William Stevenson (?)

circa 1552-63

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The constable. Dr. Rat, who has had his broken head and wants Dame Chat to be arrested for it, calls for him and his servant Scapethryft. When it is discovered that Diccon is behind the mischief, Master Bayley, Diccon's friend, lets the rascal off very lightly.


Gammer's boy. He is called to bring a candle so Hodge can search the house for the needle. He relates Hodge's humorous search to Gammer and Tyb. He finds a straw that he at first thinks is the needle. Gammer sends him to Dr. Rat the parson to have him persuade Dame Chat to return the needle.


Owner of the alehouse where Diccon spends much of his time. She believes Diccon when he tells her that Gammer stole her rooster. Diccon makes Gammer believe that Dame Chat stole the needle. The two old women fight over the rooster and needle. When the needle is at last found in Hodge's breeches, she invites everyone over for a drink.


Begins the play by stealing a rasher of bacon. He tells Hodge that there is something upsetting Gammer and Tyb. He pretends to raise a spirit to look for the needle and terrifies Hodge in the process. The prankster tells Dame Chat that Gammer stole her rooster. He tells Hodge that the spirit mentioned "Chat, rat, cat" in connection with the needle. He next tells Gammer that he saw Dame Chat pick the needle up by the post and that she intends to keep it. He is soon discovered, but it is his friend Master Bayley the constable who decides upon his punishment, and he is only made to swear on Hodge's breeches not to pay when Dr. Rat offers to pay for a meal, be good to the cat, and the like. When instead Diccon kicks Hodge in the breeches, the needle is found to be there. He is thanked for finding the needle.


Dame Chat's servant. Dame Chat orders her to bring Diccon a glass of ale after Diccon tells Chat that Gammer stole her rooster.


Gammer was out by the post sewing Hodge's breeches when she spied Gyb the cat drinking milk from the pan. She tossed the breeches aside and chased the cat away. Since then they have been searching for the needle. Diccon persuades her that Dame Chat stole the needle. Meantime, Diccon has also told Dame Chat that Gammer stole her rooster. The two old women fight over the rooster and needle. She sends for Dr. Rat the curate to make Dame Chat give back the needle. When the needle is finally found in Hodge's breeches, she is willing to be friends again.


A "ghost character". Lends Hodge a thong and awl to make a temporary patch for his breeches.


Gammer's cat. Gyb is seen drinking milk, and Gammer loses her needle when she throws Hodge's breeches down to chase Gyb. In the house, Hodge mistakes Gyb's glowing eyes for fairy lights that might catch the thatch alight.


Gammer's servant. He begins the play by rubbing his breeches and accidentally tearing them. Cocke humorously relates Hodge's search of the house. Hodge takes a "straw" away from Cocke and breaks it open only to discover it is one of the cat's turds. He fouls his breeches when Diccon pretends to raise a spirit to find the needle. He is forced to change into the breeches that Gammer had been mending when the needle was lost. Diccon tells him that the spirit mentioned "Chat, rat, cat" in connection with the needle. Hodge believes it refers to Dame Chat, Dr. Rat or Gyb the cat. The needle is found still in his breeches when Diccon kicks him and Hodge believes himself bitten.


He sets out the whole plot, the ending included.


The curate. Gammer asks him to make Dame Chat return the needle. He feels hard-pressed to go about on his rounds all the time, and complains about never having a moment to himself. But he must be up and about or else he'll not get a tithe pig, or the like, when it comes due. Dame Chat throws hot water on him as he sneaks around her alehouse in the dark trying to catch her with the needle and breaks his head. He calls for Master Bayley and Scapethryft, the constable and his man, to arrest Dame Chat.


The constable Master Bayley's servant. Dr. Rat, who has had his broken head and wants Dame Chat to be arrested for it, calls for him.


A "ghost character". Hodge sees Tom's cow jumping about and thinks it is an omen.


Gammer's maid. She tells Hodge that Gammer Gurton's needle is missing. She looks in vain through the dustbins for the needle.


After a Prologue, which sets out the whole plot, the ending included, the play begins.

I.ii finds Diccon the Bedlam coming from Gammer Gurton's house, having just stolen a bit of bacon. He says that Gammer and her maid, Tyb, are upset about something, but they won't say what it is.

I.ii: Hodge, Gammer's servant, comes in and sees Diccon. He rubs his breeches and accidentally tears them, upsetting himself quite a bit. Hodge at first dismisses Diccon's protestations that there is something wrong in the Gurton house. He is soon convinced, however, that the women are upset and tells of a premonition that he had of mischief (he saw Tom Tankard's cow jumping about). Hodge is a superstitious man. Diccon goes to the alehouse of Dame Chat.

