David Bruce: Ben Jonson’s THE DEVIL IS AN ASS: A Retelling

— 4.5 —

Merecraft and Fitzdottrel talked together.

“But what have you done in your dependence, since we last talked about it?” Merecraft asked.

The dependence was Fitzdottrel’s quarrel with Wittipol.

“Oh, it goes on,” Fitzdottrel said. “I met your cousin, the Master —”

“You did not acquaint him, sir, with what you are now doing?” Merecraft asked.

He had advised Fitzdottrel to put his financial affairs in order and decide on a beneficiary, without consulting Everill.

Fitzdottrel replied, “Indeed, I did acquaint him with the facts, sir.

“And upon better thought, not without reason! He being chief officer might have taken it ill, if I had not. He might have taken it as an act of contempt against his office, and that in time, sir, might have drawn on another dependence — he and I might have had a quarrel.”

Merecraft had told Fitzdottrel that Everill was going to be Master of the Dependences, and so Fitzdottrel had thought it best to keep Everill informed about his dependence.

Fitzdottrel continued, “I did find him in good terms, and ready to do me any service.”

“So he said to you!” Merecraft said. “But sir, you do not know him.”

Fitzdottrel said, “Why, I presumed because this business of my wife’s required me to act, I could not have done better than consult Everill; and he told me that he would go immediately to your counsel, a knight, here, in the lane —”

“Yes, Justice Eitherside,” Merecraft said.

Fitzdottrel continued, “And get the deed of feoffment drawn, with a letter of attorney for livery and seisin.”

A deed of feoffment is a deed of freehold. “Livery and seisin” is a legal term for the delivery of property.

With these documents, an unscrupulous person could gain possession of Fitzdottrel’s entire estate. More than one con man wanted to gain possession of Fitzdottrel’s entire estate.

“That I know is the course of action.” Merecraft said. “But sir, you don’t mean to make him feoffee, do you?”

In other words: Do you intend to give Everill control of your entire estate?

Fitzdottrel said, “Nay, that I’ll pause on.”

Pitfall, Lady Tailbush’s female attendant, entered the room.

“What is it now, little Pitfall!” Merecraft asked.

“Your cousin Master Everill wants to come in — but he wants to know first whether Master Manly is here,” Pitfall said.

“No, tell Everill that Manly is not here,” Merecraft said. “Tell Everill that if Manly were here, I have made his peace.”

Actually, Manly still greatly disliked Everill — and Merecraft.

Pitfall exited.

Merecraft said quietly to Fitzdottrel about Everill, “He’s one, sir, who has no estate, and a man doesn’t know how such a trust may tempt him.”

“I understand what you are saying,” Fitzdottrel said.

Everill might be — make that definitely would be — tempted to misuse Fitzdottrel’s estate to benefit himself if he were to get control of it.

Everill and Plutarchus entered the room.

Everill said, “Sir, this same deed is done here.”

The deed was the deed of feoffment — the deed of freehold.

“Pretty Plutarchus!” Merecraft said. “Have thou come with it? And has Sir Paul Eitherside viewed it?”

“His signature is on the draft,” Plutarchus said.

Merecraft asked Fitzdottrel, “Will you step in, sir, and read it?”

“Yes,” Fitzdottrel said.

“Please, let me have a word with you,” Everill said to Fitzdottrel.

He took him aside and whispered, “Sir Paul Eitherside wanted me to tell you to be cautious about whom you will make feoffee, for this is the trust of your whole estate; and although my cousin here is a worthy gentleman, yet his valor — his ability to pay his debts — has at the gambling board been questioned, and we believe any man so impeached to be of doubtful honesty. I will not confirm the truth of this information, but I give it to you to make your profit of it. If you utter it, I can forswear it and deny that I ever told this to you.”

Fitzdottrel replied, “I believe you, and I thank you, sir.”

Everyone exited.

— 4.6 —

Wittipol and Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel talked together.

Although Wittipol was still dressed as the Spanish lady, he had revealed his true identity to her.

He said, “Don’t be afraid, sweet lady. You’re entrusted to love, not violence here: I am no ravisher, just one whom you, by your fair trust again, may of a servant make a most true friend.”

A ravisher is a rapist.

