Medicine for a Curst Wife, A
Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe’s Diary)
(for the Admiral's Men:)
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
(for Worcester's Men:)
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
A Medicine for a Curst Wife was commissioned in July 1602 for the Lord Admiral's Men at The Fortune, but by August the play had apparently been transferred to the Earl of Worcester’s Men who then were occupying Henslowe’s Rose playhouse. Between 19 July and 2 September Dekker was paid a total of £10, and then on 27 September 1602 he was given 10s "over & a bove his price".
The leading members of Worcester's company who almost certainly acted in A Medicine for a Curst Wife were Will Kempe, Thomas Heywood, Richard Perkins, Christopher Beeston, John Lowin, John Duke, John Thare and Robert Pallant.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
Although the concept of beating an unruly or shrewish wife, sometimes specifically with a cudgel (as for instance in Tom Tyler), predates Dekker, I can find no instance in various references of the cudgel or beating being regarded metaphorically as a ‘medicine’ or a ‘cure’ with the shrewishness as a plague or disease prior to the episode in Dekker, Chettle and Haughton’s Patient Grissel. There the Welsh knight Sir Owen vows to subdue his headstrong bride Gwenthyan with a cudgel made of bound wands. In the end it is of course Sir Owen who learns to be patient.
from Patient Grissel, V. ii.
- 29-30 …Rees pring/ the wandes here…
- 32-33 … I will learne your medicines to tame shrews.
- 223-5 Rees the wandes Rees, your/ medicines and fine trigs to tame shrews.
- … where be the wandes I bound up?
- 229-30 … winde them and mag good/ mightie cudgel, to tame and knog her Latie, and she prawl
According to Hoy (citing also W. L. Halstead and D. M. Greene) it appears that Haughton not Dekker wrote the Welsh episodes in the play, although the final scene (V.ii) may contain the work of all three authors. But even if Dekker did not compose this passage he must have been familiar with it.
The following tale from Thomas Dekker's The Rauens Almanacke (1609) cannot of course be the source for his play of 1602 but as Pendry and Wiggins note (see Critical Commentary below), it appears that Dekker recycled part of his play into this tale.
- 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 growing from bad into worse) cast aside 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 nostrils, 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 Cap is 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 EEBO-TCP or from The Non-dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. A. B. Grosart
References to the Play
None known beyond the payments in Henslowe's Diary (see under Historical Records), and the implied reference in Dekker's probable reuse of material from the play (See under Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues, and 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)
Henslowe's Diary throws light on the composition and authorship of [Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew], as will appear by the following entries [lists the Henslowe payments for A Medicine for a Curst Wife]… Collier appends the following note[s]… "This 'medicine for a curst wife' was probably some new version of the Taming of a Shrew which preceded Shakespeare's comedy… On the 27th of September, Dekker was paid 10s. over and above his price for the "Medicine for a curst wife…" The entry to which Collier refers… reads thus : " Pd unto Thomas Deckers, the 27 of Septmbr 1602 over and above his price of his boocke called a Medysen for a curste wiffe some of ten shillings." It appears therefore that Dekker not only received from the hard-fisted Henslowe a good price for his clever comedy, but he opened his purse-strings to the amount of ten shillings more as a gift to Dekker in consequence of the great success of the play. Is Collier right in his opinion that this was a version of the old Taming of a Shrew, and am I right in asking the reader to believe with me that this costly comedy of Dekker's was the comedy which appeared in the Folio of 1623 as a Shakespeare play, revised and amended, however, by another hand?
I support my belief that Dekker's "Medicine for a curst wife" is the "Taming of the Shrew," as found with amendments and additions in the Shakespeare plays, for the following reasons: The ejaculations, familiar expressions and phrases are such as Dekker habitually used, and they are not found, at least to any extent, in the writings of other dramatists of that era. The ejaculations are as follows: "A vengeance on; aye, prithee, Fie, fie, Gramercies; God-a-mercy; O, pardon me; O, this woodcock; Tush, tush." The phrases are as follows : "A meacock wretch ; Belike (twice used); By this light; Get you hence (twice used); God give him joy; God send you joy; Here's no knavery; I am undone; I charge you in the Duke's name; imprimis (twice used); In brief (twice used); Lead apes in hell; Nay, I have ta'en you napping; Of his signs and tokens; Old worshipful; Old master; Pitchers have ears; Resolve me that; Take heed; 'Tis passing good; Where be these knaves." The words used only once in the plays and also used by Dekker are, "coney-catched, logger-headed, o'erreach, metaphysics, mother-wit."
