Two Toms plus one Mary equals the spectacular Roaring Girl of the turn of the 17th century. The collaboration between Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton would not have been possible without the birth of a female baby in 1584. By the time that baby—who would come to be known first as Mary Frith and then as Moll Cut-Purse—died in 1660 (or thereabouts) she had created quite a life for herself. Hers was a life most definitely worthy of documenting for the stage with perhaps one or two even a few more changes.
Mary Frith was a domineering woman—and that domination did not end at the point that estrogen does. She was quite the domineering woman over many a men. She put her stamp upon the criminal underworld of London. She was an expert forger, but when that talent might take too long to produce results, she would mere head into the busy byways of London and pick pockets without any victim being the wiser. In addition to her talent with the pen and the pocket, Mary Frith also bears one of the more curious and dubious and certainly unproven claims to fame in history: she is said to be the first woman ever known to smoke tobacco in public.
That which is known for sure about Marty Frith is subject to debate and queries over where historical accuracy ends and where the process of myth0logizing begins. Much of that mythology can be placed at the hands of the two Toms: Dekker and Middleton knew a good story when they heard it and if The Roaring Girl inflated the legendary myth of Mary Frith on her way to becoming Moll Cut-Purse, well, in the few hundreds since its premiere, who really cares?
A night’s entertainment with the stage is all that is ever really demanded from Jacobean Comedy and if there is one thing for certain that The Roaring Girl has done with absolute historical authenticity it is provided a great night’s entertainment for all those who have attended a performance in the more than four centuries since Dekker and Middleton put the final period on the first published quarto in 1611.