Mistress Overdone

A brothel - keeper

Modern depiction of Mistress Overdone, photo by Angie Burkhardt

  • Mistress Overdone runs a brothel. Ostensibly a drinking-house, it is actually a ‘house of ill-repute', employing such women as Kate Keep-down, the prostitute with whom Lucio has fathered the child that he disclaims
  • The character's very name is a joke: Pompey claims (Act II sc i) she has had nine husbands and is ‘Overdone by the last'
  • Lucio tells his companions in Act I sc ii that he has ‘purchased ... many diseases under her roof' – in other words, in Mistress Overdone's house he has paid for prostitutes who have given him sexually transmitted diseases
  • She knows no other existence and when she hears of the proclamation that ‘all our houses of resort in the suburbs (are to) be pulled down', her response is, ‘What shall become of me?'
  • She has no awareness of existence outside the physical and the gratification of the body; in this she is a very clear contrast to the other four women whom the audience meets during the course of the play.

A woman who has some good qualities

However, there is another side to Mistress Overdone, and, in keeping with the command to ‘judge not that ye be not judged' (see also Introduction) the audience cannot completely condemn her:

  • First of all, she has a clear appreciation that Claudio, though guilty of lechery, is not the same as Lucio and his friends – Claudio is ‘worth five thousand of you all'
  • More importantly, she has practical kindness, and whilst Lucio meanly and hypocritically informs against her (Act III sc ii), she has looked after his abandoned child:
My lord, this is one Lucio's information against me, Mistress Kate Keep-down was with child by him in the Duke's time, he promised her marriage. His child is a year and a quarter old come Philip and Jacob. I have kept it myself.
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