Swetnam the Woman Hater – Introduction

Swetnam, the Woman Hater was published in 1620, and that alone is enough to make one skeptical that it was written by Dekker–unless he composed it very quickly upon his release from debtors’ prison.  Thomas Heywood has also been suggested as the author, but the fact remains that the style of the play differs from that of both playwrights.  In any case, it is suspected that it was actually written at an earlier date, with a performance date in late 1618 or early 1619.  The quarto tells us that it the company was Queen Anne’s Men and the venue was the Red Bull Theatre.


As an interesting not of trivia, the play is the earliest known source for the term “misogynous.”  Swetnam himself, in the play, uses the alias “Misogynos.”

For the roots of the play we must go back to 1615.  Joseph Swetnam–the title character, making him and Mary Frith of The Roaring Girl the only two people to appear in plays in their own contemporary times–had written a controversial tract The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women.  Despite the title, it was an extreme criticism of women in general which went so far as to shock many readers even in the midst of the male-dominated culture that had prevailed for centuries.  There were responses, such as A Muzzle for Melastomus by Rachel Speght, a feminist of the early seventeenth century.    The play we are now dealing with, is the last known response to Swetnam that appeared in the aftermath of his initial tract.

The play is interesting enough, and has gained in popularity in recent years as a rare example of early feminist literature (although the sex of the author is, of course, unknown).  It is curious to note that despite the play’s place as a response to the real-life Swetnam, the battle-of-the-sexes storyline is relegated to the subplot, with the main plot dealing with romantic love.  I personally suspect the feminist angel is further undermined by the champion for the female side–an Amazon named Atlanta–is actually Prince Lorenzo in disguise!

Table of Contents

Dramatis Personæ
Act One, scene one
Act One, scene two
Act One, scene three
Act Two, scene one
Act Two, scene two
Act Two, scene three
Act Three, scene one
Act Three, scene two
Act Three, scene three
Act Four, scene one
Act Four, scene two
Dumb show and song
Act Four, scene three
Act Four, scene four
Act Four, scene five
Act Five, scene one
Act Five, scene two
Act Five, scene three

Return to Dekker page


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