Cyril Tourneur


Unlike The Revenger's Tragedy, there seems little need to question the attribution of The Atheist's Tragedy to Tourneur. The general scholarly opinion, however, is that there is no firm evidence of the play's ever having been performed, despite the assertion on the title page of the 1611 quarto that the play had been "acted in divers places."

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The French baron Belforest is Levidulcia's husband and father to Castabella. Taking a liking to the hypocritical Languebeau Snuff, Belforest creates the Puritan candle maker his household chaplain in order to enjoy Snuff's conversation. Late in the play, Belforest comes to suspect that his wife Levidulcia is visiting the house of Cataplasma for the purpose of an assignation with Sebastian, D'Amville's younger son, and having forced the truth from Cataplasma's servant Fresco, the baron rushes to confront his rival. When the two meet, a fight ensues that leads to both of their deaths.


Servant to and confidant of D'Amville, Borachio contributes to the dispossession of Charlemont by reporting falsely that the young man has died in battle and by murdering Charlemont's father in the gravel pit where D'Amville has thrown him. Later, D'Amville orders Borachio to murder the newly returned Charlemont in St. Winfred's churchyard, but when his pistol misfires, Borachio is slain himself by Charlemont.


Daughter to Belforest and Levidulcia, Castabella is the beloved of Charlemont. After the false report of his death in battle, her family forces her into a loveless marriage with D'Amville's impotent elder son Rousard. When it becomes plain that his son will not produce the children to keep the family line and fortune growing, D'Amville decides to impregnate Castabella himself. In St. Winfred's churchyard, his attempt at rape is foiled by the appearance of Charlemont in disguise as his father's ghost. Following the discovery of Borachio's corpse, she is arrested with Charlemont, even though he attempts to counter her admission of responsibility, because the fact of her presence at the scene is something the watch cannot overlook. At the trial, she insists on dying with Charlemont, but she is spared when D'Amville, undertaking to execute Charlemont personally, manages accidentally to strike his own head. The two Judges free her and Charlemont, officially recognize her as the new Lady Belforest, and she instantly pledges herself to Charlemont, thus uniting the collective wealth of Montferrers, D'Amville, and Belforest.


Although Cataplasma purports to be a "tire woman" selling clothing, she is in fact a bawd who lets rooms to be used by prostitutes and by ladies in need of a private place for assignations. She provides such a place for Levidulcia to meet with Sebastian and assures her that she need have no reservations about taking a lover when so many husbands have no compunction about taking mistresses. When the lady's companion Languebeau Snuff realizes the nature of the establishment, Cataplasma grants his request for a tryst with Soquette, but the sudden appearance of Charlemont in St. Winfred's churchyard interrupts that encounter. Along with Soquette, Snuff, and Fresco, Cataplasma is arrested, hauled before the two Judges, and tried. The First Judge notes her violation of the sumptuary laws (she is dressed above her social station), but finds her innocent of an formal wrongdoing in the deaths of Sebastian and Belforest. However, because those deaths are the result of the passions given vent in her residence, the Second Judge sentences her to be whipped, carted through the streets, deprived of her possessions, and set to hard labor.