In this context, a servant is an admirer, and a friend is a lover.

“And such a one I need, but not in this way,” Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel said.

She meant that she needed a most true friend but not a most true lover.

Manly snuck into the room, unnoticed, and hid.

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel continued, “Sir, let me confess to you that the splendid manner of your attempting this morning to persuade me to commit adultery with you intrigued me, and I acknowledge that my ability to devise plans and my manners were both engaged to give it a response — but not the response that you wanted. I never considered committing adultery.

“My hope was then — although it was interrupted before it could be uttered — that you whom I found to be the master of such language, that you who had the brain and the spirit for such an enterprise, could not but, if those good things were demanded to be used in a morally right cause, employ them virtuously, and make that profit of your noble qualities that they would yield.”

In other words, although Wittipol had been using his great gifts to attempt to do evil, she believed that he was capable of using his great gifts to do good.

She continued, “Sir, you have now the ground and cause to exercise them in — you can use your great gifts to do good.

“I am a woman who cannot speak more wretchedness of myself than you can read in my features and my life. I am matched — married — to a mass of folly — my husband — who every day hastens to his own ruin.

“The wealthy portion — my dowry — that I brought to him, he has spent, and, through my friends’ neglect, no jointure has been made for me.”

The jointure she meant was shared control of their estate, with the proviso that if she became a widow, she would have wealth enough to support herself. She wanted to be able to restrain her husband’s foolish losses of money. His wasteful spending and loss of money to astrologers and con men were threatening to impoverish them.

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel continued, “My fortunes standing in this precipice, it is counsel that I want, and honest aides. And in this way, I need you for a friend, never in any other meaning of the word — I don’t need a lover. My husband’s ill — his evil — must not make me, sir, worse.”

Manly, who had been eavesdropping while hidden, now revealed himself to Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel and his friend Wittipol.

“Oh, friend, don’t forsake the splendid occasion virtue offers you to keep you innocent!” Manly said. “I have feared for both of you, and I have been watching you so I could prevent the ill I feared. But since the weaker side — the woman — has so assured me, let not the stronger fall by his own vice, or be the less a friend because virtue needs him.”

Manly was a good man, and he had been worried because his friend Wittipol wanted to commit adultery, which meant corrupting another man’s wife. Now Wittipol had a chance to do good for the woman he had been trying to persuade to do evil, and Manly wanted Wittipol to take advantage of the opportunity to do good.

Wittipol, although he had been tempted to do evil, was basically a good man. He said, “Virtue shall never ask for my help twice. Most friend, most man, your counsels are commands.”

Wittipol had been looking out for Manly by showing him that the woman he was wooing — Lady Tailbush — was not a morally good woman. Manly was looking out for Wittipol by advising him to act virtuously and help Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel.

Both men appreciated the true friendship of the other.

Wittipol said to Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel, “Lady, I can love the goodness in you more than I loved your beauty, and I here entitle your virtue to the power upon a life you shall engage in any fruitful service, even if it means forfeiting my life.”

He would help her, even if it meant losing his life.

Merecraft entered the room and said, “Madam.”

Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel curtsied and then exited.

Merecraft took aside Wittipol, who was still dressed as the Spanish lady, and whispered to him, “Listen, sir. We have another leg strained — another plot activated — for this Dottrel. He has a quarrel to carry, and he has caused a deed of feoffment of his whole estate to be drawn yonder. He has the deed of feoffment within; and he intends to make feoffee only you: the Spanish lady. He’s fallen so desperately in love with you, and talks almost like a madman — you have never heard a frantic lunatic so in love with his own fancy! Now, as you know, the deed of feoffment will have no validity if it is in the Spanish lady’s name; therefore, I want you to advise Fitzdottrel to put the deed of feoffment in my name and give me control of his estate — here he comes — you shall have a share of his estate, sir.”

— 4.7 —

Fitzdottrel, Everill, and Plutarchus entered the room. Plutarchus was holding the deed of feoffment. No one had yet been named the feoffee: A blank space had been left in the document for the name or names to be entered later.

One might think that Fitzdottrel would name his wife as feoffee and let her have control of their estate rather than signing legal control of the estate over to a guardian, but Fitzdottrel did not consider this. Apparently, he did not love or respect — or trust — his wife enough for him to do this.

