FLETCHER, John. Rule a wife and have a wife.

Oxford, Leonard Lichfield, 1640.


FIRST EDITION. Small 4to. pp. [4] 67 [1]. Roman letter, little italic. Printer’s device to t-p of unicorn and thistles, and mss ‘55’ to lower inner corner, floral ornament of thistles and roses to p.1, epilogue to verso of final leaf, framed by ornament of roses, thistles and crowns and cornice supported by two lunettes. Occasional mss. textual correction in contemporary hand. Slight age yellowing, repair to A3 without loss. A good, clean copy in crushed blue morocco by ‘The French Binder Garden City NY’. Gilt ruling to covers and lettering to upper cover and spine, inner dentelles richly gilt.

Regarded as one of his finest works, Fletcher’s play derives its name from the old saying ‘every man can rule a shrew but he who has her’, meaning that the reality of advising a married couple and carrying out the same advice once married are two very different tasks. This Jacobean comedy, set near Medina, follows two pairs of lovers joined in marriage under false pretences: Margarita, a rich heiress, plans to marry Leon, as a cover for her promiscuous relationships. They are brought together by Altea, her Lady in Waiting, and Leon’s brother. Her newlywed husband is not as dim-witted as he presents himself and discovers his wife’s sexual adventures as she attempts to seduce the Duke at an elaborate dinner party. Her lascivious appetite is ultimately quenched and the couple finish the play in a happy marriage. At the same time, Margarita’s servant, Estefania, pretends to be a rich heiress to marry Captain Perez, who seeks to escape duties at war by marrying a wealthy woman. Discovered by Perez, Estefania resorts to selling trinkets belonging to her mistress to the usurer Cacafogo, and demonstrating her intelligence in this pursuit, secures a happy marriage to Perez. In the end, the audience is presented with two couples with opposing power dynamics: one where the husband rules his wife and the other where the wife rules her husband, revealing a surprisingly modern attitude towards the dynamics between genders and within marital relationships. The comparison between the terrors of war and venereal disease, as discussed by the soldiers Sanchio and Laonzo, is a particularly playful example of the witty treatment of the popular combination of Love and War.

The play was first performed in 1624, shortly before Fletcher’s death, but first published in 1640. It was the last of his 15 solo works, having also written several plays alongside the likes of Francis Beaumont (c.1585-1616) and even William Shakespeare (1564-1616). He was the house playwright for the acting company ‘the King’s Men’, likely taking over from Shakespeare himself. Overall, his plays fall into similar categories of Comedies, Tragedies and Histories, with many plotlines taking inspiration from the Bard himself.

ESTC: S102374, Harvey: p.303, not in Grolier nor Lowndes
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