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"A fine and private place": chapman's theatrical widow.


MARVELL underestimates the amorous imagination when he says that "the grave's a fine and private place, / But none ... do there embrace." In Bartholomew Fair Quarlous argues almost the opposite, that suitors must "visit [a widow] as thou wouldst doe a Tombe, with a Torch ... flaming hot." (1) Sex in the cemetery, it seems, is not an impossibility but a positive convention. (2) The eroticized widow, that epitome of the sexual attractiveness of grief and a standby in early modern drama, is rendered still more dramatic when she is encountered in the graveyard itself. Here both setting and role make her a walking social embodiment of the very idea of secret desire. Her veiled disguise, her carefully managed enactment of sorrow, her curiously masked and anomalously public social role, and especially her public sexual secrecy all make her a figure whose private interiority is urgently in question. In Jacobean tragicomedies, this disguised self-dramatization means that the widow in a tomb raises in her most complicated characterizations the same questions about embodied performance that playwrights asked of drama itself. Chapman's play The Widow's Tears (ca. 1605) offers fascinating insights into these concerns, as in it Chapman questions the sexual privacy of the tomb and the widow who symbolizes it by creating an extended graveyard-performance within the play itself, one which invents the most extravagantly sexualized widow's grief imaginable while theatricalizing and burying its meaning from the scrutiny of the inquisitorial characters and from the audience. (3) More explicitly and yet more ambiguously than Shakespeare does in Hamlet, Chapman's whole play-structure questions whether anything can really be known about a widow's love and grief through its analogy to dramatic performance itself. With a theatrical test more personally enacted than Hamlet's professional players', Chapman's characters stage-manage a test of a widow's loyalty in the charnel-house. In Chapman's hands the "play-memorial" of Shakespeare's revenge-tragedy becomes instead a much more realistically enacted "theatrical fiction," paradoxically much less transparent than Hamlet's staged "images of the occluded truth" (Neill 259). Chapman's play has been particularly elusive of judgment precisely because The Widow's Tears' reinvention of a popular widow-narrative so closely interweaves the inscrutability assigned to womanly grief and the inscrutability of a theatrical performance. Reenacting the "Widow of Ephesus" legend which forms his central source and citing the idiom of performance so visible in conductbooks for widows, Chapman engages in but also challenges cultural efforts to locate a widow's meaning by pressing the relationship between her affect and performativity tout court. (4)

Francis Barker, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and others have argued for the complex interrelationships between theatricality and different ideologies of inwardness and privacy in the period, and this particular play by Chapman pursues similar questions in relation to the particularly troubling subject of a widowed woman's sexual value and meaning. (5) The double meanings of those theatrical categories which suggest both revelation and concealment ("perform," "act," "show") are invoked in relation to feminine knowability, a question which the play asks on both linguistic and structural levels through the figure of the widow. Chapman is after a more profound question than Hamlet's of how to understand or how to judge widows. (6) Not just a simple satire, either, of womanly constancy or of "the ideal of widowhood," (7) Chapman's play, through its explicit dramatizations of cemetery-seductions, questions the very meaning of such a "discovery." The impossibility and inadvisability of seeing through the widow's tears, or The Widow's Tears, on all of these levels, would seem to be Chapman's point. (8) The misogynist assertion of woman's doubleness (9) and the ideological privileging of inwardness collide with particular force in the presence of the widow's tears, especially as Chapman stages such a direct intersection of theatrical and widowly performativity. (10)


"The Widow of Ephesus," the scandalous classical story behind Chapman's play, is the perfect paradigm of this fixation with a widow's performance of grief. Chapman was hardly the first to rewrite this source-narrative; Petronius's and Phaedrus's versions of the Ephesian-widow tale were enormously popular in late medieval and early modern European literature. (11) Petronius' classical version of the story (the Latin text of which is Chapman's central source) is perhaps the most understated and ambiguous, though, the one most conducive to the challenge of interpretation which Chapman's play offers.

Petronius's Latin tale describes an intensely performative world, in which acting, enactment, show, and disguise are all crucial elements. The story is this: an Ephesian widow famous for her devotion to her husband follows him not just to the cemetery but into his tomb, vowing publicly to remain there and weep herself to death. Meanwhile, a soldier is sent to the same graveyard to guard the criminals' bodies on their crucifixes (lest their families try to remove the bodies for decent burial). The soldier discovers the now-solitary weeping widow and offers her comfort: first food and drink, and then love. She resists, but only at first, and they engage in a sexual adventure in the privacy of the sepulchre. Meanwhile, the families of the criminals have noticed the soldier's absence, and they steal one of the bodies down from its crucifix. The soldier faces death as the penalty for his neglect, but the widow (unwilling to lose her lover so soon) offers to put her husband's body on the cross in the criminal's place, a switch in casting which causes no small confusion among the Ephesians.

In Petronius's version this story is greeted with laughter, but one auditor viciously condemns the widow. (12) The widely circulated medieval versions of the story pick up on this hostility, embellishing the tale by intensifying both the first husband's uxoriousness and the widow's macabre and callous independence of him. (13) In these versions, the widow is stage manager both of her grief and of her previous husband's new role as understudy to a criminal: she helps to carry her husband's corpse to the cross, and in several she maims his body to match the missing criminal's (knocking out his teeth, ripping out his hair, breaking his arm), all of which the soldier himself refuses to do. The Seven Sages collection is framed as a series of accounts of faithless women, and these versions tend to embellish the widow's perfidy. (In several, her husband has died of grief because he accidentally nicked her thumb or her arm.) (14)

The story in its various versions is intended to highlight (and often critique) the widow's remarkable conversion from public mourner to private lover, emphasized by the rapidity of her switch in allegiance and her desire to conceal that switch in roles, by her apparent lack of concern for the uncongenial surroundings for her romantic tryst, and by her willingness to make her husband a Girardian scapegoat, subjecting his body (and thus clearly his honor, reputation, and social after-life) to both misrepresentation and public humiliation in order to secure her new lover's safety. The story also demonstrates the widow's masculinized authority and transgendered social role, as she becomes, in this liminal space, an agent and actor, the initiator of quite politically charged actions in pursuit of her own desires as mourner and lover.

