Bianca is sure that he notices her as she watches him passing by.

Meanwhile, Hippolito tells Livia of his love for Isabella and of her reaction, and Livia promises to procure Isabella as his mistress. When Isabella confides her unhappiness to Livia, her aunt takes the opportunity to tell her that Hippolito is not her uncle, that she is in fact the child of Fabricio’s wife by a Spanish nobleman. She insists, however, that Isabella keep this matter a secret, because Fabricio and Hippolito are ignorant of it. Thus Isabella welcomes Hippolito with a kiss when he returns and he marvels at Livia’s skill. Isabella decides that she will still marry the Ward to conceal her love affair with Hippolito.

Guardiano tells Livia that the duke of Florence is enamored of a girl he saw on the balcony of Leantio’s mother’s house. Livia undertakes to win her for the duke and summons Leantio’s mother for a game of chess. Under pressure, the mother admits that she has a daughter-in-law in her home, and Bianca is sent for. She is taken on a tour of the house by Guardiano, who thus leads her to the duke.

While the duke speaks of his passion for her, Bianca pleads for her honor, virtue, and safety. The duke, continuing his token pleading, intimates to Bianca that she does not have the power to refuse him. When she returns to the two chess players, Bianca is half pleased by the duke but also eager to have revenge on Livia.

At home, Bianca’s ensuing frustration and discontent infuriate her mother-in-law, who is glad that Leantio will soon return. On his arrival, Leantio anticipates an ecstatic reunion with his wife, but he is greeted coldly by Bianca and angrily repulsed. Before long, Bianca is sent for by the duke and goes to the palace with Leantio’s mother. Left alone, Leantio abandons himself to jealousy, but he fails to realize the extent of his betrayal until he, too, is summoned to dine with the duke.

When offered the command of a distant city, Leantio is as powerless to refuse as he is to disrupt the affair between his wife and her noble lover, and he is forced to stand by when Bianca, bored by the banquet, leaves with the duke.

Livia, who fell in love at first sight with Leantio, is determined to woo him from his grief. When she indirectly offers herself as his mistress, he accepts because of the wealth and luxury she promises. Some weeks later, Leantio visits Bianca in her apartment at the court, and they jeer at each other’s finery and new place in the world. Bianca tells the duke of her husband’s visit and discloses that he became Livia’s lover. Jealous of Leantio, the duke informs Hippolito, who, as the ruler expects, threatens to kill his sister’s lover to preserve publicly Livia’s honor.

The duke’s pleasure at the idea of Leantio’s death increases when his brother, the cardinal, threatens him with the fires of hell if he continues to live adulterously. Vowing that he will reform, he decides that with Leantio dead he can lawfully marry Bianca, so Leantio is murdered. Livia, finding Hippolito with her lover’s body is driven almost to madness by grief, fury, and malice. She betrays him and Isabella and admits that she lied to Isabella about her parentage to make her Hippolito’s mistress. Isabella, who transgressed, unlike the others, through ignorance, resolves to leave Hippolito and avenge herself by destroying Livia.

The separate revenges plotted by these people result in their own deaths. At a masque held ostensibly in honor of the duke’s marriage to Bianca, poisoned incense kills Isabella and Livia. Hippolito stabs himself, and Bianca has the duke poisoned and then drinks also from the poisoned cup.

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