Seeing I am such an eye sore unto you

These snippets come from Thomas Dekker’s The Bachelers Banquet: OR A Banquet for Bachelors: Pleasantly discoursing the variable humors of Women, their quicknesse of wittes and unsearchable deceits (1603). Thomas Dekker was a playwright and pamphleteer with a vivid ear for dialogue.  Here he paints a picture of a typical argument between husband and wife. Putting aside the fact this pamphlet was intended to be read by men as a warning against irrational female behaviour, what’s interesting is the intimate domestic detail revealed through the marital bickering. It provides a fascinating snapshot of the interactions between men and women in early modern England. In addition, the subject of their argument, clothes, is so contemporary in nature it reminds us that some things never really change.

‘I pray you husband let me alone, trouble me not, for I am not well at ease.’

Which he hearing presently makes this reply. ‘Why, my sweet hart, what ailes you, are you not well? I pray thee wife tell me, where lies thy griefe? Or what is the cause of your discontent?’

Whereupon the vile woman fetching a deepe sigh, makes this answere. ‘O, husband God help me, I have cause enough to greeue, and if you knew all you would say so: but alas it is in vaine to tell you any thing, seeing that whatsoever I say, you make but light reckoning of it.  Therefore it is best for me to bury my sorrowes in silence, being out of hope to have any help at your hands.’

‘Jesus, wife,’ (saith he) ‘why use you these words, is my unkindness such that I may not knowe your griefes? Tell me, I say, what is the matter?’

‘In truth, husband, it were to no purpose, for I knowe your custome well enough; as for my words, they are but wind in your eares, for how great soever my griefe is, I am assured you will but make light of it, and thinke that I speake it for some other purpose.’

‘Go to, wife,’ saith her husband, ‘tell it me, for I will know it.’

‘Well, husband, you shall. You know on Thursday last, I was sent for, and you willed me to goe to Mistresse M. and when I came thither I found great cheere, & no small companie of wives. But the meanest of them all was not so ill attired as I, and surely I was never so ashamed of my selfe in my life. Yet I speak it not to praise my selfe: but it is well knowne, and I dare boldly say, that the best woman there came of no better stocke than I.’

‘Why, wife,’ saith he, ‘of what calling & degree were those you speak of?’

‘Truly, good husband,’ (saith she) ‘the meanest that was there, being but of my degree, was in her gowne with trunk sleeues, her farthingale, her turkie skirtle; her taffety hat with a gold band, and these with ye rest of her attire, made of ye newest fashion, which is the best.  Whereas I, poore wretch, had on my threadbare gowne, which was made me so long ago it is now too short for me, it was made above three yeares ago, since which time I am growne very much, and so changed with cares and griefes, that I looke farre older then I am.’

‘Tush, wife,’ (quoth the good-man) ‘let them say what they like, we are never a whit the worse for their words, we have enough to do with our money, though we spend it not in apparell: you knowe, wife, when we met together, we had no great store of household stuffe, but were fain to buy afterwards, as God sent mony, and yet you see we want many things that is necessary to be had. Besides the quarter day is neere, and my Landlord you know will not forbeare his rent. Moreover, you see how much it costs me in law about the recovering of the Tenement which I should have, or else I shall have but a bad bargaine of it, for it hath already almost cost me as much as it is worth.’

At these words his wifes colour begins to rise, whereupon she makes him this answere.  ’Jesus, God,’ (saith she) ‘when you have nothing else to hit me in the teeth withall, ye twit me with the Tenement.’

‘Why, how now, wife,’ saith her husband, ‘are you now angry for nothing?’·

‘Nay I am not angry, I must be content with that which God hath ordained for me. But I wish the time was, when I might have been better advised. There are some yet living that would have been glad to have me in my smock, whom you know well enough to be proper young men, and therewithall wise and wealthy. But I verily suppose I was bewitched to match with a man that loves me not. I may truly say I am the most unhappy woman in the world. Do you thinke that Tom & N. M. (who were both suiters to me) do keepe their wives so? No, for I know the worst clothes they cast off, is better then my very best, which I weare on the chiefest dayes in the yeere. I know not what the cause is that so many good women die, but I would to God that I were dead too, that I might not trouble you no more, seeing I am such an eye sore unto you.

‘No, wife,’ (saith he) hoping so with a jest to make her merry, ‘by my honestie I sweare, I verily thinke that if I were dead, you would not be long without another husband.’

‘No marvaile sure,’ saith she, ‘but by my christian soule I sweare, there should never man kisse my lipps againe. And if I thought I should live long with you, I would use meanes to make my selfe away.’

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