Thomas Middleton(?)
(Shakespeare Apocrypha)


licensed 31 October 1611

[Synopsis Available, click here]


Anselmus is the brother of Govianus. He is a conventional jealous husband, who cannot believe that his wife is chaste until she has been tested. He persuades his resident friend, Votarius, to seduce his wife and test her reaction. She is unresponsive, but to be more certain, Anselmus decides to increase the temptation by leaving home for a few days. On his return, he is happy to learn that his wife was never tempted. But Votarius later tells Anselmus that he noted a "yielding" in her, and that he suspects her of sleeping with Bellarius. Anselmus, seeing Leonella with Bellarius, attacks her, thinking she is his wife's bawd. Votarius persuades Anselmus to hide in the closet and watch him seduce his wife. There, Anselmus is delighted to see his wife stab Votarius to death. He leaps from the closet and kills Leonella for slandering his wife. Bellarius attacks him in turn, and Anselmus's wife runs between their swords and dies. Wounded by Bellarius' poisoned blade, Anselmus drags himself across the stage so that he can die next to his wife's body. But, when he hears Bellarius telling Govianus that his wife lusted after Votarius, he pushes her body away, calls her a whore, and then he dies.


Anselmus cannot believe that his wife is virtuous until she has been proved resistant to temptation. He persuades his resident friend, Votarius, to seduce his wife and test her reaction. Although the Wife is initially unresponsive, Anselmus's distantness has made her lonely, and as Anselmus demands that Votarius increase the temptation, she and Votarius begin to fall in love. Although Anselmus is fooled for some time, Votarius lets slip that she is "yielding". To confound Anselmus's suspicions, the Wife decides to stage a scene in which she will spurn Votarius while Anselmus is watching. Having agreed the plan with Votarius, she later hits on an improvement: Votarius will wear armor under his shirt, and she will stab him with a sword. She sends Leonella to inform Votarius of this. But Leonella does not tell him, and puts poison on the sword, so the Wife ends up killing Votarius. When Anselmus is attacked by Bellarius, the wife runs between their swords, and dies.


Bellarius is the secret lover of Leonella, and the enemy of Votarius. He has a tendency to creep around in a dark muffler. He and Leonella conspire to get revenge on Votarius by ensuring that he is compromised with the Wife. Bellarius's furtive behavior encourages Votarius to suspect him of having an affair with Anselmus's Wife. It is Bellarius who encourages Leonella to 'forget' to tell Votarius to wear armor, and to put poison on the sword that the Wife plans to use on him. He secretly watches Anselmus' Wife kill Votarius. But when Anselmus stabs Leonella, Bellarius comes out of hiding and attacks Anselmus. Although Anselmus' Wife runs between their swords and dies, both men have already been mortally wounded. Bellarius has enough strength to explain events to the surprised Govianus, and thereby to reveal to Anselmus his wife's love for Votarius.


The Tyrant hires a group of 'Fellows' to attack the house where the Lady and Govianus are imprisoned. The Fellows seem to be different from the Tyrant's regular soldiers; he describes them as war criminals that he has pardoned from execution. He presumably uses them because they are more ruthless than the common soldiers.


The Lady's Ghost can be thought of as a separate character to the Lady because it appears onstage simultaneously with her dead body; presumably a dummy performed the latter. The Ghost appears to Govianus when he visits the Lady's tomb and tells him that the Tyrant has stolen the body. The Ghost reappears at the end of the play to watch the Tyrant die, and to accompany the return of the body to the tomb.


King Govianus is deposed by the Tyrant who loves Govianus's sweetheart, the Lady. The Tyrant initially plans to banish his enemy, but when the Lady announces that she loves Govianus, the Tyrant decides that a better punishment is to imprison them in a house together, in separate rooms, to increase their misery. But Govianus and the Lady persuade their guards to let them spend time together. When the Lady' father, Helvetius, arrives to persuade her into submitting to the Tyrant, Govianus 'cures' him of his unnaturalness by shooting a pistol and upbraiding him. The Tyrant sends a group of 'Fellows' to attack the house, and so Lady asks Govianus to kill her, to prevent her capture. He tries to do the deed, but swoons instead, and she is forced to kill herself. When the Fellows fail to take her body away, Govianus buries it in his family vault. The Tyrant sets him free in the hope that he will leave the country, but Govianus visits the tomb, where the Lady's Ghost tells him that the Tyrant has necrophiliac desires for the corpse. Govianus goes to get help from his brother Anselmus, but he is dying due to events in the subplot. So Govianus disguises as a painter, hired to paint the corpse's face for the Tyrant's pleasure. Govianus paints her face with poison, and the Tyrant dies when he kisses it. As the Tyrant dies, Govianus reveals his identity, and reclaims his throne.


