Even though class mobility is the prime concern and narrative framework of The Roaring Girl, as the manifest class antagonism between Sir Alexander and Guy Fitzallard reveals, Moll, as a transvestite, has no distinctive class identity. 3 In addition, because she is not in disguise, her gender-bending is readily discernable: as Marjorie Garber points out, despite her cross-dressing, she is almost always read as a woman or virago by other characters of the play.4 If her gender is the only category that her cross-dressing is intended to express, her first appearance in “a frieze jerkin and a black safeguard” (2.1.180-81) reveals that her cross-dressing is imperfect because while “jerkin” is masculine apparel, “safeguard” is obviously feminine.5 What her identities as a transvestite express, I would argue, is involved with a spatial-topographical category. In other words, insofar as Moll’s cross-dressing or gender-bending is concerned, the play seems interested in the London “suburb” and its cultural heterogeneity it expresses. The Prologue of the play geographically delineates Moll’s identity as a suburban roarer against the city proper and patriarchal property controls:
In early modern London, suburbs along with liberties were often locations for subcultural activities such as theft, drinking, theatergoing, cutpursing, bear-baiting, and, in particular, prostitution.6 The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “suburb” as “residential parts belonging to a town or city that lie immediately outside and adjacent to its walls or boundaries,”7 and John Stow, perhaps the most avid early modern London chorographer, terms it the “ward of London without wall,” meaning outside the wall (358). Both definitions stress its liminal features -- existing at once both inside and outside the city. The prefix of the word, “sub,” also denotes its “supplementarity” or “adjacency,” and it has “disseminating” political effects. Even though it is outside the city proper, supplementing the said area, it still forms the city, and through its porous boundaries with the city proper, the London suburb disseminates all cultural transgressions as well as plagues and French diseases to the city proper. Thus what the suburb troubles is not the city in general but its proper part.8 How to contain this “foreign” area was one of the prime political concerns for the Jacobean state. For example, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure reflects James’s “proclamation” (1.2.76) which issues that “All houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down” (1.2.78). This threatening topographical in-betweenness of the London suburbs becomes the very topos of Moll’s transvestism.
As a metropolitan chorography, The Roaring Girl is complete with the names of suburban places and their representations. Places such as “Bankside” (1.2.207), “Tyburn” (2.1.283), “Marybone Park” (3.1.4), “Smithfield” (3.1.11), “Islington” (3.1.32), “Chick Lane” (3.1.167), “Bedlam” (3.3.85), “Holborn” (3.3.185), “Shoe Lane” (3.3.225), “Saint Kathern” (4.1.110), “Clifford’s Inn” (4.1.192), “Cold Harbor” (4.2.169), and “Isle of Dogs” (5.1.120) indicate the marginal spaces of London with their lumpen-proletariat lives and seedy neighborhoods. In the play, “Brentford,” “Staines,” or “Ware” (2.1.285-86), as London’s outer spaces, are frequently referred to as places for incognito sexual diversions, in which one’s urban identity completely disappears, and the places work as only the absent others in the text. Yet the play also directly engages the threatening inbetween presence of the topographical liminality of London suburbs. Among them, “Marybone Park,” “Chick Lane,” and “Clifford Inn” are inseparably associated with Moll’s topographical identities as a cross-dresser. For example, when Laxton requests his Coachman to drive “to the hither end of Marybone Park,” he thinks that this is “a fit place for Moll to get in” (3.1.3-4). This short conversation figures indeed an overdetermined cultural signification of her suburbanity along with her cross-dressings. Andor Gomme’s text glosses that Marybone Park was “well-known as the burial ground for whores and panders because it was near Tyburn” (54). The notoriety of Marybone continued until somewhat recently; for Karl Marx, who modeled capitalism on nineteenth-century England, and who certainly knew about its topographical effects such as creation of slums and wretched lives in the city margins, Marybone was a perfect spatial archetype of these effects. 9 With its typical suburbanity, this cultural locus also echoes the polyglossia of London as multinational locale. Laxton thus epitomizes:
The geopolitical implication of “Marybone” as a place fit for a transvestite or whore is here restated as “marrowbone.” Even though Marybone’s etymology -- “Mary le bone” -- indubitably signifies the place’s association with virginity, the repetition of the signifier brings its signification to “marrowbone” as an “aphrodisiac” for the Italian seeking a “bona-roba,” meaning “courtesan” in Italian.10 The name “Moll” is a pet form of “Mary,” the Virgin, but “moll,” as a common noun, indicates a “prostitute.” 11 This suburban sphere claims the virgin sanctification and its destruction at the same time -- betraying its own semantic splits. And behind this signification problem of irreducible ambiguity lies the topographical and gender liminality that the play persistently figures. We should note the infiltration of foreign identities such as whoring as an Italian practice, as the words “bona-roba” evoke it, and Middleton and Dekker attempt to articulate the so-called “(w)holesaling”12 business of the London suburb with foreign nationalities.
