Medicine for a Curst Wife, A

Thomas Dekker (1602)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe’s Diary)

F. 107 (Greg I.169)

Lent vnto Thomas downton & edwarde
Jewbe to geue vnto Thomas deckers in
earnest of A comody called A medysen
for A cvrste wife … 19 of July 1602 … xxxxs

Lent vnto thomas downton the 31 of July
1602 to paye vnto [hary chettell] Thomas
deckers in parte of payment of his comody
called a medyssen for a cvrste wife …
the some of … xxxxs

F. 115 (Greg I.179)

Layd owt more for the company in parte of payment
for a boocke called medsen for a cvrst wiffe
the some of … xs
vnto thomas deckers …

F. 115v (Greg I.180)

pd at the a poynment of the company
the 1 of september 1602 in parte of payment
for a comody called a medysen for a
cvrste wife to thomas deckers some of … iiijli

pd at the apoyntment the [of] companye
the 2 of september 1602 in full payment
for a comody called a medysen for a
cvrste wife to thomas deckers some of … xxxs

F. 116 (Greg I.181)

pd vnto thomas deckers the 27 of september 1602
over & a bove his price of his boocke called a
medysen for a cvrste wife some of … xs

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's Men paid Thomas Dekker £10 in the Summer of 1602 for the comedy A Medicine for a Curst Wife. It was presumably acted at the Fortune theatre. On 27 September 1602 Dekker was given 10s "over & a bove his price".

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

(prefatory comments to come)

A Medicine to cure the Plague of a womans tongue, experimented on a Coblers wife.

A Mery Cobler there was, (dwelling at Ware) who for ioy that he mended mens broken & corrupted soles, did continually sing, so that his shop seemed a verrie bird cage, & he sitting there in his foule linnen and greasie Apron, shewed like a black bird. It was this poore Sowters destiny not to be hang'd, but (worse then that) to be marryed: & to what creature thinke you? to a faire, to a young to a neate delicate coūtrie Lasse, that for her good partes was able to put downe all Ware: but with all this honny that flowed in her, did there drop such aboundance of gal and poison from her Scorpiō-like tongue, that monsieur Shoo-mender wished his life were set vpon the shortest last, and a thousand times a day was ready to dye Caesars death: O valiant Cordwaynerland to stab himselfe not with a bodkin, but with his furious Awle, because hée knew that would goe through stitch: hee neuer tooke vp the endes of his threed, but he wished those to bee the endes of his threed of life: he neuer parde his patches, but hee wished his knife to be the sheeres of the fatall Sisters three, hee neuer handled his Ball of waxe but he compared them to this wife, & sighed to think that he that touches pitch, must be defiled.

Now did his songs as heauily come from him as musick does from a Fidler, when in a Tauerne he plaies for nothing. Now did signeur Cobler stand no more on his pantofles, but at his shutting in of shop, could haue bene content to haue had all his neighbours haue throwne his olde shooes after him when hee went home, in signe of good lucke.

But alas, hee durst not doe that neither, for shee that plaide the Deuill in womans apparell (his wife I meane) made her Caualero Cobler, to giue her account euerie night of euerie patch that went through his fingers. In this purgatorie did our graduate in the Gentle craft liue a long time, but at lenght he was thrust into hell, for his wife (not following the steps of her husband, who was euer on the mending hand, but grow∣ing from bad into worse) cast asde her Wedding stockings, & drew on a paire of yellow hose: then was my miserable Cobler more narrowly watched thē a Mouse by a Cat, or a debter by a Catch-pole: he durst not vnlock his lippes after a Wēch, but his teeth were ready to flie out of his head wt her beating: to haue touched any Petticoate but his wife was more dangerous then for a Cat to eate fire: if any maide brought but her shooes to mending, his wife swore presently that hee had the length of her foote, and that he sowed loue-stitches into euerie peece, though it were no bigger then a Chandlers token.

Wearied therefore with this (worse then a beare-baiting) and being almost worne to the bare-bones, his heart fretting out euen to the elbowes by rubbing vp and downe in this miserie, At the length my braue boote-haler sifted his wits to the verie bran, for some hooke to fasten into his wiues nost∣rils, and the pill which he founde either to choake her or purge her, was this:

A Doctor of whome all Ware was affraid, because the Uicar of the towne suck'd more sweetnesse out of his Patients whome he sent to him (by reason all that came vnder his hands, went the way of al flesh (then out of all his tithe-Pigs) hapned to dwell close by this distressed Cobler: to him (hauing saued his water ouer night) repaires my reformer of decayed Shoo-leather, betimes in the morning. The Bonjour being giuen and returned, the Coblers water was looked into, much tossing and tumbling of it there was for a prettie while, and at last it was demaunded whose the Urine should bee? Mine (quoth the Cobler) So it may be replyed our Galenist, for I spie neither any disease swimming about thy body in this water, and thy verry lookes shew that thou art sound: Sound, (cries out the infected Cobler) alas sir I see now that some diseases haue power to make dunces of Doctors themselues, Sound (quoth a) why sir I am sicke at heart, I am struck with the Plague, I haue a Plague sore vppon mee (your Doctors Capis not able to couer it, tis so broade) it eates and spreds more and more into my flesh, and if you apply not some presēt remedie, Ware must & shall trudge to some other, whē their olde shooes want mending, for the Cobler's but a deade man.