I.iii: Tyb comes out and speaks to Hodge. Hodge guesses the awful truth; Gammer Gurton's needle is missing. Apparently Gammer was out by the post sewing Hodge's breeches when she spied Gyb the cat drinking the milk from the pan. She tossed the breeches aside and chased the cat away. Since then they have been searching for the needle.

I.iv: Gammer comes out, upset over her needle's loss. Tyb is sent to look through the dustbins for the needle. Hodge upbraids Gammer for losing the needle. Gammer calls for Cocke, her boy, to bring a candle so Hodge can search the house for the needle. Hodge goes in to search.

I.v: Tyb comes back. Search as she might, she tells Gammer, she could not find the needle in the refuse and dust. Cocke comes out to tell the humorous tale of Hodge's search. Finding the candlelight too weak, Hodge went to stoke up the fireplace. Gyb the cat was in the dark recesses of the fireplace and, mistaking the glow of Gyb's eyes for smoldering embers, Hodge tried to blow them to life. Gyb merely shut her eyes against the wind and reopened them when Hodge finished blowing; this convinced Hodge that the fireplace was haunted (again demonstrating Hodge's superstitious nature). When Gyb bolted up the stairs, Hodge ran after, fearing the "faerie lights" would set the thatch alight. Gammer calls Hodge to come down and quit bothering the cat. Hodge is none too sure that it is the cat indeed that has climbed into the rafters, but he comes down.

Cocke finds what he thinks is the needle, but it is only a straw, Hodge butts in and takes it from Cocke, saying that the needle might be inside the straw. He breaks it open and the foul smell tells him that it is no straw, but a cat turd he has broken in his hand. They all go wearily into the house.

During the entr'acte the actors sing a song.

II.i: Hodge meets Diccon. Hodge has nothing but a dry piece of bread for supper. The cat drank all of his milk, and he believes that Gyb the cat also ate the bacon (that Diccon actually stole). Hodge tells Diccon that Gammer has lost her needle. Diccon, after swearing Hodge to secrecy upon his breeches (since there is no Bible to swear upon) says the only way to find the needle is to summon a spirit. Playing upon Hodge's superstitions, Diccon terrifies Hodge by describing the foul fiend he must conjure, and, as Diccon is going through the motions of raising the devil, Hodge "fouls his breeches" and runs into the house.

II.ii: Diccon decides to play a trick on everyone. He goes to Chat's house and tells Chat, after swearing her to secrecy, that Tib told Gammer that Chat stole and ate Gammer's rooster. He tells Chat that Gammer will be along any minute to fight with her over the matter. Chat, greatly angered at the insult, nevertheless promises not to tell that Diccon (her good friend) has told her this. Chat has Doll, her servant, bring Diccon a glass of ale.

II.iii: Hodge comes out, fearing that Diccon has been spirited away by the demon. He has changed his breeches from those he fouled and is now wearing those Gammer was mending. Diccon meets him and says the demon was hard to understand and said something about "Chat, rat, cat" in connection with the needle. Diccon wonders if he meant Chat the neighbor, Dr. Rat the curate, or Gyb the cat.

II.iv: Gammer meets Diccon and tells him of her needle's loss. Diccon says he saw Chat pick it up by the post awhile ago. When he told Chat that it was Gammer's, he says, Chat told him to mind his own business. Gammer is enraged, but Diccon has her promise not to tell Chat it was he who told on her. II.v: Diccon, alone, gloats over his sport. He calls for musicians to play to the audience between the acts.

III.i: Hodge comes in with a thong and awl that the glover lent him to make a temporary patch for his breeches.

III.ii: Gammer tells Hodge that Chat has her needle. She says Diccon saw it. Hodge says that he heard Diccon's devil name Chat as the culprit.

III.iii: Gammer accosts Chat, who fights back (believing herself falsely accused of rooster boosting). The old women hurl invective at one another and fall into a fistfight. Hodge watches, too cowardly to help Gammer. When Gammer falls, Hodge retreats into the house. He reappears brandishing the awl. Gammer attacks Chat from behind. Chat falls, rises, knocks down Gammer, and leaves. Gammer sends Cocke to have Dr. Rat (the parson) come make Chat return the needle.

III.iv: Tyb comes in with Gyb, who acts as if he has swallowed something. Hodge believes it is the needle and offers to cut the cat open for it. Gammer rejects the idea. Hodge offers to rake the cat (explore the anus) for the needle. Cocke returns with the news that Dr. Rat is coming. They have much faith in Rat because he was able to find Hob Filcher's awl when it was lost. All go into Gammer's house.

IV.i: Dr. Rat enters. He feels hard-pressed to go about on his rounds all the time, and complains about never having a moment to himself. But he must be up and about or else he'll not get a tithe pig, or the like, when it comes due. Gammer comes in and tells Rat that she has lost her needle to Chat.

