Blind Eats Many a Fly, The

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Thomas Heywood (1603)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe’s Diary)

F. 118 (Greg I.185)

Pd vnto Thomas hewode the 24 novmber
160[3]2 in parte of payment of his playe called
the blinde eates many a flye the some of …… iijli

F. 118v (Greg I.186)

Lent vnto the companye the 15 of desember
1602 to paye vnto Thomas hewode Jn parte
of paymente for his playe called the blinde
eates many a fley the some of …… xxxs

Lent vnto the companye the 7 of Janewary 1602
to paye nvto mr hawode in fulle payment for
his playe called the blinde eates many a flye
the some of …… xxxs

Theatrical Provenance

The play belonged to Worcester’s Men, who leased the Rose playhouse in August 1602 where they played through May 1603.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Fleay, at the entry for "The Blind Eats Many a Fly'," referred readers to Heywood's English Traveler (BCED, 1.291), but in the entry for that play he says nothing of "The Blind Eats Many a Fly" (BCED, 1.297-8).

Greg repeated Fleay’s association of the play with “The English Traveler” but dismissed it: "I see no reasonable possibility of identifying" the two plays (II.#274, pp. 233-4). Observing also that the title of "Blind" is a proverbial phrase (he cites "Bewar therefore; the blind et many a fly"), he mentioned a ballad by Lydgate which has a refrain "'warning men to beware of deceitful women’."

Wiggins suggests that the proverbial phrase might have produced a play "centred on a series of accidents or of gullings" (#1382). He notes that the proverb suggests persons "unable to foresee or prevent" "unwelcome circumstances"; he also offers a fairly literal interpretation in which a blind person can't see "unappetising but harmless" trash (such as a spider) in his food.

For What It's Worth

A ballad called “The Blynd eates many a Flye; or, The Broken Damsel made whole” Roxburgh Ballads EBBA tells the story of a young country girl, pregnant by a local boy, who goes to London and finds “a Master” (l.3), an old, rich widower. The widower woos her ardently, but she holds him off with false claims that she has both wealth and suitors awaiting her at home. Undeterred, he signs a set of articles whereby he cannot see a dowry from her father, call her children bastards to lift a charge of cuckoldry from himself, and become jealous if she parties with other men. With this protection in place, the pair call for a priest and are married. Three days later, the new wife is brought to bed with twins, a boy and girl. The husband protests to the midwife, who brushes him off, reminding him that he now has a young wife and an heir, so he should be satisfied. The couple travel into the country, where the husband learns that his wife has grossly misrepresented her background. Nonetheless he accepts his fate: “I married you in haste and speed, but may repent at leisure./ The Blind, I see, catch many a Flie, and I must be contented” (ll. st. 12, ll. 2-3). The song ends with a jest that Londoners send broken goods to the country, but the country sends broken lasses to the city, where they “be made whole again” (st.14, l.6).

Works Cited

Roxburgh Ballads, Chappell ed., vol. 8, pp. 683-5 Internet Archive.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas, Little Rock; updated, 11 April 2016.