Moll’s assumed identity as a whore, in this light, associated with her transvestism, deserves more critical attention in a national context; because she is in a man’s clothes, paradoxically enough, Moll is persistently read as a whore, even though actually, in the text, she never directly associates herself with that kind of business.13 The play obsessively repeats words such as “drab” (1.2.173), “whore” (2.1.314), “trug” (2.1.423), “stale” (3.2.186), “punk” (4.2.29), and “sisters” (4.2.193); these words are related to the (w)holesaling business in the London suburbs or liberties. In early modern London geography, typically including dockside areas such as “Saint Kathern” (4.1.110) mentioned in Moll’s song, stews were spread all over the city margins.14 Specific places such as “Clifford’s Inn” (4.1.192) and “Shoe Lane” (4.1.225) are in Fleet Street or adjacent to it, and, in the text, when Moll states her belonging to this neighborhood to Sir Alexander, she is certainly regarded as a prostitute (4.1.190-96). Insofar as London suburbs are a multinational locale outside of the London wall as a “foreign” territory, for Dekker and Middleton, this (w)holesaling business inscribed upon Moll’s cross-dressing is regarded as a “foreign” job. For instance, for Mrs. Openwork, to “keep a whore i’ th’ suburbs” means “foreign wenching” (2.1.313-4). This phrase is repeated in the same scene, and this time to “keep a whore i’th’suburbs” (2.1.337-38) becomes something “abominable” (2.1.336). Of course, the word “abomination” indicates the Deuteronomic prohibition of transvestism, but more significantly, as its etymology (ab-hominibus) suggests being “estranged from humankind,” the suburban whores and transvestites are not even considered human -- in particular, they are outside “kind” or “kinship.” 15 Benedict Anderson, Anthony D. Smith, and Krishan Kumar assert that “kinship” is a kind of extended metaphor or imagination that anchors our understanding of nationhood.16 If so, Moll’s habit of “abomi-nation,” transvestism, with other cultural liminalities she puts on, suggests her dislocated cultural-national belongings. This idea is developed further by Mistress Openwork:
Her linguistic puns related to “hollands” and “low Countries” are discussed in detail by Gomme: in the excerpt, some specific geographies correspond to bodily topographies of woman, and, in particular, the Low Countries are associated with the female genitals as well as suburban stews (36). This is often the Shakespearean art of blazon of the female body: in The Comedy of Errors, Dromio of Syracuse presents a hilarious geographical description of Luce, and in it the locations of “Belgia” or “Netherlands” are compared to her bodily lower stratum, in particular, her vagina (4.1.136-44). Similarly, in his descriptions, Ireland is equated with her “buttocks” with “bogs” (4.1.115-17). This English body politics in a seemingly innocuous banter is symptomatic because it asserts that the national alterities are equated to female orifices which should be policed and controlled in order to establish the city and nation proper. These kinds of discursive practices indeed articulate deeply imbedded early modern metropolitan xenophobia. Since Bankside, despite a few exceptions, was the only place for state-allowed (w)holesaling business, early modern Englishmen, including John Stow, believed that the Bankside area and its stews were established by the Flemish (361). Because of this kind of belief, as Howard points out, the Bankside regions were often called “Britannica Hollandia” or “Hollands Leaguer” (142). If Moll’s cross-dressing becomes a metaphoric inscription of suburban multi-nationality with her assumed (w)holesaling profession, her clothing signifies amalgamated nationalities, as her “Dutch slop and [her] French doublet” (2.2.96-97) manifest.
