Dr. Ralph's Brief
1. When was the play first performed?
Uncertain, some time between 1620 and 1624.
2. Where was the play first performed?
3. Who wrote it?
Thomas Middleton (1580 – 1627), sixteen years Shakespeare’s junior, son of a bricklayer (like Ben Jonson). Middleton went to university (unlike Shakespeare or Jonson). He wrote almost every kind of thing from pamphlets to poems and every kind of play from pageants to tragedies. Interest in his work has grown exponentially since the appearance of Gary Taylor’s Thomas Middleton: the Collected Works. The ASC has so far produced seven of Middlelton’s plays.
4. How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Like Shakespeare, Middleton seems never to judge his characters. Like Shakespeare, he creates women characters that seem as strong or stronger than the men around them.
5. How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
To put it in terms that a single malt drinker would understand: there’s a lot more flavor of peat in a dram of Middleton than in Shakespeare… and perhaps less blend.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
They admire Women Beware Women for the tightness of its plot and the relentlessness of its drive toward its finish; and they consider it is one of Middleton’s most powerful and – some would say – most cynical works. In that regard, this play shares more with Measure for Measure than the diacope of their titles: both are deeply suspicious of love, and this play looks at love not merely as “a madness” – but as lust corrupted by ambition and greed.
7. Does any controversy surround the work?
The misogyny of the play – its very title warns women against other women – is disturbing, and feminist critics have little trouble finding a negative view of women elsewhere in Middleton’s plays. To which Middleton might argue that the men in his plays are without scruple and equally obsessed with ambition and self-gratification, and thus his work is an equal opportunity scourge of the viciousness in the world.
8. What characters should I especially look for?
The Ward. NB: Dr. Ralph confesses he bases this answer on Simon Russell Beale’s hilarious performance at the Royal Court in 1986, where he played the clueless, rich, young heir.
9. What scene should I especially look for?
Act Two, scene 2, in which Middleton gives us a split screen view of Livia playing chess with the Widow on the stage, to help the Duke surprise and seduce the Widow’s daughter-in-law (Bianca) on the balcony above.
10. What is the language like?
Gnarly and muscular.