the Annotated Popular Edition of


Ralph Roister Doister

by Nicholas Udall

c. 1552-3


Featuring complete and easy-to-read annotations.


Annotations and notes © Copyright ElizabethanDrama.org, 2018
This annotated play may be freely copied and distributed.




Ralph Roister Doister.

     Ralph Roister Doister is considered the earliest

     Dobinet Doughtie, servant to Roister Doister.

proper stage comedy in the English language. Yet,

     Harpax and other Musicians in the service of Roister

despite its somewhat clunky language - owing to the


rhyming verse - the play's clever parodies, clearly

Mathew Merygreeke, friend to Roister Doister.

delineated characters and physical slapstick give it

a surprisingly modern sensibility.

Dame Christian Custance, a wealthy widow.

     Roister's two protagonists are based on

     Tom Trupenie, servant to Dame Custance.

classical character-types: first, the parasite, Mathew

     Margerie Mumblecrust, an old nurse to Dame Custance.

Merygreeke, a penniless man who must flatter potential

     Tibet Talkapace, maid to Dame Custance.

patrons in order to get food and money; and second,

     Annot Alyface, maid to Dame Custance

the swaggering and boasting, yet ultimately cowardly,

soldier, Ralph Roister Doister (think Ralph Kramden

Gawyn Goodluck, a London Merchant, affianced to Dame

of The Honeymooners), a man of such weak


character, he will do anything Merygreeke suggests

     Sym Suresby, servant to Gawyn Goodluck.

he should do; as you read Roister, you may note how

Tristram Trustie, a friend to Gawyn Goodluck.

every line spoken by Merygreeke to Roister Doister

is ironic and manipulative.



Scene: London

     The text of the play is taken from Clarence Griffin

Child's 1912 edition of the play, cited below at #4,

with some original spelling from the earliest known 

edition of 1566 reinstated.


     Mention of Flügel, Child, Farmer, Williams, Hazlitt,

Cooper, Gassner, Morley and Whitworth in the

annotations refers to the notes provided by each of

these editors in their respective editions of this play,

each cited fully below.

     The most commonly cited sources are listed in the

footnotes immediately below. The complete list of

footnotes appears at the end of this play.

     1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online.

     2. Crystal, David and Ben. Shakespeare's Words.

London; New York: Penguin, 2002.

     3. Flügel, Ewald, ed. Roister Doister, pp. 87-194, 

from Representative English Comedies, Charles

Mills Gayley, general editor. London: MacMillan &

Co., 1916.

     4. Child, Clarence Griffin. Ralph Roister Doister.

Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1912.

     5. Farmer, John S. The Dramatic Writings of

Nicholas Udall. London: Early English Drama

Society, 1906.

     6. Williams, W.H. and Robin, P.A. Ralph Roister

Doister. London: J.M. Dent and Co., 1901.

     7. Bates, Alfred. British Drama. London:

Historical Publishing Company, 1906.

     8. Hazlitt, W. Carew. A Selected Collection of Old

English Plays (Originally Published by Robert

Dodsley). London: Reeves and Turner, 1874.

     9. Cooper, William Durrant. Ralph Roister Doister

and Gorboduc. London: Printed for the Shakespeare

Society, 1847.

     11. Gassner, John. Medieval and Tudor Drama.

New York: Bantam Books Inc., 1968.

     12. Whitworth, Charles W. Three Sixteenth

Century Comedies. London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1984.

     22. Mazzio, Carla. The Inarticulate Renaissance.

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

     24. Morley, Henry. The Library of English

Literature. London: Cassell and Company, Ltd.,

unknown year.


A. The Setting of Roister.

     Unless otherwise noted, the entire play (with perhaps the partial exception of Act I, Scenes iii and v) takes place on the street either directly in front of or within sight of the entrance to Dame Christian Custance's house. A door at the back of the stage would represent the entrance to the house, and characters would enter and exit the house through this door.

     Roister editor Charles Whitworth suggests that a second house, that of Roister Doister himself, may have also been represented on the stage; Whitworth further theorizes that between the homes of Custance and Roister there may have appeared something like a painting of a street (on a backdrop) disappearing into the distance, indicating to the audience that the two houses were actually located in different parts of town.12

     Many of the scenes do not end clearly with all of the actors and actresses exiting the stage; Udall often begins a new scene whenever a character or two enters the stage to join those already present.

     In these cases, you will note that the players on stage will suddenly observe another character or two coming towards them from off-stage; as the new characters enter, the separate parties will proceed to talk to themselves or to the audience as they pause in their movements or slowly approach each other.

     In general, because it is very clear when the characters finally meet and converse, we have decided it was not necessary to insert relevant stage directions.

B. Oaths and Swears.

     Ralph Roister Doister contains a notably wide range of oaths and swears, and almost all of them are of a religious nature, including some odd examples which invoke the Lord's passion, the mass, and even God's potstick!

     As you read the play, you may observe that the characters (with the exception of the squeamish Roister Doister) have no aversion to explicitly mentioning God and Jesus in these oaths, although God is often replaced euphemistically with Gog and Cock, and even one Goss. It was only later, in the first decade of the 17th century, that the explicit use of God's name on stage was banned by a statute of Parliament, so that plays printed after 1605 generally contained no such explicit expressions.

     A particular oddity of the era was the use of the names of body parts and other attributes as part of the oath formulae; thus we find "Gog's arms". Later plays will invoke God's eyelids, his wounds, and his blood.

C. Some Frequently Appearing Vocabulary.

     Speakers of English frequently take recourse to a number of pause-phrases which parenthetically indicate an individual's frame of mind - I believe, you think, don't you know: "The governor, I think, is not so tall" (such expressions are part of a larger category of sentence organizers called discourse markers).

     16th century English used some older words in these types of phrases, and these words appear repeatedly in this play:

     1. trow = to believe; examples: I trow, trow ye.

     2. ween = to expect, think; example: I ween.

     3. wot = to know; examples: I wot, I wot not.

     Some other unusual words that Udall depends heavily on include the following:

     4. warrant = guarantee, assure; used especially in phrases such as I warrant you, ie. "I guarantee it", or "I assure you".

     5. wist = to know.

     6. pastance = pastime, recreation.

     7. use = to treat.

     8. fet = to fetch.

     Finally, we point out that the word and could be used to mean either "and" or "if". Udall uses and in both senses regularly.



D. Roister's Rhyme Scheme.

     Except for the Prologue, the entire play is written in rhyming couplets. Fortunately, the meter is completely irregular, or non-existent, and the number of syllables per line varies: this is a blessing, because otherwise the play would quickly begin to sound like a Dr. Seuss book, and the regular rhythm and rhyme would grow rapidly tiresome, indeed exhausting.

     As it is, the lines generally have 10, 11 or 12 syllables; and as mentioned, thanks to there being no meter to speak of, - that is, no regular rhythm - the dialogue comes across as a little more natural, and you probably won't even be conscious of the rhyming.

