Comparing Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside and Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle

Comparing Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside and Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle

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Upturning Social Tradition in Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside and Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle


Satirical dramatic works from early seventeenth-century England provide
invaluable information about the society that spawned them through their
comical and critical insights. Recurring themes from these works enhance
one's knowledge of the culture in which they first appeared. The ascension
of the lower and middle classes into social prestige and nobility emerges
among the most prevalent dramatic themes of the time. Capitalizing upon
the subsequent social confusion, seventeenth-century playwrights convey
the uncertainty of whether to follow the dictum of flagging traditions or
to purchase a higher place in society. To understand the nuances of how
social change affected England, one needs only to glance at Thomas
Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, which illustrates the struggle of
the English aristocracy to survive as lower-born citizens triumphantly
rise into its ranks. A Chaste Maid in Cheapside's sister drama, Francis
Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle, also depicts this situation
in England despite its differing plot and structure. Moreover, both plays
feature similar resolutions that subtly contribute to the aura of social
confusion. To emphasize the prevalence of upward mobility, Middleton's A
Chaste Maid in Cheapside and Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle
feature women who overcome sexually-motivated male suitors by feigning
death, an action that symbolically exemplifies the quavering social
boundaries and the diminishing...


... middle of paper ...


...h works. One inconspicuous ripple of the numerous
social shock waves appears as women overcome their insolent suitors by
feigning death: a figurative upheaval of orthodox social values. In
addition, the unfulfilled eroticism of the suitors suggests the future
deterioration of their belief that they must marry a woman for propagation
and not for love. After the women escape subjection to this lifestyle by
faking their deaths, the consequences of their resurrection demonstrate
the inconstancy of cultural certainties in their society.

Works Cited

Beaumont, Francis. The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Ed. John Doebler.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.

Middleton, Thomas. A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. Ed. Alan Brissenden. New
York: WW Norton & Company, Inc., 1997.

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