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Most scholars believe that Thomas Middleton 's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside was first performed sometime between and , although it was not published until , when it was published in a quarto edition in England. This play, like many of Middleton's other works, details several plots carried out by unscrupulous people in search of wealth, marriage, or sex—and sometimes all three. The chaste maid of the title would have been a joke for Middleton's audiences since Cheapside was infamous at the time for its prostitutes and other lascivious people, and a chaste maid would have been hard to find.
Middleton was born into London's prosperous middle class and had some exposure to most other classes as well. As a result, his plays include characters from all social levels, offering an accurate portrayal of what life was like in London at this time.
In fact, some critics have gone so far as to call Middleton a realist, since he, above many other playwrights of the time, was so adept at exposing the harsh, unromanticized reality of human vice and corruption. The play is intricately plotted and consists of several stories about many families which are ultimately resolved at the same time. Because of this masterful plotting and because the play was so audacious in its exploration of the depths of human depravity—which Middleton exploited for comic purposes—many critics consider the play to be one of his finest works.
A current copy of the play can be found in the paperback edition of Five Plays , which was published by Penguin USA in Middleton was born in in London, England. Although most scholars list April 18 as his christening date, most are unable to confirm his actual birth date. The playwright began writing at an early age, publishing at least three nondramatic pieces as a teenager. He attended Queen's College, Oxford, starting in , but apparently left without a degree after two years.
Especially in the early part of his career, Middleton often collaborated with other playwrights as part of his work for the famous producer Philip Henslowe. Because of his collaborations, some of Middleton's plays have only been fully attributed to him since the s, when Middleton scholarship increased significantly. Middleton's plays often feature a cast of characters who try to connive or deceive each other, as they do in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside , which Middleton most likely wrote sometime between to , and which was first published in However, while Middleton's comedies have been enjoyed by many, two of his tragedies— Women Beware Women performed in and The Changeling performed in and written by Middleton and William Rowley —are often considered his two masterpieces.
Middleton wrote his plays during the late-Elizabethan period and was a contemporary of William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson , two playwrights with whom he is often compared. In his time, Middleton was an extremely popular playwright and was often commissioned to write and produce plays for noble or political clients.
In , Middleton started serving as city chronologer, a post he held until his death. Yellowhammer, a goldsmith, comes in announcing the arrival of Sir Walter, an older knight who is Moll's intended husband. At the same time, the Yellowhammers receive a letter from their son Tim who is returning from college. The Yellowhammers believe that this woman is Sir Walter's landed niece, a Welsh gentlewoman, but she is in fact a prostitute. The Yellowhammers present Moll to Sir Walter, who initially tries to flee, afraid of her impending marriage.
Touchwood Junior, a young man who is in love with Moll, dupes Yellowhammer into making him a wedding ring. When Yellowhammer asks how big the intended bride's finger is, Touchwood Junior says that it is the same size as Moll's. He also says that he needs the ring quickly, as he is trying to steal his bride away from her father. Yellowhammer does not see through this speech to realize that Touchwood Junior means Moll. Davy, Sir Walter's poor relative and personal valet, comes across Mr.
Allwit whose wife is expecting a baby. Allwit delivers a lengthy monologue that describes how Sir Walter has taken care of the Allwits for many years. He alludes to the fact that Sir Walter has had a long-standing affair with Mrs. Allwit and that Sir Walter is the father of their children. Sir Walter enters and asks Mr. Allwit and two servants if anybody else has slept with Mrs.
Allwit including Mr. They all deny it and Sir Walter says that if anybody else does sleep with her, he will marry somebody else and leave them all without money. At this point the Allwits do not know about Sir Walter's intended marriage to Moll. Allwit tells the audience that he will fight to keep Sir Walter single, so that the knight continues to feel compelled to sleep with Mrs.
Allwit and pay for all of the Allwits' expenses. Two of Sir Walter's sons by Mrs. Allwit, Wat and Nick, come in to say hello, and Sir Walter makes plans to get rid of them before his marriage by sending them off to be apprentices.
Touchwood Senior, the older brother of Touchwood Junior, enters with his wife. They talk about the fact that they must live separately because Touchwood Senior is so fertile that his wife keeps having babies which they cannot afford to raise.
Touchwood Senior's wife leaves and another woman, carrying a child enters. She says that it is Touchwood's bastard child and she threatens to announce this fact. Touchwood Senior gives her some money, and she leaves him alone.
While Sir Oliver Kix and his wife—relatives of Sir Walter—watch from afar, Touchwood Junior comes to ask for his older brother's help in buying a marriage license for his desired marriage to Moll. They both exit and the Kixes note that while Touchwood Senior is financially poor, he is rich in children.
They on the other hand, are rich but have been unable to conceive, a fact that makes both of them bitter and causes them to fight because they need an heir to claim the property that will otherwise go to Sir Walter. A maid breaks up their fight, saying that Touchwood Senior has a fertility water that he drinks, which could make Lady Kix pregnant. The maid says that if Sir Kix is willing to pay Touchwood Senior a lot of money, he will give them some of the fertility water.
