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Posts Tagged ‘a highwayman!’

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):

Annabel
Did you not see the key that’s to unlock my carcanet and bracelets? Now, in troth, I am afraid ’tis lost.

Bonvile
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 highwayman

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.

Rochfield
You may deliver ’em.

Annabel
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:

Rochfield
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.

Annabel
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?

Annabel
                                         Not much, sir.

Rochfield
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

Annabel
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?

Rochfield
Ay, by Saint Nicholas, lady, sweet lady. 

Annabel
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.

Temporary lunacy

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.

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Bonvile and Annabel; aka The Age of Reason Comes Early

As I mentioned last time, sometimes the characters behave better (i.e., more rationally or with more psychological realisism) than you might expect, which continues here.

For instance, Bonvile’s behavior is, at least from a certain perspective, quite rational. In a culture that highly prized friendship, he lives up to those ideals, and he rationalizes his behavior. He says:

I still prefer my friend before my pleasure,
Which is not lost forever, but adjourned
For more mature employment. (1.2.158-60)

Speaking of mature, you have to be a really good friend to give up your wedding night, even if it was more common in the early modern period not to consummate the wedding on the first night of the wedding celebrations. (I can’t find a citation for this practice right now, but I swear I remember reading it at some point, and it coincides with what is often said in early modern works about postponing consummation, as in The Maid’s Tragedy.)

And Annabel, despite being given a fantastic excuse to leap to conclusions, behaves as though she had some reason to trust the man she has just married. (I know my students would like that part; they get easily fed up with Shakespearean characters who fly off the handle at the least hint of improper behavior without so much as communicating with their loved ones.) She reassures her father:

… I have questioned with my meditations,
And they have rendered well and comfortably
To the worst fear I found. Suppose this day
He had long since appointed to his foe
To meet, and fetch a reputation from him
–Which is the dearest jewel unto man.
Say he do fight, I know his goodness such
That all those powers that love it are his guard,
And ill cannot betide him. (2.4.65-73)

Even if this seems a little more “stand by your man” than “stop him from engaging in dangerous behavior because it’s fundamentally selfish,” and thus maybe a bit more mid-twentieth century than twenty-first century, it focuses on the rational more than the emotional. She does not respond purely with instinct or emotion but says that she has questioned with [her] meditations and compared them to her worst-case scenario.

(Worst-case scenario fans, note that her worst-case scenario is pretty much on the money.)

I’m not really going to defend the end of her speech as being brilliantly rational, but it at least gets chalked up on the side of her not assuming the worst.

Furthermore, when Lessingham insults Annabel to her father, her father assumes she’s innocent rather than guilty, but he also asks for evidence and then refutes it. (Leonato in Much Ado could take notes.)

However, if all of the characters were consistently rational, we’d be a little short on conflict. As a result, this play may be open to the imputation that some of the characters are inconsistent – but in what early modern play is that not true?

My favorite plot twist is still ahead.

Also, there will be a highwayman and a sea battle. What could be better than that?

Bonus quote (from Woodroff, Annabel’s father, urging people to be merry at the wedding festivities when the celebrating has died down because of Bonvile’s disappearance):

Fie, gentlemen, within
The music plays unto the silent walls,
And no man there to grace it. When I was young,
At such a meeting I have so bestirred me,
Till I have made the pale green-sickness girls
Blush like the ruby, and drop pearls apace
Down from their ivory foreheads; in those days
I have cut capers thus high. (1.1. 125-32)

On the one hand, when you come right down to it, it’s a description of sweat.

On the other hand, the high rhetoric here contrasts so beautifully with the content that it ultimately renders it humorous — and yet it still feels genuine and moves me.

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