Benjamin Jonson



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Captain Bobadill is a cowardly braggart, who pretends to have exceptional skill in fencing. He lodges at Cob's house but, according to Cob, his tenant is behind with the rent and owes him some money for tobacco. At Cob's house, Bobadill receives Mathew, who invites him to a party in town. While Bobadill is getting dressed, the conversation veers towards the Spanish fencing masters and Bobadill makes a demonstration of his skill in fencing using a bed-staff for a sword. Bobadill exits with Mathew to the city. At the Windmill Tavern in the Old Jewry, Bobadill enters with Mathew and Wellbred. The other gallants enter and Bobadill boasts his exploits in the battle with the Moors. Bobadill exits with the gallants. At Kitely's house, Bobadill enters with Wellbred's party and eventually gives Cob a good beating for having spoken against tobacco. When Downright insults the gallants, Bobadill draws his sword eagerly, but makes himself scarce, like the others, when Kitely enters. At Moorfields, Bobadill enters with the gallants, boasting his fencing exploits, but retires in disgrace when Downright disarms and beats him. In a street, Bobadill enters with Mathew. Seeing Brainworm disguised in Formal's clothes, the two pay him to procure them a warrant for Downright's arrest. Later, Bobadill and Mathew see Brainworm disguised as a Sergeant, who tells them he has a warrant for Downright's arrest. Bobadill and Mathew attend the scene of Stephen's mistaken arrest, and then follow the entire party to the judge. In the revelation scene before Justice Clement, Bobadill enters apparently to complain against Downright. When he discovers Brainworm's many disguises, Bobadill remains sensibly silent, lest his own cowardice might be detected.


Brainworm is Knowell's servant, whose character is the finding out of things with the purpose of fooling everybody, but he is fooled in the end himself. In a street before Knowell's house in London, Brainworm opens the door to his master, who arrived to visit his supposedly studious son. Brainworm sees that Knowell intercepted a letter addressed to his son, and promises to deliver it to Edward Knowell as if it had never been opened. However, when he gives the letter to the son, Brainworm tells him his father has read it and is very angry about its contents. At Moorfields, Brainworm enters disguised as a maimed soldier and introduces himself to Knowell as Fitz-Sword, pretending to serve him faithfully. In fact, the servant intends to learn the father's plans and reveal them to his son. At Kitely's house, Brainworm enters disguised in Formal's clothes, pretending to summon Kitely to a meeting with Justice Clement. When Kitely exits, Wellbred congratulates Brainworm on his disguise, telling him to deliver a message to Edward Knowell. Still in Formal's clothes, Brainworm meets Mathew and Bobadill, who pay the supposed clerk to procure them a warrant for Downright's arrest. Brainworm enters disguised as a city sergeant, telling Mathew and Bobadill he has a warrant to arrest Downright. When Downright enters, Brainworm/Sergeant pretends to arrest him. The entire party goes before Justice Clement. In the final scene, Brainworm's multiple disguises, and his treachery towards Knowell, are revealed. He is repentant and forgiven.


Bridget is Kitely's sister. She lives in her brother's house and is courted by Mathew, but ends by marrying Edward Knowell. At Kitely's house in the Old Jewry, Bridget enters with Dame Kitely and the party of gallants. While Mathew is courting her ardently, Bridget plays him down, mocking him covertly. At the same time, however, she might show silent signs of acceptance to Edward Knowell, who is present at the party. When Downright insults the gallants and the men draw swords, Bridget and Dame Kitely call for help. When Kitely enters and the gallants disperse, Bridget stands up to her brother, defending one special gentleman, later to be identified as Edward Knowell. When Kitely tells her he must be her lover, Bridget does not deny. Moreover, she warns him that he may be prepared to pay her dowry sooner than he thinks. Bridget exits with Dame Kitely. At Kitely's house, Bridget is at dinner with her brother, his wife, and Wellbred. When Kitely is lured away on a false pretext, Wellbred tries to convince Bridget that Edward Knowell loves her and she should marry him. Lured by Wellbred's promise of marriage with Edward Knowell, Bridget exits accompanied by her brother-in-law to a secret assignation with her lover. In the final reconciliation scene, Bridget is brought with Edward Knowell before the judge, where they are officially united, with their families' consent. Bridget is silent during this scene, but it is understood that she is blushing.


Only mentioned. Hieronymo de Caranza was a famous sixteenth-century Spanish fencing master. He was the first fencing master to describe the "mysterious circle," the rapier's choreographed movement along a sophisticated pattern of chords and diameters. In his 1569 book, De la philosophia de las armas (On the Philosophy of Arms), Caranza argues that fencing is not mere physical exercise, nor is it even a necessary skill for a chivalrous gentleman. According to Caranza, the use of the sword implied an entire philosophy, an alchemical distillation of Christian mysticism and newly re-discovered classical science. At Bobadill's lodgings, the braggart and the foolish Mathew speak admiringly of the play The Spanish Tragedy, featuring a character named Hieronymo. Then, the discussion veers towards fencing. Bobadill boasts that he can teach Mathew the best methods for infallible coups warranted by the great Caranza himself. Bobadill gives a fencing demonstration on the spot and promises Mathew that, following his instructions, he will be able to control the enemy's point and kill him instantly.


Thomas Cash is Kitely's cashier and confidence man. According to Kitely, the merchant raised the foundling boy deposited at his door as if he were his son. Kitely christened him by his first name, Thomas, and the surname Cash, suggesting his trade. At Kitely's house in the Old Jewry, Cash enters following his master and Downright. After receiving instructions from Kitely regarding the business, Cash exits to run some errands. At Kitely's warehouse, Cash enters with Kitely, reporting the business of the day to his master. When Kitely asks him to keep an eye on his wife while he is away, Cash promises to do so. However, it seems that Cash is lamentably inefficient in this watchdog activity. While the gallants are with the ladies, Cash is mostly out of the room, and he only enters during the brawl when the ladies cry out for help. When Kitely enters, however, he finds Cash trying to part the fighters. Like a devoted man of confidence, Cash informs Kitely that Bridget admires Edward Knowell. When Kitely is summoned on a false pretext, Cash is brought in to guard the ladies, but he ends in accompanying Dame Kitely to Cob's house. It seems that Cash's allegiance lies more with his mistress than with his benefactor. It is understood that Cash attends the confusion scene happening before Cob's house and goes with the entire party before the judge, where all differences find a good resolution.