Both the question of masculine value inherent in widowly constancy and the uncovered woman's potential for social disruption are connected in the bodies in this Ephesian tomb, as the widow's choices change the meaning of her first husband and her first marriage. The story attempts, but fails, to explain how and whether womanly affection (and thus masculine value) can be knowable and testable and therefore also how the liminal independence of a "femme decouvert" can be managed. In a tale which offers a kind of revelation of how untrustworthy women's affections are, her devotion to her new lover seems simultaneously obvious and inexplicable, as the many different responses it elicits confirms. As in Chapman's The Widow's Tears, the story of feminine inconstancy does not function as such an absolute ethical or essentialist sign as it might seem at first to do. Each version of the story seeks to discover how to read the widow's actions: as humoral transformation, minor human folly, natural desire, unnatural betrayal, womanish weakness, social disruption, social continuity, or calculated self-interest. Jeremy Taylor simultaneously excuses the widow's lust as a natural humoural process and critiques it as an example of social lawlessness; John Taylor enjoys the male fantasy that widows are all looking for a man "provided like a Souldier, never not with standing, but in a centinell posture, ... cocked bolt upright, and ready to do execution." (15) John Taylor's phallic pointing toward the Ephesian widow with her soldier, and Jeremy Taylor's acceptance of her transformation and fear of her unruliness, suggests the multiplied interpretive potential of this narrative.

Juan Luis Vives's famous and influential 1538 manual on female conduct makes this same argument about the theater of widows, fixating on this problem of the readability of the widow's bodily signs and actions, though in widows with perhaps less-flamboyant predilections than the Ephesian widow's. The chapters on widows in his extremely influential The Instruction of a Christen Woman display considerable anxiety over the social management of an "uncovered" woman, precisely because her private self seems to be, like the Ephesian widow, symbolically significant but fundamentally unreadable.

For Vives, a widow's displays of grief indicate and define a husband's memorial afterlife. Vives seems to claim that this test is reliable; he argues for instance that such a reading of a dead man through his widow is fruitful, as her ungoverned status gives her no reason to dissemble: "than shall it be knowen, what nature or condition a woman is of, whan she may do what she wyll. ... often tymes wydowes do shewe, what they have bene in mariage, and under the lybertie of wyddowheed, open and shewe that whiche they kepte in before for feare of theyr husbandes." (16) A widow's active mourning, her tears, are an even more emphatic sign for Vives. He declares confidently that an unmoved widow provides an "evident sygne of but colde love. ... Hit is the greattest token that can be of an harde harte and an unchast mynde, a woman nat to wepe for the dethe of her husbande." (17)

This is the paradox with which Vives negotiates. In every case he sees the widow as a particularly transparent sign (because she is "under the lybertie of wyddowheed") of her own and her husband's merit. But this signification is profoundly performative rather than ontological. "Then shall it be knowen," he says; then shall they "open and shewe"; this shall be a "token." And Vives duly notes how easily this performance is false theater: "for they seme to lyve in the syght of those that se them eate and drynke, and go, and speke, and do other workes of lyfe. But and one coulde perse with his syght in to them, or entre with in the secretes of their myndes and thoughtes, he shulde se that poure synfull soule, how it is put from god, and spoyled and deprived of his lyfe." (18) So the transparency which he declares is the mark of an "uncovered woman" and the crucial social signifier which is her unforced weeping are both also inherently unreadable, unprovable, and unknowable.

Vives's widow must perform miracles, then, to construct a reputation while simultaneously remaining private. She must be seen to be tearful, but she must also do her weeping in privacy, without display ("a chaste woman desyreth secretnes," he says). (19) Her public privacy is what matters most. Her physical display of grief must be known but not seen, a coterie performance which is disseminated by others who tell of it and through which both her own reputation and her husband's are safeguarded. "A woman had nede to worke more warely, when bothe the disprayse of vices and the prayse of vertue is imputed to her selfe" alone. (20) Her "wariness" or secret self-management is directly in relation to her widow's vulnerability to the public gaze. Vives describes how easily she can acquire "an yll name," (21) clearly as great a hazard as ill deeds, especially as evidenced in his list of widowly virtues: "chast, honest, of good fame, and vertuous." (22) He conjures up the fragility of a widow's reputation in a second marriage as a particular disincentive: "if thy stepson be sicke, or his heed ake, thou shalte be diffamed for a witche ... if thou gyve [him meate] thou shalt be called a poysoner." (23) This threat of demonization has everything to do with what she will be "called." As Maus argues in another context, "in such cases the difference between fact and reputation is obscure, so that fact can seem nothing more than a particularly convincing form of reputation." (24)

