Medicine for a Curst Wife, A

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Thomas Dekker (1602)


Contents

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe’s Diary)


For the Admiral's Men

F. 107 (Greg I.169)

Lent vnto Thomas downton & edwarde
Jewbe to geue vnto Thomas deckers in
earnest of A comody called A medysen
for A cvrste wiffe … 19 of July 1602 … xxxxs


Lent vnto thomas downton the 31 of July
1602 to paye vnto [hary chettell] Thomas
deckers in parte of payment of his comody
called a medyssen for a cvrste wiffe …
the some of … xxxxs



For Worcester's Men

F. 115 (Greg I.179)

Layd owt more for the company in parte of payment
for a boocke called medsen for a cvrst wiffe
the some of … xs
vnto thomas deckers …


F. 115v (Greg I.180)

pd at the a poynment of the company
the 1 of september 1602 in parte of payment
for a comody called a medysen for a
cvrste wiffe to thomas deckers some of … iiijli


pd at the apoyntment the [of] companye
the 2 of september 1602 in full payment
for a comody called a medysen for a
cvrste wiffe to thomas deckers some of … xxxs


F. 116 (Greg I.181)

pd vnto thomas deckers the 27 of september 1602
over & a bove his price of his boocke called a
medysen for a cvrste wiffe some of … xs



Theatrical Provenance

A Medicine for a Curst Wife was commissioned in July 1602 for the Lord Admiral's Men at The Fortune, but by August the play had apparently been transferred to the Earl of Worcester’s Men who then were occupying Henslowe’s Rose playhouse. Between 19 July and 2 September Dekker was paid a total of £10, and then on 27 September 1602 he was given 10s "over & a bove his price".

The leading members of Worcester's company who almost certainly acted in the first performances of A Medicine for a Curst Wife were Will Kempe, Thomas Heywood, Richard Perkins, Christopher Beeston, John Lowin, John Duke, John Thare, and Robert Pallant.



Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues


(early uses of the cure / plague / shrew metaphor)

xxxx

Prefigured in Patient Grissel

In the Admiral’s play Patient Grissel (1599), by Dekker, Henry Chettle and William Haughton, the Duke (who is testing Grissel’s patience) cuts six willow wands and shares them with his Welsh kinsman Sir Owen (who is contending with his strong-willed bride). The Duke is setting us up for a lesson in marital flexibility, but Sir Owen assumes that his wands are to be woven into a cudgel to be used in ‘taming his shrew’. He later tells his manservant (in stage Welsh), “Rees, pring the wands here… I will learn your medicines to tame shrews” (V. ii. 23-33), and “Rees, the wandes Rees, your medicines and fine trigs to tame shrews… where be the wandes I bound up? …winde them and mag good mightie cudgel, to tame and knog her Latie, and she prawl.” (V. ii. 223-30).

Although the concept of beating an unruly wife, sometimes specifically with a cudgel (as for instance in the early Elizabethan play Tom Tiler), obviously predates Dekker, I can (so far) find no instance in proverb references or early texts of the cudgel or beating being regarded metaphorically as a ‘medicine’ or a ‘cure’ for the ‘plague’ or ‘disease’ of shrewishness earlier than the episode in Patient Grissel. According to Hoy (citing also W. L. Halstead and D. M. Greene) it appears that Haughton, not Dekker, wrote the Welsh episodes in the play, although the final scene (V.ii) may contain the work of all three authors. But even if Dekker did not compose this passage he must have been familiar with it.

"A Medicine to cure the Plague of a womans tongue, experimented on a Coblers wife"

(This tale from Thomas Dekker's The Rauens Almanacke (1609) cannot of course be the source for his play of 1602 but as Pendry and Wiggins note (see Critical Commentary below), it appears that Dekker recycled part of his play into this tale.)

A Mery Cobler there was, (dwelling at Ware) who for ioy that he mended mens broken & corrupted soles, did continually sing, so that his shop seemed a verrie bird cage, & he sitting there in his foule linnen and greasie Apron, shewed like a black bird. It was this poore Sowters destiny not to be hang'd, but (worse then that) to be marryed: & to what creature thinke you? to a faire, to a young to a neate delicate coūtrie Lasse, that for her good partes was able to put downe all Ware: but with all this honny that flowed in her, did there drop such aboundance of gal and poison from her Scorpiō-like tongue, that monsieur Shoo-mender wished his life were set vpon the shortest last, and a thousand times a day was ready to dye Caesars death: O valiant Cordwaynerland to stab himselfe not with a bodkin, but with his furious Awle, because hée knew that would goe through stitch: hee neuer tooke vp the endes of his threed, but he wished those to bee the endes of his threed of life: he neuer parde his patches, but hee wished his knife to be the sheeres of the fatall Sisters three, hee neuer handled his Ball of waxe but he compared them to this wife, & sighed to think that he that touches pitch, must be defiled.

