Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1241
In A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, it seems like everybody is either married or wants to get married. In fact, one marriage in particular, the intended marriage of Sir Walter to Moll Yellowhammer, creates the conflict in the play. Sir Walter has agreed to marry Moll and in return he has agreed to have Tim Yellowhammer marry his niece. This first arrangement also introduces the first deception. While Moll is in fact a chaste maid, as the title indicates, Sir Walter's niece—who is not his niece at all but a prostitute—is anything but the Welsh gentlewoman she pretends to be. As Sir Walter is riding into Cheapside with the Welsh gentlewoman, he instructs her in her deception. Sir Walter says, "Here you must pass for a pure virgin.'' Sir Walter also deceives the Allwits by not telling them that he is planning on getting married. He knows that if the Allwits suspect Sir Walter is getting married, they will try to stop it because, as a single man, he will continue to be their benefactor. When Davy tells Allwit that Sir Walter is intending to marry Moll, Allwit leaves hurriedly saying, "I have no time to stay, nor scarce to speak, / I'll stop those wheels, or all the work will break.’’ By this, Allwit refers to all of the hard work that he and his wife have put into making money off of Sir Walter.
While Sir Walter intends to marry Moll, she is really in love with Touchwood Junior, whom she wants to marry. Their attempts to marry are thwarted on several occasions. The first time, Touchwood Junior dupes Moll's father, a goldsmith, by having him make the ring that he intends to place on Moll's finger. Touchwood Junior is very bold in this ruse, telling Yellowhammer that he intends to use the ring to steal away a man's daughter. However, Yellow-hammer does not suspect that he is that man and so criticizes any father who is so blind. Yellowhammer says, ‘‘And parents blinded so, but they're served right / That have two eyes, and wear so dull a sight.'' However, Yellowhammer breaks up the marriage of Moll and Touchwood Junior just in time before the parson can marry them. From this point on the Yellowhammers try to keep Moll under lock and key until she is to be wed to Sir Walter. Yellowhammer says, ‘‘In the meantime, I will lock up this baggage, / As carefully as my gold.’’ With some help, Moll escapes again but is literally dragged back by her mother. Feigning a fatal illness, Moll "dies."
Her parents are so caught up with trying to marry Tim to the Welsh gentlewoman that they do not attend the funeral where Moll and Touchwood Junior rise from their coffins and are happily married. The parson says, "Hands join now, but hearts for ever, / Which no parent's mood shall sever.’’ However, the Yellowhammers's "mood" is surprisingly calm and they support the marriage since Sir Walter has proven to be a debtor and is in prison and because they just found out that they have had Tim married to Sir Walter's prostitute. Yellowhammer says, ‘‘My poor boy Tim is cast away this morning, / Even before breakfast: married a whore.’’ Tim is also distraught, until his mother reminds him of his own words, saying, "You told me once, by logic you would prove / A whore an honest woman, prove her so Tim.’’ Tim accepts the challenge, but his new wife beats him to it, saying, ‘‘Sir if your logic cannot prove me honest, / There's a thing called marriage, and that makes me honest.’’ Thus, both marriages turn out happily.
Besides references to marriage, the play is saturated with sex, most notably extramarital affairs. Many of the male characters in the play have engaged in extramarital affairs and so have some of the women. In the seventeenth century when a man slept with another man's wife, he was said to have cuckolded the woman's husband. Cuckoldry,...
(The entire section contains 1241 words.)
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