The national hybridity staged in her transvestism compromises the politics of “the proper,” upon which English metropolitanism and nationhood are founded. It should be noted that the suburban subcultures in The Roaring Girl represent the “many-headedness” of the transvestite. As Christopher Hill thought “the headless multitude” and “the many-headed monster” signify the cultural iconography of rebels (181), perhaps this is applicable to Moll’s case as well. As early modern English literature represents, while in the countryside the peasant rebels, like headless bodies, threatened enclosed property, in the metropolitan suburbs, prostitutes, many-headed monsters, undermined the enclosed garden of proper sexuality. Howard observes that, in early modern literature, one persistent metaphor for a whore is a many-headed monster like a Hydra that sells and resells her maiden-head as a commodity; “When one head is lopped, another miraculously grows to take its place.” 17 This analogy suggests the interconnection between “headless” peasant rebels and the “many-headed” prostitutes with their “masterlessness.” Similarly, in the play, as Moll states, “I have the head now of myself, and am man enough for a woman. Marriage is but a chopping and changing, where a maiden loses one head and has a worse i’ th’ place” (2.2.43-6), she rejects marriage because it is a system of single-headedness which replaces one’s maidenhead with a household head. Her use of the word “chopping” is not mere coincidence here; she basically understands the head, the most proper part of the body, as something possibly “supplemented,” suggesting many-headedness, while her bold claim of having her own head suggests her headlessness under patriarchy.
In this discursive context, “Chick Lane,” where she often “lie[s] about” (3.1.168), should be discussed with its topographical connotations. Located near Newgate -- a prison site acting as the city’s quarantine against all the disseminating political influences from outside the mural enclosure -- it was a notorious suburban place. In particular, Chick Lane was near to Turnbull (Turnmill) Street, and, according to Fiona McNeill’s historical reconstruction, one phrase that epitomizes the geopolitics of this area is “masterless enclosure”: reflecting the rapid expansion of the suburban slums of early modern London, this suburban region was “Teeming with masterless servants, transient laborers, outworkers, poor families, children, thieves, and prostitutes” (211). Reflecting this spatial connotation, Moll’s masterlessness is articulated through a “company of whoremasters” (4.1.196). Her transgression of the proper -- the most proper part of the body, the head -- in the play suggests her loss of proper name as a transvestite. Sir Alexander thus characterizes Moll:
Her liminal gender is against “nature” (natio), and she is regarded as an unnamable “thing.” This absolutely unnamable state of Moll corresponds to what Derrida (derived from Plato’s text) calls the “khôra,” and this (non)-concept betrays the rift between names and geopolitics. Because of “some incapacity for naming” (Name 89), this untranslatable word makes Plato’s text indeterminable: while “khôra” in Greek still signifies “place,” “location,” “region,” or “country” of philosophical discourses (93), this unnamable thing merely expresses unlocatable “textuality” as such. More remarkably, khôra is a linguistic reflection of the problem of gender specification, as it is properly replaced neither by “she” nor by “it.” As Marjorie Garber points out, in the play, homosexual or bisexual drives are allegorically inscribed in the names of the characters,18 but at the same time, the homosexuals are regarded as unnamable: as Sir Davy claims, “ningles” are one of the “Beasts Adam ne’er gave name to” (3.3.66-67).
When the bisexual, homosexual, and transvestite all signify gender ambiguities with their witch-like “two shadows,” this gender liminality is articulated through the uncertainty of the proper name. The instabilities of proper names as well as gender differences mean the frailty of all social norms because, as Derrida claims, the rise of the proper name is the “arch-violence” which registers all the “linguistico-social classifications” (Grammatology 111). The suburban geographies that Moll frequents stage the instability of the proper name along with the instability of the proper gender. Toward the end of the play, appearing in men’s clothes, Moll is referred to as “Jack,” in particular “master captain Jack” (5.1.1). As Geoffrey Bennington argues, postal politics, as a typical state operation, is built upon secure proper names and thus founded property ownership (129). For example, postal transmission is one of the most readily observable state operations taken for granted. Yet it always presupposes disciplines of the nation-state such as all citizens having their own stable proper names and the certainty that property should necessarily be transmitted to the indicated subject of proper name without the possibility of failure in proper delivery of the message or property. If so, Moll’s mercurial proper name works ultimately against the nation-state.
For this reason, what the state authority insistently tries to excise is the in-between condition of suburbanity and transvestism. The dangerous proximity or supplementarity of suburban topographies and transvestism should necessarily be torn apart from the proper parts of the city and state for a clear-cut division. Interestingly enough, state power, in the play, is allegorized as tools of cutting -- Curtalax (the cutlass) and Hanger (its strap). They, as parts of the state apparatus, claim “Holborn,” a “wrangling” (3.3.185) suburban tavern area, as their policing “circuit” (3.3.133), and one of their roles is to protect the citizen’s property, as they try to safeguard Sir Davy’s wealth from his squandering son. Yet their operations are never able to excise the carnival-like suburban cultures properly, and they are ultimately outmaneuvered by Moll when she rescues the prodigal (Jack Dapper) from his father’s and the sergeants’ property controls.