Now did his songs as heauily come from him as musick does from a Fidler, when in a Tauerne he plaies for nothing. Now did signeur Cobler stand no more on his pantofles, but at his shutting in of shop, could haue bene content to haue had all his neighbours haue throwne his olde shooes after him when hee went home, in signe of good lucke.

But alas, hee durst not doe that neither, for shee that plaide the Deuill in womans apparell (his wife I meane) made her Caualero Cobler, to giue her account euerie night of euerie patch that went through his fingers. In this purgatorie did our graduate in the Gentle craft liue a long time, but at lenght he was thrust into hell, for his wife (not following the steps of her husband, who was euer on the mending hand, but growing from bad into worse) cast aside her Wedding stockings, & drew on a paire of yellow hose: then was my miserable Cobler more narrowly watched thē a Mouse by a Cat, or a debter by a Catch-pole: he durst not vnlock his lippes after a Wēch, but his teeth were ready to flie out of his head wt her beating: to haue touched any Petticoate but his wife was more dangerous then for a Cat to eate fire: if any maide brought but her shooes to mending, his wife swore presently that hee had the length of her foote, and that he sowed loue-stitches into euerie peece, though it were no bigger then a Chandlers token.

Wearied therefore with this (worse then a beare-baiting) and being almost worne to the bare-bones, his heart fretting out euen to the elbowes by rubbing vp and downe in this miserie, At the length my braue boote-haler sifted his wits to the verie bran, for some hooke to fasten into his wiues nostrils, and the pill which he founde either to choake her or purge her, was this:

A Doctor of whome all Ware was affraid, because the Uicar of the towne suck'd more sweetnesse out of his Patients whome he sent to him (by reason all that came vnder his hands, went the way of al flesh) Then out of all his tithe-Pigs, hapned to dwell close by this distressed Cobler: to him (hauing saued his water ouer night) repaires my reformer of decayed Shoo-leather, betimes in the morning. The Bonjour being giuen and returned, the Coblers water was looked into, much tossing and tumbling of it there was for a prettie while, and at last it was demaunded whose the Urine should bee? Mine (quoth the Cobler) So it may be replyed our Galenist, for I spie neither any disease swimming about thy body in this water, and thy verry lookes shew that thou art sound: Sound, (cries out the infected Cobler) alas sir I see now that some diseases haue power to make dunces of Doctors themselues, Sound (quoth a) why sir I am sicke at heart, I am struck with the Plague, I haue a Plague sore vppon mee (your Doctors Cap is not able to couer it, tis so broade) it eates and spreds more and more into my flesh, and if you apply not some presēt remedie, Ware must & shall trudge to some other, whē their olde shooes want mending, for the Cobler's but a deade man.

At this the Doctor stood amazed, and wondred that his skil should shoote so wide as not to finde out a greefe so commō, so dangerous and so palpable: wherupon hee bidding the Cobler to open his brest, and not to feare to shew him that Plaguesore, where of hee so complained: the Cobler presently tolde him hee would but steppe foorth of doores, and at his return he should see it: at length the Cobler comes backe againe with his wife borne on his backe like a Sowe new scalded on the backe of a Butcher, and for all her kicking, rayling, cursing and swearing, yet to the Doctor hee came with her, crying looke you heere Maister Doctor, this is my plaguesore that so torments mee: in the night it keepes mee from sleepe, in the day it makes me madde: in my bed this serpent stings me, at my boord shee stabs mee, and all with one weapon (her villanous tongue, her damnable tongue) If I reply she fights: if I say nothing shee raues: if you call not this a plague Maister Doctor, then such a plague light on you Maister Doctor teach me therefore how to cure it, or else if you giue me ouer I shall grow desperate and cut mine owne throate.