Justice Clement is an old merry magistrate who lives in Coleman Street and likes to impart facetious justice. According to Wellbred, he is a city judge and a good lawyer, also a great scholar, but the only mad merry old fellow in Europe. Edward Knowell reports he has heard about many of his pranks at university. It seems that Justice Clement would commit a man for riding his horse, or wearing the cloak on one shoulder, or serving God. At his house in Coleman Street, Justice Clement enters with Knowell followed by his clerk. Showing his whimsical character, Justice Clement decides that Cob should go to prison for having spoken against tobacco and, the next moment, he rules against it, deciding to give Cob a warrant for Bobadill's arrest. Seeing Knowell downhearted because of his son's frivolity, Justice Clement tries to comfort him, telling the father that this is not a real reason to worry and things should be allowed to run their course. Justice Clement exits with Knowell to have a cup of sack. In the final revelation scene, when all the cases are brought before the judge, Justice Clement hears all the parties involved, and so all the disguises and misunderstandings are revealed. Showing his bonhomie in setting things right, Justice Clement also proves to be a fine connoisseur of poetry, since he recognizes that Mathew's verses are plagiarized. Justice Clement has the final speech in the play, inviting everyone to a celebration of friendship, love, and laughter. His name may have been suggested by the London legal institution of Clement's Inn.


Oliver Cob is a water bearer and Tib's husband. Bobadill lives in his house as a lodger. Cob is a loquacious character, always ready to share his homespun philosophy with his interlocutors. At Kitely's house, Cob enters with his tankard to deliver the water for the household. After emitting some of his witticisms concerning the maids' immorality, Cob exits. Cob re-enters with his tankard for his afternoon delivery and sees the gallants smoking. Cob speaks vehemently against tobacco, which attracts Bobadill's anger and a good beating. At Justice Clement's house, Cob enters with Kitely, reporting on the party of gallants at the merchant's house. When Kitely exits abruptly, Cob is contaminated with the merchant's jealousy and reveals his suspicion that Tib seems to treat their lodger Bobadill too gently. When Justice Clement enters, Cob complains against being beaten and requires a warrant for Bobadill's arrest. Though narrowly escaping another beating, Cob finally obtains his warrant from the capricious judge. In a lane before his house, Cob enters and knocks at his own door, calling for Tib. When his wife opens the door, he accuses her of immorality and shows her the warrant against Bobadill. Cob instructs Tib to go inside the house and lock the door. Cob re-enters to find Dame Kitely, Knowell, and Kitely before his house. Each is accusing the other of adultery, and Kitely tells Cob that Tib is the bawd who encouraged the illicit assignations. Cob beats his wife and then joins the party of misguided people, all intending to take their case before the judge. In the final scene before Justice Clement, Cob is reconciled with his wife and declares that she is honest.


Only mentioned. It is said that king Copethua or Cophetua of Africa fell in love with a beggar-girl, and married her. In Kitely's kitchen, Cob delivers one of his lectures, drawing on his homespun philosophy, regarding the insufficiency of feasting days. He complains that the poor cobs, his family lineage, become martyrs on such days. Cob tells Cash that the maids at Kitely's house knew he descended from a family of cobs and yet they gave him a herring to eat. Pulling the red herring out of his pocket, Cob tells it he has no heart to devour it for all the riches in the world, be he made as rich as King Copethua.


"Ghost characters." The Venetian courtesans are symbols of temptation and depravity. Knowell follows his son to Moorfields, where Edward Knowell intended to attend a hunting match. In an aside, the angry father deplores the younger generation's dissolute ways, while extolling his stern methods of education. Knowell says he is not like other fathers, who wanted to acquaint their sons with the ways of the world and they took them to the Venetian courtesans before they were sixteen. Apparently, this kind of sexual initiation was a common practice among well-to-do fathers, who wanted their sons to taste of the illicit pleasures of life at an early age, in order to be able to avoid them later.


Dame Kitely is Kitely's wife, Wellbred's sister, and Downright's half-sister. At Kitely's house in the Old Jewry, Dame Kitely enters to invite her husband to breakfast. Kitely says in an aside that she must have overheard him express his suspicions regarding the bad influence of so many gallants visiting the house on his wife's morality. After showing great care concerning her husband's health, Dame Kitely exits. At Kitely's house, Dame Kitely enters with Downright. While the squire shows his displeasure at her accepting so many gallants in the house, Dame Kitely exculpates herself saying that the gallants are Wellbred's friends and she cannot put herself against half a dozen men. When the gallants enter, Dame Kitely attends the scene of Mathew's ardent courtship of Bridget and the ensuing brawl. When Kitely enters and the gallants disperse, Dame Kitely takes Bridget's part in the conflict between Kitely and his sister, and then exits with Bridget. At Kitely's house, Dame Kitely is at dinner with her husband, Bridget, and Wellbred. When Kitely is lured outside under a false pretext, Wellbred insinuates that his brother-in-law frequents a camouflaged brothel at Cob's house. Dame Kitely's jealousy is aroused and she exits to check things out. Before Cob's house, Dame Kitely enters and finds Knowell already there. Dame Kitely asks Tib, above at the window, if her husband is in there, while Knowell thinks she is his son's mistress. When Kitely enters, his wife accuses him of adultery, while Kitely thinks Knowell is his wife's lover. The entire party of misled people exits to take their case before the judge. In the final scene before Justice Clement, Dame Kitely is reconciled with her husband and both see that their unfounded jealousy has obscured their clear understanding.


