Women Beware Women

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A tragedy by T. Middleton, published posthumously in 1657.

Set in Florence, the action involves two interwoven plots. The sub‐plot is concerned with the guilty love of Hippolito for his niece Isabella.

The main plot is loosely based on the life of the historical Bianca Cappello, who became the mistress, and then the consort, of Francesco de' Medici (1541–87). In Middleton's version, she is at the opening of the play innocently but secretly married to Leantio, a merchant's clerk. The duke sees her at a window and falls in love with her: in Act ii, ii, while Livia outwits Leantio's mother at chess (a scene invoked by T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land), the duke gains access to Bianca and seduces her. Thereafter both she and Leantio are plunged into the corruption of the court. Bianca becomes the duke's mistress: the duke, reproved by the cardinal, his brother, for his sin, contrives the death of Leantio, who has sworn everlasting enmity to Bianca, and accepted both financial and amorous compensation for her loss. These various crimes, in the last act, meet with retribution in a wholesale massacre of the characters, through the theatrical medium of a masque accompanied by poisoned incense: Bianca destroys herself by drinking deliberately from a poisoned cup.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Thomas Middleton (1580—1627) playwright

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