Charlemont is the son of Montferrers and the beloved of Castabella. Wishing to earn honor on the battlefield, he seeks his father's permission to go to the wars, but fearing for his son's safety, Montferrers refuses to support him. He is enabled to go, however, when his uncle, the villainous D'Amville, offers to underwrite the venture, hoping thereby to be in a position to receive Charlemont's inheritance from Montferrers should the young man die. He engages in a private marriage with Castabella before leaving. While Charlemont is away, D'Amville spreads a false report of his death and, after Montferrers changes his will, has Montferrers murdered. The ghost of Montferrers visits Charlemont in the field, urging him to return home but insisting that he not take personal revenge. Arriving just after D'Amville has presided over Charlemont's "funeral," the young man finds Castabella weeping at the grave, and after convincing her that he is no ghost, she curses the enforced marriage with Rousard that will keep her from the man she truly loves. When D'Amville learns of Charlemont's return, he has him arrested and imprisoned (for debt), but D'Amville's younger son Sebastian provides him money to secure his release. When Charlemont confronts his uncle, D'Amville claims that his actions have only been an attempt to position himself as Charlemont's guardian and protector until such time as the younger man is fully prepared to assume his proper obligations, and Charlemont seems to accept the story. A short time later, Borachio, acting on D'Amville's orders, stalks Charlemont in St. Winfred's churchyard and attempts to shoot him. His pistol misfires, however, and in the ensuing fight Charlemont kills Borachio. After considering a surrender to the authorities, Charlemont decides to flee, but temporarily hides in the churchyard, and it is there that he startles Languebeau Snuff and Soquette and gains possession of the ghost disguise Snuff has with him. When D'Amville and Castabella enter, and the villain attempts to rape his daughter-in-law, Charlemont appears disguised as his father's ghost and frightens D'Amville away. When the watch arrive and discover Borachio's corpse, both Charlemont and Castabella are arrested. During their trial, Charlemont admits to having killed Borachio but contends the act did not rise to the level of murder, and after being interrupted by an increasingly crazed D'Amville, the young man leaps upon the scaffold to demonstrate how little he values his life. When D'Amville asks Charlemont to explain where such peace of mind and conscience comes from, Charlemont replies that it proceeds from itself, and D'Amville admits his own desperate fear of death. With Castabella beside him on the scaffold, Charlemont finds himself facing D'Amville who, claiming no commoner should dispatch his nephew, insists on being the executioner himself. The young couple are spared, however, when D'Amville, in preparing to strike Charlemont, accidentally hits himself with the headsman's axe and with his last breath confesses to his crimes. The Judges then free the prisoners and officially bestow the wealth and titles of their respective families upon them, leading Charlemont to comment upon the "work of heav'n" that has given him the patience to wait for justice and not engage in personal revenge.


The French nobleman D'Amville is the father of Rousard and Sebastian, is the younger brother to Montferrers, and is the atheist of the play's title. Early in the action, he admits to Borachio his belief in nothing beyond the terrestrial sphere and sets himself to acquire as much wealth as he can for his own pleasure and for the enjoyment of those of his family who come after him. To gain his older brother's fortune, D'Amville underwrites his nephew Charlemont's journey to the war and then has Borachio falsely report that the young man has died in battle. The distressed Montferrers amends his will, leaving all his estate to D'Amville, whereupon the villain and Borachio arrange to murder him. The next part of D'Amville's plan is accomplished when he arranges a marriage between Charlemont's beloved Castabella, daughter to the wealthy baron Belforest, and his elder son, the sickly and impotent Rousard. When Charlemont returns from the war, D'Amville has him arrested, but Sebastian, the villain's younger son, uses his annual allowance from D'Amville to secure his cousin's release. When Charlemont confronts D'Amville about the apparent attempt to disinherit him, the latter concocts a story about his only positioning himself as Charlemont's guardian until the young man is ready to assume his obligations, and Charlemont seems to accept this explanation. Shortly afterward, D'Amville sends Borachio to murder Charlemont and then, in soliloquy, considers his options. Fearing that Rousard will never have children, D'Amville decides to impregnate Castabella himself to be sure of the family's continuance. When he proposes having sex, the virtuous Castabella objects, and D'Amville threatens to rape her. As she calls upon heaven to help her, he mocks her trust in a divinity, and thus shocks her further by his admission of atheism. The attack is thwarted by the sudden arrival of Charlemont disguised as his father's ghost. When D'Amville next enters, it is clear that his mind is beginning to turn. He speaks to the skulls in the graveyard as though they were accusing him of Montferrers' death, and concluding that his brother's ghost is indeed pursuing him, D'Amville wishes he were a cloud floating away into nothingness, but the arrival of the watch to investigate the killing of Borachio brings him back to his senses, and he piously (and hypocritically) laments as Charlemont and Castabella are led off under arrest. Later, he is truly visited by the ghost of Montferrers who calls him a fool whose evil projects are doomed to fail, and almost at once, the villain learns from the Doctor that Sebastian has been killed and that Rousard is nearly dead. When D'Amville urges the Doctor to do something, arguing that there must be some power greater than nature capable of restoring his sons, the Doctor responds that there is such a force-God-and D'Amville admits both to feeling ridiculous and to fearing death. During the trial scene that ends the play, a clearly distracted D'Amville enters demanding that the Judges explain why he should lose both his sons while others have heirs, and recognizing his disordered mind, the Judges assure him that they will resolve that question for him later. Shortly after Charlemont's trial begins, D'Amville interrupts and charges him with smiling at the deaths of Sebastian and Rousard, and with having "conspired with Fate" to eliminate D'Amville's progeny. When Charlemont leaps upon the scaffold to display how little he values the life in this world, D'Amville asks the court to order an autopsy to find out what allows his nephew to be so fearless, while he is in such agony at the prospect of his own death. Finally, D'Amville pressures the Judges to allow him to perform the execution, arguing that Charlemont needs someone other than a commoner for that task. Raising the headsman's axe to strike Charlemont, D'Amville accidentally brains himself, and admitting that he has overreached, claims that God has made him kill himself to demonstrate that there is indeed a power outside of and beyond the merely natural. He dies confessing to having plotted against Charlemont and to having attempted to rape Castabella.