George Downright, a "plain squire," is Wellbred and Dame Kitely's half brother. He is dissatisfied with the fact that Wellbred brings his gallant friends to his brother-in-law's house. At Kitely's house in the Old Jewry, Downright enters with Dame Kitely, reprimanding his sister for having allowed the gallants into her house. When the gallants enter, Downright is appalled at their frivolity and exits furiously, saying he can endure the stocks better than their conversation. Downright re-enters and tries to chase the gallants away provoking a scandal. When Kitely enters, the gallants disperse, and Downright exits soon after that, revolted at the ladies' defense of the frivolous young men. At Moorfields, Downright challenges Bobadill to a duel, but when the braggart hesitates, Downright disarms and beats Bobadill. In a street, Downright enters to find himself under arrest. Brainworm, disguised as a city Sergeant, pretends he has a warrant for his arrest, following a complaint from Bobadill and Mathew. Downright exits with the party to take their case before the judge. In the final revelation scene, Downright discovers Brainworm's disguises and the confusion created by Stephen wearing his cloak. When Justice Clement reprimands him for having been so foolish as to accept being arrested without seeing the warrant, Downright is silent for fear of seeming a gull.


Only mentioned. Sir Francis Drake (1543?-96) was the first Englishman to sail around the world. He also took a leading part in defeating the Great Armada sent by Spain to invade England. Drake's great voyage around the world, between 1577 and 1580, had the secret financial support of Queen Elizabeth I. On his return, he was warmly acclaimed, and Elizabeth honored him by dining on board his ship and by raising him to knighthood, though she knew this would infuriate the Spaniards. More than any other of England's bold privateers, Drake had helped to set England on the way to becoming the mistress of the seas. When Edward Knowell wants to persuade his cousin Stephen to accompany him to the Old Jewry in order to visit his gallant friends, he uses flattery to move the gullible Stephen. Thus, Edward Knowell says that a man of his cousin's stature should not conceal his resplendent qualities inside, but attempt to show them in society. Rather than let his cousin be discouraged by his natural shyness, Edward Knowell argues, Drake's old ship at Deptford may sooner circle the world again.


Edward Knowell is Knowell's spendthrift and frivolous son. At Knowell's house, Edward Knowell enters with Brainworm, who gives him a letter from Wellbred. Brainworm informs Edward Knowell that his father had read the letter, though he had been instructed to keep silent. Edward Knowell exits with his cousin Stephen to meet the party of gallants in the city. At the Windmill Tavern, Edward Knowell enters with Stephen. He informs Wellbred that his father had read the ill-fated letter inviting him to the tavern and was very displeased with his son's dissolute company. Brainworm enters disguised as Fitz-Sword, but he reveals his disguise, telling Edward Knowell that his father had been following him and was now waiting at Justice Clement's house for news about his son. Wellbred instructs Brainworm to stall Knowell until they think of a plan, and promises Edward Knowell to unite him with Bridget. Edward Knowell exits with the gallants. At Kitely' house, Edward Knowell enters with his party of gallants. During the conversation, Edward Knowell is rather silent, but it is understood that he is eyeing Bridget amorously. When Downright chases the gallants away and all men draw swords, Edward Knowell tries to pacify them, but he exits with the others when Kitely enters. It is understood that Edward Knowell meets Bridget secretly, an assignation arranged by Wellbred. In the final reconciliation scene, Edward Knowell is brought before Justice Clement together with Bridget. The judge blesses their union and promises to reconcile him with his father. Edward Knowell appreciates the judge's humanity and enjoys the final merriment.


A "ghost character." Fishmonger is Mathew's father. According to Cob, Mathew is the son of an honest fishmonger, but he spends his father's money on light entertainment in town with the gallants.


Brainworm disguises himself as a maimed soldier named Fitz-Sword. At Moorfields, Brainworm/Fitz-Sword enters and relates how he took Stephen's cloak, purse, and hat. When Edward Knowell and Stephen enter, Brainworm/Fitz-Sword eavesdrops on their conversation and hears Stephen complaining that he lost his purse. Brainworm/Fitz-Sword comes forward and tries to sell a pretended Toledo sword to the gullible Stephen. Brainworm/Fitz-Sword invents an interesting personality for his character, who is supposed to have fought in all the wars in Europe for fourteen years under the best commanders in Christendom. According to the soldier, he was twice shot in the battle of Aleppo and once in the battle of Vienna, and then was a slave in the galley. During his life as a slave, this fictional soldier was most dangerously shot in the head through the thighs, a medical impossibility but a valid reason for the soldier's being an invalid. Extolling the qualities of his Toledo sword, Brainworm/Fitz-Sword exits with Stephen to collect his money. Brainworm/Fitz-Sword re-enters when Knowell is musing on the younger generation's frivolity. While trying to ingratiate himself with the father, Brainworm/Fitz-Sword says in an aside that he intends to service Knowell, learn of his intentions, and then inform his young master. At the Windmill Tavern, Brainworm/Fitz-Sword enters to look for Edward Knowell. When the gallants reprimand him for having sold a fake Toledo sword to Stephen, the maimed soldier admits his fault. He then reveals his disguise to Edward Knowell, telling him that his father is displeased with his dissolute company. After receiving instructions to stall Knowell as long as he can, Brainworm/Fitz-Sword exits with the party of gallants.


Roger Formal is Justice Clement's clerk. At Justice Clement's house in Coleman Street, Formal enters following the judge and Knowell. Formal attends on Justice Clement and acts as an intermediary between the judge and his clients, transmitting directives in a formal manner. When Clement gets angry at Cob for having spoken against tobacco, he asks Formal about the rascal's name. In his imperturbable manner, Formal asks Cob about his name and relays the information to the judge. When, finally, Justice Clement's whimsical decision turns out to be in Cob's favor, Formal exits with Cob to give him the warrant for Bobadill's arrest. In a street in the Old Jewry, Formal enters with Knowell. Brainworm/Fitz-Sword enters and sends Knowell off, allegedly to surprise his son during some fictional assignation with a lady. It appears that Formal had been observing the maimed soldier's pose during his conversation with Knowell and, when the old man exits, Formal invites him for a cup of sack. Attracted by the soldier's battered appearance, Formal wants him to tell the story of his war exploits. From his obscure position as a city clerk, Formal likes to live the adventures vicariously, through the soldier's narrative. Formal exits with Brainworm/Fitz-Sword to the Windmill Tavern, but it transpires that the trickster gets Formal drunk and deprives him of his cloak, using it as a disguise. In the final revelation scene, Formal cuts a ridiculous figure when he appears dressed in a suit of armor. He says he remembers nothing, only that he woke up at the tavern in his underwear and the armor was the next best thing he could find by way of apparel. Despite his gullibility, it is understood that Formal participates in the final merriment.


