The Roaring Girl


The Roaring Girl is a Jacobean stage play, a comedy written by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker ca. 1607–10.

The play was first published in quarto in 1611, printed by Nicholas Okes for the bookseller Thomas Archer. The title page of the first edition states that the play was performed at the Fortune Theatre by Prince Henry's Men, the troupe known in the previous reign as the Admiral's Men. The title page also attributes the authorship of the play to "T. Middleton and T. Dekkar", and contains an "Epistle to the Comic Play-Readers" signed by "Thomas Middleton." The Epistle is noteworthy for its indication that Middleton, atypically for dramatists of his era, composed his plays for readers as well as theater audiences.[1]

The Roaring Girl is a fictionalized dramatization of the life of Mary Frith, known as "Moll Cutpurse", a woman who had gained a reputation as a virago in the early 17th century. (The term "roaring girl" was adapted from the slang term "roaring boy", which was applied to a young man who caroused publicly, brawled, and committed petty crimes.) She was also the subject of a lost chapbook written by John Day titled The Mad Pranks of Merry Moll of the Bankside, which was entered into the Stationers' Register on 7 August 1610.[2] Frith also appears in Nathaniel Field's Amends for Ladies, which dates from this same era of ca. 1611.[3] On the basis of documents from a surviving lawsuit, the actual Mary Frith seems to have been the type of person that Middleton and Dekker depicted.[4]

Critics and scholars who have attempted to differentiate the shares of the two collaborators in the play have not reached a full consensus, though the general tendency has been to attribute the romantic main plot of Mary Fitz-Allard largely to Dekker, and the Moll Cutpurse subplot mainly to Middleton.[5] David Lake, in his study of authorship problems in Middleton's canon, produces the following division of authorship.

Dekker — Act I; Act III, scenes ii–iii; Act IV, scene ii; Act V, scene i;
Middleton — Act II; Act III, scene i; Act IV, scene i; Act V, scene ii.

Lake also favors the view of Fredson Bowers that the play was printed from a manuscript in Dekker's autograph.[6] Paul Mulholland emphasizes that "most scenes reveal evidence of both dramatists," while "Few scenes point conclusively to either dramatist as the main writer," and he quotes with approval Cyrus Hoy's observation that "the designation 'Middleton and Dekker' is the only one appropriate for much of the play."[7]

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