Vives attempts to resolve his two concerns, over her tears' performative meaning and over a widow's anomalous status, by the fantasy of perfect surveillance which Shakespeare conjures up in Hamlet and which Chapman will literally fulfill in his play: "let her take [her dead husband] for her keper and spy, nat only of her dedes, but also of her conscience. Let her handell so her house and householde, and so bryng up her children, that her husbande maybe glad." (25) Vives's solution to both the representational problem of a widow's tears and the problem of an independent woman is to revivify the husband to both test her loyalty and perpetuate her servanthood. (26) The punitive nature of this fantasy is clear: "let her nat behave her selfe so, that his soule have cause to be angry with her, and take vengeaunce on her ungratiousnes." (27)

This striking anxiety about widows, with their anomalous gendered status and their problematic role as unbondable guarantor of a vulnerable male patrilineage, is as pervasive in Vives's text as they are in the Ephesian-widow tale and in many others of the period. Vives's concerns are added to and explained by the Ephesian-widow tale, as that ancient story both crucially illustrates and provokes the anxieties over the testable performance of feminine grief to which Vives's text bears such witness and which Chapman's play will reanimate. What makes Chapman's play so fascinating is its persistent analogy between theatrical performativity and widows' performatively private grief. By associating the two cultural questions so closely, Chapman makes both the stage and the widow images of one another's private show.


Chapman's The Widow's Tears provides a local habitation and a name to this performative question of a widow's private truth. It dramatically reenacts the optic in Chapman's 1595 Ovid's Banquet of Sense which shows, at a distance, a woman's face weeping, the image of which disappears at close range. (28) In its intensely theatrical structures, its dramaturgical re-creation of Quarlous's fantasy of the widow's tomb, The Widow's Tears proves that what a widow embodies is distinctly unlocatable, an assertion which involves a dismantling of her trustworthiness but also a dismantling of that same trust in revelation, in "show." Chapman both appropriates and challenges the misogynistic truism of woman's evasive privacy by replicating his widows' un-knowability in the drama's persistently enigmatic situations and conclusions. Like the widows of the plot, the play challenges the very idea of evidence by being, very self-consciously, all theatrical "show" and no "tell."

The Widow's Tears (ca. 1605) is in several respects a cultural archive of suspected grief. With its extensive borrowing from Petronius's version of the legend of the widow of Ephesus, as well as its echoes of Homer's Penelope and Ulysses, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Hamlet (and possibly Othello), (29) its fascination with suspicion and constancy also looks toward the tragicomedies of Beaumont and Fletcher. This referentiality makes it all the more interesting as a staging of embodied female secrets. Weidner argues that Chapman often uses "complexly conceived masks and 'shews' ... to oppose the naive action of shallow absolutists"; (30) The Widow's Tears is just such a theatrical demonstration, though it interrogates the very possibility of scrutiny itself as well. While critics like Albert Tricomi argue that the play is all about the discovery of corruption, the "revelation that religious and ethical values exist everywhere only in illusion and hypocrisy," (31) such cynical pleasures are also seen in the text as themselves illusory and untrustworthy. Jackson Cope suggests that Chapman's neoplatonism makes this a play in which "not action, but interpretation, is all." (32) And as Lee Bliss compellingly claims, the play's structure undermines its own satirical and cynical first half, leaving both trust and suspicion as hazardous territory. (33) But neither one of these explanations addresses how (or why) Chapman uses widows to embody his skeptical theatricality, or how he uses theatrical performativity to challenge masculinist skeptics, in the double optic which is The Widow's Tears.

The story of the Widow's Tears is an explicit retelling of the Ephesian-widow narrative, with several variations and a secondary plot added. In the secondary plot, Tharsalio, an impoverished gentleman-rogue, wins the hand of Eudora, a widowed countess, by assuming correctly that her desires are far stronger than her grief, her vows of chastity, or her pride. In the subsequent, "Ephesian," plot, Tharsalio's wealthy older brother Lysander stages and scripts his own "death" to test his wife's vow of eternal faithfulness. Like the widow of Ephesus, his wife/widow Cynthia proves vulnerable to seduction despite her vows. In Chapman's version, though, Lysander himself woos his "widow" in the disguise of the soldier who has killed her beloved husband; like Vives's fantasy of the husbandly ghost, Lysander tests and judges his own widow's loyalty. Tharsalio, the trickster brother, and Lysander, the jealous husband, resist the idea of the widow's independence and distrust the widow's quintessentially feminine affect of grief, and both find themselves in the same dilemma to which Vives and the Ephesian-widow tale attest. "The very unreadability that seems so attractive in one's (male) self seems sinister in others; one man's privacy is another woman's unreliability. The female interior encloses experiences unappropriable by an observer." (34) Chapman's play amplifies this theme by extending this incapacity to know to his readers and audience as well. Chapman establishes in both of his plots (the first farcical, the second tragicomical) that a woman's sorrow cannot be read, suggesting however that this is not evidence of women's perfidious impermeability but rather a symbiotic reading of the links between performance and evidence. The staging of Lysander's play, in his family-sepulchre, renders this paradox of secrecy all the more apparent.

Characters in the play consistently use explicitly theatrical metaphors of performance to suggest that widows' inconstancy can be truly seen. Tharsalio insists upon the trope of deceitful performance to describe a widow's sorrow: "[I] judge of objects as they truly are, not as they seem, and through their mask ... discern the true face of things. [I know how] short-lived widows' tears are, that their weeping is in truth but laughing under a mask, that they mourn in their gowns, and laugh in their sleeves." (35) Tharsalio claims that a widow has both a "mask" and a "true face," like an actor, and that it is possible for some (men) to know both. Tharsalio also offers a theatrical analogy for his assertions about female grief: "These griefs that sound so loud prove always light, / True sorrow evermore keeps out of sight. / This strain of mourning ... like an overdoing actor, affects grossly, and is indeed so far forced from the life, that it bewrays itself to be altogether artificial." (36) The very traceability of her sorrow makes it unreliable, as if "true" acting is the kind which only hides its artificiality. Like Vives, he also argues that the outward sign proves the absence of the inward grace, as if true acting were not acting at all.