The guards of Govianus and the Lady befriend their captives, and allow them to spend time together.


Helvetius is the father of the Lady. He supports the Tyrant's usurpation, and hopes that he will wed his daughter. He tries to persuade the Lady to become the Tyrant's mistress, if not his wife, but she refuses. He is 'cured' of his unnaturalness by Govianus, who fires a pistol to frighten him, and upbraids him. Helvetius returns to the Tyrant and defies him. He is imprisoned, but is released by the other Nobles at the end of the play.


The Tyrant compares himself to the legendary Herod who preserved the body of his suicidal lover in honey.


The Lady is the lover of King Govianus, whom the Tyrant usurps to gain her love. The Lady refuses to leave Govianus, and so the Tyrant banishes them to a house where they are kept in separate rooms. The Lady and Govianus befriend their guards, who allow them to spend time together. The lady's father, Helvetius, tries to persuade her to prostitute herself to the Tyrant but she refuses, and Govianus persuades Helvetius to repent of his unnaturalness. When the house is surrounded by the Fellows, the Lady asks Govianus to kill her to prevent her capture. But he cannot kill her, and swoons. So she kills herself. Govianus buries her body in his family vault. But the Tyrant, inflamed with lust, breaks into the tomb and steals her body (see GHOST OF THE LADY to learn what her ghost does). He dresses up her corpse as if it were alive, and hires a painter to paint her face in lively colors. But the painter is Govianus in disguise, and he paints her face with poison so the Tyrant dies when he kisses her. Govianus orders the body to be placed on a throne and crowned. He then he returns it to the tomb, and the Lady's Ghost accompanies he body.


Leonella is the waiting-woman to Anselmus's Wife. She promises to stay with her lady and prevent her from being tempted by Votarius. But Leonella's lover, Bellarius, is Votarius's enemy, and they conspire to ensure that the Wife will commit adultery with Votarius, thereby laying him open to revenge. Anselmus, however, believes Votarius's claim that the furtive Bellarius is having an affair with his Wife. He attacks Leonella, believing her to be his Wife's bawd, but Leonella tells him the truth: that Votarius is his Wife's lover. When the Wife plans her fake attack on Votarius, she asks Leonella to remind Votarius to wear armor beneath his shirt. But Leonella does not, and puts poison on the sword that the Wife plans to use. She laughs when the Wife kills Votarius. But Anselmus then kills her for slandering his Wife.


Memphonius is one of the Nobles who support the Tyrant's usurpation of Govianus. He regrets his actions when the Tyrant's necrophilia becomes apparent. He and the other Nobles release Helvetius from prison, and support Govianus's return to the throne.


The Nobles support the Tyrant's usurpation of Govianus, but they drift away when his necrophilia becomes apparent. They release Helvetius from prison, and support Govianus's return to the throne.


As Govianus kneels at the Lady's tomb, his Page sings a song about her virtue.


A disguise taken on by Govianus to murder the Tyrant.


A servant warns Govianus and the Lady of the armed Fellows surrounding the house.


As the Lady's body is brought out for the Tyrant's delegation, a choir sings about the transience of beauty.


Four soldiers accompany the Tyrant to the vault. Despite their misgivings, they help him exhume the body from its tomb. They carry the dressed-up corpse into the throne room. The Soldiers seem to be the Tyrant's only supporters once the Nobles have drifted away.


Sophonirus is an old courtier who supports the Tyrant's usurpation of Govianus. He is a pathetic flatterer, who wishes he could prostitute his wife to the Tyrant. He is ordered to go to the house where Govianus and the Lady are imprisoned and giver her a jewel from the Tyrant. Govianus stabs him to death, but Sophonirus dies gloating that they are about to be attacked by armed men. Govianus props Sophonirus's body against the door, so that when the Fellows burst in they think they have killed him. They are so wrapped up in this that they neglect to carry away the Lady's body, leaving Govianus free to bury her.


A "ghost character". Sophonirus wishes he could prostitute her to the Tyrant.


