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The Changeling Summary & Study Guide Description
The Changeling Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains For Further Reading on The Changeling by Thomas Middleton.
Summary and Analysis
When The Changeling begins, Alsemero has fallen in love with Beatrice, whom he has just met in a church. He intends to cancel his voyage from Alicant, Spain, to Malta, and marry her. When he tells Beatrice of his love, she regrets that five days ago she was promised in marriage to Alonzo de Piracquo.
De Flores enters the scene; he is the servant of Vermandero, Beatrice's father. Beatrice despises De Flores, but he is in love with her and persists in seeing her at every opportunity. When her father enters, Beatrice asks him to invite Alsemero to his castle. Vermandero agrees when he discovers that Alsemero's deceased father was an old friend of his.
The second scene introduces the subplot. Alibius, an old doctor who is in charge of a lunatic asylum, confides in his servant Lollio that he is worried his young wife Isabella may seek affection elsewhere. He asks Lollio to keep watch on her while he is away and to prevent visitors to the madhouse from seeing her. Pedro and Antonio enter; Antonio is dressed to look like a fool, and Pedro pays Alibius to admit him to the asylum.
Beatrice has decided she wants to marry Alsemero. De Flores enters, still using every excuse to see Beatrice, even though she insults him. He tells her that Alonzo has arrived with his brother Tomazo. After De Flores exits, Beatrice, repelled by De Flores, says she will get her father to dismiss him.
Vermandero, Alonzo, and Tomazo enter. While Beatrice and Vermandero talk, Tomazo tells his brother that Beatrice did not seem pleased to see him. Alonzo dismisses the remark. After Vermandero informs Alonzo that Beatrice has requested a three-day postponement of their wedding, Tomazo repeats his misgivings. He tells Alonzo not to marry Beatrice because she is in love with someone else. Alonzo refuses to listen.
In the second scene, Beatrice confesses her love to Alsemero. He wants to challenge Alonzo to a duel, but Beatrice fears this will only make the problem worse. She has already decided on a course of action. When she sees De Flores, she speaks kindly to him and promises him some medicine that will cure his bad skin. He is delighted at her apparent change of heart. She tells him she is being forced to marry a man she hates, and De Flores realizes she wants him to murder Alonzo. She gives him money and he readily agrees to perform the deed. Beatrice says she expects him to leave the country after the murder; she is pleased that she can get rid of De Flores and Alonzo at the same time. De Flores, however, sees this as an opportunity to possess Beatrice sexually.
While De Flores is showing Alonzo around the castle, De Flores stabs him to death. Unable to remove a ring from Alonzo's finger, he cuts off the finger instead.
Meanwhile, in the madhouse, Lollio introduces Isabella to Franciscus, who is only pretending to be mad, and to Antonio, who is only pretending to be a fool. Both men wish to gain access to Isabella. After Lollio exits, Antonio reveals his true self and declares his love for Isabella, but she is not impressed. Antonio persists, and Lollio overhears his words of love. After he escorts Antonio out, Lollio makes a pass at Isabella. She tells him that if he does not stop, she will get Antonio to cut his throat. Alibius enters and informs them they must get some madmen and fools to put on a dance to entertain the guests at the wedding of Beatrice and Alonzo.
De Flores reports to Beatrice that he has murdered Alonzo. He shows her the dead man's finger, which horrifies Beatrice. The ring was a gift from her, at her father's request. She tells De Flores to keep the ring, which is worth three hundred ducats. When this does not please him, she gives him three thousand golden florins. De Flores explains that he did not commit murder for financial reward, but Beatrice does not understand what he is trying to tell her. She offers to double the sum, but when he scorns at that, she asks him to get out of the country and to write to her, naming his own price. He replies that if he leaves, she must too, since they are bound together in guilt. He tries to kiss her and reveals how desperately he wants to make love to her. She tries to reject him, but he reminds her of her guilt. She tries to impress on him the difference in their social class, but he claims that her evil act has made them equals. He says that if she does not do what he wants, he will inform on her. She makes one last effort to offer him money, but again he refuses. She begins to see the terrible consequences of her actions.
Beatrice has yielded to De Flores's sexual demands, and has also married Alsemero. Alone in the afternoon, she realizes she cannot offer herself to her new husband, because he will know she is not a virgin. In Alsemero's medicine cabinet, she finds a book that prescribes a potion designed to show if a woman is a virgin. She tries it out on Diaphanta, on whom it has the required effect: she gapes, sneezes, and then laughs. Beatrice arranges for her to go to Alsemero's bed that night, in the pitch darkness, and pretend to be Beatrice.
Vermandero issues warrants for the arrest of Antonio and Franciscus, since he believes they are responsible for the murder of Alonzo. Tomazo enters, seeking revenge for his brother's death. He challenges Alsemero to a duel, and Jasperino reports to Alsemaro that he and Diaphanta have overheard suspicious conversations between De Flores and Beatrice. Puzzled, Alsemero gives Beatrice the virginity test, which Beatrice, knowing how to react, passes with flying colors.
Isabella shows Lollio a letter that Franciscus has written to her, confessing his love for her. Lollio teaches Antonio the dance that is to be performed at the wedding. Isabella enters, disguised as a madwoman and ready to flirt with Antonio, but Antonio speaks roughly to her, and she rejects him. Lollio then falsely informs Antonio that Isabella really is in love with him. The two men agree to conspire against Franciscus. But then Lollio tells Franciscus that Isabella is in love with him, and encourages him to beat up Antonio when the evening revels end.
Beatrice is angry with Diaphanta because it is two o'clock in the morning and the maid still has not returned. De Flores sets fire to Diaphanta's chamber, hoping she will run home and die in the fire. Beatrice starts to love him because he takes care of her interests. The plan works; Diaphanta is burnt to death.
Tomazo, still seeking revenge but not knowing on whom to take it, encounters De Flores and strikes him in anger. De Flores does not hit back since he feels the pangs of conscience. Vermandero informs Tomazo that he has arrested Antonio and Franciscus for the murder; their behavior in disguising themselves looked so suspicious.
Alsemero accuses Beatrice of adultery. She confesses that she employed De Flores to murder Alonzo, but explains that she did it out of love for Alsemero. Alsemero confronts De Flores with Beatrice's confession. Then Vermandero, who believes he has caught the murderers, enters, and Alsemero brings forth the guilty pair. De Flores has fatally wounded Beatrice and has also stabbed himself. Beatrice confesses she sent Diaphanta in her place to the bedroom, and De Flores admits his guilt. He stabs himself again and dies; Beatrice dies also, leaving Vermandero, Tomazo, and Alsemero to reflect on the fact that justice has been done.
This section contains 1,304 words
(approx. 5 pages at 300 words per page)