The set-up for the jewelry plot
The final element to the plot, though a relatively minor one, is that of Annabel (the bride abandoned on her wedding night by Bonvile) and Rochfield. Fairly early on, Annabel enters solely for the purpose of asking Bonvile where the key to unlock her jewelry is. (According to the story, she cannot remove her jewelry without Bonvile’s key; I haven’t been able to – admittedly, in a relatively quick search – locate other early modern references to jewelry being locked onto a woman; usually, references to locking jewelry are to locking it up in a cabinet.)
Here’s the first reference (though I think I must’ve left the edition I was using at my office, so I don’t have act, scene, and line numbers right now):
Did you not see the key that’s to unlock my carcanet and bracelets? Now, in troth, I am afraid ’tis lost.
No, sweet, I ha’t: I found it lie at random in your chamber and, knowing you would miss it, laid it by; ’tis safe, I warrant you.
The second occurs when Annabel is out trying to catch Bonvile on his way to Calais for the duel to say goodbye, and she runs into Rochfield, a destitute younger son, who is trying his luck as a highwayman for the first time. After learning of Annabel’s predicament as both wife and virgin, Rochfield says,
This, then, it seems should be your wedding day, and these the hours of interim to keep you in that double state. Come, then, I’ll be brief, for I’ll not hinder your desired Hymen. You have about you some superfluous toys, which my lank, hungry pockets would contrive with much more profit, and more privacy: you have an idle chain which keeps your neck a prisoner — a manacle, I take it, about your wrist, too. If these prove emblems of the combined hemp to halter mine, the Fates take their pleasure; these are set down to be your ransom, and there the thief is proved.
Sweetly, Annabel tries to keep Rochfield from turning to a life of crime by offering to give him her jewelry so that he can’t be accused of stealing it, only to run into one small logistical problem:
I will confess both, and the last forget; you shall be only honest in this deed. Pray you, take it, I intreat you to it, and then you steal ‘em not.
You may deliver ‘em.
Indeed, I cannot: if you observe, sir, they are both locked about me, and the key I have not; haply you are furnished with some instrument that may unloose ‘em.
Unfortunately, he has not yet studied lockpicking (the “book” he shows her that she says is too frightful to look upon may be a weapon that he considers using to try to pick the locks), so she suggests that he use his hands to try to pull them off of her, as long as he is careful not to hurt her too much:
No, in troth, lady, I am but a freshman;
I never read further than this book you see,
And this very day is my beginning too:
These picking laws I am to study yet.
Oh, do not show me that, sir; ’tis too frightful.
Good, hurt me not, for I do yield ‘em freely.
Use but your hands; perhaps their strength will serve
To tear ‘em from me without much detriment;
Somewhat I will endure.
Rochfield appreciates her courtesy and responds as any gentleman would, by being gentle:
Well, sweet lady, y’are the best patient for a young physician that I think e’er was practised on. I’ll use you as gently as I can, as I’m an honest thief. No? Wilt not do? Do I hurt you, lady?
Not much, sir.
I’d be loath at all; I cannot do’t.
The highwaywoman? (kind of a tongue-twister)
Sometimes, it seems like being a nice guy will get you every time, though:
She draws his sword
Nay, then you shall not, sir. You a thief,
And guard yourself no better? No further read?
Yet out in your own book? A bad clerk, are you not?
Ay, by Saint Nicholas, lady, sweet lady.
Sir, I have now a masculine vigor and will redeem myself with purchase, too. What money have you?
This beautiful reversal by a clever and brave woman offers us one of those tantalizing glimpses of potential female power, though Annabel immediately surrenders her advantage, like the good girl she is.
Perhaps I shouldn’t say that her female power is only potential, though, just because the power she chooses to wield is an indirect kind that we tend to value less than the swashbuckling kind we see in her for one moment.
Investing in piracy
She talks Rochfield into returning with her to her house, where she promises that she will just give him money instead of jewelry, which sounds like a good deal to him, aside from the fear of being caught; once again in this play, we see Webster emphasizing that lots of the time, you really can trust people, even, you know, female people.
In brief, Annabel returns to her house, arm-in-arm with Rochfield, whom she introduces as a kinsman of Bonvile’s, and there’s a cute scene where he continually thinks she’s about to betray him. She does finally trick him a bit by first giving him the promised money and then publicly placing him in a position where he is compelled to invest it all with her father, who is accepting investors in a ship that both carries a valuable cargo and is a privateer ship, thus, as Rochfield notes, once again preventing him from being a thief because he has given back the money.
Rochfield not only invests his money but becomes a hero in a sea fight wherein the captain is killed and he assumes command and captures another ship — a scene which happens offstage, alas, even if for obvious reasons — and returns not only richer but with permanent employment as a captain.
There’s a final bit of conflict in Act 5, which I alluded to before here, where Lessingham attempts to convince Annabel’s father that there’s something unsavory going on between her and Rochfield, but Woodroff refuses to believe it. After that, everything goes temporarily haywire where, for a brief period, almost everybody behaves as irrationally as you would normally expect characters to in an early modern comedy, but everything soon resolves as easily as it started.
Next time: a bit o’ analysis.