The Tyrant is in love with the Lady, but she loves King Govianus. So the Tyrant usurps Govianus, and is supported by all the court Nobles. He is disappointed when the Lady refuses to leave Govianus, but cannot bring himself to force her. He therefore banishes the couple to a guarded house, keeping them in separate rooms to increase their misery. When all attempts at persuasion fail, he orders the house to be attacked and the Lady seized, but she kills herself and Govianus buries her in his family tomb. The tyrant sets Govianus free in the hope that he will leave the country. Then, he breaks into the Lady's tomb and exhumes her corpse. He takes her to the throne room and dresses her up in fine clothes. Then he hires a painter to paint her face as if she were alive. But the painter is Govianus in disguise, and he paints her face with poison. The Tyrant kisses her face and is poisoned. The Ghost of the Lady and Govianus triumph as he dies.


Votarius is the resident friend of Anselmus, a fanatically jealous husband. Anselmus persuades Votarius to test his Wife's constancy by attempting to seduce her. Votarius's first, reluctant attempt fails to convince Anselmus, who decides to leave the house for a few days to provide a greater temptation. Votarius tries again to seduce the Wife, and they fall in love. Anselmus returns and reconciles with his Wife when Votarius insists on her innocence. But Votarius becomes suspicious of the furtive Bellarius, and wonders whether he is sleeping with the Wife. He relays these suspicions to Anselmus, in the hope of hiding his own lust for the Wife. In so doing, he lets slip that the Wife was beginning to yield when he seduced her. Meeting the Wife, he apologizes for his lack of circumspection. She suggests a plot to put Anselmus off the scent: they will play-act a scene in which she fights off Votarius's advances, while Anselmus watches from a closet. But when the Wife decides to make the scene more dramatic by stabbing him with a sword, Leonella does not relay the Wife's warning to Votarius to wear armor under his shirt; and she also poisons the blade. So when the Wife stabs Votarius, he dies.

Synopsis: The Tyrant has overthrown the king, Govianus. Act I scene one finds him gloating in court over the deposed ruler.

To make his enemy's fall complete, the Tyrant proposes to marry the Lady whom Govianus loves. Much to his surprise, though, the Lady chooses to be imprisoned with Govianus rather than marry the Tyrant. The Lady's father Helvetius tries to persuade her to marry the Tyrant, but she is resolute. The Tyrant sends them off to prison. Helvetius tells the Tyrant that it is a mistake to imprison them together because they wish to be together. The Tyrant sees his folly and orders the lovers separated so that Govianus may see the Lady only to his torment.

In scene ii Govianus's brother Anselmus requests his friend Votarius to test the fidelity of Anselmus's wife by making a pass at her. At first Votarius is unwilling, but Anselmus prevails upon him, saying it is better these things be done by friends than to trust to a stranger.
When the Wife enters Anselmus withdraws and eavesdrops. Votarius makes small talk with the Wife. When the Wife leaves, Votarius reports to Anselmus that she could not be tempted. Anselmus reveals that he listened in and upbraids Votarius for lying. Votarius relents and promises to do his friend's bidding. Anselmus rides away for the day in order to provide Votarius an opportunity to court the Wife in earnest.
After very little effort the Wife is swept off her feet by Votarius, who in turn is drawn into his own pretense and begins truly to desire the Wife, though he knows it to be wrong. Votarius realizes that man's greatest enemy is his own mind. After he leaves the Wife she calls for her servant Leonella and accuses her of playing pander for Votarius, accepting bribes to allow him access to her.
After the Wife leaves we learn that Leonella is having an affair with Bellarius, a local dandy. Bellarius goes sneaking around in a muffler for shame and fear of being caught in his assignations with Leonella. Leonella tells him never to fear more, that she knows the Wife's secrets and, so long as she can blackmail the Wife, she can openly enjoy Bellarius's company. She tells Bellarius of the Wife's love for Votarius and learns that Votarius is Bellarius's hated enemy. Leonella swears to work ill on her lover's enemy by keeping him from the Wife, but Bellarius tells her to let them meet and allow their own lust to be Votarius's downfall.