The unnamed Doctor is summoned by D'Amville at the beginning of the last act to treat his sons Sebastian, who has died in a fight with Belforest, and Rousard, whose condition has become increasingly worse. After first assuring D'Amville that he will restore the two, the physician has to admit that there is nothing he can do, even though D'Amville gives him gold to have its "spirit" extracted for medicinal purposes. When Rousard dies, D'Amville, the atheist, exclaims that there must be some power above Nature to whom one might appeal, and the Doctor observes that there is (God). The Doctor's comment prods the atheist to begin seeing himself as "ridiculous" and spurs D'Amville's final obsession with and fear of death.


When D'Amville insists that he be allowed to execute Charlemont personally, he joins the young man, Castabella, and the Executioner on the scaffold. As D'Amville raises the axe, he strikes his head by accident, leaving the Executioner to remark that "h'as knocked his brains out."


In the final scene of the play, the First and Second Judges oversee the proceedings against the prostitution ring (Cataplasma, Soquette, and Fresco), Languebeau Snuff, and finally Charlemont and Castabella. The First Judge calls attention to Cataplasma's having assumed dress above her station (thus being in violation of the sumptuary laws) but he admits there is no direct evidence that she and her companions were directly accessory to the deaths of Sebastian and Belforest. However, her trade in flesh did provide the occasion for the killings, and that allows the Second Judge to sentence the group on other charges. Later, the First Judge personally sentences Languebeau Snuff to return to his proper trade (he is a candle maker) where he will provide more light to the world than ever he did by his preaching or his life's example.


Cataplasma's servant Fresco attracts the attention of Levidulcia, and she attempts to have an affair with him. It is he who, under duress, informs Belforest of Levidulcia's assignation with Sebastian in the house of Cataplasma. After Sebastian and Belforest kill one another, Fresco is arrested with Cataplasma, Soquette, and Languebeau Snuff, and he is punished with them.


Jaspar is one of Castabella's servants. After D'Amville decides to seduce Castabella, he sends Jaspar to fetch the lady. When she arrives and learns that her father-in-law wishes to walk with her, she orders Jaspar to accompany her. D'Amville objects on the grounds that he has a private communication for her, and Jaspar is then ordered to remain in the house.


Languebeau Snuff is a former Puritan candle maker whose conversation so pleases Belforest that the latter makes him his personal chaplain. In fact, Snuff is nearly a stereotype of the hypocritical stage Puritan. Seemingly pious and humble, he is merely enjoying the comfortable life Belforest provides for him. Accompanying Levidulcia to Cataplasma's for the tryst with Sebastian, Snuff quickly realizes the nature of the place, becomes sexually aroused, and decided to pursue Soquette for sexual favors. When she meets him in St. Winfred's graveyard, she spies the sheet, wig, and false beard he has with him, and Snuff explains that he intends to disguise himself as the ghost of Montferrers and frighten away anyone who might happen upon them. Before Snuff and Soquette can conclude their business, however, they themselves are frightened off by the arrival of Charlemont, who retrieves the disguise items Snuff has dropped. When the latter returns looking for Soquette, he finds the corpse of Borachio, and thinking it to be the woman waiting for him, he prepares to have sex, only to discover his mistake. His shocked cries of "Murder" eventually bring the Watchmen who arrest both Charlemont and Castabella for the murder of Borachio. Snuff is later arrested with Soquette, Fresco, and Cataplasma, and with them, taken before the two Judges, where he attempts to claim he was only trying to convert the fallen creatures in Cataplasma's operation. The Judges are not deceived, however, and after forcing him to admit that he has no education (and thus is unlikely to be much of a chaplain) he confesses to simply taking advantage of the easy life Belforest offered him. The Judges sentence him to return to his former trade (as a candle maker) where, as the First Judge observes, he will provide more "light" to the world than he ever could by his preaching or by his life's example.


