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Society and Politics in the Plays of Thomas
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Swapan Chakravorty

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198182665

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198182665.001.0001

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Mirth and Licence: Moll at the Bankside and Moll in Cheapside

Mirth and Licence: Moll at the Bankside and Moll in Cheapside

(p.86) 4 Mirth and Licence: Moll at the Bankside and Moll in Cheapside
Society and Politics in the Plays of Thomas Middleton


Oxford University Press

Seven years after 1 Whore, Thomas Middleton worked with Dekker on Roaring Girl (1611), another play for the Prince’s Men. The plot reworks some of his earlier motifs and involves a female character named Moll, a social outcast. She is a transvestite and a reputed thief. But while the courtesans in Trick and Mad World had married the gentlemen they deceived, Moll prefers deviancy and isolation to dubious social membership. Moll’s transvestism holds up a mocking mirror to a blinkered world, which includes the audience as much as the characters on stage. Aside from cross-dressing, another theatrical offence Moll is also guilty of is mirth. The social and sexual paradox of Moll is a powerful image of the theatre’s ambiguous relationship to authority installed on the fractured political terrain of public mirth. In Chaste Maid, the focus is on containment of female appetite, fertility, and leakage, and on promotion of male potency. The Lenten-Easter setting of the action gives carnality and comic resurrection an ironic temporal context.

Keywords:   Thomas Middleton, Roaring Girl, Chaste Maid, theatre, mirth, cross-dressing, male potency, fertility, female appetite

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