Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Roaring Girl is full of animal allusions and names. People call each other horses, pigs, birds, dogs; there is a place called the Three Pigeons; characters have names such as Gull, Goshawk, Tearcat, and Neatfoot (“neat” being an archaic word for cow, or cattle). And, of course, the titular character, Moll Cutpurse, is the “roaring girl,” a lion of a woman.
Moll uses such language to her advantage in Scene 5 when she meets Laxton for what he assumes will be a sexual rendezvous. As soon as she sees him, she notes how “his eye hawks for venery” (line 43-44). Immediately he is cast in the role of predator. She, whom he calls “admirably suited for the Three Pigeons,” is his prey—a cooing, wanton bird in the hand. She goes on to describe herself sarcastically as his “hackney,” a broken-down horse which he rides hard. This sexual pun which not only puts their relationship in economic terms—a hackney is hired, as she points out when she throws his money at his feet—but also in terms of man and beast, the user and the used.
Her next animal reference carries a similar weight of sarcasm. She tells Laxton how conceited he is, hyperbolizing various situations in which he might think himself desired by a woman based on little evidence. To cap off this section of her diatribe, she tells him he’ll swear to his fellows that a lady has fallen more in love with him at first sight “than her monkey all her lifetime.” In this imaginary situation, the monkey is more than just the woman’s pet. It is also the woman, a fool, too quickly caught and snared by Laxton’s (lacking) charm and wiles. But in Moll’s sarcastic rendering, the monkey is Laxton, for imagining that women fall in love with him so easily.
In this monologue’s final extended metaphor, Moll compares Laxton’s usual prey, the “distressed needlewomen and trade-fallen wives,” to fish and himself to an angler. As noted in the text, these prey must “bite” or “be bitten”; sexual politics in Moll’s understanding is a relationship between predator and prey. She doesn’t fault women for “biting” at Laxton’s “worm”; otherwise they might be eaten by some worse predator. But she laughs at his angling for her, and at the end of her speech all animal metaphors are cast aside when she says, “I scorn to prostitute myself to a man, I that can prostitute a man to me!”

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