Moll Cutpurse is a fascinating figure of Jacobean London, a female transvestite who transgressed social and gender boundaries. She swaggered around London in trousers, drank in taverns, swung her sword around and generally acted like a boorish male gallant. Her life is proof that there was a lot more to Jacobean women than the 'chaste, slient and obedient' role model put forward by the establishment.
Sadly, though, Middleton and Dekker's play - important though it is to gender historians - is not actually very good. Most of it is a stillborn city comedy, with the usual cuckolds, gallants and gulls going through their their usual, predictable motions. Moll Cutpurse turns up in a few scenes, and there is some interesting material as she chastises various men for their wickedness. She swings her sword, wears trousers, and calls herself Mad Moll a lot, which is all fine and dandy. But although Moll wears trousers she remains virtuous and thoroughly decent. The play concludes with a conventional marriage scene, and although Moll doesn't marry, she seems completely supportive of the status quo. It's all a bit of a damp squib. We want a Moll who is genuinely transgressive, but, whatever the real Moll was like, Middleton and Dekker prevent her from being truly threatening, and the play is sorely lacking in entertainment value.