     Another interesting circumstance was that our author, Nicholas Udall, did not seem to obsess about having the rhymes be perfect every time; in fact, many of them seem quite strained, even taking into account the different sound of many - or most - vowels of the time compared to how we sound them today.

     So, just looking at the first Scene, we have some rhymes that would work well even today, such as say-day, piping-griping, and advise-wise; we have rhymes that would have worked more obviously in the 16th century, such as feast-guest, and coming-gloming; and we also find some rhymes that require a bit of a stretch of the imagination to appreciate, or that perhaps even seem amateurish: sop-Blinkensoppe, gone-compassion, express-worthiness, is-amiss.

     Another interesting feature of Udall's versifying is that he sometimes chose to use an obscure or rarely used alternative spelling or form of a word in order to make a rhyme work; for example, he uses togither instead of together in order to rhyme with hither; and wast instead of waste in order to rhyme with last.

     Having said all that, we recommend you not get hung up on the rhyming as you read our play; Udall used rhyming couplets as a frame, or skeleton, on which to build Roister, but since he did not obsess over perfect rhymes, neither should you: in fact, you will enjoy the play a great deal more if you do not think about the rhyming at all.

E. Written in the 1550's, But...

     It is generally accepted that Nicholas Udall wrote Ralph Roister Doister in the period around 1552-1553; however, the earliest extant edition of the play was published in 1566. Interestingly, the play had actually been believed lost, until it was stumbled upon by the Reverend T. Briggs in 1818 in a quarto collection of plays.









by Nicholas Udall






c. 1552-3






The Prologue: the Prologue, sometimes called a Chorus, is a device used to introduce the play to an audience, and is recited by a single actor.
     The Prologue of our play is divided into 7-line stanzas, and employs a rhyme scheme known as rhyme royal, or rhythm royal: ababbcc. Rhyme royal was first used in English poetry in the 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer, who may have borrowed it from Guillaume de Machaut, the famous 14th century French composer and poet.14


What creature is in health, either young or old,

1-2: people of all ages appreciate a bit of good clean


    But some mirth with modesty will be glad to use? −

     (modest) but merry entertainment.

As we in this interlude shall now unfold,

2: mirth = entertainment which brings pleasure.1


    Wherein all scurrility we utterly refuse,

3: interlude = originally used to describe a brief comic

    Avoiding such mirth wherein is abuse,

     entertainment performed between acts of long


Knowing nothing more commendable for a man's recreation

     mystery plays, but by the early 16th century  

Than mirth which is used in an honest fashion.

     interlude was employed to mean any stage play, 
     especially one of a brief and light nature.
         unfold = reveal, disclose.1

4-5: the play will not employ lewd or coarse material.

     Udall was a cleric - he was serving as a vicar when 

     he wrote Roister - so that his rejection of bawdy

     humour is not surprising.

6: recreation = amusement, pleasure.1

7: honest = decent, not deserving of reproach.1


For mirth prolongeth life, and causeth health,

8: Child notes this was a common sentiment expressed

     Mirth recreates our spirits and voideth pensiveness,

     in old works on medicine.


Mirth increaseth amity, not hindering our wealth,

         causeth health = leads to good health.

     Mirth is to be used both of more and less,

9: recreates = refreshes.1


     Being mixed with virtue in decent comeliness,

     voideth pensiveness = drives away sadness.1

As we trust no good nature can gainsay the same;

10: not hindering our wealth = not causing harm to 


Which mirth we intend to use, avoiding all blame.

     our welfare.1,3

11. of more and less = by the high and the low, ie.

     people of all ranks.1,5

12: comeliness = propriety, decency.1

13: good nature = (person of) virtuous character.1 

     gainsay the same = deny this.


The wise poets long time heretofore

15-19: to paraphrase generally, dramatists of ancient


     Under merry comedies secrets did declare,

     times - especially Plautus and Terence - were

Wherein was contained very virtuous lore,

     able to subtly or surreptitiously teach lessons to


     With mysteries and forewarnings very rare.

     and morally instruct their audience, even as the

     Such to write neither Plautus nor Terence did spare,

     viewers of the plays were conscious only of being


Which among the learned at this day bears the bell;

     being entertained.

These, with such other, therein did excel.

18: mysteries = truths (especially of a religious

     nature) or hidden meanings.1,4

         forewarnings = preventive admonishments.

         rare = excellent, valuable.

19. Titus Maccius Plautus and Publius Terentius
were Roman playwrights of the early 2nd
     century B.C.; their comic plays were models for
     later European comedy stage-works, and were
     familiar to all educated Englishmen.

20: the mentioned Roman writers are followed by the
     educated of Udall's day.
         bears the bell = the lead sheep in the flock wears
     a bell; hence, "excels"3 or "leads".5

21: such other = others like them.4


Our comedy, or interlude, which we intend to play

22: comedy was used to describe a stage play with a

     Is named Roister Doister indeed,

     comic style and a happy ending, as contrasted with


Which against the vainglorious doth inveigh,

     tragedy;1 interludes, as noted above, were brief

     Whose humour the roisting sort continually doth feed.

     secular plays that were popular in the early 16th


     Thus by your patience we intend to proceed

     century; Udall's use of both terms suggests he is

In this our interlude by God's leave and grace;

     at the intersection of the old and new style dramas


And here I take my leave for a certain space.

     of the 16th century, which were soon to lead to the

     explosion of work by Lyly, Marlowe and Shake-



24: "our play censures (inveighs against) those who
     who are boastful and vain".

25: humour = temperament or inclination of character.
         roisting = describing one who acts in a boisterous
     or uproarious manner.
= type of person.

27: leave = permission.

28: for a certain space = for a while - but the Chorus

     never does return; instead, the actor reciting the
     Prologue may appear later in the play.12




The Street in Front of, or a Short Distance from, Christian Custance's House.

Scene setting: the entire play (with the possible exceptions of Act I, Scenes iii and v) takes place on the street in front of or within sight of Christian Custance's house; hence, with the exception of the above-mentioned scenes, the setting of each scene will no longer be identified.

Enter Mathew Merygreeke, singing.

Entering Character:  Mathew Merygreeke plays the role of the parasite, a character-type famous since the days of ancient Roman comedy. The parasite depends on the good will of other, more wealthy members of society for sustenance and patronage, usually engaging in entertaining, flattering and obsequiously serving a rich patron in return for a meal.
     The phrase merry Greek (and its equivalents, gay Greek and mad Greek) was used to describe one who was a good companion or fellow1 or a merry rascal.


