The Widow

Our reading group on 19th October 2021 was lead by Lucy Holehouse. Lucy put together a summary of the play, some context for the chosen scenes, and prompts for discussion.

You can read about other past reading groups here.

Summary of The Widow:

When the penniless gentleman Ricardo tricks the rich widow Valeria into promising only him her hand in marriage in front of his two friends, Francisco and Ricardo, she embarks on a legal battle against him, thinking that he only wants to marry her for her for her wealth. While Ricardo attempts to convince Valeria of his love and the legality of their banns, his confidant Francisco is hoping to lose his virginity to Philippa, Valeria’s sister and young wife to the elderly Justice, Brandino. To let Francisco know that she is equally interested in him, Philippa forges a letter so as to trick her husband into inviting Francisco to a rendezvous with her that night.

Meanwhile, the youth Ansaldo is travelling to an important appointment. On his travels he meets the singing Latrocinio, who sings Ansaldo a few songs and then proceeds to rob him of all his possessions, excluding his shirt. Stranded in his shirt, Ansaldo seeks refuge at Philippa’s house.

After being held up by Ricardo’s legal battle with Valeria and an encounter with the thieves, Francisco is late to his rendezvous with Philippa. He arrives at Philippa’s home, but has a change of heart upon seeing Ansaldo in his shirt and assuming it is the ghost of his recently deceased father. Not all hope is lost for Philippa, however, as Ansaldo is just as (if not more) handsome than Francisco. Philippa and Violetta provide Ansaldo with one of Brandino’s old suits on the promise that he’ll return later. Unfortunately, Brandino’s clothes are exceptionally well known the country over. Ansaldo meets Brandino in another encounter with Latrocinio and his gang of thieves, and is thought to have stolen Brandino’s clothes. Ansaldo escapes back to Philippa’s home, where she disguises him in one of her dresses.

Brandino returns home with Francisco in tow. Francisco is immediately enamoured with the disguised Ansaldo and vows to marry him. Valeria, meanwhile, has decided to sign over all her properties and wealth to her brother-in-law Brandino so that she can discover who loves her for herself and not her wealth. She arrives at Philippa’s home with her suitors in time for Francisco and Ansaldo’s wedding. It is uncovered, however, that Ansaldo is not Ansaldo, but rather Marcia, the disguised daughter of one of Valeria’s suitors, who escaped disguised as a youth after he attempted to wed her to an old man. Francisco and Marcia’s marriage is legitimate and Philippa resigns herself to monogamy. Valeria discovers that Ricardo loves her money-or-no, his debts are forgiven and she reclaims her wealth from Brandino. Also, the thieves are arrested.

Scene choices:

Prior to 1.2 we discover that Francisco and Philippa are mutually attracted to one another, but Philippa is married to the elderly Justice Brandino. Unable to speak to him in her home, Philippa forges a letter from Francisco to herself arranging a romantic liaison. She gives the letter to her husband, and requests that he ‘return’ it to Francisco so as to make Francisco aware of her affections and secretly arrange for him to visit her that night.

Francisco, believing her to not return his affection, requests romantic advice from his friends Ricardo and Attilio.

This is our introduction to Ansaldo and the Gang of Thieves.

After robbing Ansaldo, the Gang of Thieves set up a fake doctor’s office to con people with false cures. Ansaldo, meanwhile, has recovered from the robbery under the care of Philippa and her waiting woman, Violetta. They have clothed him in her husband, the Justice Brandino’s old suit. Ansaldo stops at the “doctor” to ask whether they know of any thieves in the area.

Brandino and Martino, his clerk, arrive at the “doctor” with sore eyes and toothache and are confronted by Ansaldo wearing Brandino’s clothes.

The final scene of the play. Ansaldo has escaped back to Philippa’s house after being spotted in Brandino’s clothes. Philippa and Violetta disguise Ansaldo in one of Philippa’s old dresses to hide him from Brandino. Brandino arrives with Francisco, who has decided not to sleep with Philippa due to his deceased father’s friendship with Brandino. Valeria arrives at her brother-in-law, Brandino’s, and is planning on forgoing her wealth to him in order to find out who loves her for herself and who merely wants her wealth.

Prompt questions:
  1. Many of the chosen scenes rely on the performativity of the theatre, with implicit stage directions indicating that there was a lot of physicality. How successful is the translation from stage to page? Is there a sense of lack in reading rather than watching these scenes, especially when we consider how many stage directions were inserted by the Oxford University Press’ Thomas Middleton?
  2. Throughout, the thieves are associated with deception, subterfuge, and disguise. How is our understanding of Ansaldo influenced by his initial introduction being alongside the thieves in a scene dominated by themes of deception and secrecy? Are we supposed to question Ansaldo’s identity?
  3. Act one, scene two seems to indicate that identity is tied to performance and action rather than physicality, yet Ansaldo’s identity is continually linked to the clothes that he wears and attention is continually brought to his body. How (if at all) does the play contend with these opposing ideas? How important are the actors’ physical bodies?

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