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A Chaste Maid in Cheapside


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A: Thomas Middleton Pf: 1613, London Pb: 1630 G: Com. in 5 acts; blank verse with a little prose S: A shop, the street, a church, and a house, Cheapside, London, early 17th c. C: 28m, 19fMoll Yellowhammer, daughter of a goldsmith in Cheapside, is wooed by two suitors: the lecherous Welsh nobleman Sir Walter Whorehound and by Touchwood Junior, whom Moll loves. Sir Walter is exercised by the need, before he marries, to dispose of his importunate mistress and his illegitimate children. Meanwhile, Sir Oliver Kix has to contend with his wife's complaints that he has not made her pregnant and is pleased to learn of a potion that will promote his virility. Touchwood and Moll almost succeed in getting married secretly, but her father intervenes at the last moment. Sir Oliver's wife is made pregnant by Touchwood's older brother, whose marriage is in financial trouble because they cannot stop having children, ‘proving’ the efficacy of the potion. Moll escapes once more from her father, but is recaptured. Touchwood fights a duel with Sir Walter and they wound each other. Sir Walter, fearing death, repents of his licentious behaviour. News comes of Touchwood's death, which apparently causes Moll to faint and die. The double funeral takes place, but suddenly the two lovers rise from their coffins and are married.

A: Thomas Middleton Pf: 1613, London Pb: 1630 G: Com. in 5 acts; blank verse with a little prose S: A shop, the street, a church, and a house, Cheapside, London, early 17th c. C: 28m, 19f

Apart from offering fascinating insights into life in early 17th-century London, the play is a fast-paced, intricate comedy, relying on the age-old formula of two young lovers overcoming the scheming of old men to come together at the end – here in the theatrically spectacular scene in which a funeral is transformed into a wedding. The dialogue is peppered with sexual innuendo, and scenes like the one where Sir Oliver is told to ride for several miles after taking the potion, so leaving his wife with the opportunist Touchwood Senior, still work very well in the theatre. Middleton, while satirizing the licentious and mercenary behaviour of his characters seems to enjoy it too much to condemn it. Edward Bond adapted the play for a production at the Royal Court Theatre in 1966.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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