The Doctor at this laughed, the Coblers wi[f]e rayled, the Cobler himselfe bid her lye still, & held her so long till a number of his neighbors came about him to beholde this sceane of mirth: all of them (knowing how dangerously the Cobler was infected with this mariage-plague, desiring the Doctor to play the right phisitian, and to cure their neighbour. The Doctor heereupon swore hee would doe it, and stepping into his study hee returned immediately with a paper in one hand, & a faire cudgell in the other, deliuering both to the Cobler, protesting that neither Gallen, Auarois, nor Hippocrates can prescribe any other remedie then this, and that if this medicine cure not the womās euill, nothing can[.] The Cobler hauing neither the wrighting nor reading tongue, requested the Doctor to reade the receipt, as for the cudgell he vnderstood that well enough.

The paper therefore after a solemne O yes by all the standers by was read, & contained thus much:
Take this salue Cobler for thy Plague-sore,
A crabbed cudgell fits a froward Whore,
Beate her well and thriftily:
Whilst she cries out lustily:
Neuer let thy hand giue ore,
Till she sweares to scolde no more.

At the end of this, the Audience gaue a plauditie, in token they liked well of the Doctors phisicke: the Cobler thanked him, and thus insteede of an Epilogue spake to his neighbors, neighbors (qd, he) you know, & I know, nay the deuil himselfe knowes, that my wife hath stucke vppon mee like a Plague thus many yeares, to apply either the sirrop of a Salt Eele, or the oile of holly to her shoulders, I heatherto was affraide, because I had no warrant that a man might lawfullye beate his wife. But now sithence Maister Doctor, (who wears not a veluet night cap for nothing) hauing turned ouer his bookes, findes that no hearbe, mineral, salue, nor plaister, no purging nor any other blood-letting will cure or take out that worme vnder a womās tongue, (which makes her mad) but onely a soūd beating: I will (God willing) giue her the dyet hee sets downe, & if euer I complaine hereafter to any Phisition for the griefe of this plague, let all Ware laugh at me for an asse, & swear that my wife-weares the breeches.

Upon this resolution brauely does the Cobler march home, his wife (like a furie) following, railing, reuiling and casting dirt and stones, aswell at him as at the youthes of the parish that went showting after her heeles. But being within dores and the lockes made fast by my valiāt Cobler, her tongue serued as a drum or trumpet to soūd an allarum, whilst my braue desper view prepared for the onset with a good bastinado: the assault was not so furious, but the Coblers wife was as ready to receiue it: to the skirmish fall they pell mell, the Coblers Coxecombe, being first broken, but he being no Welchman (to faint at sight of his owne blood) so plide his businesse, and so thrash'd out all the Chaffe in his wife (who was nothing but Rye) that in the end she fell on her knees, cried for the crums of the Coblers mercy, & fed vpon them hūgerly he liuing euer after more quietly for her scolding, then if hee had dwelt in a Steeple full of bels, that had lost their claps.

Thus much for the vniuersall plagues, that threaten our kingdome this present yeare 1609. Now let vs arme our heads to beare of the other miseries that are ready and must (by decree in the vpper house in the heauenly parliament) full vpon mankinde.

from EEBO-TCP or from The Non-dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. A. B. Grosart

References to the Play

None known beyond the payments in Henslowe's Diary (see under Historical Records), and the implied reference in Dekker's probable reuse of material from the play (See under Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues, and Critical Commentary).

Critical Commentary

Discovery

The title A Medicine for a Curst Wife first appeared in print in 1790:

Malone, 1790. Just as this work was issuing from the press, some curious Manuscripts relative to the stage, were found at Dulwich College, and obligingly transmitted to me from thence. One of these is a large folio volume of accounts kept by Mr. Philip Henslowe, who appears to have been proprietor of the Rose Theatre near the Bankside in Southwark… This Ms. contains a great number of curious notices relative to the dramatick poets of the time, and their productions, from the year 1597 to 1603, during which time Mr. Henslowe kept an exact record of all the money he disbursed for the various companies of which he had the management, for copies of plays and the apparel he bought for their representation. I find here notices of a great number of plays now lost, with the authors’ names... (I.ii, 288)

And a little further, under July 1602, between The Widow’s Charm and Sampson we find

A Medicine for a Curst Wife, by T. Dekker.

