Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 6. A Woman is a Weather-cocke

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

IX. Lesser Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists

§ 6. A Woman is a Weather-cocke

Field’s first play, A Woman is a Weather-cocke, was produced in 1610. In the first scene, Scudmore is discovered reading a vehement letter from Bellafront, the lady he loves. To him, thus occupied, enters his friend Nevill on his way to a wedding. The lover very prettily takes his friend into his confidence, enlarges like a Romeo on his mistress,

  • Whose face brought concord and an end of jars,
  • and passionately proclaims,
  • She is the food, the sleep, the air I live by.
  • He ends with the lady’s name; whereupon his friend blurts out in amazement, “But that’s the wedding I was going to.” This dramatic scene is put before us with a force and vividness remarkable in so young a writer. In itself, it is an excellent beginning; but the Jonsonian “humours” of the next scene jar a little. They are not in the same key as the romantic passionate opening of the play. But Field’s wit is considerable and is not a mere copy of Jonson. His manner has a sprightliness and good-humour, and an occasional naturalness, which are his own, and differentiate his comic style quite definitely from Jonson’s.

    The second act is constructed on the same plan as the first. It begins with a semi-romantic scene and ends with “humour.” When captain Pouts, who has been rejected by Katharine, publicly insults her at the door of the church in which she has just been married to Strange, she urges her new husband to vindicate her honour; and, perhaps, no better example could be given of Field’s capacity as a writer of strong, direct, blank verse than her invective:

  • Thou wert ordained,
  • And in thy cradle marked to call me wife,
  • And in that title made as my defence,
  • Yet sufferedst him to go away with life,
  • Wounding my honour dead before thy face!
  • Redeem it on his head, and his own way,
  • Even by the sword, his long profession,
  • And set it clear amongst the tongues of men,
  • That all eyes may discern it slandered,
  • Or thou shalt ne’er enjoy me as a wife.
  • The verse is in the manner of Shakespeare in the Henry V period, although with less music and very little imaginative decoration, and the excellence of its directness and spontaneity is due, no doubt, to Field’s training as an actor. His use of language, too, is free, like Shakespeare’s—to be understood by the audience though not always approved by the grammarian. In the passage quoted, “his long profession,” with the meaning, “for so long a time his profession,” has a Shakespearean sound, as, also, has the rather enigmatic, but still forcible, “made” of the third line. Strange’s speech, a little later, about the law’s inequalities, again, is forcible, eloquent blank verse. But the second part of the plot overloads the play as a whole. Field, as a scholar of Jonson desires to show his dexterity as a plotter; but, like all young writers of promise, and like all immature dramatists, he gives his audience too much, and cannot endure to limit his own scope.