Only mentioned. Gargantua is a character in Rabelais' romance Gargantua and Pantagruel (1533). Gargantua is famous for his gluttony and big belly. Mathew had a conflict with Downright in Fleet Street, and Bobadill is trying to create a duel situation. When Mathew and Bobadill enter Kitely's house, apparently looking for Wellbred, Bobadill insults Downright, calling him a scavenger. The squire is very furious at Bobadill, who runs away like a coward, while Kitely is trying to placate his brother-on-law. Seeing there is no point in behaving impulsively Downright vents his anger by abusing Bobadill in his absence. Thus, Downright says he is going to hurt Bobadill's barrel belly, which his Gargantua breech cannot carry. The allusion to Bobadill's obesity makes this character look even more ridiculous.


Only mentioned. Hannibal (247?-183? BC) was the son of the great Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. In 218 BC, he crossed the Pyrenees Mountains and crushed the Roman army. Hannibal's name has become synonymous with a brave general. However, Cob uses the name inappropriately. In Kitely's kitchen, Cob delivers one of his lectures, drawing on his homespun philosophy, regarding the insufficiency of feasting days. He complains that the poor cobs, his family lineage, become martyrs on such days. Cob tells Cash that the maids at Kitely's house knew he descended from a family of cobs and yet they gave him a herring to eat. Thus, Cob argues, the maids would have him turn "Hannibal" and eat his own flesh and blood. Cob uses the word inappropriately, since he means "Cannibal."


Only mentioned. Hieronymo is a character in Kyd's Spanish Tragedy. Mathew visits Bobadill at his lodgings and Mathew reads from Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, while Captain Bobadill is getting dressed. Seeing Mathew with a book in his hand, Bobadill wants to know what it is and he observes that it is The Spanish Tragedy, which he calls Hieronymo. The two admire the play's exquisite structure and poetry. Having two ridiculous characters evaluate the play, this tragedy's merit is ironically diminished by association with the foolish braggart and the gullible gallant.


Family name of Thomas and Dame Kitely.


Thomas Kitely is a London merchant who is jealous of his wife. At Kitely's house in the Old Jewry, Kitely enters with Cash and Downright. After dispatching Cash on some business errands, Kitely shows his displeasure at Wellbred's company of frivolous gallants. Dame Kitely enters and Kitely interprets her care for him as hypocrisy. However, Kitely seems distinctly aware of the new contagious disease of jealousy and its potential danger to his marriage. At his warehouse, Kitely enters with Cash, whom he instructs to keep an eye on his wife and the gallants during his absence, since he is called to the city on business. At Justice Clement's house, Kitely enters with Cob, who reports on the gallants' visit to his house. Hearing that Wellbred's friends are still there, Kitely hurries to his house. However, when he enters upon the brawl, the party disperses. Kitely reprimands his sister for her loose behavior and is displeased at her defense of a certain special gentlemen, whom he later identifies as Edward Knowell. At his house, Kitely is having dinner with his wife, his sister, and Wellbred. He is lured outside on a false pretext, but re-enters furiously, angry at having been deceived. In the meantime, his wife had left to Cob's house, inferring that her husband had a secret assignation there. Being under the impression that Dame Kitely was meeting her lover furtively, Kitely exits in a rage. Before Cob's house, Kitely enters to find Knowell and his wife there. While Dame Kitely accuses her husband of adultery, because she thought he was there for an assignation, Kitely thinks that Knowell was his wife's lover. Kitely exits with the entire party of misled people to take their case before the judge. In the final revelation scene, Kitely is reconciled with his wife and both see that their jealousy obscured their better judgment.


Family name of Edward and Old Knowell.


A "ghost character." Master Lucar is a jeweler in London. When Kitely gives business instructions to Cash, he tells him to take the key to the warehouse from his desk and make some deliveries. Kitely orders Cash to weigh the Spanish gold and see to the delivery of the silver stuff to Master Lucar. Cash is expected to discuss the price with Master Lucar and convey the message that the two merchants are supposed to meet on the Exchange presently.


Master Mathew is a town gull. In a lane before Cob's house, Mathew enters looking for Captain Bobadill's house. When he exits, Cob informs the audience that Mathew is the son of an honest fishmonger but he likes to spend his time with the city gallants in the Old Jewry district. According to Cob, Mathew is in love with Bridget, Kitely's sister, whom he calls his mistress and showers with flowery verses. At the Windmill Tavern in the Old Jewry, Mathew enters with Bobadill and Wellbred, continuing a discussion about honor. After much drinking and swearing, Mathew exits with the gallants. At Kitely's house, Mathew enters with his friends but soon retires from the room. He re-enters with Bridget and Bobadill, followed at a distance by the gallants. Mathew is courting Bridget, reciting romantic verses to her, which Edward Knowell identifies as having been plagiarized from Marlowe's Hero and Leander. During the brawl initiated by Downright, Mathew disappears. At Moorfields, Mathew enters with Edward Knowell, Bobadill, and Stephen. He narrowly escapes a beating from Downright, but hopes to take revenge. In a street in the Old Jewry, Mathew enters with Bobadill. Seeing Brainworm disguised in Formal's clothes, the two ask him to procure them a warrant for Downright's arrest. After pawning his earring to pay the false clerk, Mathew exits with Bobadill, hopeful that Downright will be punished. Later, Mathew and Bobadill see Brainworm disguised as a sergeant and witness what they think to be the scene of Downright's arrest. When the situation becomes confused, Mathew and Bobadill go before the judge to present their complaint. In the final revelation scene, when Brainworm's multiple disguises are disclosed, Mathew's stupidity becomes clear. Introduced by Wellbred as his sister's poet, Mathew's plagiarized verses are discovered and burned. Reduced to ashes, Mathew's pride, like his poetry, disappear in shame.