(By the way, Malone in a note on this page provides an early instance of ‘Henslowe lumping’ by suggesting that The Widow’s Charm is an alternative title for The Puritan Widow. (I.ii, 316)

A Medicine for a Curst Wife in relation to other ‘Shrew’ plays

Medicine then seems to have been ignored until John Payne Collier’s edition of The Taming of A Shrew in 1842, and of The Diary of Philip Henslowe in 1845. Collier was mostly concerned to explore Medicine’s possible connection with the two “Taming/Shrew” plays, setting a precedent for almost all mentions of Dekker’s play into the early decades of the 20th century. Collier seems to flip-flop as to whether Shakespeare's Shrew came before or after Dekker's play.

Collier, 1842. The recent reprint of "The Pleasant Comedy of Patient Grissill," by Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton, from the edition of 1603, tends to throw light on this point. Henslowe's Diary establishes, that the dramatists above named were writing it in the winter of 1599. It contains various allusions to the taming of shrews; and it is to be recollected that the old "Taming of a Shrew" was acted by Henslowe's company, and is mentioned by him under the date of nth June, 1594. One of the passages in "Patient Grissill," which seems to connect the two, occurs in Act. V., sc. 2, where Sir Owen producing his wands, says to the Marquess, 'I will learn your medicines to tame shrews.' This expression is remarkable, because we find by Henslowe's Diary that, in July, 1602, Dekker received a payment from the old manager, on account of a comedy he was writing under the title of 'A medicine for a curst Wife.' My conjecture is, that Shakespeare, {in coalition possibly, with some other dramatist, who wrote the portions which are admitted not to be in Shakespeare's manner) " produced his Taming of the Shrew' shortly after 'Patient Grissill' had been brought upon the stage, and as a sort of counterpart to it; and that Dekker followed up the subject in the summer of 1602 by his 'Medicine for a curst Wife,' having been incited by the success of Shakespeare's 'Taming of the Shrew' at a rival theatre. At this time the old 'Taming of a Shrew' had been laid by as a public performance, and Shakespeare having very nearly adopted its title, Dekker took a different one, in accordance with the expression he had used two or three years before in 'Patient Grissill'… (III, 104)
Collier, 1845. (The Diary of Phililp Henslowe)
Dekker’s “Medicine for Curst Wife” (p. 224) may have been a new play upon the story of the old “Taming of A Shrew,” the title of which Shakespeare did not scruple very nearly to adopt, perhaps because Dekker had avoided it. (xxiii n1)
This “Medicine for a Curst Wife” was probably some new version of the “Taming of a Shrew,” which preceded Shakespeare’s comedy… (225n1)
On the 27th September Dekker was paid 10s. “over and above his price” for the “Medicine for a Curst Wife,” owing perhaps to its great success when acted. (238n1)
Hickson, 1850. There is yet another circumstance which Mr. Collier thinks may strengthen his conclusion with regard to the date of [Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew]. He refers to the production of Dekker’s Medicine for a Curst Wife, which he thinks was a revival of the old Taming of a Shrew, brought out as a rival to Shakspeare’s play. This is easily answered. In the first place, Katharine, the Shrew, is not a “curst wife:” she becomes a wife, it is true, in the course of the play; but this is a part of the process of taming her. But what seems at once to disprove it is, that, according to Henslow’s account, Dekker was paid 10_l_. 10_s_. for the piece in question; as Mr. Collier observes, an “unusually large sum” for a new piece, and not likely to be paid for the bashing up of an old one. (226)
Hudson, 1871.In Patient Grissel… one of the persons says “I will learn your medicines to tame shrews.” In July 1602, Dekker received payment from Henslowe for a play he was then writing called “A Medicine for a curst Wife”. From whence Mr Collier conjectures “that Shakespeare produced his Taming of the Shrew soon after Patient Grissel had been brought upon the stage, and as a sort of a counterpart to it; and that Dekker followed up the subject in the summer 1602 by his Medicine for a curst Wife, having been incited by the success of Shakespeare’s play at a rival theatre.” There is much ingenuity, perhaps some force, in these reasons, but surely not enough to stand up against the internal evidence [that Shakespeare wrote his Shrew much earlier]. (III, 393)
