Evadne. Since I can do no good, because a woman,
Reach constantly at something that is near it.

The Maid's Tragedy was written sometime around 1611 by Elizabethan dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. It was printed anonymously in 1619 and went through several variations due to censorship. Why censorship? Because in proper Jacobean style, this play offers Revenge, Suicide, Murder, Women Wronged and The Wedding Night From Hell. (It also has a large helping of Renaissance Misogyny, but the censors weren't so concerned about that.) This writeup reveals the entire plot, but it's not like you get a chance to see this play performed often anyway.

Dramatis Personae
King.
Lysippus, Brother to the King.
Amintor, a noble Gentleman.
Melantius,
Diphilus, Brothers to Evadne.
Calianax, an old humorous Lord, and Father to Aspatia.
Cleon, Strato, Gentlemen.
Diagoras, a Servant to Calianax.
Evadne, Sister to Melantius.
Aspatia, troth-plight Wife to Amintor
Antiphila, Olympias, Waiting-Gentle-women to Aspatia.
Dula, Waiting-Woman to Evadne.
Ladies.
Night, Cynthia, Neptune, Æolus, Sea Gods, Masquers.

SCENE.—The City of Rhodes.

In the Palace, the young gentlemen Cleo, Strato, Lysippus, and Diphilus prepare for a wedding masque when Diphilus' brother, the soldier Melantius, enters, having returned home to see his best friend Amintor tie the knot. He's a little late though, the men tell him--Amintor was married earlier this morning--but he is in time for the masque and the wedding dance. The maiden Aspatia passes by, and Melantius calls his hearty congratulations to her, wishing her good luck and many children with Amintor.

Mel. Hail, maid and wife!
Thou fair Aspatia, may the holy knot
That thou hast tied to-day, last till the hand
Of age undo it! may’st thou bring a race
Unto Amintor, that may fill the world
Successively with soldiers!
Asp. My hard fortunes
Deserve not scorn; for I was never proud
When they were good.
Mel. How’s this?

Whoops. Turns out Amintor is married all right--but not to his former fiancee, though he'd written tons of gushing letters about Aspatia to Melantius. But to whom then? Someone even better, say the gentlemen--Melantius' sister Evadne. The bridegroom himself happens by, and there are long happy reunion speeches between Melantius and Amintor. And what's this news, asks Melantius? Why has he forsaken Aspatia, who now spends her entire life pining for him, and married Evadne? Melantius is a bit tiffed, because Aspatia's father Calianax hates his guts, and now has a new reason to. Amintor explains that though he promised to marry Aspatia, the King forbade him, and made him marry Evadne instead. But it's all right. Evadne is very pretty.

As the Palace fills with spectators for the masque, Calianax (the King's right-hand man) and his servant Diagoras are trying to keep the wretched masses away from the court party. Naturally Calianax is pissed; he should be working at his daughter's wedding, but instead he has to work as a bouncer for the man who betrayed her. Melantius arrives, trying to find a seat for his date. He quarrels with Calianax, and Calianax calls his date a whore. Who let this whore sit so close to the King? That place is for higher-born women; she should be in the special Whore Zone. Amintor appears and tells them to both shut up because the King is coming with Evadne. Melantius has just time to congratulate his sister before the masque starts.

After the masque, the King wishes everyone a good night, especially the newlyweds. He'll skip the entertainment of seeing the bride and groom put to bed together, and leave Evadne to be undressed by her ladies. (Jacobean weddings: come for the free food, stay for the chance to glimpse the bride in her peignoir.) While she's being divested of her bridal finery, Evadne is teased by her ribald maidservant Dula. And teased, and teased. Finally, to shut her up, Evadne asks Aspatia to say something. But all Aspatia wants to do is sing plaintive ballads about forsaken lovers. ("Lay a garland on my hearse/Of the dismal yew...") Ahem. Anyway, eventually the women leave and Amintor arrives.

What is his darling Evadne doing still up? She'll catch cold. She should get into bed right away. No really, she should. No, really. Really. She should. She should get into bed. Please. Pretty please? What's wrong? Why won't she come to bed with him? Evadne's reply is rather straightforward: She has no intention of doing any such thing. In fact she has sworn she will not.

Amin.Is this the truth?
Will you not lie with me to-night?
Evad. To-night! you talk as if I would hereafter.

Naturally Amintor is confused. Then, his new wife swears many horrendous oaths never to have sex with him. Ever. At all. She'd sooner curl up in a bed of snakes. It's not that she's frigid either, she loves sex. Just not with him. For some reason Amintor gets rather angry at this. Evadne warns him to watch himself, as any harshness towards her will be repaid by "her champion." What "champion", Amintor demands? He'll kill this "champion", whoever the hell he is.