All these ejaculations, expressions, and words are found in Fortunatus, Satiro-mastix, The Shoemakers' Holiday, and the Honest Whore. A most remarkable phrase of identification is found in the first act and first scene. Dekker was fond of using Latin sentences, and he aired his Latin in his prose and poetry whenever he could get an opportunity. In his Belman's Night Walk he quoted the following from the Eunuch of Terence, "Redime te captumquam queas minimo," and so to make a rhyme, he puts into the mouth of Tranio, in the Shakespeare play, Act 1, Scene 1, the following: " If love have touched you, nought remains but so, Redime te captum quam queas minimo." Dekker can also be traced in the Induction. " Paucas pallabris" was a favorite expression of his. See the Roaring Girl, Act 5, Scene 1. "Go by, says Jeronimo," he was fond of quoting. "I'll not budge an inch, boy" is repeated in the Honest Whore; and the expression, "But I would be loth" is also used by Dekker in Act 2, Scene 2, of Fortunatus.
The style of the writer is the style of Dekker. Take for instance the first words of Grumio, in the hall in Petruchio's Country-house as set out in Scene 1 of Act 4: "Gru.—Fie, fie, on all tired jades, on all mad masters, and all foul ways! Was ever man so beaten? was ever man so rayed? was ever man so weary? I am sent before to make a fire, and they are coming after to warm them. Now, were not I a little pot, and soon hot, my very lips might freeze to my teeth, my tongue to the roof of my mouth, my heart in my belly, ere I should come to a fire to thaw me; but, I, with blowing the fire, shall warm myself, for, considering the weather, a taller man than I will take cold. Holla, hoa! Curtis!" There are in the play of Patient Grissel, written by Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton, several allusions to the taming of shrews. I cite one. In Act 5, Scene 2, Sir Onan, producing his wards, says to the Marquess ' 'I will learn your medicines to tame shrews." This play was printed in 1603, and the expression is remarkable because Henslowe's Diary shows, as heretofore set out, that Dekker in the summer of 1602 received money from Henslowe on account of the comedy he was writing, called by the illiterate manager " A medicine for a curst wife." While Dekker should have credit for the composition of the major part of the Taming of the Shrew, I can not help thinking that the man who wrote the Venus and Adonis amended the Induction to this play and smoothed the rough portions of it. Dekker was a hasty and careless writer, and every reader of his works will agree with me that he was always in need of a literary polisher. (381-5)
PLOT: A happy cobbler marries a woman who turns out to be a troublesome, scolding wife. and is unreasonably jealous of his female customers. Now an unhappy cobbler, he visits the local doctor with a sample of his urine. The doctor pronounces him entirely healthy, but he protests that he has a plague sore. The doctor is mortified that he has failed to diagnose the ailment, but reassured when taken to meet the metaphorical ‘sore’. [sic – the cobbler brings his wife to the doctor not the doctor to the wife.] He prescribes a thrashing for the wife, and provides a cudgel for the purpose. The medicine proves effective and the shrew is tamed.
The reconstruction rests on the hypothesis that Dekker re-used the plot in one of his tales in The Raven’s Almanac (1609; sigs C2v-C4v). The coincidence of medical terminology is persuasive. (IV, No. 1356)
For What It's Worth
(text to come)
Thomas Dekker. Works v1
Thomas Dekker. The RAVENS Almanacke Foretelling of a [brace] Plague, Famine, and Ciuill Warre, That shall happen this present yeare 1609, not only within this Kingdome of Great Britaine, but also in France, Germany, Spaine, & other parts of Christendome : With certaine remedies, rules, and receipts, how to preuent or at least to abate the edge of these vniuersall Clamities. London: Printed by E.A. for Thomas Archer, and are to bee solde at his shop in the Popes-head-pallace nere the Royall Exchange, 1609.
Pendry, E. D., ed. Thomas Dekker: Selected Prose Writings. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968
Stotsenburg, John Hawley. An Impartial Study of the Shakespeare Title. Louisville: John P Morton Co., 1904.
Site created and maintained by William Lloyd; updated 18 April 2016.