Mery.  As long liveth the merry man, they say,

1-2: Merygreeke begins the play by reciting a


As doth the sorry man, and longer, by a day.

     proverbial sentiment.
         sorry = sad, dismal.5

Yet the grasshopper, for all his summer piping,

3-4: allusion to Aesop's famous fable of the grass-


Starveth in winter with hungry griping.

hopper and the ant: while the grasshopper spent the summer singing (piping), the ants worked hard to collect food for the winter; when winter arrived, the grasshopper, hungry, begged the ants for food, but the ants laughed at him and sent him on his way.
     hungry griping = a painfully clutching or voracious hunger.1,2

Therefore another said saw doth men advise,

= common phrase for "frequently recalled adage",1 ie.
     proverbial for "proverb".


That they be together both merry and wise.

6-8: a commonplace conceit, "it is good to be merry

This lesson must I practise, or else ere long,

and wise;" for Merygreeke, this means that he should


With me, Mathew Merygreeke, it will be wrong.

continue to enjoy life but, unlike the grasshopper, not wait till the last moment to figure out where he will next eat, ie. from which of his acquaintances he can wrangle his next meal.

Indeed men so call me, for by Him that us bought,

9-10: "I am called Merygreeke, because no matter what


Whatever chance betide, I can take no thought,

     happens to me, I generally don't worry about it."1
         by Him that bought us = an oath: "by Christ,
     who redeemed our sins".

Yet wisdom would that I did myself bethink

= "I would be wise to".


Where to be provided this day of meat and drink −

For know ye that, for all this merry note of mine,


He might appose me now that should ask where I dine.

14: "if someone were to ask me where I would eat
     today, I would be stumped to come up with answer."
         appose = puzzle, perplex;5 Gassner prefers

My living lieth here and there, of God's grace, 

= means of support.2  = with or by.


Sometime with this good man, sometime in that place;

Sometime Lewis Loytrer biddeth me come near;

= ie. Lewis Loiterer; Child notes that alliterative names have appeared in English literature since the 14th century; such an appellation generally suggests the owner's occupation or a particular characteristic: Flügel notes the examples of Piers Plowman, Robert the Ryfelar (Rifler) and Peter Piemaker.
     Loytrer = loiterer, ie. time-waster; see Act IV.iii.187 for a note on anti-loitering laws of the 16th century.


Somewhiles Watkin Waster maketh us good cheer,

18: as a "waster" - one who spends money extra-
     vagantly - Watkin sometimes provides Merygreeke
     with a good meal.
         maketh us good cheer = to make one good cheer
 means "to gladly entertain one".1

Sometime Davy Diceplayer, when he hath well cast,

= ie. been successful at dice; cast refers to "thrown


Keepeth revel-rout as long as it will last; 

20: Keepeth revel-rout = carouses, makes merry,5 with
     the implication that Davy treats his friends to food
     and drink with his winnings.
         it = the money Davy has win gambling.

Sometime Tom Titivile maketh us a feast;

= sometimes written Tutivillus, a proper name given to a scoundrel or one who spreads gossip, but also the name of a devil, especially the one who records each person's sins for presentation at Judgment Day.1 Tutivillus also appears as the devil in the Towneley (aka Wakefield) miracle plays.6
     Morley notes that Tutavilus was the "name of the demon that carried to hell all of the words skipped or mangled by the clergy in their services."


Sometime with Sir Hugh Pye I am a bidden guest;

= ie. pie, an obsolete word used to describe a chatterer
     (from "magpie") or sly individual.1

Sometime at Nicol Neverthrive's I get a sop;

23: Nicol never has money (hence Never-thrive), so
     Merygreeke is lucky to get from him on occasion 
     a sop, ie. a piece of bread which is dipped in ale
     or wine before it is consumed - a poor meal indeed.


Sometime I am feasted with Bryan Blinkinsoppe;

24: according to Child, one who spends his time
     blinking into his mirror; blinking has the conno-
     tation of being dull-eyed or staring stupidly with
     half-closed eyes.1
         Blenkinsopp was a real English surname which
     first appears in the records of the 16th century.15

Sometime I hang on Hankyn Hoddydodie's sleeve; 

25: hoddydodie = hoddydoddy, ie. fool or simpleton,18 
     or a short dumpy person (OED).
         hang on (his) sleeve = be dependent on.


But this day on Ralph Roister Doister's, by his leave.

26: "but today I will hang on Roister Doister's sleeve,
     with his permission."

For, truly, of all men he is my chief banker


Both for meat and money, and my chief shoot-anchor.

28: meat = food.
         shoot-anchor = ie. sheet-anchor, the largest
     anchor on a ship, normally used only in an
     emergency; hence, meaning "last resort".1,5

For, sooth Roister Doister in that he doth say,

29-30: "for, if you humour or support (sooth)5 Roister


And, require what ye will, ye shall have no nay. 

     in whatever he says, then he will never say 'no' to
     any request you make of him."

But now of Roister Doister somewhat to express,

31: "now I will tell you something about Roister".


That ye may esteem him after his worthiness,

32: "so that you may form an accurate opinion of or
     correctly appraise his worthiness" - a deliberately
     ambiguous line!

In these twenty towns, and seek them throughout,

33: "you could search in twenty towns".


Is not the like stock whereon to graff a lout.

34: a horticultural metaphor: "and you will not find a similar stem or shoot (representing Roister, described as a lout - a country bumpkin or clown) that you can graft (graff) onto any other stem or stalk (stock)", where stock also was used to refer to a line of descent or family.1

All the day long is he facing and craking

= bullying and boasting.5 The OED suggests craking
     is just an alternate spelling for cracking.


Of his great acts in fighting and fray-making,

= about.  = brawling.

But when Roister Doister is put to his proof,

= the test.


To keep the Queen's peace is more for his behoof.

38: he much prefers to keep the peace, ie. avoid a fight, proving himself to be a coward.
     behoof = benefit, ie. liking.1,11
     Editors have noted that if our play was written before 1553, then King's peace would have originally appeared in the place of Queen's peace: Edward VI was king from 1547 until his death in 1553, when he was succeeded by a string of female monarchs: Jane (queen for nine disputed days in July 1553), Mary I (1553-8), and Elizabeth I (1558-1603), so that the phrase would have been amended when the play was edited, rewritten or published after 1553.

If any woman smile, or cast on him an eye,


Up is he to the hard ears in love by and by; 

40: "he immediately (by and by) falls up to his ears (ie. completely) in love.1,5
     to the hard = common expression meaning "completely up to" or "right up to";1 the phrase up to the hard ears (and its variations over the hard ears and over head and ears), meaning "to the fullest extent" or "fully immersed", was common.5

And in all the hot haste must she be his wife,

41-42: Roister always has an extreme reaction


Else farewell his good days, and farewell his life;

     whenever any woman pays him even the slightest
     attention: he must marry her, or his life will be over.

Master Ralph Roister Doister is but dead and gone

43-44: these lines express basically the same idea


Except she on him take some compassion.

     as lines 41-42.
         Except = unless.