Evad. You dare not strike him.
Amin. Do not wrong me so:
Yes, if his body were a poisonous plant,
That it were death to touch, I have a soul
Will throw me on him.
Evad. Why, 'tis the King.
Amin. The King!
Evad. What will you do now?
Amin. It is not the King!
Evad. What did he make this match for, dull Amintor?

Shit. The King. Amintor is a very loyal subject, and the King is very very sacred to him. The King is more than just a man. The King is his lord, his life, his sovereign... and the King has just made a complete cuckold out of Amintor. Why, he demands of Evadne, did she have to marry him then? It's simple: Evadne needs someone to explain any children that come along, and to make her an "honest woman". And no, she won't kill the wretched Amintor, though he begs her to, because then she'd just have to get married all over again. Amintor concedes. He'll sleep on the floor. And when the annoying friends pound on the door in the morning, Evadne promises to look all happy and satisfied.

At Calianax's house, Aspasia is chiding her maidservants because they look too happy. Then she has a great idea. They'll all sit down, and stare silently at the wall, until they are sufficiently depressed and morbid. Lo and behold, it works!

The next morning, Cleon, Strato and Diphilus call on the newlyweds. Bawdy jokes all round: "What odds, he has not my sister's maidenhead tonight?" "None; it's odds against any bridegroom living, he ne'er gets it while he lives." "Y'are very merry with my sister; you'll please to allow me the same freedom with your mother." The wretched Amintor appears; they tease him. ("I was going to say I bet you didn't do her last night!" "Fuck you! ... I mean, I mean, ha ha, that's a good one!") Melantius arrives and offers more congratulations. Evadne appears, another round of teasing begins. And then the King arrives.

King. Amintor, wert thou truly honest till thou wert married?
Amin. Yes, sir.
King. Tell me, then, how shows the sport unto thee?
Amin. Why, well.
King. What did you do?
Amin. No more, nor less, than other couples use;
You know what 'tis; it has but a coarse name.

Well, the King would like to congratulate the young couple privately. When everyone else has left, he clarifies: He'd like to congratulate Evadne. Privately. Amintor leaves like a good little seething subject, and the King begins some seething of his own: She's slept with Amintor, he yells, and she promised not to! Evadne denies this: Amintor's just lying like she told him to. (And she wants to clarify that she swore never to love anyone lower than the King; if, for example, the King would be overthrown, he'd also be thrown over right out of Evadne's bed.) The King refuses to believe her, until she calls Amintor in and makes him admit it. Aminto respectfully expresses how pissed off he is. Why couldn't they have picked some other fool? (Evadne: I would not have a fool;/ It were no credit for me.) There follows a "Ha ha, you can't kill me because I'm the King!" moment. But it's all right. If Amintor winks at the whole thing and will arrange the King's meetings with Evadne, he can keep his head.

Later Melantius meets Amintor, and notices his dejection. Why so glum? Hasn't Amintor just married his beautiful, charming sister? What is his problem, then? Amintor doesn't want to say. Melantius presses him, pleads, and finally says that he will no longer be Amintor's bestest friend if Amintor doesn't tell him the problem, and pronto. ("No, I don't wanna." "Please." "All right. Your sister's a whore." "You fucking asshole. I'll kill you.") Eventually Melantius believes Amintor, puts away his sword, and starts plotting revenge against the King. His brother Diphilus enters, and promises to help. Calianax comes by, and he's just the man Melantius needs; for Calianax has the keys to the city's fort, and Melantius needs the fort to escape after he's killed the King. He wheedles, begs, and threatens Calianax to give him the keys. Afraid for his life, Calianax asks for time, then scuttles off to warn the King.

Mel. Speak, you whore, speak truth!
Or, by the dear soul of thy sleeping father,
This sword shall be thy lover! tell, or I’ll kill thee;
And, when thou hast told all, thou wilt deserve it.
Evad. You will not murder me?
Mel. No; ’tis a justice, and a noble one,
To put the light out of such base offenders.

When Melantius confronts his sister with her oh-so-wicked-and-unchaste deeds, she confesses. This is undoubtedly due to a miraculous repentance from the bottom of her soul, and not, say, her brother's threatening to spit her on his sword, strip her clothes off, and leave her naked dead body where everyone can see it unless she admits her naughtiness. No really, Evadne tearfully repents and swears to kill her royal lover. Melantius leaves, and Amintor comes in. Evadne falls on her knees and begs him for forgiveness. Eventually he forgives her, and she leaves swearing that she will not see Amintor again until she has "washed her stains away."