The wife of Belforest and mother of Castabella, Levidulcia is the very figure of lasciviousness. Early in the play, she arranges a tryst with Fresco, Cataplasma's servant, and when Sebastian, D'Amville's younger son, arrives, Levidulcia hides Fresco behind an arras and engages Sebastian in a conversation that indicates her desire for him as well. Upon the arrival of Belforest, Levidulcia prompts Sebastian to leave angrily with his sword drawn, and calling Fresco from behind the arras, tells her husband that Sebastian had chased the servant into the house with the intent to kill him. Later, Belforest learns that Levidulcia has arranged to meet Sebastian at Cataplasma's house, and he rushes to confront his wife and her lover. The two men fight, and each kills the other. A repentant Levidulcia comments on the harm she has caused and then kills herself to make a forceful statement about the consequences of unbridled lust.


The French baron Montferrers is D'Amville's older brother and Charlemont's father. A pious man, Montferrers disapproves of Charlemont's wish to go to the war and refuses to support his son, thus opening the door for D'Amville to underwrite the young man's project. When the false report of Charlemont's death reaches him, Montferrers revises his will in favor of D'Amville (just as the villain assumed he would). D'Amville then arranges to shove Montferrers into a gravel pit where the waiting Borachio will brain him in what will appear to others as a simple death by accidental fall. As a ghost, Montferrers returns later to inform Charlemont of the need to return home, to dissuade the young man from actively seeking personal revenge, and to call D'Amville a fool for thinking that his perfidy might actually succeed.


A mute character. The Prison Keeper accompanies Sebastian when he visits Charlemont to provide him the money to secure a release, and he holds Sebastian's sword as the two cousins converse.


Rousard is the elder son of D'Amville. After arranging for Castabella's beloved Charlemont to go to the wars, D'Amville negotiates a marriage between Rousard and Castabella, Be forest's daughter, as a way to enhance the wealth and prestige of his family. Weak, sickly, and impotent at the beginning of the play, Rousard declines steadily throughout and eventually dies shortly after his younger brother Sebastian is killed by Belforest, thus dashing forever D'Amville's plan to ensure the greatness and the fortune of his line. Rousard is remarkable in being one of the very few characters in Renaissance tragic drama (discounting histories) to die a natural death during the course of his play.


Younger son of D'Amville, Sebastian objects to the enforced marriage of his sickly elder brother Rousard to Castabella, going so far as to term it "rape." When his cousin Charlemont returns from the war and is imprisoned by D'Amville, Sebastian uses the money his father has given him as his annual allowance to set Charlemont free. When Belforest, Levidulcia's husband, learns that his wife is attempting an affair with Sebastian, the two men confront one another at Cataplasma's house, and each kills the other.


In the trial scene that ends the play, the Second Judge is responsible for sentencing Cataplasma, Soquette, and Fresco. After the First Judge finds that, although the actions of Cataplasma, Soquette, and Fresco are not sufficient to warrant charges as accessories to murder in the deaths of Belforest and Sebastian, their actions did provide the occasion for the killings to occur, the Second Judge sentences the offenders to be whipped, carted through the streets, and set to hard labor. Further, he orders Cataplasma's property confiscated and used to provide support for hospitals.


At the war, Charlemont finds himself almost exhausted and begs the Sergeant to relieve him. The Sergeant replies that he will do so, but only after he has finished his rounds, leaving Charlemont to fall asleep and be visited by the ghost of his father Montferrers.


D'Amville discovers the unnamed Servant sleeping near a pile of gold. When the nobleman wakes him and asks if he has been sleeping, the Servant indicates that he has had a restless sleep, thus sounding a note of uneasiness shortly before the ghost of Montferrers arrives to mock his brother. When D'Amville inquires about the gold, the Servant tells him it is part of the treasure that has come to him as a result of Montferrers' death, and he is then sent away so the villain may privately enjoy the sight of his newfound wealth. Later in the scene, the Servant returns to inform D'Amville of Sebastian's death and of Rousard's continuing decline.


Designated a "musquetier" in the text, the unnamed Soldier stands guard with Charlemont and agrees to wake the exhausted nobleman when the Sergeant returns from his rounds. When Charlemont awakes after being visited by the ghost of his father Montferrers, the Soldier assures the young man that he must have been dreaming, but the apparition then reenters to insist Charlemont return home, and the Soldier shoots at it before taking flight.