Fitzdottrel said to Wittipol (the Spanish lady), “Madam, I have a request to make to you, and before I make the request I say this to you: You must not deny me; I will be granted what I request.”

In other words: I won’t take no for an answer.

“Sir, I must know what you are asking me to do, though,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said.

“No, lady, you must not know it,” Fitzdottrel said, “Yet you must know it, too, for the trust of it, and the fame indeed, which otherwise would be lost to me. I want to use your name in a deed of feoffment — I want to make my whole estate over to you: My whole estate is a trifle, a thing of nothing, some eighteen hundred pounds a year in income.”

“Alas!” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said. “I don’t understand those things, sir. I am a woman, and I am most loathe to embark myself —”

“You will not slight me, madam?” Fitzdottrel asked.

“Nor will you quarrel with me?” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) asked.

“No, sweet madam, I have already a dependence — a quarrel — which is the reason I am doing this. Let me put you in the deed of feoffment, dear madam. As a result of my quarrel, I may be fairly killed.”

The quarrel could result in a duel and yes, Fitzdottrel might die in the duel, and so he needed to settle his estate and find a guardian for it before fighting the duel.

“You have your friends, sir, around you here,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said. “You may choose one of them as the feoffee.”

Hoping to be named the feoffee, Everill said to Fitzdottrel, “She tells you right, sir.”

Fitzdottrel replied, “By God’s death, so what if she does — what do I care for that? Tell her that I want her to tell me wrong.”

Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said, “Why, sir, if you want a recommendation for the trust, you may let me have the honor to name you whom I recommend.”

“It is you who do me the honor, madam,” Fitzdottrel said. “Who is it whom you recommend?”

“This gentleman,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said, pointing to Manly.

“Oh, no, sweet madam,” Fitzdottrel said. “He’s a friend to the man with whom I have the dependence — the quarrel.”

Wittipol (the Spanish lady) asked, “Who might he be?”

“He is named Wittipol,” Fitzdottrel replied, “Do you know him?”

“Alas, sir, he is just a toy, a trifle — you think that this gentleman is a friend to him?” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said. “He is no more a friend to Wittipol than I am, sir!”

“But will Your Ladyship vouch for that, madam?” Fitzdottrel asked.

“Yes, and whatever else for him you will engage me,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said.

“What is his name?” Fitzdottrel asked.

“His name is Eustace Manly,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said.

“From where does he write himself?” Fitzdottrel asked.

“He is Eustace Manly of Middlesex, Esquire,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) said.

“Say no more, madam,” Fitzdottrel said.

He then said to Plutarchus, “Clerk, come here. Write ‘Eustace Manly, squire of Middlesex’ as the feoffee on the deed of feoffment.”

Plutarchus wrote the name on the document and then gave it to Manly.

Merecraft whispered to Wittipol, “What have you done, sir?”

Wittipol whispered back, “I have named a gentleman for whom I’ll be answerable to you, sir. Had I named you, it might have raised suspicions. This way, all is safe.”

Fitzdottrel said, “Come, gentlemen, write your signatures as witnesses.”

“What is this?” Manly asked. He disliked both Merecraft and Everill, who would sign the deed of feoffment as witnesses.

Everill said to Fitzdottrel, “You have made election of a most worthy gentleman.”

He was pretending to approve of Manly’s being selected as the feoffee on the deed of feoffment.

“I wish that a worthy man had said that!” Manly said to Everill. “Considering the man from whom it comes, it is rather a shame to me than a praise.”

“Sir, I will give you any satisfaction,” Everill said.

The satisfaction could be a duel, but Manly preferred silence.

“Be silent then,” Manly said. “Falsehood does not commend the truth.”

Plutarchus said to Fitzdottrel, “Do you deliver this, sir, as your deed to the use of Master Manly? Do you want him to be the feoffee on the deed of feoffment?”

“Yes,” Fitzdottrel said.

He then said to Manly, “And sir, when did you see young Wittipol? I am ready for process now; sir, this is publication of my quarrel. He shall hear from me; he would necessarily be courting my wife, sir.”

Manly said, “Yes, his cloak, which you are wearing, witnesses that what you say is true.”