Act II

Helvetius visits the Lady and Govianus. Helvetius tries to convince the Lady to accede to the Tyrant's demands, if only to help old Helvetius advance in the court. When the Lady refuses to marry the Tyrant, Helvetius suggests that she should marry Govianus, but that she should also sleep with the Tyrant to appease him and further Helvetius's place in court. The Lady is horrified at the suggestion. Govianus, who has listened unseen, enters and fires a pistol. Helvetius drops frightened to the ground. Govianus upbraids Helvetius for being a bawd to his daughter. Helvetius instantly repents his wrongs and swears never to follow the Tyrant more.
Votarius and the Wife meet. He is smitten in his own game at tempting her, even as she is smitten with him. Just as their tryst heats up, Leonella enters to announce the return of Anselmus. Anselmus enters and asks Votarius privately how the test is going. Votarius tells Anselmus that the Wife cannot be moved. Anselmus is pleased and swears never to mistrust her more. When Anselmus leaves with his wife, Votarius becomes jealous of him.
Votarius sees Bellarius sneaking by on his way to Leonella and, in his jealousy, believes that the Wife has taken on Bellarius as a lover as well. Votarius calls Anselmus and tells him of Bellarius being in the house. Anselmus cannot believe that his Wife is untrue after the test. Votarius then admits that the Wife did waiver a little to his test. Anselmus runs upstairs to catch Bellarius, whom he believes Leonella is hiding in her room for her mistress. He returns with Leonella, Bellarius having escaped. Leonella tells Anselmus that Bellarius is her husband. Anselmus does not believe her, believing that she is protecting her mistress with a clever lie. With Votarius out of the room looking for the escaped Bellarius, Leonella tells Anselmus that Votarius is making love to the Wife.

Scene ii finds the Tyrant in his court with his courtiers Sophonirus and Memphonius. Helvetius enters and announces that he will no longer aid the Tyrant in his designs upon the Lady, Helvetius's daughter. The Tyrant strips Helvetius of his honors and sentences him to the tower (careful not to kill the old man for fear of alienating the Lady forever). He gives the sycophant Sophonirus the honors taken from Helvetius and sends him to seek the Lady's consent. With Sophonirus he sends armed men, who are to surround the building and bring the Lady back by force if Sophonirus cannot entreat her to come of her own accord.


Sophonirus entreats the Lady to have the Tyrant. Govianus stabs Sophonirus. Sophonirus dies saying that the men outside will see his mission completed. The Lady fears being taken away and raped by the Tyrant and so begs Govianus to kill her and spare her. Govianus, after much hesitation, tries to kill her but faints in the process. The Lady takes his sword and kills herself. Govianus wakes and sees what has happened. He props Sophonirus against the door where the soldiers knock. When they burst in, they knock the body of Sophonirus to the ground. Govianus convinces them that they have killed Sophonirus; they believe him but do not much care. They learn that the Lady is dead and go back to the Tyrant.

Act IV
The Wife is angry with Votarius for giving Anselmus cause to doubt her fidelity. It is so much harder to be unfaithful now that he suspects her. So she has a plan to make Anselmus trust her again. She tells Votarius to have Anselmus hide in her chamber on pretext of demonstrating her unfaithfulness. Then, when Votarius comes to her she will rebuke him and even try to kill him with a sword. This, she knows, will be enough to convince Anselmus that she is faithful-then she can be unfaithful without being suspected. Votarius likes the idea and leaves to arrange it.
The Wife calls in Leonella and tells her of the plan; Leonella is to pretend to try to keep Votarius out of the chamber in order to give the "play" more credence. The Wife instructs Leonella to have a sword placed in the chamber somewhere convenient and also to run and tell Votarius to wear some private body armor to protect himself from the feigned attack.

Leonella, however, tells Bellarius of the trick. Bellarius makes plans to have a poisoned sword put in the chamber to insure the destruction of Votarius. Leonella, of course, will neglect to tell Votarius to wear body armor. The double-cross is set.

In scene ii the Tyrant is disturbed by the news of the Lady's suicide. He orders the soldier who brought the news killed. It is midnight. He orders Govianus freed (hoping he will flee the country and leave the Tyrant free to do what he wishes). He calls for the keys to the cathedral, lanterns, and pick-axes. He leads his soldiers away.

In scene iii the Tyrant and soldiers are in the cathedral before a great monument to the Lady. The Tyrant orders the crypt broken open, but the soldiers are afraid and can not. The Tyrant opens the crypt and orders the soldiers carry the Lady's body out. He bestows kisses on the body, and they all leave.

In scene iv Govianus comes to the cathedral to see his love's resting place. The ghost of the Lady appears and tells him that she is not in the crypt. She tells him that the Tyrant removed her body to the palace and that it must be returned so that she may rest in peace. Govianus resolves to get her body back and goes to see his brother Anselmus for advice.

