Thomas Middleton wrote A Chaste Maid in Cheapside in 1610, which unlike his other plays it was performed in front of a large popular audience. Middleton’s play was considered to be a daring play because of it strongly satirized religion hypocrisy. Middleton takes the sanctity of marriage and creates four comical marriage plots that revolve around one character. The common theme of lying and deceitfulness in the play seems to revolve around the character Sir Walter Whorehound who is a Knight.
He is the common factor that is brought up in all three marriages in the play.
The marriage between Sir Walter and Moll is the first marriage that is presented where Sir Walter is a deceiving character. In the opening act there is a conversation between Moll and her mother discussing how she is fortunate to be betrothed to Sir Walter, because she is not very feminine when really Sir Walter is only looking into marrying Moll because she is the daughter of a goldsmith and plans to inherit the estate.
The conversation makes it seem as if Sir Walters actions are noble and kind for wanting to marrying Moll being so unfeminine, this demonstrates his first lie.
He is only marrying Moll for money, but he can only marry Moll with the condition that he marries his landed niece” from Wales to the Yellowhammers son Tim. This ties him into the second marriage, the marriage between Tim and Sir Walter’s niece who is really his mistress. Before he arrives at Cheapside he specifically instructs her to lye about who she is and she must pass for a pure virgin (I. i, 86). His servant Davy makes a comical remark saying how is she going to pass for a virgin when she is clearly a prostitute. Sir Walter lies to the Yellowhammers and fools them into believing she is a Welsh gentlewoman.
Even though the Yellowhammers do suspect she is a prostitute they don’t care because they want their son married. The second marriage that brings up the second plot is the Alwitts. The Alwitts have a unique marriage where they both benefit through an arrangement. Mr. Allwitt lets his wife have an affair with Sir Walter; in return Sir Walter takes care of all their expenses. Allwitt allows Sir Walter to be his wife’s lover to the point where they have no intercourse in their marriage. Allwitt also fears that Sir Walter may be engaged where he ould no longer need his wife and will no longer provide for his family. Mrs. Allwitt’s relationship with Sir Walter doesn’t seem to go further than sex. She seems perfectly happy having his bastard children as long as he’s paying for it. Once Mr. Alwitt suspects he is getting married he makes it a goal to stop it so the arrangement may continue.
Out of all the lies in the marriages Middleton uses the marriage that seems the most dysfunctional the most honest. In this marriage Sir Walter is the one clearly in the middle but that’s where he is wanted. Both Mr. and Mrs. Alwitt know want him for different are all knowledgeable about the arrangement and they seem to agree with it. Mr. Alwitt shows an effort to continue the arrangement when he decides to stop the marriage between Sir Walter and Moll. Even though the arrangement seems really great Sir Walter still lies about his engagement to Moll because he would like to continue his relationship with Mrs. Alwitt. The last marriage that Sir Walter is involved with is the intended marriage between Moll and Touchwood, Junior. This marriage is the only one that is truly based for nothing more than love.
Moll and Touchwood only want to be married because they love each other they have no social status to gain and Touchwood doesn’t care about her father’s estate. Since this is the only marriage that has no deceitfulness or direct lie of course Sir Walter has to be involved somehow. His intended marriage to Moll he is unconsciously involves himself, but after knowing that she loves someone else he still wants to marry her. The interesting part about Sir Walter’s character is that even though he lies and deceives everyone in the play he is still promised to marry Moll.
Yellowhammer finds out about Sir Walter’s mistress through Allwitt and he is still forgive because Yellowhammer keeps a mistress himself. Which shows the religious hypocrisy in the play how marriage shouldn’t be sacred as long as you gain social status. Just when it seems Sir Walter may get away with it all Touchwood, Junior challenges Sir Walter and they both end up in bad shape. When Davy realizes Sir Walter might die he goes to the Allwits so that he can write his will and leave his estate to them.
Sir Walter then believes that his “sins” have damned him and that’s why he’s dying and the Alwitts are to blame and will leave them nothing. Which then shows that the entire arrangement ended up not working in their favor. Which comes to the conclusion that each deceitful marriage was cause by Sir Walter in one way or another. The marriage between him and Moll so he could gain wealth while trying to keep his mistress. The Alwitts Marriage where he served as Mrs. Alwitts Lover and Mr. Alwitts source of income.
The marriage between Tim and the prostitute was completely his doing because he couldn’t marry Moll if Tim did not get married. Finally the marriage between Moll and Touchwood, Junior, which was the only marriage, out of love, and ended up ironically only happening because they lied to everyone else. However this would have never been a conflict if Sir Walter didn’t exist which proves his involvement in all the marriages is what the play revolves around.
novleguide. com. A Chaste Maid in Cheapside 2011 Web. <http://www. novelguide. com/a/discover/dfs_18/dfs_18_00013. html>.
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