Saturday, May 23, 2009

Summer reading: The Captives, or the Lost Recovered, by Thomas Heywood

This is a lot like Plautus's Rudens, only with random lecherous dead friars thrown in. Fun!

Stuff that Happens: So there's this merchant, Mr. Raphael, who's in love with a girl named Palestra. His friend Treadway tries to dissuade him from marrying her, seeing as how she was brought up in a French whorehouse, but Raphael is having none of it. He arranges to buy Palestra from her pimp, a nasty type named Mildew, but he makes the mistake of giving Mildew the money before he gets the girl. Mildew, of course, arranges to run away with the girl and the money, figuring that "Whores and bawdes / May lyve in every corner of the woorld ... Faith, these are wares in all parts vendible."

Meanwhile, the abbot of a nearby community of friars tries to make peace between Friar John and Friar Richard, who, however, keep making faces at each other every time the abbot turns his back. We learn that Friar John is planning to seduce the wife of the convent's founder, one Lady de Averne.

A storm blows up, and Mildew is shipwrecked. Palestra and her friend Scribonia are washed ashore and take shelter at the friary, after singing a duet (triet?) with Friar John about the sad plight of charity in this degenerate world; because, after all, the natural response to being shipwrecked and soaking wet is to burst into song. Palestra is unhappy because the casket containing the tokens by which she may know her true parentage has been washed ashore. Meanwhile, an English merchant named Ashburne turns up in town, and mentions casually that he had a daughter who was stolen when she was a child. You think...?

Friar John writes a love letter to Lady de Averne. She shows it to her husband, who flips out and orders her to write back to him arranging an assignation. Somewhat alarmed by her husband's manner, Lady de Averne tries to explain to him that Murder Is Bad. He ignores this.

Mildew catches up with the girls, and there is another duet. "'Helpe, helpe, oh ayde a wretched madye, / or els we are undoon then.' / 'And have I caught, and have I caught you? / In vayne it is to roonne then' &c." Ashburne and his servants rescue the girls; Ashburne proposes to bring them home to his wife, who is (understandably) annoyed when her husband turns up with two sweet young things from the brothel.

Lord Averne and his servant lie in wait for Friar John and strangle him. As soon as he's dead, Lord Averne has a sudden realization that Murder Is Indeed Bad, and it also leaves you with inconvenient corpses on your hands. He decides to return the body to the friary, hoping to frame one of the friars for the murder; the servant places it on the privy. Friar Richard wakes up to use the privy, decides that Friar John is hogging it just to annoy him, and throws a stone at him. Being dead, he falls over. Friar Richard thinks he's killed him, panics, and drags the corpse back over the wall, hoping to frame Lord Averne for the murder.

A fisherman hauls the casket to shore in his net, and Palestra is discovered to be Ashburne's long-lost daughter Mirable. Yay! Much rejoicing! Ashburne's brother Thomas turns up in town; we learn that he is searching for his brother, and he also has a long-lost daughter who was stolen at the same time as Mirable. You think...?

Lord Averne is rather perturbed when Friar John's corpse turns up on his property again. In a last-ditch effort to get rid of the body, he and his servant dress it up in rusty armor and turn it loose on his old stallion, hoping it will be mistaken for a knight-errant. Meanwhile, Friar Richard has ridden out to the miller's on a mare. The stallion pursues the mare; Richard thinks John's angry ghost is pursuing him, so he falls off his horse and confesses to the murder.

Ashburne pays off Mildew, who reveals that Scribonia is actually Thomas Ashburne's daughter Winefryde. Raphael marries Mirable, Treadway marries Winefryde, and everything ends happily, even for Friar Richard, since Averne has a sudden twinge of conscience and confesses to the murder. Lady Averne, it turns out, has anticipated this and persuaded the king to pardon her husband.

Thoughts: No very deep ones, unfortunately, save that this play clearly owes a lot to Pericles as well as to Plautus, especially in Raphael's initial description of Palestra (the brothel, we are told, "coold not stand / But that her vertue guards it and protects it / From blastinges and heaven's thunder." It is not explained how Raphael became so familiar with this den of iniquity in the first place.)

The fishermen are drawn with a fair bit of attention and sympathy: "The trobled sea is yet scarce navigable / Synce the last tempest; yet wee that only lyv / By our owne sweett and laboure, nor cann eate / Before wee fetch our foode out of the sea, / Must venter thoughe with danger, or bee suer / With empty stomakes go unsupt to bed." (To the extend that there's any realism whatsoever in this play, it's here; Gripus the fisherman strikes me as sort of a nautical counterpart to Tawnycoat in 2 If You Know Not Me.)

I think a stage version of this would be a hoot, especially the scenes with the friars.

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