English Literature

Epicoene; or, The Silent Woman by Ben Johnson

Epicoene; or, The Silent Woman by Ben Johnson.jpg




My hope is not so nourished by example, as it will conclude, this dumb piece should please you, because it hath pleased others before; but by trust, that when you have read it, you will find it worthy to have displeased none. This makes that I now number you, not only in the names of favour, but the names of justice to what I write; and do presently call you to the exercise of that noblest, and manliest virtue; as coveting rather to be freed in my fame, by the authority of a judge, than the credit of an undertaker. Read, therefore, I pray you, and censure. There is not a line, or syllable in it, changed from the simplicity of the first copy. And, when you shall consider, through the certain hatred of some, how much a man’s innocency may be endangered by an uncertain accusation; you will, I doubt not, so begin to hate the iniquity of such natures, as I shall love the contumely done me, whose end was so honourable as to be wiped off by your sentence.

Your unprofitable, but true Lover,



MOROSE, a Gentleman that loves no noise.

SIR DAUPHINE EUGENIE, a Knight, his Nephew.

NED CLERIMONT, a Gentleman, his Friend.

TRUEWIT, another Friend.

SIR JOHN DAW, a Knight.

SIR AMOROUS LA-FOOLE, a Knight also.

THOMAS OTTER, a Land and Sea Captain.

CUTBEARD, a Barber.

MUTE, one of MOROSE’s Servants.



EPICOENE, supposed the Silent Woman.


MISTRESS OTTER, the Captain’s Wife, MISTRESS TRUSTY, LADY HAUGHTY’S Woman, Pretenders.

Pages, Servants, etc.



   Truth says, of old the art of making plays
   Was to content the people; and their praise
   Was to the poet money, wine, and bays.

   But in this age, a sect of writers are,
   That, only, for particular likings care,
   And will taste nothing that is popular.

   With such we mingle neither brains nor breasts;
   Our wishes, like to those make public feasts,
   Are not to please the cook's taste, but the guests'.

   Yet, if those cunning palates hither come,
   They shall find guests' entreaty, and good room;
   And though all relish not, sure there will be some,

   That, when they leave their seats, shall make them say,
   Who wrote that piece, could so have wrote a play,
   But that he knew this was the better way.

   For, to present all custard, or all tart,
   And have no other meats, to bear a part.
   Or to want bread, and salt, were but course art.

   The poet prays you then, with better thought
   To sit; and, when his cates are all in brought,
   Though there be none far-fet, there will dear-bought,

   Be fit for ladies: some for lords, knights, 'squires;
   Some for your waiting-wench, and city-wires;
   Some for your men, and daughters of Whitefriars.

   Nor is it, only, while you keep your seat
   Here, that his feast will last; but you shall eat
   A week at ord'naries, on his broken meat:
     If his muse be true,
     Who commends her to you.


   The ends of all, who for the scene do write,
   Are, or should be, to profit and delight.
   And still't hath been the praise of all best times,
   So persons were not touch'd, to tax the crimes.
   Then, in this play, which we present to-night,
   And make the object of your ear and sight,
   On forfeit of yourselves, think nothing true:
   Lest so you make the maker to judge you,
   For he knows, poet never credit gain'd
   By writing truths, but things (like truths) well feign'd.
   If any yet will, with particular sleight
   Of application, wrest what he doth write;
   And that he meant, or him, or her, will say:
   They make a libel, which he made a play.

ACT 1.

   SCENE 1.1.



   CLER: Have you got the song yet perfect, I gave you, boy?

   PAGE: Yes, sir.

   CLER: Let me hear it.

   PAGE: You shall, sir, but i'faith let nobody else.

   CLER: Why, I pray?

   PAGE: It will get you the dangerous name of a poet in town, sir;
   besides me a perfect deal of ill-will at the mansion you wot of,
   whose lady is the argument of it; where now I am the welcomest
   thing under a man that comes there.

   CLER: I think, and above a man too, if the truth were rack'd out
   of you.

   PAGE: No, faith, I'll confess before, sir. The gentlewomen play with
   me, and throw me on the bed; and carry me in to my lady; and she
   kisses me with her oil'd face; and puts a peruke on my head; and
   asks me an I will wear her gown? and I say, no: and then she
   hits me a blow o' the ear, and calls me Innocent! and lets me go.

   CLER: No marvel if the door be kept shut against your master, when
   the entrance is so easy to you—well sir, you shall go there no
   more, lest I be fain to seek your voice in my lady's rushes, a
   fortnight hence. Sing, sir.

