Moll Cutpurse was one of the most famous criminals of Shakespeare’s lifetime. Her character is featured in several plays contemporary to Shakespeare, and it seems her real life persona was even more flamboyant than those represented on stage. Moll Cutpurse was a notorious pickpocket who made a name for herself in early modern England as a thief and an entertainer, who stood out from the crowd because she liked to dress, and act, like a man. Challenging cultural norms was Moll’s bread and butter. She wore men’s clothing, smoked a pipe, and operated as both a thief and a pimp, being hired to find lovers for men and women among London’s middle class. Here today to share with us the colorful real life history of a woman whose shock value continues to impress those that learn about her, is historian and author of Mary Frith, Moll Cutpurse and the Development of an Early Modern Criminal Celebrity For the Journal of Early Modern Studies, Lauren Liebe.

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Dr. Lauren Liebe graduated with her PhD in English Literature from Texas A&M University in August 2021. After completing a postdoc in digital humanities research, she joined the faculty of Penn State Erie, The Behrend College in the Department of Digital Media, Arts, and Technology as an Assistant Teaching Professor of Video Game Studies. In this role, she combines her love of early modern drama and video games to think about the intersection of play and performance in the construction of narrative. She is also associate director of the Advanced Research Consortium and the general editor of Digital Restoration Drama, an anthology forthcoming from Linked Early Modern Drama Online.   

I’ll be asking Lauren Liebe about:

  • The reason Moll Cutpurse earned her nickname is because she was a thief, that cut the purses off her victims to steal the contents. Obviously, this was a crime in early modern England, but Lauren, was pickpocketing also a form of entertainment?
  • What do we know about Mary Firth, the woman who became a famous pickpocket. Obviously, this life path isn’t common for anyone, much less a woman in Shakespeare’s England, so what do we know about how she chose this life? 
  • I know Moll was written about in several early modern plays. What are some good examples you can share with us about the plays she features in?
  • …and more!

Resources Cassidy thought you might enjoy:

Matthew’s History Blog by Matthew Frost on Moll Cutpurse

Mary Frith, or Moll Cutpurse, The Roaring Girl, by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The roaring girle, or Moll Cut-purse, Luna at the Folger

Early Modern English Drama, Moll Cutpurse

What’s Inside The Detailed Show Notes This Week:

  • Woodcut image of Moll Cutpurse
  • Engraving of Maroco, the 16thC performance horse
  • Title page of Thomas Dekker’s work from the 16thC
  • Woodcut of the Fortune Theater
  • 1657 depiction of Thomas Middleton
  • RSC Discussion on the character of Moll Cutpurse
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Maria on the Golden Hinde

During his voyage around the world in 1577-1580, Sir Francis Drake captained a ship named the Golden Hind. On this ship lived a woman named Maria, whose plight we only know about Because of a manuscript preserved in the British Library in London, in which an anonymous sailor records her existence. Here today to share with us the history of Maria, her story, and how much we can learn about whether her plight overlaps that of Shakespeare’s play, is our guest, and author of On Wilder Seasthe book that imagines what Maria’s story might have been based on the history we can know about her, Nikki Marmery.

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Go beyond the episode with insider history extras, video versions of the podcast, and printable history resources that coordinate with Shakespeare’s plays and with specific episodes of our show!

That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!