Knowell is a rich old gentleman who has high expectations regarding his son's education. At the door of his house, Knowell greets Brainworm, telling him to wake his young master. Stephen enters and Knowell lectures him on the benefits of thrift and moderate expenditure as against spending money on useless things. Servant enters delivering a letter addressed to Edward Knowell from his friend Wellbred, and Knowell opens it. Thus, the father learns that his supposedly studious son is invited to the Old Jewry to have fun with the gallants. Knowell decides to observe his son unawares and instructs Brainworm to give the letter to Edward Knowell as if it had never been opened. In an aside, Knowell admits he has decided to spy on his son and exits to fulfill his plan. At Moorfields, Knowell enters pursuing his son, and the father deplores the younger generation's dissolute ways. Brainworm enters disguised as a maimed soldier and offers his services to Knowell. Knowell exits followed by his new servant. At Justice Clement's house, Knowell enters with the judge. Since the father seems rather depressed because of his son's frivolity, Justice Clement tries to cheer him up, telling Knowell he has no real reason to worry. Knowell exits with Justice Clement to have a cup of sack. Before Cob's house, Knowell enters looking for his son, since he had been informed that Edward Knowell had a secret assignation with a lady there. On seeing Dame Kitely, Knowell thinks she is his son's mistress. When Kitely enters, he thinks Knowell is his wife's secret lover. Since they are in an impasse, all the plaintiffs decide to take their case before the judge. In the final revelation scene, Knowell discovers that his servant Brainworm is a deceiver, but also that his son Edward Knowell is about to marry a rich girl. The father appears to be reconciled with his son and to participate in the final merriment. Incidentally, Old Knowell was originally performed by William Shakespeare and is the only part for which we have independent evidence (the character list) of one of his roles.


Only mentioned. Pliny the Elder, or Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23-79), was a Roman author and official. He published a 37-volume Natural History, which was a massive compilation of 2,000 earlier works. When Edward Knowell sees Wellbred at the Windmill Tavern, he reports the incident of his father's having intercepted the letter from his friend, in which Wellbred invited Edward Knowell to the tavern to meet some gallants. Referring ironically to the style of Wellbred's letter, Edward Knowell compares it to Pliny's epistles. According to Edward Knowell, Wellbred's style is inimitable, but the carrier of the letter was a stupid servant who let it fall into the wrong hands.


Prologue makes general statements regarding the poets' material need, which sometimes leads them into a servile attitude towards the powerful of the time. However, Prologue argues, this poet holds himself upright and has not stooped so low as to comply with the ill customs of his age. Prologue describes the lesser poets of his time; some dutifully follow a person's life from childhood to old age; others replay England's historic past, the fight between York and Lancaster, with the help of three rusty swords and some half-foot words. By contrast, Prologue argues, this play's poet invites his audience to see an exemplary play. In other defective plays of the author's contemporaries, the chorus takes the audience over the seas, and the theatrical convention is far from reality. Thus, a rolled bullet means that it thunders, or a tempestuous rumble of drum suggests the coming storm. Unlike such flawed plays, this comedy deals with real people and their character in appropriate language. Similarly, the present play is realistic, showing an image of the times. Its humor is derived from the presentation of human follies, not the social or political controversy. This play deals with people's common errors, which can be amended by laughter. In addressing the audience, Prologue concludes that, after seeing such a reality-based play, people may incline to like the others. After having seen so many monsters presented in other plays, the audience may learn to appreciate their fellow human beings.


Only mentioned. The Medieval English friar Roger Bacon (1214?-1294?) was one of the earliest and most farseeing of scientists. He stressed the need for observation and experiment as the true basis of science. He believed that knowledge could be more certainly advanced by experimenting with real things than by poring over the books of Aristotle. During the conversation between Cob and Mathew, the water bearer alludes ironically to Mathew's humble origin, since his father was a fishmonger. Thus, Cob says that his nose will be favored with the ghost of herring and of Rasher Bacon. In his self-conceited attempt to seem educated, Mathew corrects Cob, implying that he probably meant Roger Bacon. Cob's pragmatism, however, has the upper hand, and he replies imperturbably that, no, he meant Rasher Bacon. Cob does not allow Mathew to intimidate him by mentioning great philosophers' names, and he sticks to his point, grounded in the immediate reality.


The Servant is Wellbred's domestic. In the street before Knowell's house, the Servant enters while Knowell is discussing with Stephen. The Servant has the assignment of delivering a letter to Edward Knowell from his master Wellbred. The Servant asks the father if his name is Knowell and, since he gets an affirmative answer, he gives Knowell the letter addressed to the son. Thus, the Servant's mistaken delivery triggers the entire plot. At Knowell's instruction, the Servant leaves with Brainworm to have a drink as a reward for delivering the message.


A "ghost character." Snare is a scrivener. When Cash gives his master his morning business report, he informs Kitely that he is being expected on the Exchange to conclude a contract. Kitely hesitates, thinking that during his absence his wife might be tempted to entertain the gallants. Cash reminds Kitely that Snare, the scrivener, will be there with the bonds, ready to draw the official document of payment. This information seems to determine Kitely to leave his house after all, since, apparently, the prospect of gain is stronger than his latent jealousy.


Master Stephen is a country gull and Knowell's cousin. At Knowell's house in London, Stephen tells his uncle that he wanted to borrow a book on hawking and hunting from his cousin. When Servant enters with a letter from Wellbred, Stephen starts arguing with him and Knowell sends him away, irritated at his foolishness. Stephen re-enters looking for Servant, whom he wants to punish for his rude behavior, and Edward Knowell invites Stephen to accompany him to the Old Jewry to see a friend. Stephen accepts gladly and exits with Edward Knowell. At Moorfields, Stephen is duped into buying a sword from Brainworm disguised as Fitz-Sword, under the pretense that it is pure Toledo steel. At the Windmill Tavern, Stephen enters with Edward Knowell to join the other gallants. He boasts his newly acquired sword, but Bobadill informs him he has been duped, because his sword is a fake. At Kitely's house, Stephen enters with Wellbred's party. After much swearing and smoking tobacco, Stephen exits with the gallants and later he attends the brawl initiated by Downright. When the company disperses, Stephen says he is glad nobody was hurt and exits with the gallants, after having picked Downright's cloak from the floor. In a street in the Old Jewry, Stephen enters wearing Downright's mantle and is about to be arrested in his stead, but is taken before the judge. In the final revelation scene, Stephen is recognized by his uncle and thus cleared of the charge of theft, and he returns Downright's cloak to its owner. Justice Clement rules that Stephen should have a trencher and a napkin and serve in the tavern. Stephen promises to do his best.