Then chief of counsel must be Mathew Merygreeke, 

45: Roister always seeks out Merygreeke to assist him
     in these situations.


"What if I for marriage to such an one seek?"

46: "what if I seek marriage with such-and-such a
     woman?" Merygreeke quotes Roister asking him
     for advice.

Then must I sooth it, whatever it is

47: sooth it = "support him" or "affirm it", ie. "humour
         whatever it is = "whatever he says", or "whoever
     he wants to marry."


For what he sayeth or doeth cannot be amiss;

48: ie. "for one cannot find fault with anything he says
     or does."

Hold up his yea and nay, be his nown white son,

49: the sense is, "uphold him in whatever he says, and be his favourite person (white son)."
     yea and nay = common formula describing alternating positive and negative assertions or vacillation in general.1
     nown = own, a corruption of "mine own".3,5
     white = the use of white in phrases such as white son and white boy simply indicated a term of endearment.


Praise and roose him well, and ye have his heart won, 

= flatter, extol, a synonym for praise.1

For so well liketh he his own fond fashions

= foolish.


That he taketh pride of false commendations.

= in sham compliments,1 ie. flattery.

But such sport have I with him as I would not lese,

= entertainment.  = lose.18


Though I should be bound to live with bread and cheese.

= formula for "simple or poor fare"; Merygreeke so
     enjoys manipulating Roister when he seeks the
     parasite for advice in love that he would help
     Roister even if meant never getting a substantial
     or luxurious meal ever again.

For exalt him, and have him as ye lust indeed −

55: "if you praise him, you can get him to do anything
     you want (lust)."


Yea, to hold his finger in a hole for a need.

56: a proverbial expression describing one who follows instructions, especially foolish ones, without question.1 Here, Merygreeke enjoys giving ridiculous advice to Roister, which he always follows.
     The expression comes from John Heywood's 1546 book of Proverbs: "But me seemth your counsaile wayth in the whole, / To make me put my finger in a hole. "
     You may note that the characters of this play - especially Merygreeke and Tibet - frequently resort to proverbial expressions, with a particular partiality for those published in John Heywood's 1546 book of Proverbs.

I can with a word make him fain or loth,

= ie. either willing or unwilling to do something.1


I can with as much make him pleased or wroth,

= angry or enraged.

I can, when I will, make him merry and glad,

= "want to".


I can, when me lust, make him sorry and sad, 

= ie. "I desire to".

I can set him in hope and eke in despair,

= also.


I can make him speak rough, and make him speak fair.

= harshly.  = kindly.

But I marvel I see him not all this same day;

= wonder.


I will seek him out. − But, lo! he cometh this way.

= you will notice throughout the play that characters
     announce when they see another character
     approaching; the two parties will usually continue
     to speak either to themselves or to the audience,
     until they finally meet.

I have yond espied him sadly coming, 

65: "I see him over there (yond), wearing a serious
     (sad) expression, coming this way".


And in love, for twenty pound, by his gloming!

66: ie. "and I would wager 20 pounds that, based on
     his scowling or looking glum (gloming),5,8 he is in
     love." The OED files gloming under glumming.

Scene i Postscript: Merygreeke's monologue - which comprises the entire scene - basically foreshadows the primary theme of the play: namely, to showcase the many different ways Merygreeke can manipulate Roister and lead him to repeatedly make a complete fool of himself.


[Still on Stage: Merygreeke.]

Still on Stage: whenever characters remain on stage from the end of the previous scene, such will be noted in a stage direction in brackets, all added by the editor.

Scene Endings in Ralph Roister Doister: the scenes of our play do not always end sharply with all the characters exiting the stage; when one or more characters newly join those already on stage, Udall often begins a new scene.
     Hence Roister enters the stage even as Merygreeke is wrapping up his monologue of Scene i.

Enter Roister Doister.

Entering Character: during the early part of Scene II - up to line 18 - Merygreeke and Roister are only slowly approaching each other; to that point, Merygreeke continues to address the audience, while Roister is talking to himself.
     Note that it was a convention of Elizabethan drama for characters to express their feelings aloud, even when they are by themselves, for the benefit of both the audience and any potential eavesdroppers.
     The word roister means "swaggerer", or "boisterous person".1,8


Roist.  Come death when thou wilt, I am weary of my life.

1: though Merygreeke has spied Roister approaching,
     Roister has not yet seen him.


Mery.  I told you, I, we should woo another wife.

3: "I told you, it looks like we (meaning Roister, with


     Merygreeke's assistance) shall be seeking to court
     another potential wife."

Roist.  Why did God make me such a goodly person?


Mery.  He is in by the week, we shall have sport anon.

7: in by the week = caught, in the snare, ie. in love.1,6 


     sport anon = great entertainment shortly.

Roist.  And where is my trusty friend, Mathew Merygreeke? 


Mery.  I will make as I saw him not, he doth me seek.

11: Merygreeke will pretend not to notice Roister.


Roist.  I have him espied me thinketh, yond is he. −

= yonder.


Ho! Mathew Merygreeke, my friend, a word with thee.

= note that Roister will always address Merygreeke with the informal and familiar thee, while Merygreeke, who is somewhat dependent on Ralph for his living, addresses him with the respectful and deferential you; however, as Merygreeke doesn't really have much respect for Roister, his use of "you" in general can be considered ironic.


Mery.  I will not hear him, but make as I had haste. −

= "pretend I do not".  = "pretend I am in a hurry".

Farewell all my good friends, the time away doth waste,

17-18: Merygreeke speaks these lines loudly, perhaps
     facing off-stage, making it seem to Roister that he
     is taking a hurried leave from a group of his friends.


And the tide, they say, tarrieth for no man.

18: another proverb from Heywood:  "the tide tarieth

     no man"; tarrieth = tarries, ie. waits.


Roist.  Thou must with thy good counsel help me if thou can.


Mery.  God keep thee, worshipful Master Roister Doister,

20: a salutation: Merygreeke "suddenly" notices

And fare well thee, lusty Master Roister Doister.

= merry.1


Roist.  I must needs speak with thee a word or twain. 

= two.


Mery.  Within a month or two I will be here again.

= ie. return.


Negligence in great affairs, ye know, may mar all.

28: ie. if a man ignores pressing business, ruin
     necessarily follows; Merygreeke is suggesting
     he has to travel abroad on a business trip.


Roist.  Attend upon me now, and well reward thee I shall.

= wait upon, ie. help.


Mery.  I have take my leave, and the tide is well spent.

= taken.  = ie. Merygreeke's tide of line 18 is almost
     out, meaning his window of opportunity for leaving
     in a timely fashion is closing quickly.


Roist.  I die except thou help, I pray thee be content. 

= unless.

Do thy part well now, and ask what thou wilt,

= ie. "ask any payment or reward".


For without thy aid my matter is all spilt.

= ruined.


Mery.  Then to serve your turn I will some pains take,

= purpose.

