Women Beware Women is a remarkable play written by Thomas Middleton which is divided into five acts. in his play, Middleton uses a very interesting scene of chess game which plays a very significant role in the plot of the play. The chess scene appears in Act Two Scene II. Middleton had a profound understanding of the game, and therefore he uses it as a tool to demonstrate the consequences of moves both in the game and in real life. The chess game can be interpreted as a battle between virtue and vice. Normally people interpret black as evil and white with goodness,. Therefore, the black king might refer to vice whereas is the white king is the epitome of virtue. There are a lot of interpretations of the chess game in display and every reader can take it in their own way. Middleton blends these two ideas to show how life does not last forever and both virtue and vice is existing in this world. In the play, there is a scene involving a chess game. Livia plays a chess game with the murder of Leantio. She tells her opponent that she gave her blind mate twice. The mother responds by saying that she is becoming old and therefore her eyes are failing to notice such things. But if we look carefully the mother gets checkmate not only in the chess game, but she is also the one who is blind to what’s really going on in Livia’s house. Livia on the other hand is not blind, but very much focused on her plans, she deliberately play the chess game to keep the mother unaware of the seduction happening in her house.
The chess game acts as a tool for Livia to keep the mother unaware of the intrigue that she has planned against her daughter-in-law Bianca. Middleton portrays the character of Livia in a negative light and her being an expert in chess game gives us the idea of her intelligence and cleverness. In another interpretation, the chess pieces have a hierarchy like a ladder. The pawns are at the bottom protecting the kings at the top. The chess pieces are simple only black and white, but they are mainly about possession, exchange, or getting rid of opponents. Over all these another hierarchy is the players who are above all the chess pieces. The players use the chess pieces like their own possessions and they use it along with their cleverness and control to win the game. It is the players who make the choices on which piece to move and when. Therefore a chess game can only be won by someone who uses their intelligence and stays focused on every move. Livia winning the chess game not only makes harder winner of the chess game but also of the intrigue that she has planned against Bianca’s mother-in-law. Life is like a chess game has winners and losers and the concept of hierarchy represents this very idea of one person being more successful over the another. In Act Two Scene Two, The game of chess played between Livia and the mother serves various purposes. It advances the plot by luring Bianca into Livia’s house, diverting the mother’s attention, and therefore acting as a cover for Livia and Guardiano’s plan involving the Duke and Bianca. This episode has a deeper metaphorical meaning as well. the mother busy in the game
while important matters take place upstairs between the Duke and her daughter-in-law symbolises deception and ignorance. The mother should have been more cautious and she should not have trusted Livia or Bianca thus portraying the play’s theme of treachery and betrayal. The warning ‘ women beware women’ echoes throughout the play. The dramatist also uses the chess game as a metaphor for the innocence lost in sexual affairs. The mother, even praise Livia, for being cunning in the game, unknown of the actual narrative.
Bianca is like an innocent piece. Leantio moves her from her home in Venice to Florence, and she is manipulated by the Duke. Initially, Bianca is inferior to the Mother due to her social distinction, but gradually she gains power and surpasses the mother and her former husband Leantio as she climbs upwards in the hierarchical ladder. But it is Livia who is on the topmost position of the ladder surpassing all other characters like the mother or Bianca because it is through her cunning wit, that she successfully manipulates them.
The characters treat sexual relations as business. Bianca is seen as a mere possession by boat, her husband Leantio, and the Duke. Her husband treated her as the most valuable possession that he owned and kept her hidden inside the house so that she could not be stolen. However, when she is taken to Livia’s house, she is introduced to other more attractive things and her views change. Thus the chess game is a window through which we can see how people view each other. in the play Livia reference to her herself as the Queen and Bianca as the pawn. She even mentions the Duke as the king and Guardiano as the Rook. All of these are important chess pieces. we know that the Queen is technically the most powerful piece in chess and it is this piece that has the power to win or lose a game. Even a king is thought to be the most powerful one, he technically has no power in the game just like the duke who is helped by Livia to win Bianca.
Using chess as a dramatic metaphor, helps the playwright to implement several metaphorical meanings. The division between black and white introduces complexity. Despite Bianca’s name being White, it is ironic to define her moral nature. She is captured by black like in the chess. Therefore, black and white division in the game plays a very significant role in interpreting the nature of the characters in this play.