Fleay, 1886. This [1603 date for Shakespeare’s Shrew] is confirmed by the allusions to other taming plays, of which there were several; the present play, in its altered shape, being probably the latest: ii. 1. 297 refers to Patient Grissel], by Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton, December 1599; "curst" in ii. 1. 187, 294, 307; v. 2. 188, to Dekker's Medicine for a Curst Wife], July 1602; and iv. 1. 221 to Heywood's Woman Killed with Kindness], March 1603.
Frey, 1887. This was a rival piece, evidently written because The Taming of a Shrew was very successful. In act V, ii, Sir Owen, producing his wands, says to the marquess, ' I will learn your medicines to tame shrews.' This passage may be considered as a precursor of Dekker's Medicine for a Curst Wife, also written in opposition to our old comedy.(306-7)
Irving & Marshall, 1887. This play [Shakespeare’s Shrew], in its old shape at least, seems to have been a great favourite. Mr Stokes says that “one other company at least (Lord Notingham’s) ran a series of plays on similar lines, viz. Dekker’s Patient Grissel… and Medicine for a Curst Wife…; indeed the last-named play has (but on insufficient grounds) been conceived to be Dekker’s edition of The Taming of A Shrew…. This latter play of Dekker’s… was, most probably, on the same subject as Shakespeare’s comedy, whether it was another version of the same old comedy, or not. (II, 251)
Tolman, 1889. Let us look first at the allusions to contemporary plays, etc., which are contained in [Taming of the Shrew], in order to see if these will help us in fixing the date of the play. The force of some of the supposed allusions seems to me to be entirely uncertain. Says Fleay: "II. i., 297 ['For patience she will prove a second Grissel '] refers to Patient Grissel, by Dekker, Chettle and Haughton, December, 1599; 'curst' in II. i. 187, 294, 307; V. ii. 188, to Dekker's Medicine for a Curst Wife, July, 1602; and IV. i. 221 [' This is a way to kill a wife with kindness '] to Heywood's Woman Killed with Kindness, March, 1603." " There is nothing in these passages, I think, to show that T T S. is either earlier or later than any one of these plays. Shakespeare regularly uses " curst " in this sense. (16)
Ward, 1899. [A]ny attempt to fix the date of The Shrew except within relatively wide limits, may be well regarded as hopeless. External evidence we have none; for there is nothing to show whether the play revived by Dekker in 1602, under the title of Medicine for a Curst Wife, was A Shrew or The Shrew, if indeed it was either. (II, 93)
Stotsenburg, 1904. Henslowe's Diary throws light on the composition and authorship of [Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew], as will appear by the following entries [lists the Henslowe payments for A Medicine for a Curst Wife]… Collier appends the following note[s]… "This 'medicine for a curst wife' was probably some new version of the Taming of a Shrew which preceded Shakespeare's comedy… On the 27th of September, Dekker was paid 10s. over and above his price for the "Medicine for a curst wife…" The entry to which Collier refers… reads thus : " Pd unto Thomas Deckers, the 27 of Septmbr 1602 over and above his price of his boocke called a Medysen for a curste wiffe some of ten shillings." It appears therefore that Dekker not only received from the hard-fisted Henslowe a good price for his clever comedy, but he opened his purse-strings to the amount of ten shillings more as a gift to Dekker in consequence of the great success of the play. Is Collier right in his opinion that this was a version of the old Taming of a Shrew, and am I right in asking the reader to believe with me that this costly comedy of Dekker's was the comedy which appeared in the Folio of 1623 as a Shakespeare play, revised and amended, however, by another hand?