And let all mine own affairs alone for your sake.


Roist.  My whole hope and trust resteth only in thee. 


Mery.  Then can ye not do amiss, whatever it be.

= "you cannot go wrong".


Roist.  Gramercies, Merygreeke, most bound to thee I am.

= "thank you"; from the French grand merci.


Mery.  But up with that heart, and speak out like a ram!

= male sheep, ie. a man.


Ye speak like a capon that had the cough now.

= castrated cock.  = ie. a cough.1

Be of good cheer, anon ye shall do well enow. 

= soon.  = enough.


Roist.  Upon thy comfort, I will all things well handle.

= ie. "with your support or encouragement".2


Mery.  So, lo, that is a breast to blow out a candle!

53: Whitworth suggests that Merygreeke here is likely
     responding admiringly to Roister puffing out his
         lo = a vague interjection, similar ot "oh!"1  
         breast = breathe.5


But what is this great matter, I would fain know?

= like to.

We shall find remedy therefore I trow.

= expect, believe.


Do ye lack money? Ye know mine old offers; 

Ye have always a key to my purse and coffers.


Roist.  I thank thee! had ever man such a friend!


Mery.  Ye give unto me, I must needs to you lend.

61: "since you are ever ready to give money to me, I


must by necessity lend money to you when you need it."

Roist.  Nay, I have money plenty all things to discharge.


Mery.  [Aside]


That knew I right well when I made offer so large.

= ie. "I already knew that".


Roist.  But it is no such matter.


Mery.                                      What is it than?

= ie. "then", written as than to rhyme with man.9

Are ye in danger of debt to any man?

71: "Are you in debt to any man, and therefore at risk
     of being imprisoned for that debt?"5 Debtors' prisons
     were still a part of everyday life in 16th century


If ye be, take no thought nor be not afraid.

=double negatives such as this were accepted and
     common during this period.

Let them hardly take thought how they shall be paid.

= "give serious thought to"; hardly = vigorously,
     though Flügel suggests "certainly".


Roist.  Tut, I owe nought.

= nothing.


Mery.                              What then? fear ye imprisonment?

= ie. for having committed some crime.


Roist.  No. 


Mery.      No, I wist ye offend not, so to be shent.

81: "I know (wist) you would do nothing that would
     be blameworthy, which would lead to your being
     punished (shent).1,5


But if ye had, the Tower could not you so hold,

= ie. "even the Tower of London (a prison) could not

But to break out at all times ye would be bold.

     hold you"; Merygreeke is really pouring on the


What is it − hath any man threatened you to beat?



Roist.  What is he that durst have put me in that heat? 

= who.  = dared.  = "enraged me so".

He that beateth me, by His arms, shall well find,

= "by God's arms", referring to His might,4 an oath; it
     was, and remained for a century more, customary
     to swear on God's "body parts" or other earthy
     attributes: e.g. God's eyelids, God's wounds, etc.


That I will not be far from him nor run behind.

= ie. be slow to get revenge.


Mery.  That thing know all men ever since ye overthrew

= defeated, beat.

The fellow of the lion which Hercules slew.

91: "the companion-lion to the one Hercules killed;" 


But what is it then?

     the allusion is to Hercules' first labour, the slaying 
     of the Nemean lion.


Roist.                   Of love I make my moan. 

= from, because of.


Mery.  "Ah, this foolish-a love, wil't ne'er let us alone?"

96: Merygreeke appears to be quoting a line from some
     well-known song.4

But because ye were refused the last day,

= rejected (by a woman).  = ie. (just) yesterday.


Ye said ye would ne'er more be entangled that way −

"I would meddle no more, since I find all so unkind."

= ie. "all women"; Merygreeke quotes Roister.


Roist.  Yea, but I cannot so put love out of my mind. 


Mery.  But is your love, tell me first in any wise,

= "any way (you can)".


In the way of marriage, or of merchandise?

104: "do you want to marry the woman, or just sleep
     with her?"

If it may otherwise than lawful be found,

105-6: if Roister only wants this woman to satisfy his


Ye get none of my help for a hundred pound.

     lust, then - fornication being immoral as well as a
     crime - Merygreeke wants nothing to do with it.


Roist.  No, by my troth, I would have her to my wife. 

= truly.


Mery.  Then are ye a good man, and God save your life!

= "you are"; Merygreeke acts relieved!

And what or who is she, with whom ye are in love?


Roist.  A woman whom I know not by what means to move.

= arouse, inflame.


Mery.  Who is it?


Roist.                A woman yond.

= yonder, over there.


Mery.                                       What is her name?


Roist.  Her yonder.


Mery.                   Whom?


Roist.                             Mistress − ah –

125: Roister has fallen in love, but he does not even


     know the lady's name.

Mery.                                                   Fie, fie, for shame!


Love ye, and know not whom − but "her yond," "a woman?”

We shall then get you a wife, I cannot tell whan.

129: when; Udall uses an obsolete variant in spelling
     for the sake of the rhyme.


Roist.  The fair woman, that supped with us yesternight,

= perhaps meaning they were all eating in the same


And I heard her name twice or thrice, and had it right.

     public house, though not as one party.


Mery.  Yea, ye may see ye ne'er take me to good cheer with
     you, − 

134: roughly, "that's what happens when you fail to
     invite me to join you for a good meal (cheer)."

If ye had, I could have told you her name now.


Roist.  I was to blame indeed, but the next time perchance

= maybe.


And she dwelleth in this house.

138: the pair are now in front of the house of Dame



Mery.  What, Christian Custance?


Roist.  Except I have her to my wife, I shall run mad.

= unless.


Mery.  Nay, "unwise" perhaps, but I warrant you for "mad."

= "I guarantee you shall not go mad."

     for = against.4


Roist.  I am utterly dead unless I have my desire.


Mery.  Where be the bellows that blew this sudden fire?

148: metaphorically, "why the sudden interest in this


Roist.  I hear she is worth a thousand pound and more.

150: Roister is describing Custance's annual income
     from her property.


Mery.  Yea, but learn this one lesson of me afore −

= from.

An hundred pound of marriage-money, doubtless, 

153-4: Roister should not count on the rumours of


Is ever thirty pound sterling, or somewhat less;

Custance's income being accurate, suggesting that any bandied-about values should be discounted by at least 70%.
     thirty pound sterling = thirty pounds; in the days of the Saxon kingdoms, silver coins called sterlings were issued as currency, and since 240 of them could be minted from a pound of silver, British pounds were, until 1971, divided into 240 pennies, or pence; large payments, meanwhile, were more conveniently described in terms of pounds of sterlings.16

So that her thousand pound, if she be thrifty,


Is much near about two hundred and fifty.

= nearer, closer to.

Howbeit, wooers and widows are never poor.

157: the proverbial sentiment expressed here is a


     cynical one: men who court women, and widows
     who seek marriage, always exaggerate their wealth
     in order ot make themselves more attractive to their
     potential mates.
         howbeit = however the case may be.