At this the Doctor stood amazed, and wondred that his skil should shoote so wide as not to finde out a greefe so commō, so dangerous and so palpable: wherupon hee bidding the Cobler to open his brest, and not to feare to shew him that Plaguesore, where of hee so complained: the Cobler presently tolde him hee would but steppe foorth of doores, and at his return he should see it: at length the Cobler comes backe againe with his wife borne on his backe like a Sowe new scalded on the backe of a Butcher, and for all her kicking, rayling, cursing and swearing, yet to the Doctor hee came with her, crying looke you heere Maister Doctor, this is my plaguesore that so torments mee: in the night it keepes mee from sleepe, in the day it makes me madde: in my bed this serpent stings me, at my boord shee stabs mee, and all with one weapon (her villanous tongue, her damnable tongue) If I reply she fights: if I say nothing shee raues: if you call not this a plague Maister Doctor, then such a plague light on you Maister Doctor teach me therefore how to cure it, or else if you giue me ouer I shall grow desperate and cut mine owne throate.

The Doctor at this laughed, the Coblers wi[f]e rayled, the Cobler himselfe bid her lye still, & held her so long till a number of his neighbors came about him to beholde this seeane of mirth: all of them (knowing how dangerously the Cobler was infected with this mariage-plague, desiring the Doctor to play the right phisitian, and to cure their neighbour. The Doctor heereupon swore hee would doe it, and stepping into his study hee returned immediately with a paper in one hand, & a faire cudgell in the other, deliuering both to the Cobler, protesting that neither Gallen, Auarois, nor Hippocrates can prescribe any other remedie then this, and that if this medicine cure not the womās euill, nothing can[.] The Cobler hauing neither the wrighting nor reading tongue, requested the Doctor to reade the receipt, as for the cudgell he vnderstood that well enough.

The paper therefore after a solemne O yes by all the standers by was read, & contained thus much:
Take this salue Cobler for thy Plague-sore,
A crabbed cudgell fits a froward Whore,
Beate her well and thriftily:
Whilst she cries out lustily:
Neuer let thy hand giue ore,
Till she sweares to scolde no more.

At the end of this, the Audience gaue a plauditie, in token they liked well of the Doctors phisicke: the Cobler thanked him, and thus insteede of an Epilogue spake to his neighbors, neighbors (qd, he) you know, & I know, nay the deuil himselfe knowes, that my wife hath stucke vppon mee like a Plague thus many yeares, to apply either the sirrop of a Salt Eele, or the oile of holly to her shoulders, I heatherto was affraide, because I had no warrant that a man might lawfullye beate his wife.

But now sithence Maister Doctor, (who wears not a veluet night cap for nothing) hauing turned ouer his bookes, findes that no hearbe, mineral, salue, nor plaister, no purging nor any other blood-letting will cure or take out that worme vnder a womās tongue, (which makes her mad) but onely a soūd beating: I will (God willing) giue her the dyet hee sets downe, & if euer I complaine hereafter to any Phisition for the griefe of this plague, let all Ware laugh at me for an asse, & swear that my wife-weares the breeches. Upon this resolution brauely does the Cobler march home, his wife (like a furie) following, railing, reuiling and casting dirt and stones, aswell at him as at the youthes of the parish that went showting after her heeles. But being within dores and the lockes made fast by my valiāt Cobler, her tongue serued as a drum or trumpet to soūd an allarum, whilst my braue desper view prepared for the onset with a good bastinado: the assault was not so furious, but the Coblers wife was as ready to receiue it: to the skirmish fall they pell mell, the Coblers Coxecombe, being first broken, but he being no Welchman (to faint at sight of his owne blood) so plide his businesse, and so thrash'd out all the Chaffe in his wife (who was nothing but Rye) that in the end she fell on her knees, cried for the crums of the Coblers mercy, & fed vpon them hūgerly he liuing euer after more quietly for her scolding, then if hee had dwelt in a Steeple full of bels, that had lost their claps.

Thus much for the vniuersall plagues, that threaten our kingdome this present yeare 1609. Now let vs arme our heads to beare of the other miseries that are ready and must (by decree in the vpper house in the heauenly parliament) full vpon mankinde.

from The Non-dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. A. B. Grosart OR from EEBO-TCP

References to the Play

<List any known or conjectured references to the lost play here.>

Critical Commentary

Of the three tales ‘A Medicine’…may derive from a play, since in Henslowe’s Diary we read of a comedy entitled A Medicine for a Curst Wife for which Dekker received payments between 31st July and 27th September 1602 amounting to the impressive total of ten guineas – of which the last ten shillings was over and above his price. The story, if not the play, is related to The Taming of the Shrew in resembling a considerable body of folk-tales recommending the violent treatment of unruly wives. (318)

For What It's Worth

<Enter any miscellaneous points that may be relevant, but don't fit into the above categories. This is the best place for highly conjectural thoughts.>

Works Cited

Pendry, E. D., ed. Thomas Dekker: Selected Prose Writings. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968

Site created and maintained by William Lloyd; updated 14 April 2015.