“Ralph Roister Doister” is a comedy play written by Nicholas Udall, believed to have been composed around 1553-1556. It is considered one of the earliest examples of English comedy and is notable for its humorous and lively depiction of characters and situations. The play revolves around the misadventures of the titular character, Ralph Roister Doister, as he attempts to court a wealthy widow named Dame Christian Custance.
The play opens with the character Matthew Merrygreek, who acts as the play’s narrator and introduces the audience to the central figure, Ralph Roister Doister. Ralph is a boastful and self-important man who is convinced of his charm and desirability. He enlists the help of his witty and clever servant, Mathew Merygreeke, to assist him in wooing Dame Custance. Custance is a widow of wealth and virtue, and she is pursued by both Ralph and another suitor, a scholarly man named Gawyn Goodluck. However, Dame Custance has no interest in marrying either of them and is determined to remain chaste and faithful to her late husband’s memory. Ralph’s attempts to woo Dame Custance are marked by his foolish and overly confident behavior. He sends her love letters filled with comically bad poetry and awkward attempts at wooing. Despite the advice and warnings of his friends, Ralph persists in his pursuit, even challenging Dame Custance’s other suitor, Gawyn Goodluck, to a duel. As the play unfolds, Ralph’s plans continue to backfire, and his lack of sophistication and genuine feeling become apparent to Dame Custance. In contrast, Gawyn Goodluck’s sincere and respectful demeanor gains him favor in her eyes. The climax of the play occurs when Dame Custance devises a scheme to teach Ralph a lesson. She agrees to marry him on the condition that he can find a priest willing to wed them in secret. Ralph falls for the ruse and searches for a priest, only to be met with further humiliation. In the end, Ralph’s plans crumble completely, and he is left empty-handed and humbled. Dame Custance, having outwitted Ralph and recognized Gawyn’s genuine affection, agrees to marry Gawyn Goodluck.
“Ralph Roister Doister” is a humorous and satirical comedy that explores themes of love, vanity, and the folly of pretension. The play showcases Udall’s wit, wordplay, and comic timing, making it an important and entertaining contribution to early English drama.