I support my belief that Dekker's "Medicine for a curst wife" is the "Taming of the Shrew," as found with amendments and additions in the Shakespeare plays, for the following reasons: The ejaculations, familiar expressions and phrases are such as Dekker habitually used, and they are not found, at least to any extent, in the writings of other dramatists of that era. The ejaculations are as follows: "A vengeance on; aye, prithee, Fie, fie, Gramercies; God-a-mercy; O, pardon me; O, this woodcock; Tush, tush." The phrases are as follows : "A meacock wretch ; Belike (twice used); By this light; Get you hence (twice used); God give him joy; God send you joy; Here's no knavery; I am undone; I charge you in the Duke's name; imprimis (twice used); In brief (twice used); Lead apes in hell; Nay, I have ta'en you napping; Of his signs and tokens; Old worshipful; Old master; Pitchers have ears; Resolve me that; Take heed; 'Tis passing good; Where be these knaves." The words used only once in the plays and also used by Dekker are, "coney-catched, logger-headed, o'erreach, metaphysics, mother-wit."

All these ejaculations, expressions, and words are found in Fortunatus, Satiro-mastix, The Shoemakers' Holiday, and the Honest Whore. A most remarkable phrase of identification is found in the first act and first scene. Dekker was fond of using Latin sentences, and he aired his Latin in his prose and poetry whenever he could get an opportunity. In his Belman's Night Walk he quoted the following from the Eunuch of Terence, "Redime te captumquam queas minimo," and so to make a rhyme, he puts into the mouth of Tranio, in the Shakespeare play, Act 1, Scene 1, the following: " If love have touched you, nought remains but so, Redime te captum quam queas minimo." Dekker can also be traced in the Induction. " Paucas pallabris" was a favorite expression of his. See the Roaring Girl, Act 5, Scene 1. "Go by, says Jeronimo," he was fond of quoting. "I'll not budge an inch, boy" is repeated in the Honest Whore; and the expression, "But I would be loth" is also used by Dekker in Act 2, Scene 2, of Fortunatus.

The style of the writer is the style of Dekker. Take for instance the first words of Grumio, in the hall in Petruchio's Country-house as set out in Scene 1 of Act 4: "Gru.—Fie, fie, on all tired jades, on all mad masters, and all foul ways! Was ever man so beaten? was ever man so rayed? was ever man so weary? I am sent before to make a fire, and they are coming after to warm them. Now, were not I a little pot, and soon hot, my very lips might freeze to my teeth, my tongue to the roof of my mouth, my heart in my belly, ere I should come to a fire to thaw me; but, I, with blowing the fire, shall warm myself, for, considering the weather, a taller man than I will take cold. Holla, hoa! Curtis!" There are in the play of Patient Grissel, written by Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton, several allusions to the taming of shrews. I cite one. In Act 5, Scene 2, Sir Onan, producing his wards, says to the Marquess ' 'I will learn your medicines to tame shrews." This play was printed in 1603, and the expression is remarkable because Henslowe's Diary shows, as heretofore set out, that Dekker in the summer of 1602 received money from Henslowe on account of the comedy he was writing, called by the illiterate manager " A medicine for a curst wife." While Dekker should have credit for the composition of the major part of the Taming of the Shrew, I can not help thinking that the man who wrote the Venus and Adonis amended the Induction to this play and smoothed the rough portions of it. Dekker was a hasty and careless writer, and every reader of his works will agree with me that he was always in need of a literary polisher. (381-5)
Tupper, 1912. Our play, or its predecessor, may have been in the mind of Thomas Dekker when in the comedy of Patient Grissel… he not only indicates through his Marquis “how easily a man may tame a shrew,” but in his fifth act registers his protest against such a victory over a brawling scold as that of Petruchio. Henslowe’s Diary of 1602 shows clearly that Dekker afterwards treated the Taming theme in “a comody called a medyson for a curste wiffe” -- how we can only guess. The theme was clearly dear to Dekker, for he used it yet again as a minor motif in The Honest Whore. (xiii)


After Stotsenburg’s failed (but interesting) attempt to show that Dekker was the author of The Shrew, Tupper’s “we can only guess” seems to sum up the project of connecting Medicine to the Shakespeare-related Shrew plays. In the last hundred years or so critics seem mostly to have contented themselves with noting that among the many texts concerning shrewish women was a lost play by Dekker.

A Medicine for a Curst Wife and “A Medicine to cure the Plague of a womans tongue”

E. D. Pendry in 1968 first pointed out that Dekker’s tale “A Medicine to cure the Plague of a womans tongue” from his prose collection The Raven’s Almanac was perhaps based on the lost play. Martin Wiggins made a similar suggestion in 2014. Since Wiggins does not mention Pendry it is likely he noticed it independently.

Pendry, 1968. Of the three tales ‘A Medicine’…may derive from a play, since in Henslowe’s Diary we read of a comedy entitled A Medicine for a Curst Wife for which Dekker received payments between 31st July and 27th September 1602 amounting to the impressive total of ten guineas – of which the last ten shillings was over and above his price. The story, if not the play, is related to The Taming of the Shrew in resembling a considerable body of folk-tales recommending the violent treatment of unruly wives. (318)
Wiggins, 2014. PLOT: A happy cobbler marries a woman who turns out to be a troublesome, scolding wife. and is unreasonably jealous of his female customers. Now an unhappy cobbler, he visits the local doctor with a sample of his urine. The doctor pronounces him entirely healthy, but he protests that he has a plague sore. The doctor is mortified that he has failed to diagnose the ailment, but reassured when taken to meet the metaphorical ‘sore’. [sic – the cobbler brings his wife to the doctor not the doctor to the wife.] He prescribes a thrashing for the wife, and provides a cudgel for the purpose. The medicine proves effective and the shrew is tamed.
The reconstruction rests on the hypothesis that Dekker re-used the plot in one of his tales in The Raven’s Almanac (1609; sigs C2v-C4v). The coincidence of medical terminology is persuasive. (IV, No. 1356)


For What It's Worth

(This section to be augmented / revised.)

