Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Edward Gieskes


The early modern English stage often portrays gender as polarized, creating an unwelcoming atmosphere toward characters who act exhibit characteristics from both male and female genders. Moll Cutpurse from Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton’s The Roaring Girl and Alice of Arden of Faversham resist early modern gender boundaries, conflating masculine and feminine attributes as they use objects to navigate their respective social spaces. Critics often describe Moll as a transvestite due to her fashion choice to wear a codpiece, along with her exaggerated, boisterous masculine behavior; however, she consistently defends her biological sex, implicating herself within her arguments concerning female chastity. As she duels with a sword for the honor of women, Moll inhabits a masculine persona. Alice, on the other hand, is often considered solely feminine, yet she exhibits early modern masculine characteristics when she acts within her commodity-driven surroundings to plot her husband’s murder by using poisoned objects and coins. By using objects to exert masculinity, Moll and Alice reveal the early modern concern of women’s abilities to adopt masculine qualities. The male responses within these plays show attempts to contain these women, as both are branded as criminals. Both women act against the law: Moll is a cutpurse, and Alice is an adulteress and, by the conclusion of the play, a murderess. Thus, The Roaring Girl and Arden of Faversham reveal the existence of female characters who defy the gender binary by using objects to adopt masculine characteristics. As they resist polarity, however, Moll and Alice must also exist within the realm of criminality.