The Puritan, or the Widow of Watling Street, also known as The Puritan Widow, is an anonymous Jacobean stage comedy, first published in 1607. It is often attributed to Thomas Middleton, but also belongs to the Shakespeare Apocrypha due to its title page attribution to "W.S.".
Date and authorship
he Puritan probably dates from the year 1606. Some of its incidents are drawn from a contemporary work called The Merry Conceited Jests of George Peele, which attributes to the writer George Peele a number of tricks and jokes that can be found in previous popular literature. It contains an allusion to an almanac that specifies 15 July as a Tuesday, which was true only of 1606 in the first decade of the 17th century (although the author may not have intended it to be accurate). And the play's interest in corporal oaths may be related to the demands for oaths of allegiance from Catholics following the Gunpowder Plot.
The Puritan was entered into the Stationers' Register on 6 August 1607, under the title The Puritan Widow. It was published in quarto format before the end of the year by the printer George Eld, now under the title The Puritan, or, The Widow of Watling Street. The title page of the quarto states that the play was performed by the Children of Paul's, one of the boys' acting companies of the era, and attributes its authorship to "W. S." These initials were first identified with William Shakespeare by Edward Archer in his 1656 play list, published in his edition of The Old Law. The Puritan was later added to the second impression of the Shakespeare Third Folio (1664) by publisher Philip Chetwinde, bringing the play into the Shakespeare Apocrypha.
The modern scholarly consensus rejects the identification of "W. S." with Shakespeare. The obscure Jacobean dramatists Wentworth Smith and William Smith have been proposed as alternative candidates, but solely on the strength of the common initials. However, most studies of the play consider the true author to have been Thomas Middleton, and this is supported by stylistic analysis. It is included in Oxford University Press's 2007 Collected Works of Middleton.