The Roaring Girl Analysis Essay

In Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s play, The Roaring Girl, Moll is presented as a symbol to combat the patriarchal order both within the play and in English society. Moll is given a level of agency that is vastly greater than all the women in the play. She is not restricted to the typical patriarchal order that was present in English society at the time. Moll also constructively uses her agency to challenge the patriarchy, where she not only wins, but emasculates her male oppressors.

It is in this manner that Moll affects both the characters in The Roaring Girl and provides a counterpoint to gender roles established by the patriarchy in England at the time. Moll’s agency exceeds all other characters in the play because of her unique socio-economic position and her resistance to traditional gender roles. The characters in The Roaring Girl are fairly limited to who they can interact with because of their reputation and status.

For example, Sir Alexander interacts with Trapdoor because he employs him to investigate Moll, yet this occurrence wouldn’t take place normally since Sir Alexander is of nobility whereas Trapdoor is of a lower class. Similarly, the idea that Sebastian is associated with Moll let alone engaged to her repulses Sir Alexander based on their class. However, Moll is the only character whose class is never truly defined which allows her to interact with most characters in the play. From the gallants and the merchants to Sir Alexander, Moll is not limited in this play as to who she can converse with.

A key feature to Moll’s character is she does not conform to marriage which goes against the patriarchal norm of the time. She tells Sebastian that, “I have no humor to marry” and “I love to lie o’both sides o’th’bed myself,… a wife, you know ought to be obedient, but | fear me I am too headstrong to obey” in their first conversation (Middleton & Dekker 1399). Moll’s reluctance to marry is based on her inability to be subservient which she indicates by saying “headstrong”.

She also admits to laying on both sides of the bed which can be seen as Moll presenting her “independence from the sexual and social order of marriage” as laying on either side of the bed can be interpreted as not needing marriage to feel fulfilled (Paul 515). This is an important passage as Laxton attempts to court Moll in the scene prior, yet the audience is assured tough Moll’s declaration that she does not conform to the patriarchal system of relationships and values her maidenhood and independence. The passage also indicates Moll’s awareness of the class difference between Sebastian and herself.

Moll is not an ignorant character which means she triumphs over the patriarchal system with full knowledge of she is acting (Hendricks 193). Throughout The Roaring Girl, Moll actively challenges the male characters in the play and emasculates them by disrupting the patriarchal norm. One of the best instances this occurs during Laxton and Moll’s rendezvous at the inn where Moll challenges Laxton to a fight and wins (Middleton & Dekker 1404-1406). The scene is very comedic and it all stems from Laxton’s assumption that Moll is a prostitute because of her attire when they first meet.

Throughout the play, the stage directions indicate Moll’s clothing which is often male apparel. Even in her first appearance in the play, she is seen smoking a pipe which was known to be a masculine activity (Paul 533). Moll’s personification of masculinity overshadows Laxton during their rendezvous as she says, “Yes, here’s the point that I untruss. ‘T has but one tag; ’twill serve enough to tie up a rogue’s tongue” while pulling out her sword in response to Laxton’s sexual advances (Middleton & Dekker 1404).

When the fight concludes Laxton says, “I yield both purse and body” to which Moll replies, “Both are mine, and now at my disposing. ” (1406). Moll’s reply shows she has taken Laxton’s money and manhood away from him which can be seen as Moll’s disposition to “sexual and economic domination” (Paul 529). Also by emasculating Laxton, Moll destroys the assumed patriarchal gender stereotypes that women are delicate and virtuous or they are sexually promiscuous and morally deficient. Moll’s chastity throughout the play and her masculine activities like smoking and fight, helps to abolish the assumed patriarchal gender designations for women.

Moll can be seen as a role model for gender equality for fighting the patriarchal norms within the play. Given that Moll fights patriarchal assumptions of gender through her resistance to conform to its rules and the amount of agency she has in the play, Moll utilizes her actions in a constructive manner. Rather than create a female protagonist who only takes part in masculine activities, Middleton and Dekker also promote Moll maintaining virtues and outwitting the patriarchy throughout the play.

When Sir Alexander attempts to trick Moll into stealing his valuables, Moll comments, “Here were a brave booty for an evening thief now” and does not fall victim to Sir Alexander’s ruse (Middleton & Dekker 1423). In a later scene, Moll and Jack Dapper are approached by a gang of cutpurses who attempt to rob them until she intervenes. Moll then says she uses her experience to protect people whether they are “whores” or “chaste” and is commended for her bravery (1440-1441). In these instances, Moll outwits her male antagonists by her capabilities as opposed to ignorance or dumb luck.

She intervenes on the gang of cutpurses because she cares about honest people and recognizes the need to help women despite how they choose to practice their sexuality. Moll is aware of the social and gender inequality present in the play which is a reflection of English society in the 1600’s. Rather than have Moll look out for only herself, Middleton and Dekker create a character who seeks to fight the patriarchal norms for all women (Paul 536). A major criticism of Moll’s character is that she is too superfluous of an example to truly combat patriarchal norms.

The criticism goes on to say that Moll’s character cannot impact the audience because her actions cannot be replicated by women seeking to resist the patriarchy. This view sees Moll ultimately sympathizing with patriarchal norms because she helps Sebastian and Mary get a dowry from Sir Alexander (Hendricks 195-196). Although this criticism raises some valid concerns, it ultimately misses the mark on historical context. The Roaring Girl, predates 1st wave feminism by almost 200 years so this play must exhibit some conservatism for it to be performed in England.

This conservatism takes the form of Moll helping Sebastian and Mary obtain a dowry and by Moll admitting the hardships of a woman imitating her resistance to patriarchal norms before fighting Laxton (Middleton & Dekker 1405). However, Moll fights gender inequality and the patriarchal standards in place for women by resisting their demands. She is not necessarily raising a revolution for woman’s suffrage, but rather presenting an awareness of the inherent gender inequality in English society. Moll also promotes concern for her fellow woman and exemplifies that not all women fit the mold of the gender stereotypes established by the patriarchy.

Literary scholar, Ryan Paul sees this impact as: The Roaring Girl dramatizes and even celebrates Moll’s escape from patriarchal epistemological containment; she defies the expectations of those around her as each transgression suggests another, pointing away from conventions of social practice toward the will that emerges from an unknowable space beyond known discourses (537). Moll’s character influences both the characters and the audience that there are alternatives to the lifestyle that the patriarchy wants for women.

The lifestyle that Moll portrays is difficult to replicate, but it promotes the idea of a woman’s agency and independence from men. Moll’s social impact on the audience comes from her unwillingness to conform to patriarchal norms which is inherently radical in the historical context of The Roaring Girl. In conclusion, Moll’s character challenges the patriarchal norms through her own resistance to accept marriage. Not only does she remain chaste through the play, but by emasculating the male antagonists in the play through outwitting and mbodying masculinity better, but exemplifies an alternative to the gender roles established by the patriarchy.

Even though is certainly criticized, Moll’s character challenges the patriarchy through her own unconformity where the criticism wants her to demand all women to seek her level independence and agency. However, Moll’s presence in this play is radical and inspires change rather than asking for it. Lastly, The Roaring Girl fights the patriarchy in the historical context of when the play was written through Moll’s character which is significant in itself.