Roist.  Is she a widow? I love her better therefore. 


Mery.  But I hear she hath made promise to another.

= is engaged.


Roist.  He shall go without her, and he were my brother!

= even if.


Mery.  I have heard say, I am right well advised,


That she hath to Gawyn Goodluck promised.

= Gawyn is a Scottish name, meaning "white hawk".17


Roist.  What is that Gawyn Goodluck?

= who.


Mery.                                                    A merchant-man.


Roist.  Shall he speed afore me? Nay, sir, by sweet Saint Anne! 

= "succeed before".  = Anne was the mother of Mary,
     and grandmother of Jesus.

Ah, sir, "’Backare,' quod Mortimer to his sow,"

173: in brief, "back off, Gawyn!"
     Ralph borrows a line from Heywood's Proverbs, "Nay, backare (quoth Mortimer to his sow)"; Heywood editor Julian Sharman10 observes that the allusion of the expression has long been lost, but notes that the interjection backare was used to indicate condemnation of another's forward or presumptuous conduct: "stand back!" (OED) or "hands off!" (Farmer).


I will have her mine own self, I make God a vow.

For I tell thee, she is worth a thousand pound.


Mery. Yet a fitter wife for your maship might be found. 

= more appropriate.  = "your mastership", a title of


Such a goodly man as you might get one with land,

     respect, used only in the 16th century.1

Besides pounds of gold a thousand and a thousand,


And a thousand, and a thousand, and a thousand,

And so to the sum of twenty hundred thousand.

= ie. two million pounds, an obviously ridiculously


Your most goodly personage is worthy of no less.

     large amount of money;


Roist.  I am sorry God made me so comely, doubtless,

= handsome.

For that maketh me eachwhere so highly favoured,

= everywhere.  = advantaged or blessed.1


And all women on me so enamoured.


Mery.  "Enamoured," quod you? − have ye spied out that?

= say.

Ah, sir, marry, now I see you know what is what.

= an oath, derived from the Virgin Mary.


"Enamoured," ka? marry, sir, say that again,

= quoth, ie. "you say".18

But I thought not ye had marked it so plain.


Roist.  Yes, eachwhere they gaze all upon me and stare.

= everywhere.


Mery.  Yea, Malkyn, I warrant you, as much as they dare. −

195: Malkyn = a name for an effeminate or weak man.1 Merygreeke is twitting Roister in this aside.
     warrant = assure.


And ye will not believe what they say in the street,

When your maship passeth by, all such as I meet, 


That sometimes I can scarce find what answer to make.

"Who is this," saith one, "Sir Launcelot du Lake?"

= Lancelot du Lac, aka Sir Lancelot of the Round
     Table; one of King Arthur's fabled knights, Lancelot
     was famous for his chivalry and courage.19


"Who is this − great Guy of Warwick?" saith another.

= English hero of romance, whose legendary exploits were first written down in the 12th century. He was known for slaying giants (including Colbrand, mentioned below in line 204), boars and dragons, and he also fought in the Crusades in the Holy Land, where he killed the Sultan.19

"No," say I, "it is the thirteenth Hercules' brother."

= ie. "the thirteenth brother of Hercules;" Child notes
     that Hercules was sometimes identified as one of
     the 12 or 13 children of Jupiter.


"Who is this − noble Hector of Troy," saith the third. 

= Hector was the greatest of the Trojan warriors in the
     war with the Greeks.

"No, but of the same nest," say I, "it is a bird."

203: "no, but he is a bird of the same nest," ie. of the
     same mold.


"Who is this − great Goliah, Sampson, or Colbrand?"

= ie. Goliath.  = Danish giant of romance and legend,
     slain by Guy of Warwick.

"No," say I, " but it is a brute of the Alie Land."

205: perhaps "a hero of the Holy Land", but the passage has attracted much comment.
     brute = a reference to Brute, the legendary descendent of the Trojan hero Aeneas, and the man credited with founding England; brute hence is used to mean "hero"3 or "person of distinction".5
     Alie Land = uncertain reference, but "Holy Land" has been suggested, in response to the mention of the Biblical heroes Goliath and Sampson;3 Farmer, however, tentatively suggests that Alie, or alye, means "kindred" or "neighbouring", and Hazlitt, similarly, suggests "similar", so that they propose the intended meaning of the clause to be "a hero from a similar land."


"Who is this − great Alexander, or Charle le Maigne?" 

= Alexander the Great.  = Charlemagne.

"No, it is the tenth Worthy," say I to them again. −

= Merygreeke alludes to the proverbial Nine Worthies, a collection of nine heroes from the past whose lives were worthy of admiration; they included:
     (a) 3 pagans: Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar;
     (b) 3 Jews: Joshua, David and Judas Maccabeus; and
     (c) 3 Christians: King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Boullion, a leader of the First Crusade, and first sovereign of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
     Farmer pithily refers to these absurd comparisons to Roister by Merygreeke as "mock heroic descriptions".


I know not if I said well.

208: ie. "was that ok how I responded?"


Roist.                          Yes, for so I am.


Mery.  Yea, for there were but nine Worthies before ye came.

To some others, the third Cato I do you call.

= the first two Cato's were:
     (1) Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C.), known as "Cato the Elder", and one of early Rome's most famous statesmen, soldiers and writers. He became notorious for his severe views on ethics, and it was his special mission to eject men from the lists of senators and knights if they failed to live up to the moral Roman code he demanded of all, earning him his most enduring epithet, "the Censor"; and
     (2) Marcus Porcius Cato (95-46 B.C.), called "the Younger" to distinguish him from his more famous great-grandfather. Seeing himself as a defender of the free Roman state, Cato opposed Julius Caesar in the Roman civil wars; rather than live in a world ruled by Caesar, Cato famously disemboweled himself.29


And so, as well as I can, I answer them all. 

"Sir, I pray you, what lord or great gentleman is this?"


"Master Ralph Roister Doister, dame," say I, "iwis."

= assuredly.

"O Lord," saith she then, "what a goodly man it is.


Would Christ I had such a husband as he is!"

= "I wish to Christ"; observant readers will note that such direct blasphemies explicitly mentioning the name of God or Christ are absent from later plays of the era; in 1605 Parliament banned the use of God's name on stage.

"O Lord," say some, "that the sight of his face we lack!" 


"It is enough for you," say I, "to see his back.

His face is for ladies of high and noble parages,

= lineages or ranks.1,5


With whom he hardly 'scapeth great marriages " −

= ie. from.  = escapes.

With much more than this, and much otherwise.

= ie. "I say".


Roist.  I can thee thank that thou canst such answers devise; 

= "I am able to render thee thanks"5 or "I owe you


But I perceive thou dost me throughly know.

= ie. "you know me very well;" throughly was
     commonly used for thoroughly.


