Anything for a Quiet Life

Anything for a Quiet Life

"Anything for a Quiet Life" is a Jacobean stage play, a city comedy written by Thomas Middleton and John Webster. Topical allusions suggest the play was written most likely in 1621.


The play was first published in quarto in 1662 by the bookseller Francis Kirkman, with a title-page attribution of authorship to Middleton. [The 1662 quarto crams the full-length play into only 52 pages, by printing all the verse as prose—a tactic Kirkman employs in other plays he printed, like "The Birth of Merlin", also from 1662.] Yet while Middleton's distinctive style is clearly present in some portions of the text, there are other sections that suggested to some critics the presence of a second hand. The early twentieth-century critic H. Dugdale Sykes was the first person to argue in favor of Webster as the second author. [Sykes, pp. 159-72.] Sykes' hypothesis won acceptance from a range of other scholars. [Lake, pp. 175-6.] David Lake, in his study of authorship questions in Middleton's canon, confirms the presence of Webster's hand, and gives the following breakdown for the respective shares of the two writers. [Lake, pp. 177-84.]

: Webster — Act I; Act II, scene i; Act IV, scene i; : Middleton — Act II, scenes ii and iii; Act III; Act IV, scene iii;: Both — Act IV, scene ii; Act V, scene i.


Act I
Sir Francis Cressingham is being chastised by his friend Lord Beaufort for having recently married a much younger wife, soon after his previous wife’s death. His new wife was raised in the court, and Beaufort worries that she will be profligate in her spending. Sir Francis replies that she may be young but she is sober and pious. Water-Camlet, a citizen, enters, complaining that his own wife is always nagging him. He is looking after Sir Francis’s two youngest children, who have been sent to him to be out of the way of their new stepmother. Knavesby enters: a corrupt lawyer, with a fair and witty wife. He seeks advancement from Beaufort, who invites him to his house to work out a suitable arrangement. Lady Cressingham enters, demanding richer and better clothes from her husband. Camlet pities Sir Francis, who has got himself caught by such a woman. Lady Cressingham tells her husband that she has heard about a land-deal: he should sell his estates and in return buy new land worth more. He agrees to be advised by her in all things.

Act II
Knavesby and Mistress Knavesby at home. He tries to make her confess that she has been unfaithful to him, telling her that he himself has slept around. This is, it emerges, part of his scheme with Lord Beaufort: Beaufort wants to sleep with her, and Knavesby has agreed to prostitute his wife in exchange for preferment. She is horrified. Beaufort enters and flirts with her; she resists. When the two men exit, she reflects: she is shocked at the plan’s wickedness, but has a scheme to derail the plot. Meanwhile, Mrs Water-Camlet hates the presence of Sir Francis’s children, feeling sure that they are really the bastard offspring of her husband, that he is keeping quiet.

Lord Beaufort’s house, where George Cressingham’s wife (Sir Francis' daughter-in-law) is present, disguised as a page. Knavesby’s wife turns up and flirts with the "page." When Beaufort agrees to see her, she "confesses" that she is in love with the page, and will give herself to Beaufort so long as she is given the page in return. He is disgusted by this insult and sends her back home. She exults at having kept her honesty in this way. George enters to say that Mistress Water-Camlet will never trouble her husband again: enraged at the continuing presence of the children, she has left home to stay with her cousin, Knavesby, and insists that she wants a divorce. Camlet is distraught: for all his wife’s shrewishness, he loved her and wants her back. He resolves to send the children home.

Act IV
Sir Francis is distraught: he seems to have given over all his power to his wife, who is having his lands surveyed before organising the sale. His son George must also sign the bill of sale, and he laments at selling the inheritance. George brings in his little brothers and sisters to sway their father’s heart. They are back from the Water-Camlets’ and glad to be home. Sir Francis, moved, refuses to sign; Lady Cressingham enters and flies into a rage, insisting that the lands be sold and new ones bought in Ireland. Sir Francis and George reluctantly sign the document. Meanwhile, Mistress Knavesby returns home to her husband, who is eager to hear how her assignation went. She affects to put on airs, insisting that she will never sleep with him again now she has tasted true class. He is a little worried but happy to reflect on the prosperity that lies ahead once he is rewarded. George enters, with an invitation for the couple to come to Water-Camlet’s wedding: he has decided that he too wants a divorce, and has taken up with a new woman. They tell Mistress Camlet and she is furious, resolving to go and kill everyone involved in her jealous frenzy. This is all a plot though. George has arranged for a French girl, Margarita, to pretend to flirt with Camlet. Mistress Camlet is madly jealous, but when she discovers that it is all a set-up, she repents—she loves her husband really.

Act V
George Cressingham goes to his father’s house, where Sir Francis is miserable: his land is gone and now he is treated like a child, given a meagre allowance. Lady Cressingham enters and says that a quiet life will do him good for a bit. George accuses her of ruining the family; she is bold and laughs at him, and says, mysteriously, that hereafter she will behave quite differently to him. He curses her, hoping she will die repenting her actions. Meanwhile Knavesby claims his reward from Lord Beaufort, only to be told that his wife did not fulfil the bargain, that she has instead run off with his page. Knavesby vaguely resolves to commit suicide. Mrs Knavesby enters with the "page" and reveals all: the page is actually George’s wife, left with Lord Beaufort in disguise to protect her virtue. Lady Cressingham then enters and announces that she has only been testing her husband with her feigned shrewishness—she wanted to teach him to be wise and thrifty. Sir Francis is happy that his wife is really kind and virtuous, and he takes his lands back. Knavesby apologizes to his wife for his behavior and she forgives him. All are reconciled, and Lord Beaufort invites everyone home to dinner.



* Lake, David J. "The Canon of Thomas Middleton's Plays." Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1975.
* Salzman, Paul. "Literary Culture in Jacobean England: Reading 1621." London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
* Sykes, H. Dugdale. "Sidelights on Elizabethan Drama: A Series of Studies Dealing with the Authorship of Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Plays." New York, H. Milford, 1924. Frank Cass & Co. (reprint), 1966.

External links

* [ Full script and notes on authorship.]
* [;idno=P1.0174 Another online text of the play.]

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