Resurrecting Mary Frith: creating identity in restoration London

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Mary Frith was immortalized as Moll Cutpurse in Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker's play The Roaring Girl in 1611. Over the next half century, she appeared in a handful of other works, primarily plays, as a minor comedic character. In 1662, however, another major work centered around her life appeared: The Life and Death of Mrs Mary Frith, Commonly Called Mal Cutpurse. In this supposed autobiography, Frith is transformed into a royalist hero, using her roguish skills to support the cause of Charles II. What this thesis seeks to examine is the rational behind this overtly political representation of Frith, who is never presented as having a great stake in politics in any of her many other appearances. Initially, it grounds the discussion of The Life and Death in an examination of the earlier texts, primarily The Roaring Girl, and current critical commentary on Frith and her fictional representations. Frith's notoriety makes it necessary to question exactly what shape such fame (or infamy) would have taken during Frith's lifetime. Next, this thesis looks at the literary and political milieu that spawned The Life and Death through a close examination of other contemporary publications concerning royalist highwaymen-heroes. Finally, this work explores the societal changes that allowed Frith and other criminals to be celebrated as royalist heroes and, perhaps, model citizens of a rapidly changing English nation.

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