   PAGE [SINGS]: Still to be neat, still to be drest—


   TRUE: Why, here's the man that can melt away his time and never
   feels it! What between his mistress abroad, and his ingle at
   home, high fare, soft lodging, fine clothes, and his fiddle; he
   thinks the hours have no wings, or the day no post-horse. Well,
   sir gallant, were you struck with the plague this minute, or
   condemn'd to any capital punishment to-morrow, you would begin
   then to think, and value every article of your time, esteem it
   at the true rate, and give all for it.

   CLER: Why what should a man do?

   TRUE: Why, nothing; or that which, when it is done, is as idle.
   Harken after the next horse-race or hunting-match; lay wagers,
   praise Puppy, or Pepper-corn, White-foot, Franklin; swear upon
   Whitemane's party; speak aloud, that my lords may hear you;
   visit my ladies at night, and be able to give them the character
   of every bowler or better on the green. These be the things
   wherein your fashionable men exercise themselves, and I for

   CLER: Nay, if I have thy authority, I'll not leave yet. Come,
   the other are considerations, when we come to have gray heads
   and weak hams, moist eyes and shrunk members. We'll think on
   'em then; and we'll pray and fast.

   TRUE: Ay, and destine only that time of age to goodness, which our
   want of ability will not let us employ in evil!

   CLER: Why, then 'tis time enough.

   TRUE: Yes; as if a man should sleep all the term, and think to
   effect his business the last day. O, Clerimont, this time, because
   it is an incorporeal thing, and not subject to sense, we mock
   ourselves the fineliest out of it, with vanity and misery
   indeed! not seeking an end of wretchedness, but only changing the
   matter still.

   CLER: Nay, thou wilt not leave now—

   TRUE: See but our common disease! with what justice can we complain,
   that great men will not look upon us, nor be at leisure to give
   our affairs such dispatch as we expect, when we will never do it
   to ourselves? nor hear, nor regard ourselves?

   CLER: Foh! thou hast read Plutarch's morals, now, or some such
   tedious fellow; and it shews so vilely with thee! 'fore God, 'twill
   spoil thy wit utterly. Talk me of pins, and feathers, and
   ladies, and rushes, and such things: and leave this Stoicity
   alone, till thou mak'st sermons.

   TRUE: Well, sir; if it will not take, I have learn'd to lose as
   little of my kindness as I can. I'll do good to no man against his
   will, certainly. When were you at the college?

   CLER: What college?

   TRUE: As if you knew not!

   CLER: No faith, I came but from court yesterday.

   TRUE: Why, is it not arrived there yet, the news? A new foundation,
   sir, here in the town, of ladies, that call themselves the
   collegiates, an order between courtiers and country-madams,
   that live from their husbands; and give entertainment to all the
   wits, and braveries of the time, as they call them: cry down, or
   up, what they like or dislike in a brain or a fashion, with most
   masculine, or rather hermaphroditical authority; and every day
   gain to their college some new probationer.

   CLER: Who is the president?

   TRUE: The grave, and youthful matron, the lady Haughty.

   CLER: A pox of her autumnal face, her pieced beauty! there's no man
   can be admitted till she be ready, now-a-days, till she has
   painted, and perfumed, and wash'd, and scour'd, but the boy here;
   and him she wipes her oil'd lips upon, like a sponge. I have made
   a song, I pray thee hear it, on the subject.


   Still to be neat, still to be drest,
   As you were going to a feast;
   Still to be powder'd, still perfum'd;
   Lady, it is to be presumed,
   Though art's hid causes are not found,
   All is not sweet, all is not sound.

   Give me a look, give me a face,
   That makes simplicity a grace;
   Robes loosely flowing, hair as free:
   Such sweet neglect more taketh me,
   Then all the adulteries of art;
   They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.

   TRUE: And I am clearly on the other side: I love a good dressing
   before any beauty o' the world. O, a woman is then like a
   delicate garden; nor is there one kind of it; she may vary every
   hour; take often counsel of her glass, and choose the best. If
   she have good ears, shew them; good hair, lay it out; good
   legs, wear short clothes; a good hand, discover it often;
   practise any art to mend breath, cleanse teeth, repair eye-brows;
   paint, and profess it.

   CLER: How? publicly?

   TRUE: The doing of it, not the manner: that must be private. Many
   things that seem foul in the doing, do please done. A lady
   should, indeed, study her face, when we think she sleeps; nor,
   when the doors are shut, should men be enquiring; all is sacred
   within, then. Is it for us to see their perukes put on, their
   false teeth, their complexion, their eye-brows, their nails? You
   see guilders will not work, but inclosed. They must not discover
   how little serves, with the help of art, to adorn a great deal.
   How long did the canvas hang afore Aldgate? Were the people
   suffered to see the city's Love and Charity, while they were rude
   stone, before they were painted and burnish'd? No: no more should
   Servants approach their mistresses, but when they are complete and

   CLER: Well said, my Truewit.

