Compartmentalizing

May 14, 2011 § 3 Comments

My house is a disaster area.

In every square foot of it, something is distinctly out of place.

I feel drained just looking at the piles and messes throughout the house. I can hardly work here. Coupled with my incessant twitchiness from this summer’s flying intruders, I feel high-strung and nervous.

But I have to pack that anxiety away, prioritize, and focus.

Despite my descent into what appears to be summertime madness, I managed to read for the fifth time what can only be the world’s longest and most boring play EVER: Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s The Roaring Girl. A supposedly funny foray into cross-dressing and issues of gender, The Roaring Girl took me no fewer than four hours to complete–much longer than normal running time, I’d assume. The fact of the matter is that it’s a city comedy, which means a great deal of the action occurs on the streets of London (or some other recognizable English place), it contains a plethora of inside jokes and long-forgotten social commentaries, and it requires a fairly confident grasp of early modern English concerns for coherence’s sake.

In other words: ugh.

I’m not a fan of the city comedies. Plain and simple. I often find them boring, slow, and ofttimes difficult to follow. In The Roaring Girl, for instance, I am close to suggesting the entire city scene be excised from the play, in order instead to allow focus on the principal characters. The city scene follows the love triangles and deceitful behavior among married couples to prove each other’s fidelity–these couples are skilled laborers, not aristocrats. This is not to suggest that their side story isn’t itself interesting, but perhaps it deserves its own, separate play.

Ah, well. Too late now. The Roaring Girl was first published as a quarto in 1611. Despite its age and my tardy criticism, I did manage to find some useful portions to include in my next dissertation chapter. The Roaring Girl focuses its principal action on a young man who intends to trick his obstinate father into letting him marry the woman he loves by fooling his father into believing that he is actually in love with the famous cross-dresser and pick-pocket Moll Cutpurse. Moll Cutpurse (fashioned after the real-life Mary Frith) was a “roaring girl,” the female equivalent to the “roaring boys” who caused trouble in local taverns. The real Moll was more than a tomboy–she was truly a transvestite, preferring the wardrobe and liberties that came with maleness. In the play, she is represented as a quick-witted woman who dominates nearly every man she encounters. Her portions of the play are the ones I enjoyed the most…and they came too few in number, for my tastes.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up my reread of plays with my fourth return to Knight of the Burning Pestle. (“Pestle” is pronounced “pezzle” and should remind you of a phallus, rather than a tool with which to grind herbs into dust. …the fact that it’s a “burning” phallus should be a fairly easy joke to crack.)

Next week: I begin work on my last big chapter!

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