Mery.  I mark your manners for mine own learning, I trow,

228: "I observe your behaviour so I may learn from
     it, I know".

But such is your beauty, and such are your acts,


Such is your personage, and such are your facts,

= great deeds.

That all women, fair and foul, more and less, 

= of high and low status.5


They eye you, they lub you, they talk of you doubtless.

= love.1,3

Your pleasant look maketh them all merry;

233: the original edition had peasant written here,
     which all the editors emend to pleasant.


Ye pass not by, but they laugh till they be weary;

234: a slyly ambiguous line! Roister, of course, never
     recognizes any of Merygreeke's disguised insults.

Yea and money could I have, the truth to tell,

235-6: Merygreeke could ask for, or has been offered,


Of many, to bring you that way where they dwell. 

     a lot of money to bring Roister to the doors of his
     adoring female admirers.


Roist.  Merygreeke, for this thy reporting well of me −

= speaking.


Mery.  What should I else, sir? It is my duty, pardee.

= "by God", from the French par Dieu, ie. truly.1


Roist.  I promise thou shalt not lack, while I have a groat.

242: lack = ie. be lacking for money or anything else.

         a groat = a coin worth four-pence; used here 
     to mean, "even the least amount of money in my


Mery.  Faith, sir, and I ne'er had more need of a new coat.


Roist.  Thou shalt have one to-morrow, and gold for to spend.

= ie. to.


Mery.  Then I trust to bring the day to a good end;

For, as for mine own part, having money enow,

= enough.


I could live only with the remembrance of you.

But now to your widow whom you love so hot.


Roist.  By Cock, thou sayest truth! I had almost forgot. 

= by God, a common euphemistic oath; Roister tends


     to stay away from mentioning God explicitly in his

Mery.  What if Christian Custance will not have you, what?


Roist.  Have me? Yes, I warrant you, never doubt of that;

= "I assure you"; note that Roister unusually uses you


I know she loveth me, but she dare not speak.

= ie. "speak to me," or "tell me."


Mery.  Indeed, meet it were somebody should it break.

= "it would be fitting for".  = speak about it, ie. break 

     the ice.


Roist.  She looked on me twenty times yesternight, 

And laughed so −


Mery.             That she could not sit upright.

265: another not-too-disguised insult.


Roist.  No, faith, could she not.


Mery.                                      No, even such a thing I cast.

= ie. "that much I guessed."
     cast = reckoned, estimated.2


Roist.  But for wooing, thou knowest, women are shamefast.

= shy.1


But, and she knew my mind, I know she would be glad,

= if.

And think it the best chance that ever she had. 

= opportunity, ie. the best thing that ever happened


     to her.

Mery.  To her then like a man, and be bold forth to start!


Wooers never speed well that have a false heart.

= succeed.  = cowardly.5


Roist.  What may I best do?

278: ie. "what do you think is the best approach I
     should take?"


Mery.                                 Sir, remain ye awhile [here].

= here was added by later editors to complete the
     rhyme with appear.

Ere long one or other of her house will appear.

281: "before long one of her household staff should


Ye know my mind.

     come out."


Roist.                    Yea, now, hardly, let me alone!

284: "yes, by all means (hardly),1 you can leave me


Mery.  In the meantime, sir, if you please, I will home, − 

286: ie. "I will go home." Note the common gramma-
     tical construction of this clause: in the presence of 
     a verb of intent (will), the verb of action (go) is
     often omitted.

And call your musicians, for, in this your case,

287-9: Merygreeke will return with Roister's personal
     musicians so they may serenade Dame Custance.


It would set you forth, and all your wooing grace;

= "further your cause" (Whitworth, p. 107).

Ye may not lack your instruments to play and sing.


Roist.  Thou knowest I can do that.


Mery.                                               As well as anything .


Shall I go call your folks, that ye may show a cast? 

294: folks = servants, ie. Roister's musicians. 

         show a cast = literally, "show her a urine
     specimen,3 but meaning here "a sample of your
     ability" (Gassner, p. 275).


Roist.  Yea, run, I beseech thee, in all possible haste.


Mery.  I go.



300: the original edition prints Exeat for Exit throughout the play, but for clarity's sake we will employ the modern term.


Ralph.  Yea, for I love singing out of measure,

= unrestrainedly,1,5 but Farmer proposes that Roister
     may be unwittingly suggesting a secondary meaning
     of "out of tune".

It comforteth my spirits and doth me great pleasure.


But who cometh forth yond from my sweetheart Custance? 

= ie. from the household of.

My matter frameth well, this is a lucky chance.

= "my business is shaping up well".


The Yard before Custance's House.

The Setting: two of Dame Custance's servants enter the stage from the door at the back of the stage that represents their mistress' home, carrying their work with them.

     It is not exactly clear where the help would settle down to do their work; we can perhaps imagine a small yard directly in front of the door, while Roister stands a short distance from the ladies, himself unseen but watching them intently, and close enough to hear them speaking.

[Still on Stage: Roister Doister.]

Enter Madge Mumblecrust, spinning on the distaff,

Entering Characters: Margery Mumblecrust (called

and Tibet Talkapace, sewing.

Madge) is an old nurse, Tibet Talkapace is a younger female servant; both are in the employ of Dame Custance.
     mumblecrust = mumble originally seems to have meant "to eat awkwardly, as one without teeth",1,20 and mumblecrust was used in some later literature as a term of contempt for any decrepitly old person; mumble, with its modern meaning of "to speak lowly and indistinctly", also appears as a modifying word in other literature of the time, such as mumble-news (referring to a gossip) in Shakespeare's Love's Labour Lost.5
     Tibet is given its own entry in the OED, which describes the word as a name typically given to one of lower status.
     Talkapace means "talk quickly".


Madge.  If this distaff were spun, Margerie Mumblecrust −

1: Marge is talking or muttering to herself.
     distaff = a rod of 2-3 feet in length, around which is wound wool or flax, and held under the left arm; the user would draw the fibers from the distaff, twisting them as they pass through the fingers of her left hand. The resulting yarn is wound onto a second staff (called a spindle) which she holds and rotates in her right hand.1
     spun = spun off, ie. finished.1


Tibet.  Where good stale ale is, will drink no water, I trust.

3: Tibet interrupts Mumblecrust.3 
     stale ale = ale that is old and strong.5 References to stale ale are common in old literature, no doubt thanks to the euphonious rhyme of the phrase.
     Tibet, like Merygreeke, has a penchant for quoting proverbs - though no source for has been found for this proverbial-sounding sentiment.
     Tibet's point depends on how she interprets Madge's unfinished thought of line 1: if Madge is basically saying "if only I were finished with this job", then Tibet may be commenting on the futility of wishing for something that is simply not so - sort of a mildly sarcastic, "and if one has good ale to drink, then one wouldn't have to drink water."


