Mary Frith at the Fortune


  • Mark Hutchings University of Reading



Much ink has been spilt on the significance of the representation of gender and gender politics in The Roaring Girl (1611), Middleton and Dekker’s play about Mary Frith, a figure well known to playgoers at the Fortune playhouse and beyond. Yet scholars have paid surprisingly little attention to the evidence that Frith herself attended, and participated in, the Prince Henry’s Men play. Whatever the nature of this ‘role’ (if it was such), arguably it is central to the issues critics have aired, and raises important questions about the play’s reception in 1611. This essay examines the surviving evidence of this tantalisingly suggestive episode, speculates about its precise circumstances, and explores its implications for our understanding of The Roaring Girl in performance. It will be proposed that whatever textual strategies the playwrights used in the quarto published in 1611 to account for Frith’s appearance, Frith was unlikely to have been a wholly comfortable collaborator. Indeed, to those well-documented accounts of Frith’s rejection of authority may be added this intervention at the Fortune, which represents a specific act of resistance to the playhouse’s attempt to contain and redefine her. Thus it is Mary Frith, rather than the actor playing ‘Moll Cutpurse’, who, in taking to the stage, plays out current critical concerns.