Characters really acting, playing a part, are treated in the same way as women in mourning: "didst act the Nuntius well?" Tharsalio asks Lycus, the messenger sent to tell of Lysander's supposed death, but he comments on Cynthia's responses as well: "Then was her cue to whimper." (37) "Forget not to describe her passion at thy discovery of his slaughter. Did she perform it well?" The "discovery" here is multiple: Lycus performs sorrow, Lysander performs death, and Cynthia, Tharsalio is convinced, performs the grief of a discovered woman. He calls her grief a "sleeping mummery," doubly deceptive. (38)

Along similar lines, The Widow's Tears also questions the possibility of reading women, their words or their actions, as if they are published texts with the imprimatur which can "force belief." (39) The impossibility of access to a kind of divine assurance, the readability of the grieving widow, is a substratum of the play's discursive play-language. This correlation is clear in an early description of Eudora's trustworthiness: " 'Twere a sin to suspect her. I have been witness to ... many of her fearful protestations to our late lord against that course; to her infinite oaths imprinted on his lips, and sealed in his heart with such imprecations to her bed if ever it should receive a second impression." (40) The witness to her imprinted, sealed vows promises ironically that she is the book with no "second impression," as if she can only be published once and never revised, and that her husband is the book upon which her text is "imprinted." But even this description allows for several kinds of ambiguity. Are her "fearful" protestations "in fear" or "frightfully strong"? The oaths are imprinted on "his" lips and "sealed in his heart"; does that mean they die with him? Tharsalio suggests as much: "well, for her vows, they are gone to heaven with her husband, they bind not upon earth." (41) She will curse "her bed" if it ever receive "a second impression"; does this deflect blame in a metonymic gesture? Women are, says Tharsalio, but "weak paper walls thrust down with a finger"; (42) his sexually charged image suggests that widows' bodies are a particularly permeable page, just as their "widow-vows" are (43)--just as "weak" as the play-text's paper walls.

The interesting twist in this suspicion of "show," play-text or womanly, is that it appears not to be the final resting-place of the drama (Chapman's or Lysander's). Lee Bliss argues that the play shifts genres from the cynicism of farce to the critique of suspicion which governs the tragicomedy in the second half; belief in a widow's grief, he argues, becomes in the later part of the play a kind of necessary corollary for social stability. (44) This is part of the dynamic of the play, but Chapman also sows the seeds of doubt over these characters' own cynical confidence throughout the drama.

Even Tharsalio, as the spokesman for such modes of theatrical and spiritual skepticism, finds it difficult to define a reliable source for his convictions. Tharsalio insists on the performativity of a widow's grief, but he can only apply general principles ("monopolies are cried down"; (45) "he that believes in error, never errs"; (46) "true sorrow evermore keeps out of sight" (47)), and examples and analogies (Niobe, Dido, Penelope (48)) to the widows whose performance he claims to understand, for by his own declaration they are natural performers and expert deceivers. The very performativity he attributes to them undoes his triumph. His general skepticism is no more specifically insightful than Leonato's general idealism. Tharsalio can never know that a woman is true or loving; he can only prove (or rather, she can prove by actions) that she is not true or loving. He must still read her, and he can only read her negatively, never positively. In Tharsalio's view, women are mirrors of the men who "own" them, and so there is nothing predictably existing behind the image of themselves which men perceive, however much he himself claims to see beneath the mask. His own actions are "scenes" for which he desires "spectators"; (49) he cannot and does not ask what this means for his reading of others' performances.

It is certainly possible to argue that Tharsalio's vulnerable arguments about widowly performance are irrelevant, since both widows in the play prove his point through their willingness to take new lovers. In spite of this evidence, though, The Widow's Tears consistently disguises from the audience the meaning of feminine sexual acting. Both women are allowed a certain degree of privacy surrounding their desires. The Countess Eudora's lust for Tharsalio is never directly voiced by her; unlike Twelfth Night, Chapman's play does not display her transformation or permit her to declare either her previous vows or her present desires in any interpretable fashion. We hear it all "reportingly"; the marriage is only revealed in theatrical terms, when Tharsalio appears onstage in the new costume of a wealthy husband and when the couple is introduced through a hymeneal masque-performance.

Cynthia's Ephesian-widow actions are more transparent, as this "widow" makes her vows of undying loyalty explicitly and publicly. Cynthia fears for Lysander's safety, engages in anticipatory mourning when Lysander departs, and in her own words resists consolation when it is proferred by her maid at the tomb. She too, however, expresses her first flood of grief only reportingly; an actor acting grief describes her act of grief. She also declares herself a virtuous thing which "in itself, perhaps, is spotless." (50) The qualifying term "perhaps" says it all. Ero notes that Cynthia's sexual capitulation to her soldier-lover is wordless: "she is silent, she consents," (51) and Cynthia is equally silent about her own feelings throughout the final act as well. The play refuses to stabilize the meaning of a woman's tears or desires, even when her actions would seem to make such meaning incontrovertible or obvious. Cynthia performs her capitulation in such a way that her true motives or self-justifications are not available, either to her husband or to the reader. She admits to nothing. The play's final line, "think you have the only constant wife," implies precisely the impossibility of knowing which Chapman seems to be suggesting and, perhaps, defending. Preussner argues that "the tomb and its empty casket have emerged as fully realized symbolic correlatives to the hollow, apparently irretrievable relationship of Lysander and Cynthia themselves," (52) but these are far more convincing symbols of the absence of certainty in Cynthia and in the performativity of the play as a whole.

