Places: The Old Wives’ Tale

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1595

First produced: c. 1591-1594

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Indeterminate

Places DiscussedEnglish forest

English Old Wives’ Tale, Theforest. Unspecified woodlawn; it may be in or near Devonshire, in southwestern England, but its precise location probably does not matter. There, the three pages, Antic, Forth, and Fantastic, lose their way in the dark, amid owl hoots and hobgoblins, until they encounter the rustic but hospitable blacksmith Clunch, who guides them to his cottage. There, his wife, Madge, entertains them with the merry tale that becomes the basis for George Peele’s play.


Crossroads. Junction of two roads that is a center of magic dominated by the enchanted man Erestus, whose advice, offered in rhyming riddles, aids some and punishes others. There also, Calypha and Thelia, who have come to England to find their lost sister, Delia, come to the aid of Erestus, whose betrothed, Venelia, has been stolen by the sorcerer Sacrapant.

Sacrapant’s castle

Sacrapant’s castle (SAK-ruh-pant). Great stone castle in which the magician Sacrapant holds his prisoners. Fortified against assault by armed forces, it can only be penetrated by magic: a recitation of a riddle predicting that only a dead man can destroy Sacrapant. Sacrapant keeps the princess Delia prisoner in his study, where he converses with her and provides her magic feasts served by a friar. When Delia’s brothers, Calypha and Thelia, arrive to rescue her, Sacrapant captures them and puts them in the castle’s dungeon, forcing them to do hard manual labor in the enchanted grounds surrounding the castle. After the knight Eumenides, assisted by the ghost of the pauper Jack, finds the source of Sacrapant’s power buried in the castle grounds, Sacrapant’s magic spells are broken.

Well of Life

Well of Life. Enchanted pool of water where the beautiful but proud and vociferous Zantippa, Lampriscus’s daughter, breaks her mother’s water pot on a head she sees in the water, thereby breaking the enchantment of the braggart Huanstango, whom Sacrapant has made deaf. There a peasant, blinded by Sacrapant and unable to see the deformity of Lampriscus’s gentle daughter Celanta, falls in love with Celanta and helps her to a pot of gold. There too, the ghost of Jack, appreciative of his body’s burial, makes a pact to assist Eumenides, first at the inn, and later at Sacrapant’s stronghold.

BibliographyBoas, Frederick S. An Introduction to Tudor Drama. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1933. A useful introduction by a major twentieth century scholar to the beginnings of Elizabethan drama. Not a lot on The Old Wives’ Tale, but a good introduction to its general context.Peele, George. The Dramatic Works of George Peele. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970. The long introduction provides a good appraisal of The Old Wives’ Tale that attempts a rational compromise between earlier schools of thought. The first major edition of Pelle since that of A. H. Bullen in 1888.Peele, George. The Old Wives’ Tale. Edited by Patricia Binnie. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. This carefully prepared edition has an enthusiastic, but intelligent and readable introduction to the play.Senn, Werner. Studies in the Dramatic Construction of Robert Greene and George Peele. Bern: Francke, 1973. A somewhat specialized work, but helpful, since even the most casual reader is struck by the structural peculiarity of The Old Wives’ Tale, which this book addresses.
Categories: Places