The First Part of
THE FAIR MAID OF THE WEST,
A GIRL WORTH GOLD
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
ALDERMAN OF FOY
The Alderman of Foy (Fowey in Cornwall) learns of the Mayor of Foy's interest in a marriage between Bess and the Mayor's son, and he volunteers to broach the subject to her. When Goodlack later inquires about Bess's character, both he and the Mayor attest to the high quality of her reputation and the virtue everyone notices in her.
Alcade is a bashaw (pasha) in service to Mullisheg, King of Morocco and Fez. He encourages the King to tax, and if necessary to confiscate, the ships and the goods of the Europeans who have enriched themselves by trade along the Barbary Coast.
Joffer is a bashaw (pasha) in service to Mullisheg, King of Morocco and Fez. He encourages the King's plan to collect European women for service as concubines in the palace, a plan that leads directly to Mullisheg's desire to see Bess when he learns that an "English lady" has recently landed in Morocco.
Bess Bridges is the Fair Maid of the West. Daughter of a bankrupt tanner in Somersetshire, Bess serves as a barmaid in the Castle tavern where she meets and falls in love with Spencer, a gentleman staying in Plymouth and awaiting the departure of the Earl of Essex's forces on the Islands' Voyage of 1597. When Spencer leaves (after having killed the bully Carrol), Bess follows his wishes and moves to Foy (Fowey) in Cornwall. There she assumes control of the Windmill tavern and awaits his return. Upon receiving the mistaken report of Spencer's death, Bess bestows most of the fortune she has now inherited from him on worthy local causes (underwriting young men who are beginning in the trades, providing dowries for poor girls, supporting injured soldiers, et cetera), and she purchases a ship which she orders to be painted black and christens the Negro. After feasting the whole town at her expense, she appoints Goodlack master of the ship and sails for the Azores to retrieve the body of her beloved. For the journey, Bess dons male attire, as she had earlier to teach the cowardly Roughman his place, and thus she appears hereafter to be a ship's officer. Arriving in the Azores and discovering that the body of the man named Spencer has been disinterred and the remains burned by the Spanish, Bess sets out to destroy as many Spanish vessels as she may. In the course of her career, she rescues the English ship bearing Spencer, her now recovered lover, but seeing him, she assumes him to be a ghost. He notices something familiar about her, but is deceived by her male clothing. When her ship lands at Mamorah to take on water, Mullisheg, the King of Fez and Morocco, who wishes to add many European women to the number of his concubines, summons her. The effect of her beauty and obvious virtue is so great, however, that the King gives up any thought of carnal pursuit, grants Bess and her followers a number of favors and, when he sees Bess and Spencer reunited, arranges a magnificent wedding feast for the new couple.
Carrol is the hot-tempered gentleman-bully who insults Bess in the Castle pub and who is then killed by Spencer, Bess's beloved.
Before act V, the Chorus figure appears and apologizes for having to narrate the action that occurs between IV and V, but he notes that the stage can "express a sea" only poorly. He then recounts how Bess and her crew take many prizes from the Spanish and the Turks, and how they have now put in for water at Mamorah on the Barbary Coast where Bess will be summoned to Mullisheg's court.
A clownish tapster in service to Bess at the Windmill tavern in Foy, Clem is devoted to her and accompanies her on the voyage to retrieve what they believe to be the remains of Spencer. During the visit to Morocco, Clem will be the agent (for a fee, of course) for the return of goods and ship to the French Merchant, and for the release of the imprisoned crew of the Italian Merchant.
DRAWERS IN PLYMOUTH
The two Drawers work at the Castle tavern in Plymouth. They provide verbal humor in their exchanges with Spencer, Bess, and Goodlack early in the play. They appear among the Petitioners in the dumb show, and they inform the audience, after Spencer's departure, of Bess's having settled her affairs in Plymouth and of her remove to Foy in Cornwall, there to assume the management of the Windmill tavern and to await the return of Spencer.
EARL OF ESSEX
The Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, appears in the dumb show of act I receiving petitions before his departure for the Islands' Voyage to the Azores and other Spanish territories (historically, in 1597). The Two Drawers, who are among the Petitioners, later comment favorably upon his having settled Caroll's tavern debt and praise the Earl for his "noble mind."