Soquette is a prostitute in the employ of Cataplasma. She is sought by the hypocritical Puritan Languebeau Snuff, who attempts to have sex with her in the graveyard of St. Winfred's Church. She and Snuff are startled by the arrival of Charlemont and flee before they can conclude their business. Later, she agrees to meet Snuff once more, but their tryst is interrupted when she, Snuff, Cataplasma, and Fresco are arrested following the deaths of Levidulcia, Sebastian, and Belforest. With the others, she is sentenced to a whipping, carting through the streets, and a period of hard labor.


After Languebeau Snuff discovers the corpse of Borachio in St. Winfred's graveyard, he summons the watch to show them the body. Charlemont admits on the spot to having killed the man but insists that Castabella, who is present, had nothing to do with the matter. The Watchman counters that, because she has been taken with him, she must be sent to prison with him to await trial. Later, the watch arrest Cataplasma, Fresco, Snuff, and Soquette following the deaths of Levidulcia, Sebastian, and Belforest. As the group is being led off, the Watchman comments explicitly upon the need for virtue to restrain lust, for lustful action often ends in bloodshed.


I.i: D'Amville and his instrument Borachio are talking. D'Amville can see no difference between man and beasts. He is determined to improve his position for the betterment of his posterity.

Charlemont, D'Amville's nephew and the heir apparent to baron Montferrers (D'Amville's brother), is upset that his father will not approve his going to the wars because he is his father's only son. D'Amville, feigning familial charity, loans Charlemont one thousand crowns to finance his campaign. D'Amville confides to Borachio that this is his way of getting Charlemont out of the way while he works his will on his elder brother, Montferrers.

I.ii: Charlemont pleads with his father to give his blessing to Charlemont's endeavor. Reluctantly, and with D'Amville's urging, Montferrers gives his consent. Charlemont bids farewell to Castabella, his bride-to-be. He leaves her in the charge of a Puritan preacher named Snuff, who has witnessed their de praesenti vows. He promises to honor their vows and to keep mischief from harming their intentions.

Almost as soon as Charlemont leaves, D'Amville convinces Snuff to support his attempts to have Castabella marry Rousard, D'Amville's eldest son. Snuff is eager for the match and forgets entirely his promises to Charlemont. D'Amville confides to Borachio that he is a confirmed atheist. He is in hopes of becoming his brother's executor and of having his son marry Castabella, who is heir to a large fortune. He plans with Borachio to begin the rumor that Charlemont has died in the wars. He bids Borachio to buy a crimson scarf like Charlemont's in order to corroborate this story.

I.iii: Rousard falls ill continues to court the unwilling Castabella. Castabella refuses him. But Rousard is undaunted.

I.iv: Castabella's father, the baron Belforest, tells Snuff that he favors a marriage between his daughter and Rousard. Snuff tries to convince Castabella to withdraw her vow to Charlemont. Levidulca, Castabella's step-mother, tries to convince her to marry--she says that marriage to any man will do, since women use men for only one purpose. When Belforest insists that Castabella marry Rousard, Sebastian (D'Amville's younger son, a lusty young man) calls the marriage a sanctioned rape and wins the enmity of his father, D'Amville. Sebastian abhors Castabella's treatment and soundly hopes that she will cuckold his elder, sickly brother.

II.i: At the wedding Montferrers is melancholy that the propitious match went to his brother's son and not to his own. Borachio enters disguised as a wounded soldier and tells of Charlemont's drowning during a battle. He shows the crimson scarf for proof. Montferrers is heartsick at the news. He feels his death drawing nigh and retires with Snuff to draw up his will.

II.ii: D'Amville and Borachio come upon two servants drunk and fighting. D'Amville convinces each privately to wait until they are lighting the way home for him and his brother. They may then hit the other servant with the torch. He promises each to support him in the fight. Snuff informs D'Amville that Montferrers has made D'Amville his heir. The drunken servants get torches and escort Montferrers and D'Amville out over the darkened fields.

II.iii: Rousard is too sick after the wedding to consummate with Castabella. She is happy at his inability. He goes to his own room. Levidulca, a lusty wench, is attracted to Sebastian and asks him to come to her room on the pretext of writing a letter to put him in the good graces of D'Amville again. If Sebastian doesn't come, she is determined to seduce the servant Fresco-or any other man who is available.

II.iv: Out on the dark fields the servants beat each other with their torches as D'Amville had suggested. In the fight, their torches are snuffed. They must go back to the house to relight them. Belforest, D'Amville and Montferrers wait in the dark for them. Borachio has hidden himself in the gravel pit with two large stones.