Act V
Votarius is sneaking Anselmus into the Wife's closet to listen to the scene in her chamber. Leonella leads Bellarius to a seat "above" so that he can watch the action without being seen (setting up a quasi-"play within the play").
The scene goes off as planned. But the Wife is shocked to have actually wounded Votarius. Votarius dies. Anselmus emerges from the closet, believing his Wife to be chaste, and kills Leonella with the poisoned sword for lying to him and causing the death of his friend Votarius. Bellarius rushes down to avenge the death of Leonella. Anselmus and Bellarius fence. The Wife rushes between them and is accidentally killed. Both Bellarius and Anselmus are mortally wounded. Anselmus falls across the body of his Wife, still believing that she is chaste and true. He dies. Govianus enters, and Bellarius tells him what has happened and of the Wife's double-dealing. His confession brings Anselmus back to life long enough to renounce his strumpet Wife and die a little farther away from her. He and Bellarius both die.

Scene ii brings the Tyrant in with the corpse of his Lady, which is dressed in black and seated in a throne. The Tyrant calls for a face painter to come make the Lady look alive. A soldier ushers in Govianus disguised as a face painter. After Govianus restores the corpse to living color, the Tyrant kisses the corpse. But the make-up is poisoned and the Tyrant dies. The soldiers and courtiers run in, proclaim Govianus their true king, Helvetius is released from prison, and Govianus crowns the corpse his queen and swears always to be true to her memory. The Lady's body is borne back to its crypt followed by the Lady's ghost.


Most of the characters are stock-types rather than individualized. So much so that some have no names of their own--"Tyrant," "Lady," "Wife." These generic names give the play a feeling of a morality or perhaps allegory.

The name Helvetius means "protestant." There may be some suggestion that the whole play is an allegory for the Church of England, though it does not hold up very well as such.

The Lady is something of a Christ figure, rising from her tomb to say she is not there. The Easter image is clear, but it is little more than an echo. To extend the allegory would require us to take the Tyrant to be not only the Pilate who put her there but also the divine hand that removed the body from its grave, not an apt analogy. She is purely good, self-sacrificing, and chaste.

The Wife is just the opposite of the Lady. She is easily seduced, self-centered, and chaste only in appearance.

Bellarius is humorously referred to as "long-nosed," the phallic connotations being patent.

Sophonirus is an odd character. Early in Act I he confides to the audience that he is a wittol--as Allwit is in Chaste Maid-but nothing is made of this information. Later, when sent to entreat the Lady to come to the Tyrant, he asks to be able to put his wife up as collateral against his success. The Tyrant may ravish her if Sophonirus doesn't get the Lady. The offer is refused, but what sort of fellow is this Sophonirus even to suggest such a guarantee?

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Notes of Interest:

There is some suggestion that this play was written as an object lesson to James I. The Tyrant's court, made gaudy by pomp and only the symbols of authority, is possibly meant to represent James's court, hung upon with sycophants and 40-pound knights. The play may be advising James to be the Philosopher King England once thought he would be, admonishing him to put off the vainglory displays of pomp and become the virtuous leader.

Two scenes of a monarch having recently deposed a rival monarch, triumphing over the defeated ruler, neatly frame the play.

There is some suggestion that, if this is Middleton's play, it demonstrates the detrimental influence of Fletcher's Romance upon Middleton's later work.

The instant conversion of Helvetius (II.i) is worthy of notice. It is very like the instant conversion of Gratiana in Revenger's Tragedy, which is another scene of parent playing bawd to daughter and being threatened into converting.

There is some indication that the "body" of the Lady was a wax prop. Because the Lady appears as a ghost with the body in the same scene, there must either be two actors or an actor and a wax likeness of the actor on stage. The wax likeness is simpler to accommodate and has precedence in Duchess of Malfi and other plays where characters are represented in wax (see especially plays requiring the presentation of a severed head).

The necrophilia of the play is also worthy of notice--not so much for its dramatic significance as for its oddity.

Plays to be compared:

Middleton's (?) Revenger's Tragedy (for the memento mori and the poisoned kiss; for the instant conversion of a bawd/parent);

Middleton's A Mad World My Masters (for the repentant adulterer soliloquy over his own damnation and the comparison of his woman with a clock);

Marston's Sophonisba (for the woman willing to die for her chastity and the tyrant who will force her love even after death);

Chapman's The Widow's Tears and Shakespeare's Cymbeline (for the test of the wife's chastity);

Webster's Duchess of Malfi (for the virtuous woman being killed on her knees and for the similarity between the echo scene in DM and the "I am not here" scene here);

Ford's The Broken Heart (for the image of the corpse's coronation).

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