IV.ii: Hodge verifies Gammer's story about Chat. Diccon is called in for further proof of Chat's guilt. Diccon refuses to bear witness, saying that he told Gammer but also said that he would not stand by it. Everyone leaves but Diccon to devise a way to catch Chat in the act of using the needle. Diccon goes to Chat and tells her that Hodge has plotted to sneak into her house tonight and steal her chickens. He asks if there is a hole for Hodge to creep through into the house. Chat tells Diccon of one. Diccon tells her to sit by it and clout the man as he comes through.

Diccon next goes to Dr. Rat and tells him that he saw Chat using the needle in her house. He saw her when he poked his head through a hole in her house. He leads Rat to the hole, and Rat crawls in. In the dark house Chat beats Rat and throws hot water on him before he can escape. Rat escapes wet and limping from Chat's alehouse, his only thought on revenge.

V.i: Rat comes in with Master Bayley, the constable, and Scapethryft, Master Bayley's servant. He shows Bayley his broken head and calls for Chat to be arrested for it. When summoned, Chat swears that she broke Hodge's head when he tried to steal her chickens. She has not seen Rat for a long time. Rat is adamant. Chat honestly does not know that it was Rat she beat in the dark. There is both a "burden of proof" and a res ipsa loquitur argument at this juncture. When Scapethryft knocks on Gammer's door to summon Hodge for stealing the chickens Gammer answers. Gammer says Chat robbed her. Hodge enters, shows his unbroken pate, and is released. Gammer again accuses Chat of theft. This time she mentions that it is the needle that is stolen. Soon everyone realizes that Diccon is responsible for the confusion.

Diccon is caught and brought before the group. Rat wants instant justice. All agree that Bayley should pronounce judgment on Diccon. (Bayley, it is learned, is a friend of Diccon's). Bayley makes Diccon kneel and swear by Hodge's breeches. He makes Diccon swear never to pay when Dr. Rat offers to pay, never to offer twice to pay after Chat offers free drinks, to help Gammer find her needle, to be good to Gyb the cat, and never to mistake Hodge for a fine gentleman. Hodge bends to have his breeches sworn upon and Diccon kicks him in the seat.

Hodge believes he's been bitten. When he reaches around he finds Gammer's needle still in the breeches she had thrown down to chase Gyb out of the milk pan. Diccon is thanked for his help in finding the needle and all go to the ale house good friends.


Diccon, like Merygreeke in Ralph Roister Doister, is a merry intriguer who delights in causing misunderstandings and getting people around him into jams for his entertainment. This sort of witty intriguer, culled from the New Comedy tradition, will become a staple in later works such as Marston's The Dutch Curtezan (viz. Cockledemoy) and Jonson's Every Man in His Humor (viz. Brainworm). There is a host of others.

Hodge is a bulky simpleton whose superstition is well introduced before he fouls his first breeches thus leading him to put on the other breeches wherein lies the needle.

Chat is supposed to be a virtuous lady, and therein lies some of her humor: being suspected of being a thief she behaves like a hellion.

Gammer is a cantankerous old woman, and a sketchy character she is, even in this non-character-driven play; this is noteworthy as she is the title character.

Tyb and Doll as well as Cocke are no more distinguished than Gyb the cat.

Rat is interesting as a parson with little patience for his congregation and little forgiveness in his heart when crossed.

Bayley and Scapethryft are interesting constables, and could be compared as forerunners to Dogberry and the other great constables of Renaissance comedy in general.

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Notes of Interest:

Like Ralph Roister Doister, this play is broken up into "French" scenes. That is, a new scene is marked where a main character enters or exits. This lends a rapid pace to each act.

There are two interesting notations in the text-at II.i.308 and V.ii.1026 wherein the writer (or prompter) reminds the reader (read actor) of the reason for the line. Both times the character's intention (subtext) for the line is explained. First, when Hodge complains that Gyb has eaten the bacon "which bacon Diccon stole, as is declared before," and again when Chat wants Bayley to see Hodge's head "thinking that Hodge his head was broke, and that Gammer wold not let him come before them." Both provide interesting moments of prompting.

The importance of getting Hodge into the other pair of breeches (the "needled" breeches) appears to have been a problem for the author. He gives three motivations for Hodge needing to put on the "needled" breeches. First, when Hodge steps on stage the first time he immediately rips his "unneedled" breeches, thus requiring that he put on the others. Second, he tells Diccon that a young lady smiled at him last market day when he tipped his hat and he wants to wear his better breeches (and have them mended) before tomorrow. Finally, at Diccon's conjuring of the demon, Hodge fouls his "unneedled" breeches and is required to change into the "needled" breeches, which are not fully mended.

The humor comes from a "tempest in a teapot" type of plot. Nothing of great moment is at stake, and Greene asks us to laugh at our inferiors for their foolishness.

Plays to be compared:

Other Tudor plays in general, and Ralph Roister Doister in particular (for the countrified setting and the merry intriguer, as well as the country dialect).

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