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A Bag of Tricks: Literary Tricksters as Mediators of Changing Gender Roles in Early Modern London

  • Author(s): Riegel, Rhea
  • Advisor(s): Amussen, Susan
  • et al.

A Bag of Tricks: Literary Tricksters as Mediators of Changing Gender Roles in Early Modern London. Dissertation submitted to the University of California, Merced in 2020 for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Humanities by Rhea Riegel.

This dissertation explores the social concerns of early modern Londoners through the lens of literary trickster characters, focusing on changing gendered roles. The inclusion of multiple tricksters from the beginning of the 17th century through the early 1660s demonstrates that over the course of the century, tricksters are increasingly human, and the magical elements of their actions disappear; at the same time, their tricks shift from a focus on social relations in the growing city in the early century to concerns with disguise and dress in the Restoration. Robin Goodfellow, including his portrayal in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is the template for tricksters. Tricksters in city comedies, starting with Moll Cutpurse, the one female city comedy trickster (in Middleton and Dekker’s 1611 The Roaring Girl) followed by male tricksters in Thomas Middleton’s A Mad World, My Masters (1608) and A Tricke to Catch the Old-one (1608), as well as Lording Barry’s Ram Alley (1611), draw attention to concerns about money wasting gallants and the marriage process. Following the execution of Charles I and the flight of Charles II, Captain James Hind, a highwayman, is transformed from an actual criminal into a trickster hero in news stories and pamphlets written by and about him. Finally, two women tricksters, Mary Frith and Mary Carleton, write their own stories following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Placing Hind, Frith, and Carleton in the trickster tradition demonstrates the way the trickster tradition allowed individuals to frame their own behavior in ways that drew attention to social and political tensions.

Tricksters are visible across multiple genres, from plays, ballads, and jestbooks to newsbooks and pamphlets and finally to autobiography. Together they show that attention to tricksters—magical, real, and imagined—makes visible not just social tensions, but change over the course of the century.

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