Lysander, Cynthia's husband, is Chapman's central illustration of the connection between grief and performance. Through his elaborate staging of his own death, he comes, like Tharsalio, to trust in disguise more than he trusts in "truth." As he dresses up as the soldier, Lysander becomes almost enamored of the very idea of theatricality: "Come, my borrowed disguise, let me once more / Be reconciled to thee, my trustiest friend ... / Assist me to behold this act of lust; / Note ... a scene of strange impiety." (53) He sees his own mask as now a person rather than a persona, an important sign of his move beyond even a Tharsalio-like theatrical cynicism. The capacity to stage-manage the meaning of "act" and "disguise" and "scene" is beyond him, however. When Lysander seduces Cynthia, is the "act of lust" here a "deed," or a "performance"? Even as he has arranged it, it must be both and neither. Lysander imagines that he can control and interpret the performance he has begun, but he cannot, as he finally acknowledges: "put women to the test; discover them; paint them, paint them ten parts more then they doe themselves, rather then looke on them as they are." (54) His confused rant can see now no difference between testing women, "discovering" them, and disguising them in greasepaint.

Lysander's incapacity to understand the impossibility of certainty is understood both in terms of this ironic belief in theatrical masking and in terms of the disinterring in which he is so bizarrely engaged. He meets his wife at the family tomb, in the cemetery, and there engages, like Actaeon, (55) in a necessarily "destructive search for certainty." (56) The disemboweling this provokes is virtually his own: "it was a strange curiosity in that Emperor that ripped his mother's womb to see the place he lay in." (57) Lysander's opening of the tomb in "mother earth" to "see the place he lay in" is just such an act of self-dismemberment. Cynthia accuses her husband of destroying himself by wanting to "assure himself of what he knew"; (58) the sexual implications of his "knowing" here are explicit. Lysander "claims to be uncovering brute material facts, but discoverer and discovered, prestigious examiner and denuded examinee, always seem perilously close to switching places." (59) Ly-sander-the-cuckold thus becomes a "chimaera, " (60) or more tellingly still a cross-gendered "transformed monster." (61) His rapacious scrutiny makes him "[lose] the shape of a man, " (62) like the Ephesian soldier in Petronius's story; his suspicion is a "strange conception," (63) a "whelp ... [licked] into full shape" (64) like a beast to which he has given birth. In both of these images it is Lysander's gender-role, not Cynthia's, which is under scrutiny--his "transformed ... shape" is "monstrous," to be dissected and displayed like the strange conceptions of the widow's desire in Petronius's legend. He, rather than Cynthia, feels "much fear of ... discovery, " (65) then, as the far greater deceiver. In fact, he becomes both the performative widow and the corpse he has scripted, the one who will "lie and grieve" (66) in the family tomb.

The cemetery itself is the locale for the last two acts of the play as a whole, and its iconic role as the keeper of secrets is prominent in Chapman's text. The tomb is the ultimate private place, even more private than a bedroom; Ero compares the lovers in the sepulchre to "Dido and Aeneas ... in the cave." (67) Tharsalio and Lysander both go further and make the standard womb-tomb comparison, only with an ironic double face: "Sister? you hear me well, paint not your Tomb without; we know too well what rotten carcases are lodg'd within. " (68) The grotesque metaphor Tharsalio uses continues throughout the mock quern quaeritis drama of the last act, confusing Cynthia's sexual privacy with Lysander's missing corpse by making both mysteries the object of ribald speculation. The characters who know about Lysander's staged death declare his corpse "a mere blandation; a deceptio visus. Unless this soldier for hunger have eat up Lysander's body. Why, I could have told you this before, Captain; the body was borne away peecemeal by devout Ladies of Venus' order. ... and yet I heard since 'twas seen whole at th'other side the downs ... betwixt two huntsmen, to feed their dogs withal. " (69) These fantasies of mutual dismemberment and consumption both reveal and hide the secrets of the drama. (70) The threatened opening of the coffin to discover who murdered Lysander, and the threatened revelations of Cynthia's adultery, also become conflated in the search for Lysander's own true status (alive or dead, husband or soldier?). Lysander hunts out "obscure nooks for these employments, " (71) both sexual and vengeful, but he himself is then chased into "a blind corner of the Tomb" when he hides from the soldiers who hunt him. (72) Like the tomb itself, Lysander's and Cynthia's behaviors lead the captain to declare: "mischief in this act hath a deep bottom; and requires more time to sound it. " (73) Truth, guilt, virtue, material objects and facts, reputations, and identities, are all hidden in this mysteriously open secrecy of the tomb. When the Governor declares at the end of the play that he will "cut off all perished members" and "cast out these rotten stinking carcases for infecting the whole City, " (74) it is no longer clear whether the play admits of any difference between the living and the dead, burying or disinterring, killing or anatomizing. The Governor declares these edicts while he is standing in the cemetery, as if "th' Antipodes" (75) cannot be distinguished from the public center of the city.

