Triangle (or Triplicity) of Cuckolds, The

Thomas Dekker (1598)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 44v (Greg I.84)

lent vnto Thomas dowton & Robarte [Jube] shaw &
[wm] edwarde Jewebey the j of marche 1598 to bye a boocke
of mr dickers called the treplesetie of cockowlles
the some of fyve powndes I saye lent . . . vll


Philip Henslowe's papers in the Dulwich College Library

List of playbooks

Greg, Papers (APX. I, art. i, p. 121, col. 1, l. 198)

A Note of all suche bookes as belong to the Stocke, and such as I have bought since the 3d of March 1598
Treangell cockowlls.

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's Men would have performed the play in the Rose Theatre, although no performance dates are recorded.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The play likely dramatized three marriages, and the title implies that three husbands are cuckolded. Wiggins, Catalogue (#1113) suggests as an analogue "the fifteenth-century Italian commedia dell'arte scenario of Li tre becchi (The Three Cuckolds)," in which two old husbands are cuckolded by each other, and the wife of a third has an affair with a younger man. Wiggins also suggests that a neater "triangle" would involve all three husbands having an affair with the wife of another.

It may also be possible that the "triplicity" involved three kinds of cuckolds. In the comic pamphlet Tarltons newes out of Purgatorie (1590), this triple categorization is delineated in "The tale of the three Cuckolds, of their impreses and mottoes." The narrator in Purgatory sees three unpunished men on high thrones above whom hang three shields and three sentences: "One and One," "None and one," and "One and none" (sig. D2v). A ghost tells their respective stories and explains their heraldry. The first man had a beautiful wife and chooses to ignore her adultery: his shield bears a ram whose horn covers his eyes, along with the Ciceronian motto "Non solum pro nobis. Meaning, that as we are not borne for our selues, but for our Country, so he did not marry a wife for himselfe, but for his neighbours" (sig. D3r-v). The second believed his wife to be chaste although she was not: his emblem is a goat, who does not know itself to have horns, and his motto "Crede quod habes & Habes. Meaning that a mans content stands as his beleeuing is" (sig. D3v). The third suspected his beautiful wife of adultery despite her true fidelity and led "his hellish life in the labirinth of Iealousie." His shield depicts an ass who thinks his long ears to be horns, and his motto is "Ne mulieri credas, ne mortua quidem. Meaning, that what faire shewe soeuer a woman doeth beare of honestie, yet there is no credite to be giuen vnto her coynesse" (sig. D4r). Perhaps Dekker's play included these three different kinds of cuckolds in the same plot.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Greg II (#129, p. 191) notes that the "words triplicity and triangle seems to have been more or less synonymous."

Knutson (43) categorizes the play among the Admiral's offerings treating "the social evils of domestic life."

Wiggins, Catalogue (#1113) notes the possible commedia dell'arte parallel (see above) and its possible resonance with The Merry Wives of Windsor.

For What It's Worth

(Content welcome.)

Works Cited

[Armin, Robert?] Tarltons newes out of Purgatorie. London, 1590. STC 23685.
Knutson, Roslyn Lander. The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company 1594–1613. Fayetteville: The University of Alabama Press, 1991.

Site created and maintained by Misha Teramura, University of Toronto; updated 13 June 2017.