Tib is Cob's wife. Before Cob's house, Tib enters and, at her husband's request, exits to show Mathew to Bobadill's room. At Cob's house, Tib enters to announce Bobadill that a gentleman wishes to see him. Since Bobadill is entitled to think that one of his creditors is looking for him, he instructs Tib to tell the visitor he is not in. Tib replies he has no choice, because her husband had already told the gentleman that Bobadill was there. When Mathew enters, Tib attends part of the conversation between the two, up to the point when Bobadill asks her to go and fetch him another bed-staff to give a demonstration of fencing. From Bobadill's reply, it is understood that Tib does not obey the request, probably because she refuses to dismantle all the beds in her house. Bobadill remarks that a woman does not understand the words of action. During the Captain's fencing demonstration, Tib exits quietly. In a lane before Cob's house, Tib opens the door to her husband. When Cob accuses her of immorality, Tib denies and calls him a liar. When Cob shows her the warrant for Bobadill's arrest, Tib obeys her husband's instructions of locking the door and goes into the house. Later, Tib talks to Knowell, telling him his son is not in the house. Kitely enters and, thinking that Knowell is his wife's secret lover, accuses Tib of being their bawd. Cob enters and, on hearing the accusations against his wife, beats her. All leave to take their case before the judge. In the final revelation scene, Tib is reconciled with her husband, who calls her an honest woman.


Wellbred is a gentleman. He is Downright's half-brother and Dame Kitely's brother. He lives at Kitely's house and his brother-in-law is displeased with his frivolity and libertine company. At the Windmill Tavern in the Old Jewry, Wellbred enters with Mathew and Bobadill. Edward Knowell enters with Stephen, informing Wellbred that his father had read the ill-fated letter from his friend inviting him to the tavern. When Brainworm in disguise reports of Knowell's intention of spying on his son, Wellbred is ready to devise a plan to dupe Knowell, and he exits with the gallants. At Kitely's house, Wellbred enters with his party. After smoking and light conversation with the ladies, when Downright enters to chase the intruders, Wellbred is instrumental in instigating the brawl. When Kitely enters and the others disperse, Wellbred exits diplomatically following his companions. At the Windmill Tavern, Wellbred enters with Edward Knowell, Stephen, and Brainworm in disguise. Wellbred promises Edward Knowell to fetch Bridget to an amorous assignation. Wellbred exits to look for Bridget and perform his Cupid role. At Kitely's house, Wellbred discusses with Kitely, Bridget, and Dame Kitely. When Brainworm, disguised as Formal, lures Kitely away on a false pretext, Wellbred congratulates Brainworm on his disguise. Wellbred instructs Brainworm to tell Edward Knowell that he will accompany Bridget to their meeting at the Tower. Wellbred exits with Bridget. In the final revelation scene, Wellbred is brought before Justice Clement together with Bridget and Edward Knowell. Since the judge has already acknowledged the union between Bridget and Edward Knowell, Wellbred is left with introducing Mathew as Bridget's official poet. It is understood that Wellbred participates in the final merriment.


The Prologue tells us that this play will not belabor the war of the Roses or spend an inordinate amount of time telling the tale (taking up "threescore years" in the progression of the action).

I.i: Old Knowell is worried about his son Ed (also "Ned"). The boy is too interested in poetry. Knowell's nephew, Stephen, a "country gull," has just purchased a hawk. He knows nothing of hawking. Knowell wonders what's become of the younger generation that is given to the idle pastimes of poetry and hawking.

Stephen is proud that he is next in line after Ed to inherit from the wealthy old man and hopes his cousin might die young. A servant enters with a letter for "Edward Knowell", since that is Old Knowell's name as well as his son's, he takes the letter and reads it. It is from Ed's riotous friend, Wellbred. Wellbred is Mistress Kitely's brother and is living at the house of his sister and brother-in-law along with Kitely's virginal sister, Bridget. The letter casts some aspersions on Old Knowell and entreats Ed to meet Wellbred in London. (The Knowells live north of the city wall in Hogsdon). Knowell sends the letter on to Ed via Brainworm, the Knowell's servant, with explicit instructions not to reveal to Ed that Knowell opened and read the letter. Knowell determines to follow Ed into town unseen and try to sway his son from the riotous behavior in which he fears Ed engages.

I.ii: Brainworm tells Ed that Knowell read the letter. The letter informs Ed that Wellborn has met two ("a brace of") foolish men who will make them good sport if Ed agrees to meet him in London. Ed determines to go and also to bring along his foolish cousin, Stephen, to give him and Wellborn yet more fodder for their amusement.

I.iii: Matthew, "a city gull," comes to Cob's house to visit his friend, Captain Bobadill. Bobadill is lodging in the humble abode of Cob, who is a water-carrier (called "cobs" by Elizabethans). There is reference to Roger Bacon's "Brazen head" in remarks passed between Matthew and Cob (cf. Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay) when Matthew's "rasher-bacon" is mistaken for "Roger Bacon" by Cob.

I.iv: Inside of Cob's house Bobadill at first tells Tib, Cob's wife, not to allow any gentlemen to visit him there (he is obviously poorer than he lets on and can afford no better than lodging at a water-carrier's, but he doesn't want his fellows to know of his mean lodgings). When Matthew comes in anyway, Bobadill tells him that he lives there for its convenient location. Matthew, of course, is gulled by the explanation and promises not to tell their fellows of Bobadill's lodging—"Not that I need to care who know it . . . but in regard I would not be too popular, and generally visited." Matthew is reading The Spanish Tragedy ("Go by, Hieronymo.") There is a critique—generally favorable—of the play by the two fools.

Matthew tells Bobadill that Downright (Wellbred's half-brother) has insulted Matthew greatly. Bobadill promises to teach Matthew some fencing tricks so that he might kill Downright in a duel. There is a bit of fencing japery with bed-sticks. Bobadill does not actually engage Matthew in fencing though (we learn later that he cannot really use a sword properly) but rather invites Matthew to a tavern where a fencing master might be brought in and Bobadill might act as couch rather than sparring partner.

