In Philip Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts, the primary focuses of the play involve class conflict and a tangled marriage between Allworth and Margaret. However, one aspect of the play that I found to be very interesting is the change that occurs in Wellborn. After reading The Changeling and The Duchess of Malfi, audiences can see how powerful character change can be, but in this work Wellborn undergoes a dramatic change in class rather than character.
Based on the exchange between Wellborn and Tapwell in scene 1.1, it is apparent that Wellborn was once a noble man of great wealth. However, he has now squandered his wealth away and has been degraded to being kicked out of the bar by Tapwell, who he had previously helped. This once powerful and wealthy man is now nothing more than a dirty bum. Despite being down on his luck, Wellborn does not resort to desperation to satisfy his needs.
When Allworth stumbles upon Wellborn beating Tapwell, he stops him and eventually offers him money to help in his situation, but Wellborn will not take the money. He refuses to accept donations from a youth and claims, “I’ll eat my arms first”( 1.1.176). Lady Allworth also offers Wellborn money after he speaks to her about the righteous acts that he had done for her late husband. In response to this assistance, Wellborn simply rejects the money and demands only the respect of Lady Allworth’s servants. As the play progresses, the only individual that Wellborn accepts money from is Overreach, which he uses to pay back his creditors who were ruined due to his negligent credit. Towards the end of the play Wellborn has reestablished himself as a noble man with strong values. He is not the wealthy man that he once was, but he is no longer the poor, run down man that he was at the start of the play.
Wellborn did not have a dramatic internal change as Bosola and Beatrice did in prior plays, but his change of class prior to and throughout the play shows his determined character. He kept his morals intact and worked from the bottom to once again gain good fortunes. He was even able to gain revenge against Overreach in the process.