The text persistently claims that Moll is threatening to patriarchal property transmission from father to son, which is one of the most important social foundations upon which socio-economicstability of early modern European families and states stood. Natalie Zemon Davis states that in early modern Europe, “the expansion of the urban economy from the late fifteenth century, with some increase in geographical mobility,” required “new forms of controls” (90) for families, and “a central concern” of families was “to pass on the family’s patrimony as intact as possible to those of the next generation who will stand for the house or its name in the father’s line” (87). This importance of property transmission from father to son following proper name is reflected in the play. The primary reason why Sebastian takes Moll into his marriage plot is that, as Mary’s threatening Other, Moll signifies a failed patrimony transmission while, despite her insufficient dowry and lesser class origin, Mary is regarded as a stable vessel of property. Moll, as a transvestite, suburbanite, roarer, and assumed whore, is always thought to be against the exact control of patrimony.
The excerpt might be the most alarming discourse to Sir Alexander: Sir Guy actually threatens that Moll, as a suburban transvestite in “gaskins,” will destroy all the family wealth, producing roaring prodigals. What is striking in the excerpt is that Moll’s cultural identities as a suburbanite, cross-dresser, and roarer are claimed to be transmitted through a blood lineage; her dangerous suburban maternity would overwhelm Sir Alexander’s patrilineage. It is no surprise, in this respect, that the play’s comic closure comes with Sebastian’s marriage to Mary, a girl with proper gender, accompanied by Sir Alexander’s deed of property inheritance to his son. Indeed, in the play, “The key wealth, possession of those lands” that become “[Sebastian’s] own [proper]” (5.2.205-06) by his father’s will, is inseparable from “a fair fruitful bride” who is like “fertile lands” (5.2.209). In order for upper class property to be secured, Moll’s border-crossing with her liminal and unreproductive sexuality has to be excluded together with her in-between suburban identities. But, at the end of the play, Moll steps aside, and the family reunion in the play’s comic conclusion is only possible owing to Moll’s not insisting on joining the festive ending.
Nonetheless, it still requires further discussion whether the play achieves an airtight closure and Moll’s stepping aside or “goodnatured indifference” in this last scene is a kind of social “remedy” or “rehabilitation” containing all the social “subversions” she assumes.19
Obviously, the narrative is hastily and forcefully closed with the comic family reunion without further complications, and as intended in Sebastian’s original scheme, Moll seems just to disappear: she confesses that from the beginning she has never had her own interest in this marriage plot. Yet to the very end of the play, she stands on the insecurity of the proper: she is still called “Jack,” revealing the instability of her proper name, and remains a transvestite termagant. The excerpt quoted above is followed by her notoriously knotty speech which “sounds like doomsday”:
This enigmatic speech, if it could signify anything, seems to indicate her infinite deferral of her marriage, rejecting her confinement to one single proper head. Even though both her threatening liminal presence and her stepping aside or absence preconditions the play’s festive plot, the complete reconciliation with “the proper” is never possible. In other words, toward the play’s ending, if a father-son discord between Sir Alexander and Sebastian and the class conflict between Sir Alexander and Sir Davy are resolved by the metropolitan marriage of Sebastian and Mary, this union is only made possible by Moll’s facilitation, with her cultural-geopolitical in-betweenness acting as at once “poison” and “use.” Her irreducible cultural in-betweenness conditions Moll as a literal “pharmakon”: even though she is compared to “poison” or “ratsbane” (220.127.116.11), throughout the play, as Mary says to Sebastian, she is “No poison . . . but serves us for some use” (4.1.150), becoming the remedy for the narrative complications. In other words, her existence, as a transvestite, frames the entire narrative scene of the play, and her in-between suburban identity “supplements” the final comic resolution of the play -- becoming an essential necessity and threatening other to the proper sexual union and property transmission simultaneously. If in The Roaring Girl, early modern London metropolitanism -- articulated with the nation proper, city proper, gender proper, and property control -- could be achieved, it is only when it is supplemented by cultural liminality.