II.i: Kitely, Cash, and Downright are speaking. Kitely praises Cash, whom he reared from a child. Kitely is distressed over his brother-in-law's recent behavior. Wellbred has taken to rioting. Kitely asks Downright to speak to Wellbred and admonish him to put off his foolishness. The truth is that Kitely is jealous of his wife and fearful of his virgin sister's chastity in the company of Wellbred's riotous friends. Matthew and Bobadill enter looking for Wellbred, insult Downright, and leave. Downright would be revenged, but Kitely entreats him not to be violent in his house. Kitely, alone, fears cuckoldry. When Dame Kitely enters to entreat him to breakfast he fears she has overheard.

II.ii: Brainworm enters disguised as a disabled veteran of war. He hopes to thwart Knowell's attempt to follow Ed. Ed and Stephen enter. To test his disguise Brainworm begs alms from Ed and Stephen. He offers to sell Stephen his sword, which he claims is from Toledo. Despite Ed's warning to the contrary, Stephen buys the sword.

II.iii: Knowell enters in pursuit of his son. Brainworm, as the veteran, begs from Knowell. Knowell, out of pity, employs the veteran, whom Brainworm has named Fitzsword ("son of the sword"). Brainworm is jubilant that the trick worked.

III.i: Matthew, Bobadill, and Wellbred are all met in the district where Wellbred lives—the Old Jewry. The fools try to tell Wellbred of Downright's treatment of them, but Wellbred will hear no bad word against his brother. Ed comes in and tells Wellbred that Knowell has read the letter. The two decide to make the best of an embarrassing situation and treat the incident as a prank.

Ed and Wellbred entertain themselves by watching the foolish threesome interact. Stephen puts on a fashionable melancholic air, which Matthew imitates as the melancholy poet, Bobadill relates outrageous boasts of his war record. Stephen shows the soldier his newly purchased sword and is enraged to learn that it is not a Toledo blade at all. Just as he swears to be revenged on the old veteran that sold it to him, Brainworm as Fitzsword enters. Fitzsword confesses that the blade is not Toledo, and Stephen is satisfied that his honor has been upheld by the confession (actually, he is a coward and did not want to fight).

Fitzsword (Brainworm) takes Ed aside and reveals his true identity. He tells Ed that Knowell has followed him and is now at Justice Clement's. When Wellbred learns that Knowell is so near the Windmill (the tavern they frequent) he says all is well, and he devises a prank.

III.ii: Kitely needs to be away from his house for two hours on business. He is so fearful of being cuckolded in that time that he decides against going. Cash reminds him that Snare, the scrivener, will be there. Kitely realizes that he must go. He begins to tell Cash a secret before going, but thinks better of it and at last gives Cash instructions to send word to him immediately if Wellbred should return with any of his friends.

Cob enters after Kitely leaves and delivers his famous "fasting day" polemic. When Wellbred returns (with Ed, Brainworm, Bobadill, Matthew, and Stephen), Cash begins looking for a messenger to run for Kitely. Wellbred learns from Cash that Kitely went to Justice Clement's. As Bobadill engages in a long discourse in praise of tobacco, Cash finds Cob and tells him to fetch Kitely. Cob overhears Bobadill's praise and, in turn, dispraises tobacco. Bobadill beats him with a cudgel for his trouble. Cash hurries Cob onto Kitely.

III.iii: Cob delivers his message to Kitely that the rioters have returned to his house. Kitely, fearing the cuckold's horns, rushes home. Clement, Knowell, and Formal enter. Cob pleads for a warrant against Bobadill for beating him. When Clement learns that Cob had spoken against tobacco he sentences Cob to jail. Knowell intercedes for Cob. The jail sentence is rescinded, and Cob gets the warrant against Bobadill. After Cob leaves, Clement advises Knowell to take heart, that Ed is not a bad boy. He is just a young man having fun.

IV.i: Downright is scolding Dame Kitely for allowing the rioters to use her house for their parties. Bridget enters with the rioters. Matthew reads some of "his" poetry, which sends Downright away in disgust. Matthew's poetry turns out to be lifted directly from "Hero and Leander". Downright comes forth and insults the practice of poetry. Swords are drawn on all sides. The servants must separate the men. After all are safe, Bobadill makes some brave passes at the air and talks boldly. The rioters leave. Dame Kitely and Bridget speak well of Ed, who conducted himself as a gentleman. Kitely enters to overhear this praise of Ed and is convinced the women have hidden Ed in the house. He goes about to search for Ed.

IV.ii: Cob has returned to his home; he has been made fearful of cuckoldry by Kitely's fears. When Tib refers to soldiers, Cob believes she is seeing Bobadill and produces the warrant he has against the braggart soldier. He orders Tib to keep inside and not to open the door to anyone.

IV.iii: Ed and Wellbred send Brainworm out with a false message to Downright. Ed tells Wellborn that he admires Bridget. Wellborn says he has a plan to get the two of them married immediately.

IV.iv: Brainworm, as Fitzsword, finds Knowell and Formal at Clement's. He tells Knowell that the rioters held him prisoner because they knew he was Ed's father's man. He tells Knowell that Ed intends an assignation at Cob's house. Knowell leaves to stop Ed. Brainworm entices Formal to a tavern where he will relate his war stories.

IV.v: In the Moorfields (north of the city wall) the three fools and Ed prepare to meet Downright. Downright meets them, disarms Bobadill and beats him. Matthew runs away. After Downright leaves, Stephen retrieves the cloak Downright had dropped in the fighting. Bobadill rationalizes his beating by saying he was forced to keep the peace by the warrant Cob had delivered to him. Ed tells him that the warrant does not keep him from defending himself. Wellbred, the Kitely's, and Bridget meet. Wellbred says there is no harm in the rioters anymore than there is poison in Kitely's clothes or wine. Kitely immediately thinks he has been poisoned. Wellbred acknowledges that he is poisoned only with his own jealousy. Brainworm enters disguised as Formal, Clement's man. He got Formal drunk and stole his clothes. Wellbred whispers to him to tell Ed to meet him and Bridget at the Tower. Brainworm tells Kitely that Clement wants to see him. Kitely tells Cash his secret, that he suspects Dame Kitely's fidelity, and instructs him to watch her closely around other men. He leaves calling for Cob.

