The Sole Edition of Brathwait’s Satire on the Vices of Women

Brathwait, Richard (1588?-1673)

Ar’t asleepe husband? A boulster lecture; stored with all variety of witty jeasts, merry tales, and other pleasant passages; extracted, from the choicest flowers of philosophy, poesy, antient and moderne history. Illustrated with examples of incomparable constancy, in the excellent history of Philocles and Doriclea. By Philogenes Panedonius

London: Printed by R. Bishop, for R[ichard]. B[est]. or his assignes, 1640


17 x 11 cm. [48], 318, [8] p., [1] leaf of plates Collation: [A]1, a-c⁸, B-X⁸ (with blank X8), Y⁴


With the engraved frontispiece by William Marshall with the variant text: “London. Printed for R. Best and are to bee sould at his shop neare Graies Inn gatte in Houlbourne.” An unusually tall copy of Brathwaite’s famous satire on the perils of marriage, nagging wives, and the limitless lust of women. Text clean, lightly washed, C3 with repaired tear (no loss), E7 and 8 shorter at lower margin, possibly supplied. Complete with the rare engraved frontispiece.

This copy conforms with Pforzheimer and lacks the bifolium “Postscript” (Z1-2) “Apparently supplementary and frequently wanting”(Grolier). It is found only in the Huntington and Harmsworth (Folger) copies in the U.S. Quire Y contains the poems "Menippus his Madrigall, to his coy-duck Clarabel” and “Loves Festivall at Lusts Funerall”. An uncontrolled note in ESTC refers to a plate sometimes found after p. 246. That plate in fact belongs to Brathwait’s “Two Lancashire Lovers”, also printed by Bishop in 1640. (See Grolier, “English Prose Fiction”(1917) no. 32 and “The Library of Herschel V. Jones, A-H”, number 221, Anderson Galleries, NY, 1918)

The term "bolster lecture", also known as a "curtain lecture", is a private reprimand (or scolding) given by a wife to her husband in the privacy and intimacy of the bed once the curtains have been drawn around it. In the engraving, the wife says "Dum loquor ista, taces?", "You're sleeping while I'm talking?" and the husband, feigning sleep thinks the reply he dare not utter, "You're singing to the deaf."(an ancient Latin proverb, by way of the Greek). A similar, but overtly confrontational scene, is found in Thomas Heywood's "A Curtaine Lecture"(1637). The verses beneath the engraving in Brathwait's book read:

“This Wife a wondrous racket meanes to keep

While th’ Husband seems to sleepe but does not sleepe:

But she might full as well her Lecture smother,

For ent’ring one eare, goes out at t’other.”

For more on the bolster lecture tradition, see Kathleen Kalpin Smith, "Gender Speech and Audience Reception in Early Modern England."

In “Ar’t Asleepe Husband?”, Richard Brathwait, author of the satirical examination of human nature and sexuality, “Drunken Barnabee’s Journal”, and the popular conduct books “The English gentleman” and “the English Gentlewoman”, turns his sharp and satirical eye and his talents as a writer of poetry and prose to the power dynamics of marriage. Written as a mock-encomium of women’s virtues, “Ar’t Asleepe Husband” sends up both long-suffering, cuckolded husband and the nagging wife, as well as both men and women who give into the pleasures of the flesh. The Epistle Dedicatory, “To All Modest Dames”, lays bare the author’s purpose: through praise of virtuous women to explore their less-than-virtuous impulses, and thereby silence their nighttime lectures:

To all modest Dames

From Twede unto Thames,

Who prize their good names

Above Nectar;

With a Paphian kisse

Doe I tender them this

To silence a Canopy Lecture.

STC 3555; Pforzheimer, 76; Grolier, Wither to Prior 86