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Ralph Roister Doister

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Title: Ralph Roister Doister  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Nicholas Udall, Poculi Ludique Societas, John Still, 1553 plays, Tomboy
Collection: 1553 Plays, English Renaissance Plays
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Ralph Roister Doister

Ralph Roister Doister
Written by Nicholas Udall
Characters Ralph Roister Doister; Matthew Merrygreeke; Dobinet Doughty; Harpax; Christian Custance; Madge Mumblecrust; Tibet Talkapace; Annot Alyface; Trupenny; Gawyn Goodluck; Tristram Trustie; Sym Suresby; Scrivener
Date premiered 1550's
Place premiered London
Original language English
Genre Comedy
Setting London

Ralph Roister Doister is a comic play by Nicholas Udall, generally regarded as the first comedy to be written in the English language.[1]

The date of its composition is disputed, but the balance of opinion suggests that it was written in about 1552, when Udall was a schoolmaster in London, and some theorize the play was intended for public performance by his pupils - who were all male, as were all actors at that period. However, the work was not published until 1567, eleven years after its author's death.[2]


  • Sources 1
  • Plot 2
  • Dramatis Personae 3
  • Performance History 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Roister Doister seems to have been inspired by the works of Plautus and Terence. The titular character is a variation on the "Braggart Soldier" archetype, but with the innovation of a parasitic tempter which stems from the morality play tradition.[3] By combining the structures, conventions and styles of the ancient Greek and Roman comedies with English theatre traditions and social archetypes (especially the new and burgeoning English middle classes), Udall was able to establish a new form of specifically English comedy, leading directly through to Shakespeare and beyond.[4] In essence, the play blends the stock plot elements and archetypes of the ancient Greek and Roman theatre, with those of medieval chivalric literature, and of the English medieval theatre.[5]


The play is written in five acts. The plot of the play centres on a rich widow, Christian Custance, who is betrothed to Gawyn Goodluck, a merchant. Ralph Roister Doister is encouraged throughout by a con-man trickster figure (Matthew Merrygreeke) to woo Christian Custance, but his pompous attempts do not succeed. Ralph then tries with his friends and servants (and Merrygreek's behest) to break in and take Christian Custance by force, but they are defeated by her maids and run away. The merchant Gawyn arrives shortly after and the play concludes happily with reconciliation, a prayer and a song.

Dramatis Personae

  • Ralph Roister Doister.
  • Mathew Merygreeke.
  • Gawyn Goodluck, affianced to Dame Custance.
  • Tristram Trustie, his friend.
  • Dobinet Doughtie, servant to Roister Doister.
  • Tom Trupenie, seruant to Dame Custance.
  • Sym Suresby, seruant to Goodluck.
  • Scriuener.
  • Harpax, servant to Roister Doister
  • Dame Christian Custance, a widow.
  • Margerie Mumblecrust, her nurse.
  • Tibet Talk apace, her maid.
  • Annot Alyface, her maid.

Performance History

A generally accepted theory is that the play was first written for public performance by boys at the London school where Udall was master,[6] though no recorded historical afterlife for the play in performance exists. Though amateur and student groups have presented readings and edited stagings sporadically throughout the 20th century (specifically a 1953 presentation by Oxford University students at the Edinburgh festival),[7] and three heavily edited adaptations of the play appeared in the 1930's, 1960's and 1980's, respectively,[8] the play did not have a full professional revival until 2015, when Brice Stratford directed an uncut production under original performance conditions for the Owle Schreame theatre company, also playing the title character.[9]


  1. ^ Angela O'Brien, RALPH ROISTER DOISTER: the first regular English comedy (2004)
  2. ^ Nicholas Udall
  3. ^ James Hinton The Source of Ralph Roister Doister Modern Philology, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Oct., 1913), pp. 273-278
  4. ^ William Chislett, Jr. The Sources of Ralph Roister Doister Modern Language Notes, Vol. 29, No. 6 (Jun., 1914), pp. 166-167
  5. ^ A. W. Plumstead Satirical Parody in "Roister Doister": A Reinterpretation Studies in Philology, Vol. 60, No. 2, Part 1 (Apr., 1963), pp. 141-154
  6. ^ Norland, Howard B. (1995) Drama in Early Tudor Britain 1485-1558, Lincoln & London, University of Nebraska Press
  7. ^ Anthony Hartley, Performing Arts The Spectator, 1954, 3 September, Page 10 [1]
  8. ^ Theatricalia: Ralph Roister Doister
  9. ^ Matthew Partridge, Review: Ralph Roister Doister **** Remotegoat, 25th February, 2015.

External links

  • online (Project Gutenberg)Ralph Roister Doister
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