When Dame Kitely asks why Kitely is always calling Cob, Wellbred tells her that Cob's wife is a bawd of Kitely's acquaintance. Dame Kitely becomes jealous and goes to Cob's with Cash in order to catch her husband at the bawdyhouse. Kitely returns to find his wife gone. Wellbred tells him she has gone to Cob's with Cash. Kitely believes that she has gone there to cuckold him. He follows her. Wellbred grabs Bridget and they head for the Tower.

IV.vii: Matthew and Bobadill rationalize their cowardice to one another and determine to get up a warrant against Downright. The meet Brainworm disguised as Formal and pay him to write the warrant. Brainworm promises to write the warrant and also to get a sergeant who will deliver it. To the audience Brainworm reveals that he will pawn the ear jewel he received from Matthew and the silk stockings Bobadill gave him in payment for the warrant. With this money along with money he will receive for Formal's clothes he intends to buy a sergeant's uniform.

IV.viii: At Cob's house. Knowell comes looking for Ed. Tib tells him she's never heard of Ed. She refuses to allow Knowell in (because Cob told her not to open the door to anyone). This convinces Knowell that Ed is inside. He says he'll fetch a constable. Dame Kitely enters looking for Kitely. Knowell thinks that Dame Kitely is Ed's bedmate. When Dame Kitely asks for her husband, Knowell thinks it is a ruse to dupe him. Kitely enters muffled in a cloak. Knowell thinks he is Ed. Dame Kitely unmasks Kitely, believing she has caught him in disguise on his way to the bawdyhouse. Kitely believes that she is trying to hide her guilt by accusing the accuser. He thinks Knowell is her bedmate. Cob enters and beats Tib, believing that she opened the house against his express order (and is entertaining the men who have cuckolded him). They all go to Justice Clement's to straighten out the contretemps.

IV.ix: Brainworm enters disguised as a sergeant. Matthew and Bobadill tell him that he might recognize Downright by his russet cloak. When Stephen enters he is arrested by mistake because he is wearing Downright's cloak. The mistake is sorted out at once as Downright enters. Downright is arrested, and he pays the sergeant (Brainworm) to arrest Stephen for theft of his cloak. They all go off for Justice Clement.

V.i: Justice Clement's hall. Knowell, Cob, Tib, the Kitelys, and Cash are before Clement trying to sort out the mess. They determine that Wellbred has had a hand in the fiasco, having told both of the Kitelys about Cob's place and having apparently escaped with Bridget. Bobadill, Matthew, Stephen, Downright, and Brainworm (disguised as a sergeant) enter. Stephen, accused of stealing, swears that he found the cloak. When Clement learns that Downright was arrested on a warrant that Formal wrote without Clement's signature and that the sergeant made an arrest on Downright without a proper warrant, he chastises Downright and threatens the sergeant for misfeasance in office. In order to save himself from jail, Brainworm unmasks and tells everyone that he knows all about the confusions. Clement thinks it is all an excellent joke. Formal enters in a suit of armor—that being the only clothes he could find when he awoke naked in the tavern. Wellbred enters with the newlywed Ed and Bridget. Clement reunites the Kitelys and Cobs, discharges the warrants, and gives the day over to celebration and amity.


The characters are meant by Jonson to represent certain "humors":
Knowell is the foolish father, more a New Comedy character than a humor character.
Ed is the bright son—again in New Comedy tradition.
Brainworm is the clever servant—New Comedy.
Stephen is the New Comedy gull, though he affects a melancholy humor.
Downright is a humor character. He is choleric.
Wellbred is more like Ed, a good schemer, than like a humor character.
Clement is a humor character—phlegmatic.
Kitely is the jealous husband of New Comedy, the fearful cuckold, who as a compulsive neurotic demonstrates his humor.
Dame Kitely is a female Kitely. She can be made jealous, but she does not go so far as Kitely with her jealousies.
Bridget is a simple ingenue.
Matthew, like Stephen, is the gull of New Comedy tradition.
Cob and Tib act as parodies of the Kitelys.
Bobadill is a Miles Gloriosus or, more contemporaneously, a Roister Doister.

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Notes of Interest:

An actor's bill identifies Old Knowell as having been played by William Shakespeare. We know that Garrick played Kitely in the eighteenth century and that Dickens delighted in playing Bobadill in his amateur theatricals.

The play, presented in 1598, was first acted at the Curtain theatre.

The play exists in Quarto (where the action takes place in Italy), was probably revised around 1612, and the 1616 Folio of Jonson's works begins with this play in the form we generally accept as authoritative today. Jonson considered this play to be his truly first theatrical work. Although he had co-written and revised plays before, this marks his first solo attempt.

The etymology of the term "to get off scot-free" is made clear at III.iii.65—the "lot and scot" were parish assessments.

Plays to be compared:

Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (for the discussion of it between Matthew and Bobadill at I.iv as well as echoes of it in the first half of the play—Jonson had been commissioned to rewrite and add to Hieronimo's mad scenes, and this play is valuable to see how Jonson felt about the play);

Shakespeare's Hamlet (for the idea of duping a person by playing upon him, cf. Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern regarding a pipe and Wellbred at III.i.189-91 about Stephen regarding a drum; also for similar hat business between Osric and Hamlet in V and between Knowell and the servant at I.i—could Shakespeare, having played Knowell, have remembered the success of this bit of business and liberated it for his play two years later?);

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and Udall's Ralph Roister Doister (for a later and earlier working of the cowardly knight represented by Bobadill here. Cf. Sir Andrew Aguecheek (esp. at EMiHH IV.i.138-42 and Aguecheek "I'll have an action of battery against him") as well as Roister Doister himself (esp. at the point when Roister Doister is advised by Trustworthy to get a warrant against his injury rather than fight (cf. EMiHH IV.vii. 18-19))); Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (for the references to Bacon's brazen head here at I.iii and the reference here to the dragon of the Hesperides (that is, Ladon) at I.i.185 and to Bungay's conjuration of same for Vandermast); Middleton's Michaelmas Term (for the mention of one Master Lucre there and one Master Lucar here at II.i.8; also for its ending in court); Marston's The Dutch Curtezan (for the striking similarity between the masquerading of Cockledemoy and that of Brainworm—both requiring the theft of someone's clothes and identity and a self-exposure to ensure the happy ending).

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