Calianax tells the King of Melantius' treason, but the King trusts Melantius and does not want to believe Calianax. In typical Jacobean tragedy (or Mafia movie) style, the King invites everyone to dinner, making insinuations about assassination and murder all the time and trying to draw a blush or guilty look from Melantius. Melantius, however, remains stolid as Calianax grows more and more flustered. The King dismisses everything.

Later that evening, Diphilus and Melantius are plotting their revenge when a raging Amintor storms in: The King has sent for Evadne through him, and it's the last straw--to hell with treason, Amintor will kill the King right now. But this would screw up Diphilus' and Melantius' plans, so they play the "you can't kill him, he's the King card". Amintor relents, and admits that even though he thinks Evadne's a monster, there's something about her he loves.

That night, the King sends for Evadne and she goes to his room. After dismissing the guard from the door, she finds him asleep. She doesn't want to kill him while he sleeps (what's the fun, I mean justice, in that?), but she knows he'll overpower her awake, so she ties the King to his bed, then calls him until he wakes up. Obviously expecting kinky fun, the King is rather bemused at Evadne's screaming and knife-brandishing. Much stabbing ensues.

Evad. Thou kept'st me brave at court, and whored me, King
Then married me to a young noble gentleman,
And whored me still.
King. Evadne, pity me!
Evad. Hell take me then! This for my lord Amintor.
This for my noble brother! and this stroke
For the most wronged of women!

After Evadne flees, the guards find the murdered King and raise the alarm, all the while marvelling how a woman could manage to kill someone. The King's brother Lysippus arrives. ("Oh, my dear brother--oh well, guess I'm King now.") They find out that Melantius has gotten the fort, and is standing on the wall screaming the whole story to all passersby . They run to the fort, and Lysippus pardons Melantius and Calianax (who in a fit of pique at the dead King gave Melantius the keys to the fort.) The former King is lamented and praised, but obviously no one really care's that he's dead.

Meanwhile, the forsaken Aspatia has disguised herself as a man, and gains entrance to Amintor's rooms, pretending to be her brother. "Aspatia's brother" taunts Amintor, and refuses to leave until they have dueled over Aspatia's honor. Amintor is already guilty enough about Aspatia without wanting to kill "her brother" as well, but Aspatia provokes him until he has no choice. They fight, and it only takes about six or seven wounds for Amintor to realize: "You can't fight, you let me stab you, and you deliberately miss stabbing me? There's something weird about this!" Further incredible mental feats are postponed by Evadne's entrance (again, in proper Jacobean tragedy fashion), where Amintor makes yet another stunning observation:

Enter Evadne, her hands bloody, with a knife.
Amin. There is a presage of some important thing
About thee...
Thy hands are bloody, and thou hast a knife."

Be happy, the joyful Evadne cries, the King is dead and I've killed him! Now you can forgive me and we'll live happily ever after! But Amintor is horrified. No! Not King-murder! He yells at Evadne, calls her a "monster of cruelty", and storms out of the room. Obviously the only thing for Evadne to do now is stab herself. This takes her about ten seconds. It takes about fifteen seconds for Amintor to relent and come back in, but it's too late and Evadne is dead. Aspatia, however, is not dead yet, since she's been exclaiming "O, O, O!" for several pages. Amintor cries out that none of this crap would have happened if he'd married Aspatia, upon which she regains consciousness and tells him her true identity before dying. Amintor sighs, and performs the third suicide of the scene.

Lysippus, Melantius, Diphilus, Calianax and others rush into the room. Melantius holds the dying Amintor, who tells the crowd that the dead "youth" beside him is Aspatia before breathing his last. Diphilus points out that their sister Evadne is dead too, but Melantius calls her death "a thing to laugh at, in respect of this", since his best friend Amintor "was my sister, father, brother, son; All that I had." Thanks, bro. Melantius too offers to jump on the suicide train, but Diphilus and the King prevent him. Melantius vows to kill himself somehow, even with out a sword, perhaps by starvation. The last lines are the new King's, offering a tidy moral to a very messy play:

Lys. May this a fair example be to me,
To rule with temper; for on lustful kings
Unlooked-for sudden deaths from God are sent;
But cursed is he that is their instrument.

All quotes taken from Eight Famous Elizabethan Plays, 1950 Modern Library edition. Dramatis Personae taken from bibliomania.com

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