E. D, Pendry and Martin Wiggins have each suggested, without much elaboration, that the tale from Thomas Dekker’s A Rauens Almanacke (1609) entitled “A Medicine to cure the Plague of a womans tongue, experimented on a Coblers wife” might be a re-told borrowing from Dekker’s lost 1602 play a medysen for a cvrste wiffe. (See Critical Commentary above.) A closer examination of the tale might strengthen the case for this connection.

There are ballads and prose narratives which seem to be based on earlier stage-plays – for example on Titus Andronicus, The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Pericles, and possibly Dekker’s own The Bristow Merchant (lost but perhaps re-used in his pamphlet Penny-wise and Pound Foolish). George Wilkins’s novelization of Pericles explicitly claims to be based on the play, but for the most part these other narrative read like what they are – prose narratives that cover some of the same events as their ‘source’ play. However, “A Medicine to cure the Plague of a woman’s tongue” in places reads almost like an eyewitness account of a staged performance. It uses theatrical language, describes what appears to be stage business –including exits and entrances – and reports conversations in dialogue form.


Theatrical language:
- a number of his neighbors came about him to beholde this sceane of mirth
- At the end of this, the Audience gaue a plauditie, in token they liked well of the Doctors phisicke…
- the Cobler thanked him, and thus insteede of an Epilogue spake to his neighbors [followed by a summing-up speech]


Exits and entrances:
- “the Cobler presently tolde him hee would but steppe foorth of doores, and at his return he should see [the plaguesore]: at length the Cobler comes backe againe with his wife borne on his backe…
- The Doctor… stepping into his study[,] hee returned immediately with a paper in one hand, & a faire cudgell in the other, deliuering both to the Cobler…

Stage business:
- The Bonjour being giuen and returned, the Coblers water was looked into, much tossing and tumbling of it there was for a prettie while…
- at length the Cobler comes backe againe with his wife borne on his backe like a Sowe new scalded on the backe of a Butcher, and for all her kicking, rayling, cursing and swearing, yet to the Doctor hee came with her
- The paper therefore after a solemne Oyes by all the standers by was read, & contained thus much…
- brauely does the Cobler march home, his wife (like a furie) following, railing, reuiling and casting dirt and stones, aswell at him as at the youthes of the parish that went showting after her heeles...
- to the skirmish fall they pell mell, the Coblers Coxecombe, being first broken, but he being no Welchman (to faint at sight of his owne blood) so plide his businesse, and so thrash'd out all the Chaffe in his wife (who was nothing but Rye) that in the end she fell on her knees, cried for the crums of the Coblers mercy...

Reported dialogue
- [The Doctor] demaunded whose the Urine should bee?
- Mine (quoth the Cobler)
- So it may be replyed our Galenist, for I spie neither any disease swimming about thy body in this water, and thy verry lookes shew that thou art sound:
- Sound, (cries out the infected Cobler) alas sir I see now that some diseases haue power to make dunces of Doctors themselues, Sound (quoth a) why sir I am sicke at heart, I am struck with the Plague, I haue a Plague sore vppon mee (your Doctors Cap is not able to couer it, tis so broade) it eates and spreds more and more into my flesh, and if you apply not some presēt remedie, Ware must & shall trudge to some other, whē their olde shooes want mending, for the Cobler's but a deade man.
[the cobbler returns bearing his wife…]
- crying looke you heere Maister Doctor, this is my plaguesore that so torments mee: in the night it keepes mee from sleepe, in the day it makes me madde: in my bed this serpent stings me, at my boord shee stabs mee, and all with one weapon (her villanous tongue, her damnable tongue) If I reply she fights: if I say nothing shee raues: if you call not this a plague Maister Doctor, then such a plague light on you Maister Doctor teach me therefore how to cure it, or else if you giue me ouer I shall grow desperate and cut mine owne throate.