The English Merchant agrees to take the wounded Spencer aboard his ship and return him to England after he completes his voyage. His ship is taken first by the Spanish, and then in turn by Bess. He and his vessel later appear in Morocco, having been seized by Mullisheg, the King of Fez and Morocco, for failure to pay tariffs. His goods and ship are returned to him when Spencer intercedes with the King.
A group of English sailors informs Goodlack as he is leaving Fayal for England to visit Bess that a bell he hears tolling in the distance is for one "Spencer" who has died. He mistakenly concludes that they refer to his wounded friend by that name. Later, the sailors find themselves at the Windmill tavern in Foy, and they inform Bess of the death in the Azores of one named Spencer. Like Goodlack, Bess assumes that the individual who has died is her beloved.
ENGLISH SEA CAPTAINS
Early in the play, two English Sea Captains describe Bess's combination of beauty, modesty, affability, and virtue to Carrol, thereby provoking the bully to visit the Castle pub where he will insult Bess and be killed by Spencer. Later in the Azores, the Captains reappear arguing with each other. Attempting to end the altercation before they harm themselves, Spencer intervenes and is accidentally wounded. Because this occurs at the same time as the death of another man named Spencer, the confusion begins over the alleged death of Bess's Spencer.
Forset (or Fawcett) is a friend to both Bess and Spencer. He brings Bess word of Spencer's desire to see her before fleeing Plymouth. He informs Roughman of Bess's virtues, and he later accompanies Bess aboard her ship The Negro.
The French Merchant has had his ship and goods seized by Mullisheg in Morocco. They are returned by the King's order after Clem intercedes on his behalf.
Goodlack is a captain and close friend of Spencer's. When Spencer is wounded at Fayal, he sends Goodlack back to England with his ring, a farewell message for Bess, and his will leaving all his fortune to her. Goodlack is charged to investigate Bess's reputation and, if she has become loose, the inheritance will fall to Goodlack himself. Hearing as he departs that a man named Spencer has just died, Goodlack returns believing that his friend has after all succumbed to his wounds. In Foy, Goodlack hears nothing but good reports about Bess, and after examining her himself and seeing her unfeigned dismay when he threatens to take away the portrait of Spencer that she cherishes, Goodlack reveals the true purpose of his visit and then offers his service to her. She accepts, has him purchase a ship for her, and then makes him captain of The Negro, the vessel she intends to use to bring what she supposes to be the corpse of Spencer back from the Azores. Later, when their ship takes the vessel upon which Spencer is sailing, Goodlack is being treated below decks for his wounds, and thus is not able to explain to his friend that the officer who reminds Spencer of his beloved is, in fact, Bess in male attire.
The Italian Merchant, a Florentine, prevails upon Clem to plead for the release of some of his crew who have been sentenced to the galleys by Mullisheg. As in the case of the French Merchant and his goods, Clem is successful.
KITCHMAID AT THE WINDMILL TAVERN
The sharp-tongued Kitchenmaid at the Windmill tavern in Foy has a brief-but-spirited exchange with the abusive blusterer Roughman.
MAYOR OF FOY
Recognizing Bess's combination of virtue, beauty, and business acumen, the Mayor of Foy seeks a marriage between her and his only son.
MAYOR OF PLYMOUTH
The Mayor of Plymouth appears accompanying the Earl of Essex as he receives the Petitioners in the dumb show in the first act.
After successfully extending his rule over both Fez and Morocco, Mullisheg determines to begin taxing European traders as a way to restore his depleted treasury. At the same time, he decides to gather a number of European women to serve as concubines, and he thus sends for Bess when he hears of the arrival of an "English lady." When he meets Bess, he is smitten with desire for her, but eventually her transparent virtue elicits his better nature, and as a result he is prevailed upon to be merciful to many of the visiting Europeans. Because her companion Clem pleads for the French Merchant, the King orders that the ship and goods which have been confiscated be returned to him. Again, when Clem intercedes for the Italian Merchant, some of whose men have been condemned to the galleys, Mullisheg orders their release. When Bess herself asks that the Preacher who has been sentenced to death for proselytizing be spared, the King orders it. Finally, when Spencer begins to plead for the English Merchant's ship and goods, Mullisheg grants their return even before Spencer has completed his speech. The King at last resigns himself to seeing Bess and Spencer married, and he commands a great wedding feast for the couple and promises to bestow great treasure upon them.
