Patient Grissel – Introduction

Patient Grissel appears in Philip Henslowe’s accounts of the Lord Admiral’s Men in 1599, co-authored by Dekker, William Houghton, and Henry Chettle.  The legend of Griselda the patient wife had appeared in many forms for centuries.  It is the last of the tales in Boccacio’s Decameron, as well as the Clerk’s Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  Closer to Dekker’s time, there had been two Tudor plays on the subject, including Patient and Meek Griselda by John Philip about 1560.  Even Shakespeare alludes to the story in The Taming of the Shrew Act One, Scene Two, when Petruchio ironically compares Katharina to Grissel.  Dekker and his partners seemed to have gathered the tale from no one particular source.  Similarities have been noted to a 1593  ballad, Garland of Goodwill by Thomas Deloney who also provided Dekker with the souce for The Shoemaker’s Holiday.   I myself have wondered if the original inspiration of the story might have been the Biblical tale of Job, who has everything stripped away from him, and yet his patience and faith in the god that caused his miseries remains intact.

The 1603 quarto

In the main plot, Gwalter, Marquess of Salucia, marries Grissel, the lowborn daughter of basket-maker Janicola.  The Marquess’ courtiers, Lepido and Mario, advise him against marrying a commoner, despite the fact that they too are lowborn.  To test her patience, and the courties’ loyalty, the Marquess, one by one, takes away from her everything that he has given her, including their newborn twins, and banishes her from the court.  This plan, of course, seems cruel to our modern ears.  Comic relief is supplied by Babulo, Janicula’s servant.

The subplot about Sir Owen and his new wife Gwenthyan is similar to The Taming of the Shrew in plot, though it presents an unexpected twist at the end.  There is almost a second subplot:  the Marquess’ sister Julia has three suitors, but swears she will not marry them, or indeed anyone.  This has the beginnings of a simalarity to Beatrice of Much Ado About Nothing, but nothing is done with the situation, and we are left to assume she is successful in her plan.

My only source for Patient Grissel as usual is the Fredson Bowers edition, in which it appears in volume one.  In a few passages, Sir owen and Gwenthyan speak Welsh.  Since I am modernizing the English spelling of these plays, I do the same for the Welsh, guided by Cyrus Hoy’s Introductions, Notes, and Commentaries to the Bowers edition of Dekker.  For the benefit of the many of us who cannot read Welsh (such as myself), I have inserted into the text at the appropriate places an English translation in square brackets, also supplied by Hoy.

A final note on an item of curiosity.  Dekker and his co-writers managed to sneak their way into 20th century pop culture with this play.  The lulliby “Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes” which appears in Act Four, scene two, found its way anonymously into a late 19th century songbook.  Several decades later, Paul McCartney came across it and composed new music for it.  It appears on the Beatles Abbey Road album as “Golden Slumbers.”  Can even Shakespeare make such a claim?

Proceed to Dramatis Personæ

Act One, scene one
Act One, scene two
Act Two, scene one
Act Two, scene two
Act Three, scene one
Act Three, scene two
Act Four, scene one
Act Four, scene two
Act Four, scene three
Act Five, scene one
Act Five, scene two

Return to Dekker page

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