Response: Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One

In Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One, the sudden conversion of Witgood from an immoral, prodigal character to a virtuous one initially comes as a shock to the audience. His determination to become "a reclaim'd man, loathing the general vice" (V.ii.182) seems to have come from nowhere and to be without substance. However, this transition has a foundation in the plot, as Witgood's marriage and entry into adulthood both give him the chance to be 'reborn' and compel him to change his ways. Witgood's transformation to a moral character is symbolic of the change that all young adults are expected to undergo.

Witgood is firmly established as a corrupt character throughout the play, and his conversion at the end is even more striking for that reason. The audience's first impression, gained through Witgood's opening monologue, is of a 'lost' character, "all sunk into that little pit, lechery" (I.i.3-4). This impression is built upon, as his vices are frequently described by the characters; he is ingrained in our memory as "a prodigal, a daily rioter, and a nightly vomiter" (IV.iii.17-18). As Middleton stresses Witgood's prodigality and immorality, it is even more surprising when he gives up his past life.

Witgood's transition is prompted by his entry into adulthood. In the final act, Witgood "hav[ing] married [an] honest woman" (V.i.12), abandons his previous ways. Because he is now an adult, he must become respectable and "disclaim the cause of youth's undoing" (V.ii.168-169). As Witgood makes the transformation from dependent to head of a household, he must also transform his behavior to fit his new role. This stark transition helps to accentuate the fact that he is beginning a new life.

The moral transformation of Witgood is symbolic of the transition he is making as he takes on the role of husband. Like every person progressing from childhood to adulthood, he must grapple with a new set of social expectations. This transition raises some interesting questions. As the audience greets Witgood's conversion with incredulity, one can also question the believability of others' changing their previous behavior and 'settling down'. It is valid to question how somebody can change their behavior so completely in the interests of social roles and expectations. The conflict between the individual and his or her role, evident in Witgood's changed behavior, accentuates the problems that arise from the conflict between the individual and his or her position in society.

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