Nice Wanton, a Tudor interlude

Description

Nice Wanton is a work of drama from c. 1550 by an unknown author. Its genre is the ‘interlude’, a popular genre in Tudor times that grew out of the tradition of medieval morality plays. The moralities are allegorical works in which human qualities such as mercy, righteousness, pride and mischief are personified as characters who fall into dispute – virtues against vices – in a struggle for the human soul, represented by a Mankind figure. The terms ‘interlude’ and ‘morality’ are often treated as interchangeable as the genres are so strongly related. In the later morality plays and most of the interludes, the individual vice characters are subsumed into an individual Vice, a highly charismatic and entertaining figure of all-round evil. The Vice character has a clear influence on Elizabethan drama and villains such as Christopher Marlowe’s Barabas, and William Shakespeare’s Iago and Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

Nice Wanton explores the moral ‘he that spareth the rod the childe dooth hate’ (sig. a1v). It follows the fortunes of three siblings, the good and studious Barnabas, and the lazy and wanton Dalila and Ismael, who play truant and bully the other children. Their mother, Xantippe, spoils them and does not correct their behaviour. Dalila and Ismael hang out with and are influenced by the Vice Iniquity, and sink into a life of drinking, gambling, sex and crime. Dalila, seduced by Iniquity, dies of syphilis. Ismael and Iniquity are tried and hanged for their crimes. Worldly Shame tries to prompt Xantippe to suicide, but she is comforted by Barnabas, who closes the play by advising the audience on raising children. Nice Wanton is a school play or a ‘youth’ morality, and is both the first English morality that verges on tragedy and the first with multiple Mankind figures. It was first printed in 1560 and is shown here, in full, in its 1565 edition.

Shakespeare’s Richard III and the Vice tradition

Shakespeare’s presentation of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as a theatrical, charismatic and dynamic villain, has long been recognised as owing a debt to the Vice tradition from the moralities and Tudor interludes. Among the characteristics he adopts are his use of frequent conspiratorial asides to the audience, his self-consciousness and self-expressiveness, his impertinency, his use of farce and theatre, and his love of deceptive wordplay. In Richard III, Gloucester even makes the connection explicit: in an aside to the audience he claims, ‘Thus, like the formal Vice, Iniquity, / I moralize two meanings in one word.’ (3.1.82–83)

There were two plays whose Vice characters were specifically called Iniquity, Nice Wanton and King Darius (c. 1556–65), but the name – which means ‘wickedness’ or ‘sin’ – was also applied to the Vice in general. It is the general tradition rather than any specific play that seems to lie behind Shakespeare’s work.

Full title:
A pretie Enterlude called Nice Wanton
Published:
1565, London
Format:
Quarto / Book
Creator:
Unknown
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
C.34.i.24.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

An introduction to The Alchemist: the artist and the con

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong
Themes:
Comedies, Renaissance writers, Deception, drama and misunderstanding, Magic, illusion and the supernatural

Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong introduce Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, which combines self-conscious theatricality with sharp satire.

Richard III and Machiavelli

Article by:
Michael Donkor
Themes:
Histories, Power, politics and religion

Machiavelli's The Prince was a much-discussed text in Renaissance England. Michael Donkor considers how, in Richard III, Shakespeare engages with Machiavelli's ideas about what constitutes appropriate behaviour in a ruler.

Richard III and the will to power

Article by:
Malcolm Hebron
Themes:
Histories, Power, politics and religion, Language, word play and text

Malcolm Hebron explains how Shakespeare drew on earlier depictions of Richard III and other ruthless rulers in order to create his own power-hungry king, and how Richard III has influenced later depictions of megalomania.

Related collection items

Related works

Othello

Created by: William Shakespeare

The plot of Othello revolves around a Moorish general who has achieved great military feats on behalf of the state ...

Richard III

Created by: William Shakespeare

In Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3, Shakespeare traces the 15th-century dispute between the houses of York and Lancaster ...