   TRUE: And a wise lady will keep a guard always upon the place, that
   she may do things securely. I once followed a rude fellow into a
   chamber, where the poor madam, for haste, and troubled, snatch'd
   at her peruke to cover her baldness; and put it on the wrong way.

   CLER: O prodigy!

   TRUE: And the unconscionable knave held her in complement an hour
   with that reverst face, when I still look'd when she should talk
   from the t'other side.

   CLER: Why, thou shouldst have relieved her.

   TRUE: No, faith, I let her alone, as we'll let this argument, if you
   please, and pass to another. When saw you Dauphine Eugenie?

   CLER: Not these three days. Shall we go to him this morning? he is
   very melancholy, I hear.

   TRUE: Sick of the uncle? is he? I met that stiff piece of
   formality, his uncle, yesterday, with a huge turban of night-caps
   on his head, buckled over his ears.

   CLER: O, that's his custom when he walks abroad. He can endure no
   noise, man.

   TRUE: So I have heard. But is the disease so ridiculous in him as it
   is made? They say he has been upon divers treaties with the
   fish-wives and orange-women; and articles propounded between
   them: marry, the chimney-sweepers will not be drawn in.

   CLER: No, nor the broom-men: they stand out stiffly. He cannot
   endure a costard-monger, he swoons if he hear one.

   TRUE: Methinks a smith should be ominous.

   CLER: Or any hammer-man. A brasier is not suffer'd to dwell in the
   parish, nor an armourer. He would have hang'd a pewterer's prentice
   once on a Shrove-tuesday's riot, for being of that trade, when the
   rest were quit.

   TRUE: A trumpet should fright him terribly, or the hautboys.

   CLER: Out of his senses. The waights of the city have a pension of
   him not to come near that ward. This youth practised on him one
   night like the bell-man; and never left till he had brought him
   down to the door with a long-sword: and there left him
   flourishing with the air.

   PAGE: Why, sir, he hath chosen a street to lie in so narrow at both
   ends, that it will receive no coaches, nor carts, nor any of these
   common noises: and therefore we that love him, devise to bring him
   in such as we may, now and then, for his exercise, to breathe him.
   He would grow resty else in his ease: his virtue would rust without
   action. I entreated a bearward, one day, to come down with the
   dogs of some four parishes that way, and I thank him he did;
   and cried his games under master Morose's window: till he was
   sent crying away, with his head made a most bleeding spectacle to
   the multitude. And, another time, a fencer marchng to his prize, had
   his drum most tragically run through, for taking that street in his
   way at my request.

   TRUE: A good wag! How does he for the bells?

   CLER: O, in the Queen's time, he was wont to go out of town every
   Saturday at ten o'clock, or on holy day eves. But now, by reason of
   the sickness, the perpetuity of ringing has made him devise a
   room, with double walls, and treble ceilings; the windows close
   shut and caulk'd: and there he lives by candlelight. He turn'd away
   a man, last week, for having a pair of new shoes that creak'd.
   And this fellow waits on him now in tennis-court socks, or slippers
   soled with wool: and they talk each to other in a trunk. See, who
   comes here!


   DAUP: How now! what ail you sirs? dumb?

   TRUE: Struck into stone, almost, I am here, with tales o' thine
   uncle. There was never such a prodigy heard of.

   DAUP: I would you would once lose this subject, my masters, for my
   sake. They are such as you are, that have brought me into that
   predicament I am with him.

   TRUE: How is that?

   DAUP: Marry, that he will disinherit me; no more. He thinks, I and
   my company are authors of all the ridiculous Acts and Monuments are
   told of him.

   TRUE: S'lid, I would be the author of more to vex him; that purpose
   deserves it: it gives thee law of plaguing him. I will tell thee
   what I would do. I would make a false almanack; get it printed:
   and then have him drawn out on a coronation day to the Tower-wharf,
   and kill him with the noise of the ordnance. Disinherit thee! he
   cannot, man. Art not thou next of blood, and his sister's son?

   DAUP: Ay, but he will thrust me out of it, he vows, and marry.

   TRUE: How! that's a more portent. Can he endure no noise, and will
   venture on a wife?

   CLER: Yes: why thou art a stranger, it seems, to his best trick,
   yet. He has employed a fellow this half year all over England to
   hearken him out a dumb woman; be she of any form, or any
   quality, so she be able to bear children: her silence is dowry
   enough, he says.