PETITIONERS IN THE DUMB SHOW
The Petitioners in the dumb show of the first act, some of them representing the commercial community in Plymouth, appear before the Duke of Essex asking that, among other things, he see to the bills accumulated by his forces. Among the Petitioners are the two Drawers from the Castle tavern, who remain on stage to praise the Earl's actions after the rest of the dumb show participants have left.
Sentenced to death for proselytizing in Muslim Morocco, the Preacher is spared when Bess intercedes for him, and he is asked later by Spencer to preside at their marriage.
PROLOGUE AT COURT
The Prologue at Court opens the play with the customary flattery of the monarch. He briefly describes how, in ancient Greece at an annual feast attended only by princes and their wives, the best governor and the most beautiful and virtuous lady would be elected to reign for the next year. He then indicates that the English king and queen in attendance are so worthy that they deserve to preside not just for a year, but forever.
Roughman is a typical Elizabethan swaggerer and "roarer" who attempts to abuse Bess and her staff at the Windmill tavern in Foy. When Bess disguises as a man, confronts him, disarms him without a fight, and forces him to lie on the ground while she demonstrates her superiority by stepping over him, he promises to stop bothering the people at the Windmill. His subjugation by the disguised Bess changes him, and he learns to be truly courageous. He accompanies Bess and Goodlack on their mission to find the corpse of what they suppose to be Spencer in the Azores, and serving as a lieutenant under Captain Goodlack, he goes with them to Morocco.
The Spanish Captain commands the ship that takes the vessel upon which Spencer is sailing. When Bess defeats the Spanish Captain, she releases him with the order to "pray for English Bess." Perhaps because Bess is dressed as a man, the Captain responds that he is not sure who that is, but if it is "Famous Elizabeth," the queen, he will report to all that both she and her subjects are merciful.
Taken prisoner at Fayal and interrogated, the Spanish Captives tell Bess that, when the Spanish forces retook the town, Spencer's body was removed from the church because he was a heretic (that is, Protestant), buried in a field, and then disinterred and burned by order of the Church. Mistakenly thinking that this shameful treatment has been heaped upon her beloved Spencer, Bess swears to have revenge on all Spaniards.
Spencer is a gentleman who, meeting Bess at the Castle tavern in Plymouth, falls in love with her. After killing the bully Carrol who has slandered Bess, Spencer departs for the Azores with the Earl of Essex's forces, leaving Bess his portrait, some money, the title to the Windmill tavern in the Cornish town of Foy, and a request that she wait for him there. In the Azores, Spencer is wounded trying to part two English Captains during an argument. Believing his wounds to be severe, he sends his friend Goodlack to Foy with his ring, a farewell message for Bess, and a will leaving his considerable estate to her, with the proviso that she must still have continued to be virtuous in his absence. Spencer has the good fortune to meet an English Surgeon who manages to heal his wounds and who invites him to come aboard the ship of an English Merchant for whom he works. During their voyage, the ship is taken first by the Spanish, then by Bess's ship, but the lovers fail to recognize one another at the time. Spencer notes something familiar about her but fails to comprehend the truth because Bess is dressed in male attire; she in turn thinks him to be a ghost, and with Captain Goodlack wounded below decks, the key to their reunion is lacking. Arriving in Morocco, Spencer is on hand as Bess, now dressed as a woman, visits Mullisheg's court, and the two are united at last. Mullisheg arranges their marriage and a great feast and promises rich treasure to them.
In Fayal, the Surgeon treats Spencer's wounds, and because the main English fleet has already sailed for home, he offers Spencer passage on the vessel where he serves. An English Merchant owns the London ship. This merchant will later be rescued by Spencer's intervention with Mullisheg.