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on 8 September 2014
The character of Moll Cutpurse is so capacious that one gender is not enough to contain her spirit, and a big stage is the natural venue for a life story that seems one long fabulous performance. Moll is based on Mary Frith, born in the London of the 1580s and, by the time this play by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton appeared in 1611, she already had a notorious reputation as a woman who spoke her mind, smoked and drank in taverns, and wore both a sword and men's clothing. The play is much more than a one-woman show, however, and it remains a powerful social comedy. This edition is the prompt book for the 2014 RSC production (with the excellent Lisa Dillon in the title role), which cuts some of the characters from the original text and simplifies the language in places (changes that did not detract from the performance I saw).

Moll speaks the prologue, telling us that tragic passion is "out of fashion" and that she's not one of those roaring girls "who beats the watch" or "sells her soul to the lust of fools and slaves" - the subject of this tale "flies with wings more lofty." Although she's the star of the show, and despite the cuts, there's still a wide range of well-drawn characters, including the magistrate Sir Alexander Wengrave at the top of the social tree, the Tiltyards and the Gallipots in the middle, and Trapdoor and the servants at the bottom.

The romantic story is familiar enough: boy loves girl, girl loves boy, a parent doesn't approve, and someone has to come to the rescue. First, Sebastian deceives his father into believing he wants to marry Moll (he really wants to marry Mary), and so he sets about proposing to Moll once he knows his father, Sir Alexander, is in earshot. Moll, however, has "no humour to marry" even in jest. She's "too headstrong to obey" and declares that "marriage is but a chopping and a changing, where a maiden loses one head and has a worse one in its place."

Those women in the play who have already married are also more than a little subversive of what is expected of them by men. Mistress Gallipot disdains "these apron husbands" and is disappointed "to see how like a calf" her own husband comes bleating after her. He tries his best, but is rebuffed: "Your love? Your love is all words; give me deeds". It isn't just Moll who wears the trousers in this world.

The all-male environment of Sir Alexander's house, however, is a safe space for some men to voice their unsavoury attitudes towards women. To Sir Davy, a woman is a "flesh-fly, that can vex any man." He obviously hasn't met the likes of Moll Cutpurse, who, despite being half his size, would have his guts for garters. Moll is not afraid of anyone.

In the end, even Sir Alexander changes his opinion of her and apologizes for his prejudice. He resolves to "cast the world's eye" from him and never more condemn "by common voice". As a magistrate, we might expect him not to judge according to prevailing opinion and to see with his own eyes, but at least he's recognized the cognitive bias (social proof or the herd instinct) that was skewing his thinking, which is more than many of us can claim.

Culture itself has its own slant on everything, of course, especially on the role of women in society. Mary Frith died in 1659, centuries before the legal and social status of women even began to approach equality with that of men. By putting the character of Moll Cutpurse on stage Dekker and Middleton showed that it was possible for a woman to behave like a man without the sky falling in. Perhaps as important was showing how even a magistrate could "see through the smokescreen of cultural and personal feeling rules" (as the psychologist Timothy D. Wilson puts it in Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious). It's not enough for women to act in the world, men must also change their minds.
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on 19 April 2014
Some of the reviews appear to reference another edition of this play. This edition is a new release for the RSC's Roaring Girls Season. This is an edited edition with a reduced cast, reflecting the ensemble size for the season. It benefits from introductory notes which provide insight into the director's production choices and editorial decisions. This prompt copy edition provides a valuable record for this excellent oroduction.
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on 17 November 2015
I ordered the 2007 edition and they gave me the 1997 version...I needed the 2007 edition for my dissertation so now I have to a) spend more money and b) re-do parts of my dissertation. I am not pleased at all. Check the edition and publication year that you have.
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on 4 February 2015
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on 17 February 2015
Waste of time. As others have mentioned here this is a lazy OCR scanned copy of the original text. Not a single page has any legible text. DO NOT BUY THIS.
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on 13 November 2000
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.
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on 24 October 2011
Do not buy this play if you want to read it. As stupid as this sounds, this play was created by some lazy people who scanned the original manuscript into a piece of text recognition software and then didn't bother to proofread it - they got a computer program to do that too. As a result, one is left with a completely incomprehensible version of the script: for example, one line reads
"S. Oaxr. Myfonnncluckf fpfr then (hall run with him Allinonepafture."
If you can understand this, then by all means buy this book.
The 'excerpt' provided on the product page is from the book they scanned - not the book you will be buying. I would recommend The Roaring Girl (New Mermaids) - despite being a little more expensive, it is actually readable.
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