   TRUE: But I trust to God he has found none.

   CLER: No; but he has heard of one that is lodged in the next street
   to him, who is exceedingly soft-spoken; thrifty of her speech; that
   spends but six words a day. And her he's about now, and shall have

   TRUE: Is't possible! who is his agent in the business?

   CLER: Marry a barber; one Cutbeard; an honest fellow, one that
   tells Dauphine all here.

   TRUE: Why you oppress me with wonder: a woman, and a barber, and
   love no noise!

   CLER: Yes, faith. The fellow trims him silently, and has not the
   knack with his sheers or his fingers: and that continence in a
   barber he thinks so eminent a virtue, as it has made him chief of
   his counsel.

   TRUE: Is the barber to be seen, or the wench?

   CLER: Yes, that they are.

   TRUE: I prithee, Dauphine, let us go thither.

   DAUP: I have some business now: I cannot, i'faith.

   TRUE: You shall have no business shall make you neglect this, sir;
   we'll make her talk, believe it; or, if she will not, we can give
   out at least so much as shall interrupt the treaty; we will break
   it. Thou art bound in conscience, when he suspects thee without
   cause, to torment him.

   DAUP: Not I, by any means. I will give no suffrage to't. He shall
   never have that plea against me, that I opposed the least phant'sy
   of his. Let it lie upon my stars to be guilty, I'll be innocent.

   TRUE: Yes, and be poor, and beg; do, innocent: when some groom of
   his has got him an heir, or this barber, if he himself cannot.
   Innocent!—I prithee, Ned, where lies she? let him be innocent

   CLER: Why, right over against the barber's; in the house where
   sir John Daw lies.

   TRUE: You do not mean to confound me!

   CLER: Why?

   TRUE: Does he that would marry her know so much?

   CLER: I cannot tell.

   TRUE: 'Twere enough of imputation to her with him.

   CLER: Why?

   TRUE: The only talking sir in the town! Jack Daw!
   and he teach her not to speak!—God be wi' you.
*    I have some business too.

   CLER: Will you not go thither, then?

   TRUE: Not with the danger to meet Daw, for mine ears.

   CLER: Why? I thought you two had been upon very good terms.

   TRUE: Yes, of keeping distance.

   CLER: They say, he is a very good scholar.

   TRUE: Ay, and he says it first. A pox on him, a fellow that
   pretends only to learning, buys titles, and nothing else of
   books in him!

   CLER: The world reports him to be very learned.

   TRUE: I am sorry the world should so conspire to belie him.

   CLER: Good faith, I have heard very good things come from him.

   TRUE: You may; there's none so desperately ignorant to deny that:
   would they were his own! God be wi' you, gentleman.


   CLER: This is very abrupt!

   DAUP: Come, you are a strange open man, to tell every thing thus.

   CLER: Why, believe it, Dauphine, Truewit's a very honest fellow.

   DAUP: I think no other: but this frank nature of his is not for

   CLER: Nay, then, you are mistaken, Dauphine: I know where he has been
   well trusted, and discharged the trust very truly, and heartily.

   DAUP: I contend not, Ned; but with the fewer a business is carried,
   it is ever the safer. Now we are alone, if you will go thither, I
   am for you.

   CLER: When were you there?

   DAUP: Last night: and such a Decameron of sport fallen out! Boccace
   never thought of the like. Daw does nothing but court her; and the
   wrong way. He would lie with her, and praises her modesty; desires
   that she would talk and be free, and commends her silence in
   verses: which he reads, and swears are the best that ever man
   made. Then rails at his fortunes, stamps, and mutines, why he is
   not made a counsellor, and call'd to affairs of state.

   CLER: I prithee let's go. I would fain partake this. Some water,


   DAUP: We are invited to dinner together, he and I, by one that came
   thither to him, sir La-Foole.

   CLER: O, that's a precious mannikin.

   DAUP: Do you know him?

   CLER: Ay, and he will know you too, if e'er he saw you but once,
   though you should meet him at church in the midst of prayers. He is
   one of the braveries, though he be none of the wits. He will salute
   a judge upon the bench, and a bishop in the pulpit, a lawyer when
   he is pleading at the bar, and a lady when she is dancing in a
   masque, and put her out. He does give plays, and suppers, and
   invites his guests to them, aloud, out of his window, as they
   ride by in coaches. He has a lodging in the Strand for the purpose:
   or to watch when ladies are gone to the china-houses, or the
   Exchange, that he may meet them by chance, and give them presents,
   some two or three hundred pounds' worth of toys, to be laugh'd at.
   He is never without a spare banquet, or sweet-meats in his chamber,
   for their women to alight at, and come up to for a bait.