This remark made Fitzdottrel suspicious of Manly, and he said to him, “Nay, good sir.”

Fitzdottrel then said to Wittipol (the Spanish lady), “Madam, you did assert —”

Wittipol (the Spanish lady) interrupted, “What?”

Fitzdottrel finished, “— that he was not Wittipol’s friend.”

“I have heard, sir, no confession of it,” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) replied.

He had not heard Manley confess that he was not Wittipol’s friend.

Fitzdottrel said to himself, “Oh, she doesn’t know the facts of the matter!”

He then said to Wittipol (the Spanish lady), “Now I remember, madam! This young Wittipol would have debauched my wife and made me a cuckold through a window; he did pursue her to her home to my own window; but I think I swooped on him, and violently moved her away from out of his claws. I have sworn to have him by the ears; I fear the toy will not do right by me.”

He was saying that he wanted to meet Wittipol in a duel, but he was afraid that Wittipol would not fight him.

“He won’t do right by you?” Wittipol (the Spanish lady) replied. “That would be a pity! What right do you ask, sir? Here is the man who will do right by you.”

Wittipol revealed his real identity; he no longer pretended to be the Spanish lady.

“Ha?” Fitzdottrel said. “Wittipol?”

“Aye, sir,” Wittipol said. “I am a lady no more now, nor am I a Spaniard.”

“No, indeed,” Manly said. “This is Wittipol.”

“Am I the thing I feared you would make me?” Fitzdottrel asked.

“A cuckold?” Wittipol said. “No, sir, but you were recently in possibility, I’ll tell you so much.”

He meant that he had recently had a possible opportunity to make Fitzdottrel a cuckold.

Good man that he was, Manly clarified, “But your wife’s too virtuous to make you a cuckold.”

“We’ll see her, sir, safely to her home, and leave you here to be made theDuke of Shoreditch with a project,” Wittipol said.

“Duke of Shoreditch” was a joke title; no real such Duke existed.

“Thieves! Ravishers!” Fitzdottrel said.

“Cry just one more note, sir, and I’ll mar the tune of your pipe,” Wittipol said.

Fitzdottrel said, “Give me my deed of feoffment, then.”

Wittipol told him, “No. That shall be kept for the good of your wife, who will know better than you how to use it.”

Manly would not use the deed of feoffment to benefit himself; it would be used to benefit Mrs. Frances Fitzdottrel. Doing so would also benefit Fitzdottrel, although he did not believe that.

Fitzdottrel thought about how he believed his wife would better know how to use it: “To feast you with my land?”

“Sir, be quiet, or I shall gag you before I go,” Wittipol said. “Consult your Master of Dependences about how to make this a second quarrel. You have time, sir.”

Wittipol shoved Fitzdottrel out of the way, and he and Manly exited.

“Oh!” Fitzdottrel said. “What will the ghost of my wise grandfather, my learned father, and my worshipful mother think about me now, they who left me in this world in state to be their heir? They will think that I have become a cuckold, and an ass, and my wife’s ward, and they will think that I am likely to lose my land and have my throat cut, all by her scheming!”

“Sir, we are all abused,” Merecraft said.

“And continue to be so!” Fitzdottrel said. “Who hinders you? Please, let me alone. I would ‘enjoy’ myself and be the Duke of Drowned-land you have made me.”

“Sir, we must play an after-game concerning this,” Merecraft said.

An after-game was a second game played to make up the losses suffered in the first game.

“But I am in no condition to be a gambler,” Fitzdottrel said. Because of the deed of feoffment, he had no money, no possessions, and no land.

He continued, “I tell you once again —”

Merecraft interrupted, “You must be ruled by me and take some counsel.”

He would advise Fitzdottrel about how to recover his estate.

Fitzdottrel replied, “Sir, I hate counsel, as I hate my wife, my wicked wife!”

“But we may think of a way for you to recover all your estate, if you will act,” Merecraft said.

“I will not think, nor act, nor yet recover,” Fitzdottrel said. “Do not talk to me! I’ll run out of my wits rather than listen to you. I will be what I am, Fabian Fitzdottrel, although all the world say nay to it.”

He exited.

Merecraft said to Everill, “Let’s follow him.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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