When the Governor at the end of the play dismisses "fending and proving, " (76) then, he unconsciously rebukes Lysander for his self-destructive efforts to "discover" truth; when the Governor says he "[knows] no persons," (77) he proclaims both his own ignorance and the truth Lysander has been compelled to admit. As Cope notes, the play "closes under the auspices of the blind." (78) The play and the widow are both thus, of necessity, inscrutable, as the play's ambiguous ending suggests. Parrott suggests that Chapman has "simply burked" the play's ending, (79) but that sidestepping is, I would argue, deeply symbolic. Whatever or whomever the characters embrace, the widow's privacy, her bodily absences, and her inscrutability, are both complete and impermeable. Chapman has proven that the fine and private place, both play and widow, is absolutely not knowable, either to the characters or to the audience.

Widows, and their attitudes and feelings, are thus in Chapman's world as liminally unknowable as the purgatorial dead had been in pre-Reformation England. That this metaphor of inscrutability should apply particularly to sexual matters is hardly surprising, nor is its adhesion to women's sexual bodies unexpected; in this period "sexual experience becomes a topos of unknowable inwardness. " (80) But more critical still is Chapman's elision of theatrical show and the performative display of female tears. The slide between love and lust in the Ephesian-widow tale, with its various explanations and interpretations, is mirrored by the confusion of fact and reputation, privacy and public identity, in Vives's conduct-book, and both are reenacted in the curiously hidden motives, reasoning, and ethical value of the widow's bodies and desires in Chapman's play--and of the play itself. In both cases, their actions may lie open to all, but their secret meaning is still assured. "The surfaces of the body are always capable of being theatricalized, so that while they can be made to seem absolutely trustworthy, they are never actually so"; (81) this says as much about theatricality as about the female body, external or internal. The whore Ecclesia in Donne's sonnet who is "most trew, and pleasing to thee, then / When she' is embrac'd and open to most men, " (82) is revived by the Governor: "it shall be the only note of love to the husband to love the wife": (83) the double transference of love and faithfulness in both sententiae captures the paradox of knowledge as it attached to women's affective sorrow, to the death which engendered it in Chapman's culture, and to the "noting" and "showing" of performance itself. Chapman's widows, both Eudora and Cynthia, are symbolic of the banal but also ultimate secrets, here of sex and death, which his drama can only mirror. As Marvell imagines a performance of death, as Lysander tries to enact it, both discover nothing but a private place. Whether they mean Hamlet's "nothing" or Ophelia's by it, Chapman's text will not reveal.


(1.) Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, ed. E. A. Horsman, Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1965), 1.3.73-75.

(2.) Romeo and Juliet provide an early dramatic version; there are several in the prose-romances of the period.

(3.) George Chapman, The Widow's Tears, edited by Akihiro Yamada (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975). All subsequent citations are from this edition.

(4.) Juan Luis Vives, The Instruction of a Christen Woman, ed. Virginia Walcott Beauchamp et al. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002). All subsequent citations to Vives are from this edition.

(5.) Barker, Tremulous Private Body, 22-26; Katharine Eisaman Maus, Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 1-35, 128-81.

(6.) Renu Juneja, "Widowhood and Sexuality in Chapman's The Widow's Tears," Philological Quarterly 67 (1988): 157-75, reads the play thus.

(7.) Albert H. Tricomi, "The Social Disorder of Chapman's The Widow's Tears," Journal of English and German Philology 72, no. 3 (1973): 354.

(8.) Cope, Theatre and the Dream, 30. Cope sees Chapman's interest as stemming from the idea of "mystery" within neoplatonism (Ficino's neoplatonism in particular).

(9.) Maus, Inwardness and Theater, 191.

(10.) This homology depends upon the metaphors of privacy and concealment surrounding the female body. "As the great sixteenth-century French physician Ambroise Pare says, 'that which man hath apparent without, that women have hid within.' ... both men and women have 'secret parts,' but women's are genuine secrets:" Maus, Inwardness and Theater, 190. "The woman's body, in other words, incarnates in risky but compelling ways some of the particular privileges and paradoxes of Renaissance subjectivity ... her interior 'difference,' her lack of visibility, can enable a resistance to scrutiny, since possibly her inner truth is not susceptible to discovery or manipulation from the outside" (ibid., 191-92). As Michael Neill puts it, "the scandalous interrelation of these apparently conflicting ideas of the private--that which is at once so valuable ... that it must be shut away and protected; and that which is so shameful, that it must be buried from view--is reflected in the culture's contradictory attitudes towards bodily secrets, especially those of the female body." Michael Neill, Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), 178.

(11.) Editions of Petronius's Satyricon, in which the Widow of Ephesus story appears, were scarce in England until the last decade of the sixteenth century: Johanna H. Stuckey, "Petronius the 'Ancient': His Reputation and Influence in Seventeenth Century England," Rivista di Studi Classici 20 (1972): 146. Prior to the performance of The Widow's Tears ca. 1605, three successive editions of the Petronii Satyricon were published in Leyden (1594, 1596, 1604), and one of these editions was reprinted four times in Paris in 1901: Stephen Gaselee, "The Bibliography of Petronius," Transactions of the Bibliographic Society (of London) 10 (1909): 148, 214. Three editions of Phaedrus's fables also appeared in western Europe in the same time period: Leon Hermann, Phedre et Ses Fables (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1950), 160.