Set speech (the ‘epilogue’)
neighbors (qd he) you know, & I know, nay the deuil himselfe knowes, that my wife hath stucke vppon mee like a Plague thus many yeares, to apply either the sirrop of a Salt Eele, or the oile of holly to her shoulders, I heatherto was affraide, because I had no warrant that a man might lawfullye beate his wife. But now sithence Maister Doctor, (who wears not a veluet night cap for nothing) hauing turned ouer his bookes, findes that no hearbe, mineral, salue, nor plaister, no purging nor any other blood-letting will cure or take out that worme vnder a womās tongue, (which makes her mad) but onely a soūd beating: I will (God willing) giue her the dyet hee sets downe, & if euer I complaine hereafter to any Phisition for the griefe of this plague, let all Ware laugh at me for an asse, & swear that my wife-weares the breeches.


Also, two features of “Medicine to cure” recall elements of other of Dekker’s ‘handicraft’ plays.

First, the opening of the tale – ‘A Mery Cobler there was… who for ioy that he mended mens broken & corrupted soles, did continually sing, so that his shop seemed a verrie bird cage’ – recalls the second scene of Patient Grissell (1599) where Janiculo, his daughter Grissel and the clown Babulo sing as they weave baskets in their shop…

Sit down to work,
And that our labour may not seem too long,
We’ll cunningly beguile it with a song…
My song shall charm grief’s ears and care beguile.

Second, the sobriquets applied to the Cobbler of Ware – “monsieur Shoo-mender”, “signeur Cobler”, “caualero Cobler”, “my braue boote-h[e]aler”, “my reformer of decayed Shoo-leather”, “my valiāt Cobler”, “my braue desper view”, “O valiant Cordwaynerland”, and “our graduate in the Gentle craft” – are reminiscent of the storm of jocular tags applied to fellow shoemaker Simon Eyre in The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599).


But however likely it is that material surviving in the “Medicine to cure” tale derives from the 1602 play, its seems insufficient to fill out an entire play, and probably co-existed with another plot, perhaps a ‘patience’ plot to balance the shrew plot, as was the case in Patient Grissel.

Works Cited

Collier, J. Payne, ed. The Works of William Shakespeare. London: 1842.
Collier, J. Payne, ed. The Diary of Philip Henslowe London: 1845.
Dekker, Thomas. The RAVENS Almanacke Foretelling of a [brace] Plague, Famine, and Ciuill Warre, That shall happen this present yeare 1609, not only within this Kingdome of Great Britaine, but also in France, Germany, Spaine, & other parts of Christendome : With certaine remedies, rules, and receipts, how to preuent or at least to abate the edge of these vniuersall Clamities. London: Printed by E.A. for Thomas Archer, and are to bee solde at his shop in the Popes-head-pallace nere the Royall Exchange, 1609.
Dekker, Thomas, Henry Chettle and William Haughton. Patient Grissel in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, Volume I. Fredson Bowers, ed. Cambridge at the University Press, 1953.
Fleay, Frederick Gard. A Chronicle History of the Life and Work of William Shakespeare; Player, Poet, and Playmaker. London: John C. Nimmo, 1886.
Frey, A. R. "The Taming of a Shrew and The Taming of the Shrew" in Shakespeariana Volume IV, No. XLIII, July 1887. Charlotte Endymion Porter, ed. Philadelphia: Leonard Scott, 1887.
Hickson, Samuel. “Marlowe and the Old ‘Taming of A Shrew’” Notes and Queries No.15, 9 February 1850.
Hoy, Cyrus. Introductions, Notes, and Commentaries to texts in 'The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker'. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Hudson, H. N., ed. The Works of Shakespeare. London: 1871.
Irving, Sir Henry & Frank Albert Marshall, eds. The Works of William Shakespeare. London: 1887.
Malone, Edmond. “An Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the English Stage” in The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare. London: 1790.
Pendry, E. D., ed. Thomas Dekker: Selected Prose Writings. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.
Stotsenburg, John Hawley.     An Impartial Study of the Shakespeare Title. Louisville: John P Morton Co., 1904.
Tolman, Albert Harris. Shakespeare's Part in the "Taming of the Shrew”. Ph.D. Dissertation, Kaiser-Wilhelm-University, Strassburg, 1889.
Tupper, Frederick, Jr. The Taming of the Shrew in The Tudor Shakespeare, William Allan Neilson & Ashley Horace Thorndike, eds. New York: 1912.
Ward, A. W. A History of English Dramatic Literature to the Death of Queen Anne. London: 1899





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