   DAUP: Excellent! he was a fine youth last night; but now he is much
   finer! what is his Christian name? I have forgot.


   CLER: Sir Amorous La-Foole.

   PAGE: The gentleman is here below that owns that name.

   CLER: 'Heart, he's come to invite me to dinner, I hold my life.

   DAUP: Like enough: prithee, let's have him up.

   CLER: Boy, marshal him.

   PAGE: With a truncheon, sir?

   CLER: Away, I beseech you.
   I'll make him tell us his pedegree, now; and what meat he has to
   dinner; and who are his guests; and the whole course of his
   fortunes: with a breath.


   LA-F: 'Save, dear sir Dauphine! honoured master Clerimont!

   CLER: Sir Amorous! you have very much honested my lodging with your

   LA-F: Good faith, it is a fine lodging: almost as delicate a lodging
   as mine.

   CLER: Not so, sir.

   LA-F: Excuse me, sir, if it were in the Strand, I assure you. I am
   come, master Clerimont, to entreat you to wait upon two or three
   ladies, to dinner, to-day.

   CLER: How, sir! wait upon them? did you ever see me carry dishes?

   LA-F: No, sir, dispense with me; I meant, to bear them company.

   CLER: O, that I will, sir: the doubtfulness of your phrase, believe
   it, sir, would breed you a quarrel once an hour, with the terrible
   boys, if you should but keep them fellowship a day.

   LA-F: It should be extremely against my will, sir, if I contested
   with any man.

   CLER: I believe it, sir; where hold you your feast?

   LA-F: At Tom Otter's, sir.

   PAGE: Tom Otter? what's he?

   LA-F: Captain Otter, sir; he is a kind of gamester, but he has had
   command both by sea and by land.

   PAGE: O, then he is animal amphibium?

   LA-F: Ay, sir: his wife was the rich china-woman, that the courtiers
   visited so often; that gave the rare entertainment. She commands
   all at home.

   CLER: Then she is captain Otter.

   LA-F: You say very well, sir: she is my kinswoman, a La-Foole by the
   mother-side, and will invite any great ladies for my sake.

   PAGE: Not of the La-Fooles of Essex?

   LA-F: No, sir, the La-Fooles of London.

   CLER: Now, he's in. [ASIDE.]

   LA-F: They all come out of our house, the La-Fooles of the north, the
   La-Fooles of the west, the La-Fooles of the east and south—we are
   as ancient a family as any is in Europe—but I myself am descended
   lineally of the French La-Fooles—and, we do bear for our coat
   yellow, or or, checker'd azure, and gules, and some three or four
   colours more, which is a very noted coat, and has, sometimes, been
   solemnly worn by divers nobility of our house—but let that go,
   antiquity is not respected now.—I had a brace of fat does sent me,
   gentlemen, and half a dozen of pheasants, a dozen or two of
   godwits, and some other fowl, which I would have eaten, while they
   are good, and in good company:—there will be a great lady, or two,
   my lady Haughty, my lady Centaure, mistress Dol Mavis—and they come
   o' purpose to see the silent gentlewoman, mistress Epicoene, that
   honest sir John Daw has promis'd to bring thither—and then, mistress
   Trusty, my lady's woman, will be there too, and this honourable
   knight, sir Dauphine, with yourself, master Clerimont—and we'll
   be very merry, and have fidlers, and dance.—I have been a mad wag
   in my time, and have spent some crowns since I was a page in
   court, to my lord Lofty, and after, my lady's gentleman-usher, who
   got me knighted in Ireland, since it pleased my elder brother to
   die.—I had as fair a gold jerkin on that day, as any worn in
   the island voyage, or at Cadiz, none dispraised; and I came over in
   it hither, shew'd myself to my friends in court, and after went
   down to my tenants in the country, and surveyed my lands, let
   new leases, took their money, spent it in the eye o' the land
   here, upon ladies:—and now I can take up at my pleasure.

   DAUP: Can you take up ladies, sir?

   CLER: O, let him breathe, he has not recover'd.

   DAUP: Would I were your half in that commodity!

   LA-F.: No, sir, excuse me: I meant money, which can take up any
   thing. I have another guest or two, to invite, and say as much to,
   gentlemen. I will take my leave abruptly, in hope you will not
   fail—Your servant.


   DAUP: We will not fail you, sir precious La-Foole; but she shall,
   that your ladies come to see, if I have credit afore sir Daw.

   CLER: Did you ever hear such a wind-sucker, as this?

   DAUP: Or, such a rook as the other! that will betray his mistress
   to be seen! Come, 'tis time we prevented it.

   CLER: Go.



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