A Chaste Maid in Cheapside

(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed


Yellowhammer, a goldsmith. Eager to see his children rise in the world, he betroths his daughter to Sir Walter Whorehound, giving heed to the man’s title but not to his reputation, and arranges for his son to wed the nobleman’s supposed niece, who proves to be a Welsh prostitute and Sir Walter’s mistress. His harsh refusal to allow Moll to marry her sweetheart, Touchwood Junior, nearly brings tragedy on his family.


Maudlin, his loquacious wife. She scolds her daughter for her sluggishness, regaling the girl with tales of her own gay youth, and she embarrasses her university-trained son by fussing over him before his tutor and many of her friends. She is as distressed as her husband when she learns that her stern treatment of Moll apparently has caused her death.


Moll, their daughter, whose languid attitude is simply a cloak for her love for young Touchwood. She is never quite successful in her attempts to elude her parents long enough to marry, until her clever maid arranges for her feigned death and reunion with her lover.


Timothy, her learned, self-confident brother. He comes home from Cambridge with his tutor to impress his family and friends with his knowledge of Latin. Tricked by Sir Walter into marriage with a prostitute, he is consoled by her wit and physical attractions for the loss of the nineteen Welsh mountains he hoped to acquire as her dowry.

Sir Walter Whorehound

Sir Walter Whorehound, a loose-living gentleman who tries unsuccessfully to bring about at one time his own marriage with Moll, Timothy’s with his Welsh mistress, and the christening of his son by Allwit’s wife, without having...

(The entire section is 746 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

A CHASTE MAID IN CHEAPSIDE, the only play now extant known to have been acted at the Swan Theatre, belongs to that lively series of farcical comedies which Middleton produced between 1604 and 1612. Bawdy, skillful, and wholly laughter-provoking, it is notable for its exceptional freedom and audacity, even if not for its chastity. Its story interweaves most adroitly the affairs of several households, and it travels at a fast pace through wildly comic situations to a satisfactory conclusion. Despite the lightness of its subject matter, however, the drama is given some ballast by its incidental comment on contemporary manners and customs. In one hilarious sequence, Middleton sees to it that detested police informers are made ridiculous; in another, a realistic christening party provides certain pious Puritan ladies with an excuse for imbibing wine with a zeal over and beyond the demands of mere politeness.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Cheapside in the Early Seventeenth Century
Contemporary audiences would have recognized the joke in the play's title. In the...

(The entire section is 622 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Elizabethan Drama
The term Elizabethan period, named for England's Queen Elizabeth I, has not been defined in any...

(The entire section is 609 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

Early 1610s: Despite the morally ambiguous lives that many citizens lead in London, they still must keep adultery and other immoral...

(The entire section is 202 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Read a city comedy from any other playwright during Middleton's era and compare it to A Chaste Maid in Cheapside.


(The entire section is 138 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Unlike A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, Middleton's The Changeling (first performed in 1622), which he co-wrote with William Rowley,...

(The entire section is 234 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Barber, Charles, ‘‘Critical Introduction,’’ in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, University of California...

(The entire section is 336 words.)