3Stephen Orgel points out that, in early modern England, “roaring” itself was an upper class or gentry habit, claiming their aristocratic privilege; but he generally understands Moll as a “lower-middle-class” subject (13). Yet in my reading, apart from her lumpen-like behaviors, the text never directly indicates her estate or even means of living. 4Garber points out that “She [Moll] is always read as a woman” unlike other transvestite characters of Renaissance theater. The narrative effect of this is that because she is already a woman “she does not, will not, cannot disappear into the fictive ‘real’ identity of woman she is supposed to be” (231). 5In seventeenth-century English, “safeguard” means “An outer skirt or petticoat worn by women to protect their dress when riding”; “Safe-guard, n..” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford UP, Web. 14 Mar. 2000 . 6The geopolitical implications of London “liberties,” and in particular its liminality are studied in depth by Steven Mullaney. He says, “Between city and country stood an uncertain and somewhat irregular territory where the powers of city, state, and church often came together but did not coincide.” Like French “banlieux” those places were at once “where the law was made known” and “places of exile or banishment” (21). Also, Susan Wells discusses in detail the relations between London liberties and city comedies, focusing on their carnival-like aspects (37-60). Yet, we need to distinguish London liberties from suburbs. These two tend to overlap, but a liberty such as Blackfriars is located within the city wall, while the suburb usually means spaces outside the mural enclosure. 7“Suburb, n..” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford UP, Web. 14 Mar. 2000 . 8Recently, Kelly J. Stage has discussed the early modern London space for women represented in The Roaring Girl. Even though, in her essay, she does not develop any detailed discussion based on the supplementarity of “suburb” in relation to the “city proper,” she points out Moll’s lack of “a proper locus” (418). Her argument is based on Michel de Certeau’s claim that “‘a calculated action determined without official power of a place’ is a tool of the Other” (qtd. in 418). But her reading does not illuminate the inseparable relationship between topographical in-betweenness and gender liminality in the play. 9Marx states in Capital I, “In Marylebone, blacksmiths die at the rate of 31 per thousand per annum, or 11 above the mean of the male adults of the country in its entirety” (366). 10For more detailed connotations of “Marybone,” see Gomme’s textual glossing (34). 11“Moll, n. def. 2..” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford UP, Web. 14 Mar. 2000 . 12This word is prevalent in Jacobean city comedies, and its hidden meanings are well discussed by Jean Howard and Susan Wells (see the chapter entitled “(W)holesaling” [114-61] in Howard’s Theatre and Wells 56-57). 13Indeed the play’s identification between being a whore and masculine crossdressing looks paradoxical and even hardly understandable. Orgel explains this with “projection of male sexual fantasies”: in his reading, her male transvestism indicates “being able to have constant and promiscuous sex” (18) as men do. 14According to Howard, they existed in “Whitefriars in the west, Clerkenwell and Long Lane in the northwest, Whitecross Street in the north, Shoreditch in the northeast, Aldgate, East Smithfield, and St. Katherine’s to the east” (122). 15“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deut 22:5). See Dinshaw 90, for the word’s etymology. 16See Anderson 5-6. Anthony D. Smith also argues that, unusually in the non-Western model of nationhood, “The nation is seen as a fictive ‘super-family,’ and it boasts pedigrees and genealogies to back up its claims.” Thus “the nation can trace its roots to an imputed common ancestry and that therefore its members are brothers and sisters, or at least cousins, differentiated by family ties from outsiders.” Yet this non-Western model is not absent in the Western one, which also creates the idea of biological ethnic nation “by creating a widespread awareness of the myths, history and linguistic traditions of the community” (12-13). Besides, for Kumar, if nation is a “metaphor,” it is close to blood lineage or biological family. He says, “One belongs to it [the cultural nation] as one belongs to one’s natural, biological family. Its ties are the ties of blood, if not actually then metaphorically” (24). 17Howard 116. What Howard takes for an example is Gervase Markham’s poem “The Famous Whore or Noble Cortizan.” 18Garber says that male names such as “Laxton,” “Jack Dapper,” and “Sir Beauteous Ganymede” suggest their “questionable (bi)sexuality” (225). 19Jane Baston reads The Roaring Girl as a literary process of “rehabilitation” in which all the social anomies are restored to the original status. She argues that “By the close of the play, then, Moll’s actions, words, and appearance are no longer threatening. . . . Her rehabilitation in every sense of the word is complete” (332).