In the dark D'Amville pushes his brother into the gravel pit where Borachio smashes his skull with one of the stones. Borachio then places the other stone under the broken skull to make it appear as if Montferrers died by accident. When the servants return they are made to retrieve the body. D'Amville feigns great sorrow. They all take the body back to Belforest's house. D'Amville remains behind and gloats with Borachio, promising to build Borachio's estate with the bloody rock as his cornerstone.

Borachio is frightened by thunder, believing that God is showing his anger. D'Amville scoffs at such nonsense, saying that the thunder is a simple natural phenomenon. If it is to be seen as anything symbolic, D'Amville suggests that it is a trumpet to their victory. If God had wanted to prevent the murder he could have lighted the darkened field before Montferrers was cast into the gravel pit and warned him of his danger. D'Amville plans to give his brother and nephew grand funerals in order to cast suspicion away from himself.

II.v: Levidulca tries to seduce Fresco, Cataplasma's servant, but he must hide behind the arras when Sebastian comes in. Sebastian tries to ravish her right away. But, when her husband Belforest knocks, Levidulca must devise a quick plan. She has Sebastian dash out past Belforest with his sword drawn. She then explains to her husband that Sebastian chased a foolish servant up into her room. Fresco picks up on the ruse and feigns fright as he comes out from behind the arras and leaves. On sentry duty Charlemont cannot stay awake. When he falls unwillingly asleep his father's ghost appears and bids him return to France and settle things. But he instructs his son to leave vengeance to God. Charlemont awakes, but doesn't believe the dream, thinking it the product of his overwrought imagination. The ghost comes again while he is awake, its presence confirmed by the other sentry with Charlemont. It repeats its message and disappears.

III.i: D'Amville stages an elaborate funeral for Montferrers and Charlemont (supposedly killed in the war). Castabella is left behind to mourn Charlemont's death. Charlemont enters. Castabella confesses she is married, but eases Charlemont's raging at fickle women by assuring him she was forced to marry. When Charlemont learns that D'Amville forced the marriage and was made heir to Montferrers, he immediately suspects the truth of his uncle's misdeeds.

III.ii: Sebastian comes to his father D'Amville for his annuity, but D'Amville has cut him off entirely. Charlemont enters and accuses D'Amville. Sebastian fights for his father's honor and is wounded. He is not killed because the ghost of Montferrers enters and stays Charlemont's hand. Sebastian believes Charlemont has shown him honorable clemency and rests indebted to Charlemont for sparing his life. D'Amville has Charlemont arrested for debt of the one thousand crowns he lent him. D'Amville then rewards Sebastian with one thousand crowns for defending his honor. Sebastian secretly plans to use the one thousand crowns to release Charlemont from prison.

III.iii: In prison Charlemont accepts his fate as ordained by all-knowing God. Sebastian releases him saying that the money came by way of D'Amville, who does not want his liberality known. In this manner Charlemont is led to believe that D'Amville is not guilty of the crimes Charlemont had suspected.

III.iv: D'Amville will not hear Castabella's pleas to release Charlemont. He says Charlemont will rot in prison. When Charlemont enters with Sebastian, D'Amville performs a volte face and swears he will act as guardian and father to Charlemont and make him his heir. Charlemont is deceived.

Rousard enters, still very ill, and wonders if his illness is some punishment for having married Castabella. D'Amville takes all of them to supper to celebrate the reunion of the family.

IV.i: Cataplasma and her gentlewoman, Soquette, who run a bawdyhouse fronted by their needlework shop, show each other their bawdy needlework. Sebastian arrives for his assignation with Levidulca. Levidulca comes escorted by Snuff, who is there to give her outing an illusion of respectability. Sebastian and Levidulca retire to the upper rooms. Snuff guesses what they are up to and grows amorous himself. He requests the company of Soquette to accompany him on a walk, where he hopes to seduce her.

IV.ii: D'Amville plots with Borachio to kill Charlemont. He gives Borachio a pistol and tells him to hide in the darkened churchyard. There he is to kill Charlemont as he visits his father's tomb. The deed will be attributed to thieves. In the meantime D'Amville is worried that his sons will produce no offspring. Rousard is too sickly, and Sebastian is so hot-blooded that he is liable to be killed in a duel before he marries. D'Amville decides to seduce Castabella himself and get his own grandchildren. He invites his daughter-in-law to walk with him to the church.