The classical fable was also reworked in a wide array of French and Italian romances and novellas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and included in the popular Seven Sages collections in Latin, French, and English, among other languages, which date back to 1493 and appear in ballad-form, in editions annotated by Erasmus, and in James I's schoolbooks. Hans R. Runte, J. Keith Wikley, Anthony J. Farrell, eds., The Seven Sages of Rome and the Book of Sinbad: An Analytical Bibliography, Garland Reference Library of the Humanities (New York: Garland, 1984), 38ff.; Stuckey, "Petronius the 'Ancient,'" 149. Vernacular versions of the Ephesian-widow story date back to Caxton, forward to lost play-texts by Dekker in 1600, and on through the seventeenth century, with the first English translation of the Satyricon appearing in 1694: Hans R. Runte, "Translatio Viduae: The Matron of Ephesus in Four Languages," RLA: Romance Languages Annual 9 (1997): 114; Runte, Wikley, Farrell, Seven Sages; Gaselee, "Bibliography of Petronius," 180-81.

(12.) "[H]e shook his head angrily and said: 'If the governor of the province had been a just man, he should have put the dead husband back in the tomb, and hung the woman on the cross.'" Petronius, Satyricon, trans. Michael Heseltine (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), 235.

(13.) A succinct comparison of these embellishments in the several Old French recensions of the Seven Sages appears in Hans R. Runte, "The Matron of Ephesus: The Growth of the Story in the Roman Des Sept Sages de Rome," in Studies on the Seven Sages of Rome and Other Essays in Medieval Literature, ed. H. Niedzielski, H. R. Runte, and W. L. Hendrickson (Honolulu: Educational Research Associates, 1978), 109-18.

(14.) In the following medieval and Renaissance English editions of the Seven Sages the husband dies in this way, and the widow maims his corpse in all but Caxton's edition. In all of these editions, the wife helps to carry her husband's corpse to the cross. R. T. Lenaghan, ed., Caxton's Aesop (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967); Karl Brunner, ed., The Seven Sages of Rome (Southern Version), Early English Text Society (London: Oxford University Press, 1933); Here Beginneth Thystory of the Seuen Wyse Maysters of Rome Conteynyng Right Faire and Ryght Ioyous Narrations, and to the Reder Ryght Delectable (London: William Copland, ca. 1555); John Rolland, ed., The Seuin Seages Translatit Out of Prois in Scottis Meter by Iohne Rolland in Dalkeith, with Ane Moralitie Efter Euerie Doctouris Tale, and Siclike Efter the Emprice Tale, Togidder with Ane Louing and Laude to Euerie Doctour Efter Hos Awm Tale & Ane Exclamation and Outcrying Upon the Empreouris Wife Efter Hir Fals Contrusit Tale (Edinburgh, 1578); The Hystory of the Seuen Wise Maisters of Rome, Now Newlye Corrected with a Pleasaunt Stile, and Purged from All Old and Rude Words and Phrases, Which Were Very Loathsome and Tedious to the Reader (London: Thomas Purfoote, 1602).

(15.) Quoted in Jennifer Panek, '"My Naked Weapon': Male Anxiety and the Violent Courtship of the Jacobean Stage Widow," Comparative Drama 34, no. 3 (2000): 323-24.

(16.) Vives, The Instruction of a Christen Woman, 170.

(17.) Ibid., 161.

(18.) Ibid., 169.

(19.) Ibid., 174.

(20.) Ibid., 170.

(21.) Ibid., 172.

(22.) Ibid., 174.

(23.) Ibid., 177.

(24.) Maus, Inwardness and Theater, 140.

(25.) Vives, The Instruction of a Christen Woman, 168.

(26.) Barbara J. Todd aptly names this argument of Vives's "patriarchal spiritualism." See her helpful discussion of Vives's struggle to deal with his own contradictory advice: "The Virtuous Widow in Protestant England," Widowhood in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Sandra Cavallo and Lyndan Warner (Harlow: Longman, 1999), 66-84: 69.

(27.) Ibid., 168.

(28.) Jonathan Hudston, ed., Plays and Poems, by George Chapman (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), xvi.

(29.) Henry M. Weidner, "Homer and the Fallen World: Focus of Satire in George Chapman's The Widow's Tears," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 62 (1963): 521.

(30.) Weidner, "Homer and the Fallen World," 531.

(31.) Tricomi, "Social Disorder," 356.

(32.) Cope, Theatre and the Dream, 63.

(33.) Lee Bliss, "The Boys from Ephesus: Farce, Freedom, and Limit in The Widow's Tears," Renaissance Drama 10 (1979): 161-83.

(34.) Maus, Inwardness and Theater, 192-93.

(35.) Chapman, Widow's Tears, 1.1.138-43.

(36.) Ibid., 4.1.103-8.

(37.) Ibid., 4.1.50,63.

(38.) Ibid., 5.3. 140.

(39.) Ibid., 3.1.198.

(40.) Ibid., 2.4.21-25.

(41.) Ibid., 2.4.36-37.

(42.) Ibid., 3.1.98.

(43.) Ibid., 3.1.92.

(44.) Bliss, "Boys from Ephesus," 179.

(45.) Ibid., 1.1.123-24.

(46.) Ibid., 5.1.80.

(47.) Ibid., 4.1.104.

(48.) Ibid., 1.1.151.

(49.) Cf. Cope, Theatre and the Dream, 59.

(50.) Chapman, Widow's Tears, 1.138-39.

(51.) Ibid., 4.3.70-71.

(52.) Preussner, "Anti-Festive Comedy," 264.

(53.) Chapman, Widow's Tears, 5.4.1-2, 9-10.

(54.) Ibid., 5.3.207.

(55.) Preussner, "Anti-Festive Comedy," 369ff.

(56.) Cope, Theatre and the Dream, 56.

(57.) Chapman, Widow's Tears, 3.1.3-4.

(58.) Ibid., 5.5.82.

(59.) Maus, Inwardness and Theater, 140.

(60.) Cope, Theatre and the Dream, 69.

