The Dutch Courtesan

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The Dutch Courtesan is an early Jacobean stage play written by the dramatist and satirist John Marston circa 1604. It was performed by the Children of the Queen's Revels, one of the troupes of boy actors active at the time, in the Blackfriars Theatre in London.

The play was entered into the Stationers' Register on 26 June 1605, and published later that year by the bookseller John Hodgets, printed by Thomas Purfoot. The play was revived in the following decade, and performed at Court by the Lady Elizabeth's Men on 25 February 1613.

The play tells the story of two friends, the relaxed, pleasure-loving Freevill and the repressed Puritan Malheureux, and the turbulent relationship that both have with the passionate Dutch courtesan Franceschina. It explores the nature of human desire and the problems involved with trying to lead a "good," moral life when sexuality is a fundamental part of human nature. Critics have judged the play both anti-Puritan and anti-Stoic, and have also seen it as a satire on Thomas Dekker's contemporary play The Honest Whore.[1]

The Dutch Courtesan was a popular work at the time, and was performed and adapted several times during the Restoration era, the most famous adaptation being Aphra Behn's The Revenge; or, a Match in Newgate. However, this adaptation is more sentimental and less morally complex than Marston's original.


Freevill is deeply involved with the "Dutch Courtesan" Franceschina but he is about to marry Beatrice, daughter of Sir Hubert Subboys and decides to break with Franceschina. He introduces her to his friend Malheureux who at once desires her. Humiliated, she promises to submit to him if he kills Freevill and bring her a ring he has received from Beatrice. The two friends pretend to quarrel, Freevill vanishes, the ring is brought to Franceschina. She goes off to inform Freevill's father and Beatrice's father of what has happened. Malheureux is arrested and condemned to die. At the last moment, Freevill appears and explains he has done this to cure Malheureux of his passion. Franceschina is whipped and imprisoned.[2]


London society of the 1600s already had a stereotypical image of the Dutch prostitute - indeed the most celebrated brothel in London was called Holland's Leguer - whereby "leguer" referred to a military encampment.[3] The character Mary Faugh - who runs the brothel - admits that she is a member of the Family of Love and the vintner Mulligrub and his wife are also identified as such. This linking of the Family of Love with promiscuity was common during this period although there is little evidence that the Familists (as members were called) actually practised free love.[3]


  1. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 202–5.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Higgins, Siobhán. "Britain's Bourse: cultural and literary exchanges between England and the Low Countries in the early modern era (c. 1580-1620)" (PDF). Cork Open research Archive. University College Cork. Retrieved 29 April 2018. 


  • Caputi, Anthony. John Marston, Satirist. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1961.
  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Finkelpearl, Philip J. John Marston of the Middle Temple. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1969.
  • Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The New Intellectuals: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1977.

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