IV.iii: In the churchyard Borachio's pistol misfires and Charlemont kills him in a struggle. Snuff brings Soquette to the churchyard to fornicate with her. He has a disguise to avoid detection. He can pretend to be the ghost of Montferrers if someone should happen upon them. Charlemont surprises them and they run away leaving the disguise behind. Charlemont disguises himself and hides in the charnel house to avoid capture for the murder of Borachio. D'Amville enters with Castabella. Just as he is about to rape her, Charlemont in the disguise of his father's ghost rises from the charnel house and frightens D'Amville away. Charlemont and Castabella, exhausted, lie down to sleep with skulls as their pillows.

Snuff enters and discovers the body of Borachio, which he at first mistakes for Soquette waiting for his lust. Snuff runs for the watch. D'Amville enters distracted. He thinks that his brother has returned to haunt him. Snuff returns with the watch and finds D'Amville. D'Amville learns that Borachio is slain. They find the sleeping Charlemont and Castabella. When Charlemont is arrested for Borachio's murder--which he freely confesses--Castabella falsely accuses herself of lechery with Charlemont and is also arrested.

IV.iv: Belforest misses his wife and suspects she is cuckolding him. He finds Fresco, whom he has suspected since finding him in his wife's room. He learns from Fresco that his mistress Cataplasma is a bawd Levidulca visits. When Fresco runs away, Belforest summons the watch and all give chase.

IV.v: Snuff plans another attempted liaison with Soquette. Levidulca is awaiting the return of Fresco. If Belforest is already in bed she plans to spend the night with Sebastian at Cataplasma's. Fresco enters and raises the alarm that the watch is following. All escape but Sebastian who remains behind to defend Levidulca's honor. The watch breaks through and chases the escaping bawds while Sebastian and Belforest kill one another in a duel. Levidulca enters and finds her husband and lover dead and so stabs herself.

V.i: D'Amville is sleeping after counting the riches got from his brother's revenues when the ghost of Montferrers enters. He calls confusion upon D'Amville in his dreams. D'Amville awakes and discredits the dream as idle fancy. A servant enters with Sebastian's body. Rousard is brought in. He is at the point of death. They send for a physician. The doctor can do nothing, and Rousard dies. D'Amville is confounded that medicines cannot save his sons and all the money he has cannot bring them back. He fears a hand greater than Nature at work.

V.ii: In court Cataplasma, Fresco, and Soquette are given harsh sentences. Snuff is ordered to return to his former profession as candle maker. D'Amville enters with his sons' bodies and raves at the court for justice. Charlemont and Castabella are brought in. They both leap to the scaffold to be beheaded. D'Amville is impressed by their fearlessness in the face of death and wants to be taught how they can be so calm. As an atheist, he cannot appreciate the wish of the guiltless conscience to meet God. He insists upon beheading them himself, that only blood as noble as their own should spill their blood. As he raises the axe, however, he knocks out his own brains. As he lies dying he confesses his crimes. Charlemont and Castabella are pardoned, plan to marry and thus join their two wealthy families (Castabella, it should be noted, is still chaste for Charlemont), and then bury their dead appropriately.


Charlemont is the perfect example of the non-revenger in the revenge play. He does not kill his enemy, except in self defense in the churchyard. Even then he is repentant and wishes to be punished for his "crime." He does little more in the play than languish in prison and wring his hands and trust that God will make all well. In this way he manages to exact his revenge. It is for this reason that Tourneur is thought to have also written The Revenger's Tragedy. That play provides an appropriate alter-piece to this play. Vindice exacts his own revenge, is caught up in the evil he tries to avenge, and ends by dying himself, caught up in his own mischief. Charlemont does just the opposite. He leaves vengeance to God and is rewarded in the end with his estate and marriage to his still-virginal love.

D'Amville is a typical Machiavel-styled villain who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. He lies, commits fratricide, tries to commit incest, tries to murder his nephew, and other such crimes. His only reason is to increase his wealth and prosper his posterity. He has no other reason for feeling animosity towards his brother or nephew .

Borachio is a typical example of the Machiavel's "instrument" that is used to further his ends.

Levidulca is an interesting character. She is the bawdy wife who cuckolds her worthy husband without regret, but who repents too late and commits suicide.

