The eponymous Dutch courtesan Franceschina, passionate and vengeful, is at the centre of Marston’s volatile morally complex play about irrepressible lust.
The young gentleman Freevill has been intimately involved with Franceschina, but as his marriage to the respectable Beatrice, the daughter of Sir Hubert Subboys, approaches, he resolves to cast the courtesan aside. Goaded into visiting the same courtesan by Freevill’s taunts about his sexual abstinence, the puritanical Malheureux finds himself irresistibly drawn to the enchanting prostitute, despite the promptings of his conscience.
As the two young men scheme to help Malheureux sleep with Franceschina, the courtesan herself plots her revenge upon Freevill, whom she loved sincerely (to the frustration of Mary Faugh, her bawd). Though the play reaches a neatly comic conclusion, there is no room in it for the fiery, controversial Franceschina.
Marston mixes rhetorical debate and furious passion to create a morally turbulent discussion of human desire.
This text is based on the 1605 Quarto.