Middleton and Rowley’s The Roaring Girl has three ideas in which I’m interested for this chapter: the mistakenly-slandered chaste maid plot (Mary Fitzallard and Moll), the slippage between the figures of wife and whore (Mrs Gallipot and, according to Moll’s final anti-marriage speech, all early modern wives), and some straight-up old-fashioned whore shaming (Moll, Mary Fitzallard).
Unlike a play like Philaster where a mistakenly-slandered chaste maid is redeemed in the eyes of her usually foolish and contrite husband, whore-redemption in The Roaring Girl is all relative. Sir Alexander Wengrave accepts Mary as a chaste and valuable daughter-in-law only because he’s relieved Sebastian hasn’t chosen the far worse, too-masculine and utterly unchaste Moll. And he apologises to Moll for conceiving of her as a whore and a thief — “In troth thou’art a good wench, I’m sorry now / The opinion was so hard I conceived of thee. / Some wrongs I’ve done thee.” (5.1.227-9) — but only after he’s made sure there’s no possibility that his son might marry her. The “redemption” of both characters (but especially Moll) is qualified: one still has the sense that the play world remains dubious of Moll’s chastity and her social value. I’m not sure if that doubt undermines the rhetorical power of her anti-marriage speech and her condemnation of husbands who pander their wives. Moll’s a jovial figure on stage, but she still represents disruption and misrule.
2 April 2013 ~ Hamilton
Middleton, Thomas and Thomas Dekker. The Roaring Girl. Ed. Andor Gomme. London: Ernest Benn; New York: WW Norton, 1976.