(61.) Chapman, Widow's Tears, 5.5.81.

(62.) Ibid., 5.3.140.

(63.) Ibid., 2.3.170.

(64.) Ibid., 2.3.68.

(65.) Ibid., 5.5.20.

(66.) Ibid., 5.5.90.

(67.) Ibid., 5.1.77.

(68.) Ibid., 5.3.138.

(69.) Ibid., 5.5.144-48.

(70.) Note Wendy Wall's fascinating discussion of this notion of theatrical dismemberment in Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 191ff.

(71.) Ibid., 5.5.24.

(72.) Ibid., 5.5.139.

(73.) Ibid., 5.5.150.

(74.) Ibid., 5.5.217-19.

(75.) Ibid., 5.2.10.

(76.) Ibid., 5.5.193.

(77.) Ibid., 5.5.209.

(78.) Cope, Theatre and the Dream, 73.

(79.) Thomas Marc Parrott, ed., The Plays and Poems of George Chapman: The Comedies (London: Routledge, 1910).

(80.) Maus, Inwardness and Theater, 131, n. 1.

(81.) Ibid., 130.

(82.) John Donne, "Show Me Deare Christ," in The Divine Poems, ed. Helen Gardner (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), lines 13-14.

(83.) Chapman, Widow's Tears, 5.5.250-51.


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Bliss, Lee. "The Boys from Ephesus: Farce, Freedom, and Limit in The Widow's Tears." Renaissance Drama 10 (1979): 161-83.

Brunner, Karl, ed. The Seven Sages of Rome (Southern Version). Early English Text Society. London: Oxford University Press, 1933.

Chapman, George. The Widow's Tears. Edited by Akihiro Yamada. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975.

Cope, Jackson I. The Theatre and the Dream: From Metaphor to Form in Renaissance Drama. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Donne, John. "Show Me Deare Christ." In The Divine Poems, edited by Helen Gardner, 15. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

Gaselee, Stephen. "The Bibliography of Petronius." Transactions of the Bibliographic Society (of London) 10 (1909): 141-233.

Here Beginneth Thystory of the Seuen Wyse Maysters of Rome Conteynyng Right Faire and Ryght Ioyous Narracions, and to the Reder Ryght Detectable. London: William Copland, ca. 1555.

Hermann, Leon. Phedre et Ses Fables. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1950.

Hudston, Jonathan, ed. Plays and Poems by George Chapman. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

The Hystory of the Seuen Wise Maisters of Rome, Now Newlye Corrected with a Pleasaunt Stile, and Purged from All Old and Rude Words and Phrases, Which Were Very Loathsome and Tedious to the Reader. London: Thomas Purfoote, 1602.

Jonson, Ben. Bartholomew Fair. Edited by E. A. Horsman. Revels Plays. London: Methuen, 1965.

Juneja, Renu. "Widowhood and Sexuality in Chapman's The Widow's Tears." Philological Quarterly 67 (1988): 157-75.

Lenaghan, R. T., ed. Caxton's Aesop. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Maus, Katharine Eisaman. Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Neill, Michael. Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

Panek, Jennifer. '"My Naked Weapon': Male Anxiety and the Violent Courtship of the Jacobean Stage Widow." Comparative Drama 34, no. 3 (2000): 321-44.

Parrott, Thomas Marc, ed. The Plays and Poems of George Chapman: The Comedies. London: Routledge, 1910.

Petronius. Satyricon. Translated by Michael Heseltine. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961.

Preussner, Arnold W. "Chapman's Anti-Festive Comedy: Generic Subversion and Classical Allusion in The Widow's Tears." Iowa State Journal of Research 59, no. 3 (February 1985): 263-72.

Rolland, John, ed. The Seuin Seages Translatit Out of Prois in Scottis Meter by lohne Rolland in Dalkeith, with Ane Moralitie Efter Euerie Doctouris Tale, and Siclike Efter the Emprice Tale, Togidder with Ane Louing and Laude to Euerie Doctour Efter Hos Awm Tale & Ane Exclamation and Outcrying Upon the Empreouris Wife Efter Hir Fals Contrusit Tale. Edinburgh, 1578.

Runte, Hans R. "The Matron of Ephesus: The Growth of the Story in the Roman Des Sept Sages de Rome." In Studies on the Seven Sages of Rome and Other Essays in Medieval Literature, edited by H. Niedzielski, H. R. Runte, and W. L. Hendrickson, 109-18. Honolulu: Educational Research Associates, 1978.

--. "Translatio Viduae: The Matron of Ephesus in Four Languages." RLA: Romance Languages Annual 9 (1997): 114-19.

Runte, Hans R., J. Keith Wikley, Anthony J. Farrell, and The Sociey of the Seven Sages (Dept. of French at Dalhousie University), eds. The Seven Sages of Rome and the Book of Sinbad: An Analytical Bibliography. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities. New York: Garland, 1984.

Stuckey, Johanna H. "Petronius the 'Ancient': His Reputation and Influence in Seventeenth Century England." Rivista di Studi Classici 20 (1972): 145-53.

Tricomi, Albert H. "The Social Disorder of Chapman's The Widow's Tears." Journal of English and German Philology 72, no. 3 (1973): 350-59.

Vives, Juan Luis. The Instruction of a Christen Woman. Edited by Virginia Walcott Beauchamp et al. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Weidner, Henry M. "Homer and the Fallen World: Focus of Satire in George Chapman's The Widow's Tears." Journal of English and Germanic Philology 62 (1963): 518-32.
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Date:Jan 1, 2009
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