Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens in the play
- English playboy Theodorus Witgood finds himself in serious debt and has lost all of his property to his uncle, Pecunius Lucre, a notorious userer (moneylender).
- Witgood and his mistress Jane plot a scheme to get Witgood’s estate back from Lucre. Jane will post as a rich widow engaged to marry Witgood.
- Enlisting his friend, the Host, Witgood and Jane travel to London to begin their trick.
- Two old rival-usurers, uncle Lucre and Walkadine hoard, bump into each other on a street in London and bicker over past offenses. Hoard vows revenge.
- Posing as a servingman, the Host visits Lucre and tells him of Witgood’s impending marriage to a rich widow. Intrigued, Lucre hopes to capitalize on his nephew’s good fortune.
- Lucre gives Witgood fifty pounds for the wedding.
- The “Widow” meets Lucre. Lucre tells her that he plans on leaving all his wealth to Witgood.
- Hoard hears of Witgood’s rich widow and decides to marry her for himself, thus increasing his wealth and smiting his rival in one fell swoop.
- Three of Witgood’s creditors, hearing of his impending wealth, confront Witgood to collect their debts. Witgood promises payment as soon as he marries his rich widow. The creditors lend Witgood more money.
- Jane tells Witgood about Hoard’s desire to marry her (the “widow”). Witgood encourages Jane to snare the rich, old man.
- More tricks and treats ensue.
Dr. Ralph's Brief
1. When was the play first performed?
2. Where was the play first performed?
By Paul’s Boys at Paul’s playhouse, the smallest of the indoor venues.
3. Who wrote it?
Thomas Middleton (1580 to 1627), sixteen years Shakespeare’s junior, son of a bricklayer (like Ben Jonson). Went to university (unlike Shakespeare or Jonson). Wrote almost every kind of thing from pamphlets to poems and every kind of play from pageants to tragedies. Interest in Middleton’s work has grown exponentially since the publication of Taylor and Lavagnino’s monumental Collected Works of his writing.
4. How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Like Shakespeare, Middleton has a remarkable ear for the nuances of speech; his characters, like people, take in the world around them and seem to be thinking as they speak. Like Shakespeare’s, Middleton’s female characters seem as strong or stronger than the men around them.
5. How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
Unlike Shakespeare, Middleton prefers to set his comedies in London, where his plays track the lives of his characters in great social and economic detail. Middleton’s work is invariably unsentimental. In his play,s an active sexuality is the given and love is a quaint commodity. His comedies are overwhelmingly in prose, while Shakespeare’s average about two-thirds verse.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
Historically this play is Middleton’s most well received comedy. Trick is a clear forerunner of the Restoration-era Comedy of Manners and was popular for more than a century after its first performance. For obvious reasons, it lost favor during the Victorian century, but it has seen a number of revivals over the last half-century. The play is a rich source of understanding about early modern mores and attitudes toward money and marriage.
7. Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
8. What characters should I especially look for?
My own favorite is Jane, the pretended rich widow (identified in the original text with the speech prefix “Courtesan”), who is an unusual portrait of the sexually experienced woman in a mutually beneficial partnership with an ex-lover.
9. What scene should I especially look for?
The play abounds with funny scenes of greedy people falling all over themselves to get the rich widow, but I particularly enjoy the one in which Pecunius Lucre, Witgood’s uncle, interrogates the Host to find out about her.
10. What is the language like?
Witty prose, written in a way that actors can have great fun with it.