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By By the Rev. William J. Davis.

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When the Duchess traps the Cardinal in a ruse to make him believe she has fallen in love with his favorite nephew, her counselor’s intense personal pride in having kept the widow celibate is quickly superseded by his eagerness for a glittering match within his own family, and he proceeds to try to convince her to remarry instead. In both plays – unlike in the English comedies to be examined later – men use the concept of the lusty widow as a threat to prevent remarriage: “They are most luxurious / Will wed twice,” warns Ferdinand, “.

40 Widows and Suitors in Early Modern English Comedy The persuasive deployment of the lusty widow stereotype and its theatrical manifestations will be the subject of the following chapters. At this point, however, two plays can round out the evidence adduced above for the early modern English approval of female remarriage. First, Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1625) contains a speech which so clearly delineates the difference between English and Mediterranean attitudes that it is puzzling why it is not routinely chosen over The Duchess of Malfi as the preferred literary evidence on the subject.

Now if any ask when that is, I answer, as I suppose, when a woman is about sixty years of age” (Bernard, 19). While the age of the Overburian “Vertuous Widdow” (usually attributed to John Webster) is not specified, the character’s praise of her chastity refers explicitly to celibacy in old age: “Shee lives to see her selfe full of time: being so necessary for earth, God calls her not to heaven, till she be very aged . . this latter Chastity of Hers, is more grave and reverend, then that ere shee was married; for in it is neither hope, nor longing, nor feare, nor jealousie.

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