From the very first lines of Women Beware Women, I knew that this play by Thomas Middleton would deal with fertility and marriage. The lines, “Welcome with all the affection of a mother / that comfort can express from natural love: / since thy-birth joy, a mother’s chiefest gladness ” (Act 1, Scene 1. l.2-4) introduce the themes of fertility and love. These lines too immediately brought me back to Part Two of The Waste Land, where, instead of seeing a mother’s love for her children, we see her life after she was effectively forced into getting an abortion. Effectively, even from the begging, Middleton appears to be recreating the natural cycle, whereas in Eliot’s poem, the cycle is broken, as we have discussed frequently in class.
As I read further into the play, however, it became more apparent that there were issues in the matters of love and marriage. The marriage that at first seems so full of love between Bianca and Leantio is actually a marriage of necessity, as it appears that Bianca got pregnant out of wedlock, as Leantio’s mother will be made a grandmother in forty weeks (Act 1, Scene 1. l.109), the exact length of the average pregnancy. It seems that the pair found out and immediately married, to avoid being “undone” (Act 1, Scene 1. l.109). However, the pair does genuinely seem invested, not only in this pregnancy, but in the possibility of many more, despite their relative poverty. More problems are introduced between Isabella, her father Fabritio, the simple man that she’s supposed to marry, Ward, and her uncle, Hippolito, who happens to be in love with his niece. In Act Two, Isabella is persuaded that Hippolito is not her actual uncle, and kisses him, proposing that he become her man on the side, visiting her whenever her “young waiting gentlewoman” falls ill or leaves the house. This example of incest seems to better fit into the corruption of the love in Eliot’s poem. The rape of Philomela is very easily incorporated into the fold with Thomas Middleton (or vice versa). Eliot emphasizes love gone wrong, or the sex-act without real love, dancing around, like love is a “game.”