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Gammer Gurton's Needle


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AT: Dyccon/Diccon of Bedlam A: Anon. (probably William Stevenson) Pf: pre-1575, Cambridge Pb: 1562–3 G: Com. in 5 acts; rhyming verse S: Before the homes of Gammer Gurton and Dame Chat in an English village, mid-16th c. C: 6m, 4f, extrasWhile mending the breeches of Hodge, her servant, Gammer Gurton has lost her precious needle. Consternation reigns at this loss, and everyone in the household joins in the search. Diccon the Bedlam, a wandering fool, pretends that the needle has been stolen by Dame Chat, a gossip. Diccon then angers Dame Chat by telling her that Gammer Gurton has accused her of stealing her cock. When Gammer arrives at Dame Chat's to demand her needle back, misunderstandings ensue, ending with Chat soundly beating Gammer and Hodge. In her pursuit of justice, Gammer sends for Doctor Rat, the curate. Diccon helpfully shows Rat where he can hide in Chat's house. Chat, believing that Hodge has entered her house to steal her chickens mistakenly beats the unfortunate Rat. Finally, Bailey, the clerk, discovers that Diccon has been behind all the misunderstandings, and, when Hodge is slapped on the backside, his cry of pain reveals that the needle is still in his breeches.

AT: Dyccon/Diccon of Bedlam A: Anon. (probably William Stevenson) Pf: pre-1575, Cambridge Pb: 1562–3 G: Com. in 5 acts; rhyming verse S: Before the homes of Gammer Gurton and Dame Chat in an English village, mid-16th c. C: 6m, 4f, extras

Ralph Roister Doister and Gammer Gurton's Needle represent the two earliest extant comedies of English theatre, although there were comic episodes in the earlier mystery plays. Like Udall's play, Gammer Gurton derives much from Roman comedy: the five-act structure, the setting before two neighbouring houses, the interfering servant figure (here a wandering fool). But Diccon, like Merrygreek, owes a great deal to the Vice character of the English morality play, and in other respects there is an even stronger native English quality than in Ralph Roister Doister. This is due not only to the authentic Tudor characters but above all to their robust colloquial language.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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