Madge.  Dame Custance hath promised us good ale and
     white bread.

5: Madge absent-mindedly picks up on Tibet's mentioning ale.
     good ale and white bread = ie. better fare than usual (Flügel); white bread is bread made of a combination of rye and wheat grain, wheat being more expensive and of slightly better nutritional value than rye. Poorer folk generally only ate rye bread.5


Tibet.  If she keep not promise, I will beshrew her head:

= ie. her promise.  = curse.


But it will be stark night before I shall have done. 

= absolute, fully.1,5  = ie. "be done (with my sewing);" assuming the ladies have just walked onto the stage, Tibet has remained standing, not yet ready to begin working, even as Madge has sat down and started spinning. Tibet's lazy nature will soon become more evident.


Roist.  I will stand here awhile, and talk with them anon.

= in a moment.

I hear them speak of Custance, which doth my heart good;


To hear her name spoken doth even comfort my blood.


Madge.  Sit down to your work, Tibet, like a good girl,


Tibet.  Nurse, meddle you with your spindle and your whirl! 

16: meddle you with = "busy yourself with", or "keep your nose in", the sense of the line being "mind your own business."1
     whirl = a weighty disk attached to a spindle to cause it to spin with greater force.4

No haste but good, Madge Mumblecrust, for "whip and whur,"

17-18: Tibet recites a pair of proverbial sentiments,


The old proverb doth say, "never made good fur."

both of which admonish against rushing a job, ie. "haste makes waste". The lazy Tibet uses these proverbs to justify her slow work.23
     No haste but good = proverbial, from Heywood; a variation on an earlier formula, "an ill haste is not good", which appeared in a 1515 publication, John of Bordeaux, by Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berners.
     whip and whur never made good fur = William Hazlitt, in his collection of English proverbs, infers that this is an old agricultural saying.21 Whip could refer to the instrument of whipping, or (as the OED suggests) could mean "brisk or hasty movement"; whur could mean either "hurry" or "scolding",8 and fur is short for "furrow".5 Putting it all together, the meaning of the phrase may be something like, "if you push your draft animal too hard, the result will be a poorly-created furrow for planting."


Madge.  Well, ye will sit down to your work anon, I trust.

= soon.


Tibet.  "Soft fire maketh sweet malt," good Madge Mumblecrust.

22: ie. "a gentle fire makes the best malt"; Tibet quotes another proverb of Heywood's, warning yet again against rushing anything.


Madge.  And sweet malt maketh jolly good ale for the nones. 

= very.5  = for the nonce, ie. for the purpose or


Tibet.  Which will slide down the lane without any bones.

= throat.5  = literally referring to bones which might
     unexpectedly appear in one's soup, thus meaning
     "easily swallowed".1



28: "let her sing";24 Tibet sings, and settles down to
     begin her work as she does so.


"Old brown bread crusts must have much good mumbling,

= chewing.1

But good ale down your throat hath good easy tumbling."


Roist.  The jolliest wench that ere I heard, little mouse!

= till now.  =  sweetheart, common term of endear-


May I not rejoice that she shall dwell in my house! 

34: if Custance marries Roister, their household staffs
     will merge.
         May I not rejoice = ie. "I do rejoice".


Tibet.   So, sirrah, now this gear beginneth for to frame.

36: sirrah = Tibet could be addressing Madge or

herself; sirrah could be used as a term of address for women as well as men.
     gear = business, matter. 
     for to frame = to take shape.1


Madge.  Thanks to God, though your work stand still, your
     tongue is not lame.


Tibet.  And though your teeth be gone, both so sharp and
     so fine,

Yet your tongue can renne on pattens as well as mine.

42: ie. "run on pattens", meaning "clatter on"; Tibet borrows another proverb from Heywood: "The cow is wood. Her tongue runth on pattens." A patten was "a wooden shoe that made a great clattering" (Flügel).


Madge.  Ye were not for nought named Tib Talkapace. 

= nothing.


Tibet.  Doth my talk grieve you? Alack, God save your grace!

= similar to "alas".


Madge.  I hold a groat ye will drink anon for this gear.

47: "I'll bet (hold)3 a groat (a coin worth four pence) that you will soon (anon) drink over this matter (gear).
     Madge is mildly admonishing Tibet: drink means both (1) imbibe and (2) be punished,5 or as the OED puts it, "taste the cup of suffering".


 Enter Annot Alyface, [with her knitting].

Entering Character: Annot Alyface is another of Dame Custance's female servants; Farmer thinks that Aly is meant to suggest ale, so that her name means "beery-face", or "face-of-ale"; Child suggests Annot is young and attractive.


Tibet.  And I will pray you the stripes for me to bear.

51: "and I will pray that you will receive a whipping in my place."
     stripes = the marks or scars left on one's back from a whipping.


Madge.  I hold a penny ye will drink without a cup.

53: Madge only slightly less elliptically hints that Tibet will get a good whipping.
     drink = used in various expressions to suggest suffering or paying a penalty, such as "to drink from the cup of sorrow".1


Tibet.  Whereinsoe'er ye drink, I wot ye drink all up. 

55: Tibet hints at Madge's fondness for drink; the drunken servant became a stock Elizabethan character.
     wot = know.


Annot.  By Cock, and well sewed, my good Tibet Talkapace!

= God.


Tibet.  And e'en as well knit, my nown Annot Alyface.

= "my own", a commonly-used transformation of
     "mine own".


Roist.  See what a sort she keepeth that must be my wife!

61-62: Roister continues to address the audience.


Shall not I, when I have her, lead a merry life?

     sort = company


Tibet.  Welcome, my good wench, and sit here by me just. 

= girl, referring to Annot; the commonly-used term wench carried no negative or condescending connation in this era.


Annot.  And how doth our old beldame here, Madge

= aged woman, but as Farmer points out, not nece-
     ssarily a respectful term.


Tibet.  Chide, and find faults, and threaten to complain.

68: Tibet itemizes the principal activities in which Madge has been engaging - at least from her own standpoint.


Annot.  To make us poor girls shent to her is small gain.

= blamed or scolded;5,8 shent, the past tense of the

verb "to shend", appears a number of times in the play, and can also mean "shamed" or "disgraced".


Madge.  I did neither chide, nor complain, nor threaten.


Roist.  It would grieve my heart to see one of them beaten. 


Madge.  I did nothing but bid her work and hold her peace.

= keep quiet.


Tibet.  So would I, if you could your clattering cease −

= "I would do so".

But the devil cannot make old trot hold her tongue.

= hag.1


Annot.  Let all these matters pass, and we three sing a song,


So shall we pleasantly both the time beguile now, 

= pass the time pleasantly.2

And eke dispatch all our works ere we can tell how.

83: "and also (eke) help us finish our work without
     even realizing how it happened," ie. "distract us
     as we work."


Tibet.  I shrew them that say nay, and that shall not be I.

= curse.