Sebastian seems at first to be a good character. He flouts the forced marriage of Castabella to his brother and risks his own inheritance by speaking his mind. He appears to be the only voice of reason regarding the marriage. Later, he repays his debt to Charlemont in a truly noble fashion, going so far as to give up all of his own money and to give his father the credit for the liberality and thus unite the family. Although he may have ulterior motives in each case, those motives are not so strong as to detract from the nobility of the action. But, strangely, he falls to whoring with Levidulca and is stabbed in a most ignominious fashion in a bawdyhouse by the good man he has wronged.

Rousard seems to have no character at all outside of being very ill. He follows his father's wishes insofar as he marries the woman D'Amville chooses, but his illness prevents him from consummating the marriage. His death is particularly interesting in that it is one of the very few deaths of a main character in a blood tragedy that results from natural causes.

Castabella is another in the long line of virtuous bores who fight valiantly for their virginity. This type of ingenue has found no interesting expression (with the possible exception of Sophonisba) and this play is no exception to that rule.

Montferrers and Belforest are unexplored characters who are nothing more than character types for the virtuous man.

Montferrers is a good man who, when wronged, returns from the grave to see that vengeance is carried out in accordance to God's will.

Belforest is the good husband pushed to the brink by a philandering wife. He tries to accomplish his own revenge and dies in the process, an apt foil to Charlemont who avenges himself correctly and lives.

Snuff is a foolish Puritan type, along the same lines as the Banbury men referred to by Jonson and others (see especially Zeal-of-the-Land Busy in Bartholomew Fair).

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Notes of Interest:

This is the only play we know to be Tourneur's. Based upon its plot it has been strongly urged that he also wrote The Revenger's Tragedy. The problem with this suggestion lies in the many line echoes of RT with the known work of Middleton. It could be that Tourneur wrote RT, but it seems more likely that he didn't. One might consider that Tourneur and Middleton collaborated on RT, but that also seems unlikely.

Note the recurring theme of men being nothing more than fanciful beasts. The play begins with that idea, espoused by D'Amville as a reason for doing whatever he pleases, and again when he expresses it at IV.iii.119-22. But Levidulca expresses it when she is waiting for Fresco to return. For her it is a reason to do what she is doing at IV.iv.19-20.

D'Amville's obsession to gain money for his posterity seems to damn his posterity. Rousard, for no fault of his other than being a dutiful son and marrying the girl his father picks, is damned to a lingering illness and death. Sebastian, who begins by denouncing the evil he sees, falls into bawdry and is killed. It would, therefore, seem that the sins of the father are visited upon the sons--just as the virtue of Montferrers is visited upon Charlemont.

The subject of superstitions, premonitions, dream prophecy, omens, etc. enters the play at several key points. These superstitions are usually ignored or flouted by the characters and seem to go to the heart of the atheist's disbelief in God.

The play seems to present a bifurcated supernatural world: one of Nature, which D'Amville espouses as his leader, and the other of religious faith, feigned by Snuff but held dear by Charlemont. A further investigation of the superstitious world of AT might deserve a paper.

The harsh punishment of Cataplasma, Soquette, and Fresco reminds one of the harsh Jonsonian punishments at the end of Volpone.

The theme of the play--let God have his vengeance-is nowhere better expressed than when Charlemont says:

Only to heaven I attribute the work, Whose gracious motives made me still forbear To be mine own revenger. Now I see That patience is the honest man's revenge. (AT V.ii.268-71)

Plays to be compared:

Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy (for the possibility of its having been written by Tourneur as a companion piece to this play; note the use of thunder and the theme of the hero as revenger and non-revenger in the plays);

Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (for line echoes); Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, and Chapman's The Gentleman Usher (for the de praesenti marriage and its legal enforceability);

Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (for the Jacobean attitude towards puritans--compare Busy with Snuff);

Shakespeare's Macbeth (for line echoes, especially the belief in screech-owls foreboding doom; also the line echoes of "drinking hot blood" there and here at IV.iii.221-23);

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (for the idea of "being in snuff" indicating anger and unpleasantness, Cf. Both the character "Snuff" and the lines at II.ii.29; but also for the joke of "hanging oneself in one's garters" here at II.v.147-8 and in MND at V);

Shakespeare's Hamlet (for the tragedy of blood and revenger motives, but also for line echoes at "leave her to heaven" admonition from the ghost, and the "Am I a villain? Who calls me thus?" there with IV.iii.216-7, "Why, was I born a coward? He lies that says so" here--and also for similar actions as the ghost staying the hand of his avenging son in Gertrude's chamber and here at III.ii.35-7 when Charlemont is at Sebastian's throat; also for the memento mori with death heads in the churchyard scenes).

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