Women Beware Women

by Thomas Middleton

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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