Allwit and Sir Walter talk about Mrs. Allwit's new baby girl. While Allwit refers to it as Sir Walter's when they are alone, when others come in, such as the wet nurse, they refer to it as Allwit's child. In fact, when it comes time to choose gossips or witnesses at the baby girl's christening, Sir Walter says that he will serve as one himself to prevent the suspicion that Sir Walter is the father.
Allwit offers to get Touchwood Junior, whom Sir Walter does not know, to serve as another witness. Allwit spies two promoters, authorities who were given the power to take meat from citizens who were not supposed to be eating it during Lent.
Allwit insults them. The promoters are upset but return to their watching and soon confiscate some meat from one man. Another man works for somebody who pays off the promoters so they let him go.
Finally, the woman with the child from the previous scene walks by the promoters, blatantly carrying a basket of meat with the baby hidden underneath.
When the promoters take the basket and the woman leaves, they realize that they have been had and that the woman has dumped her unwanted child on them.
Allwit and Davy get ready for the christening of Mrs. Allwit's child. The various witnesses including Puritan women, arrive on the scene and get ready to go inside to the christening. Meanwhile, Touchwood Junior has picked up the ring that he had Yellowhammer make and he and Moll make plans to steal away and be secretly married. Sir Walter enters and is introduced to Touchwood Junior, who is supposed to serve as one of the witnesses.
The women squabble over their line order for going into the christening. Meanwhile, Touchwood Junior sneaks away and joins with a parson, who is going to marry Touchwood Junior and Moll in secret. Moll arrives with Touchwood Senior and the secret ceremony begins but is broken up by Yellowhammer and Sir Walter.
Yellowhammer leaves with Moll whom, he says, he is going to lock up. Sir Walter disavows any friendship with Touchwood Junior since he tried to steal Moll away from him. During the christening, the various women remark how much the large child looks like its father, meaning Allwit. They also note how gallant Sir Walter looks when compared to Mr. Sir Walter gives Mrs. Allwit a very generous gift which the various women remark on, saying it is too rich.
The nurse comes in bringing sweets and wine and Allwit notices that some of the women take more than their share. He also notes that if he were paying for all of this, he would be broke from the Puritan women's obvious excess.
However, since Sir Walter is footing the bill, Allwit has nothing to worry about. The men leave and the nurse lets Mrs. Allwit know that her son Tim has arrived.
Tim comes into the room, sees all of the married women and leaves. The nurse drags him back in. Allwit calls for Tim's tutor who has arrived with him from college. Tim suffers welcoming kisses from all of the married women. Allwit vows to stop the marriage. Touchwood Junior tells his older brother about his plan to steal Moll away from Yellowhammer. Touchwood Junior also encourages his virile older brother to get Lady Kix pregnant so that Touchwood Senior can claim that it was due to the fertility water and make money out of the deal.
Sir Kix and his wife enter, fighting about their inability to conceive. Touchwood Senior sells Kix the fertility water, which is really just almond milk, then tells the knight that he must ride for five hours to shake up the elixir and make it work.
Sir Oliver gives Touchwood Senior one hundred pounds and then promises to give him another hundred when his wife gets pregnant, a third hundred when she is bedridden and a fourth hundred when she actually has the child.
Sir Oliver leaves for his five-hour journey, and Touchwood Senior and Lady Kix go to her coach so that he can impregnate her. Tim and his tutor get in a semantic argument in Latin which is broken up by Maudlin Yellowhammer. Tim says he can prove anything by logic and says that he will prove a prostitute to be an honest woman. Maudlin sends the Welsh gentlewoman in to Tim, hoping to strike up a love affair between them while Maudlin and the tutor leave.
Tim tries to speak to the woman in Latin, but she does not understand it and she thinks that he does not understand English. As a result, she tries to speak to him in Welsh, but Tim does not understand.
Maudlin comes in and realizes that Tim's use of Latin has caused the confusion.
A Chaste Maid in Cheapside
Join StageAgent today and unlock amazing theatre resources and opportunities. Research Playwrights, Librettists, Composers and Lyricists. Browse Theatre Writers. A Chaste Maid in Cheapside presents multiple plots centered around the marriage of Moll Yellowhammer, a chaste maid, who is daughter to the ambitious goldsmith, Yellowhammer.
A Chaste Maid in Cheapside by Thomas Middleton: Summary & Themes
Most scholars believe that Thomas Middleton 's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside was first performed sometime between and , although it was not published until , when it was published in a quarto edition in England. This play, like many of Middleton's other works, details several plots carried out by unscrupulous people in search of wealth, marriage, or sex—and sometimes all three. The chaste maid of the title would have been a joke for Middleton's audiences since Cheapside was infamous at the time for its prostitutes and other lascivious people, and a chaste maid would have been hard to find. Middleton was born into London's prosperous middle class and had some exposure to most other classes as well. As a result, his plays include characters from all social levels, offering an accurate portrayal of what life was like in London at this time.
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A Chaste Maid in Cheapside is a city comedy written c. Unpublished until and long-neglected afterwards, it is now considered among the best and most characteristic Jacobean comedies. The play was originally staged by the Lady Elizabeth's Men. The play presents multiple plots centered on the marriage of Moll Yellowhammer, the titular maid, who is daughter to a wealthy Cheapside goldsmith , and, in particular, her intended husband, Sir Walter Whorehound.