For Tuesday: Middleton, A Chaste Maid at Cheapside, Acts 3 and 4

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: If we squint, we can almost see the outline of Romeo and Juliet in this play: parents trying to marry a daughter off to a suitor she doesn’t love, while she meets her real lover in secret (and tries to run away with him); the daughter is threatened by her own parents, the lover fights a duel, and a lot of bawdy humor is thrown about. Though the plots are superficially similar, how does Middleton make sure his plays feels and ‘plays’ differently? What keeps this play a comedy despite events and circumstances which easily could—and maybe should—be tragic?

Q2: When we were reading The Revenger’s Tragedy, I asked about the play’s morality, and I want to ask them same question of this play: what seems to be acceptable ethical behavior in this play/society? How can people act and what can they get away with that the audience is supposed to take offense at? How does Middleton make sure we understand when he disagrees with the morality of his characters? How do we know to laugh (or sneer) at them?

Q3: When Maudline Yellowhammer’s son, Tim, arrives back at home from Cambridge, he insists his name is “Timothius,” and he tries to speak Latin as often as possible. Though Middleton (as a playwright/poet) is not against learning or Latin, how does he satirize Tim’s character? What might he represent about the Yellowhammers in general? You might also think about modern parallels to his character in TV/film.

Q4: One of the more humorous scenes in the play is also one of the least important to the plot: Act Three, Scene 2, when all the Gossips and Puritans converge on Mistress Allwit and her newborn child. What is the significance of this scene, and why might this have been written specifically to delight his audience? What might make them laugh or nod with recognition throughout the scene?


  1. 1. Well, no one has died yet. Nor have they had dramatic monologues about their poor fates (and ill-timed love affairs). The only people we're rooting for is the young couple, as everyone else is rather terrible. They're also all falling for some plot or misunderstanding, one after the other. It just doesn't feel tragic because the play never lingers long enough for it to BE tragic.

    2. Everyone has a line. Some sort of end goal they want and as far as i can see, as long as no higher authority is looking over your shoulder, you're free to go. People may not approve, but you'll hardly be frog-marched through the town square for adultery. There are still lines of what's appropriate and not, but no one really seems to care. As long as it makes things interesting, i guess it's okay.

    Kenia Starry

  2. Nick Johnson

    Q3/ Middleton satirizes Tim as the pompous university student, that believes himself smarter than those around him, even his own tutor. Most of Tim's dialog is in Latin, as he does nothing but debate with his tutor, over the reason of fools. After reading the footnotes, it is funny to hear Tim talk about fools and reason when it seems that his tutor is mocking him without him catching on. That is pretty much the funny that Middleton has with the Yellowhammers, a lower class family putting on airs of the upper class without the knowledge or classical training.

    Q4. The gossips and Puritans are both mocking Allwit and praising Sir Walter for his great offspring. They are essentially admiring the cuckolded fool and the bastard offspring of another man. The groundlings loved the idea of men being cuckolded, it was the low brow joke of its day, like fart jokes are in modern times. It doesnt really have consquence other than to make people laugh.

  3. Elyse Marquardt

    Q1) Middleton addresses the same kinds of issues that have been addressed much more seriously in other works of his time. However, Middleton takes the most dramatic elements of these issues and boils them down to the bare bones. They are no longer arrayed in mystery, romance, and magic. Middleton lays them out so boldly in the broad daylight that we can no longer look at them from a perspective of romantic candlelight and half-hidden faces. When these issues are exposed in the gritty, true-to-life script that Middleton uses, it becomes impossible for us to view them as anything other than ridiculous and often worthy of mockery. The issues cease to seem like beings of worship and instead become objects of ridicule.

    Q2) Middleton does not let a single group of people escape his notice: he mocks the poor people, the rich people, the Puritans, the perverts, the educated, and the untrained. The lifestyles that he depicts may not have been considered acceptable. However, they were still a dominant part of the society, and so they were familiar topics to the audience. Seeing these topics addressed in such cutting sarcasm would have made the audience enjoy the play, because they were still able to take delight in their less-than-moral pastimes while acknowledging the immorality of those very same pastimes. The more the realities of their world were revealed onstage, the more the audience would have laughed and sneered and commiserated with the characters.

    Elyse Marquardt

  4. Q1: Despite the possibility of seeing the events in this play in a tragic light, Middleton creates characters that are comic enough to create an equilibrium. I find this play has a similar feel to “Seinfeld” in some ways. It focuses on the common people and their lives. However, the things these people do are not necessarily ordinary. Nothing obviously outlandish takes place (like “Titus Andronicus” for example), but things are definitely not normal. The average person does not send their kid a silver spoon so that he may fit in in his expensive school. The events are “realistically bogus”.

    Q3: Middleton’s intention is to make Tim as snobby as possible. This personality is especially amusing due to the caste of Tim’s family. Such a narcissistic and pompous character, attempting to show off his education, sticks out like a sore thumb. This is exaggerated by the fact that Tim’s family is uneducated and cannot understand him when he tries to show off. He is providing a specific kind of comic relief. He is an amusing, yet somewhat dislikeable character, like Kenny Banyan (Jerry’s comedic arch-enemy) from “Seinfeld”

  5. Marilyn Kull
    Q1: Middleton and Shakespeare would look a lot alike at the end of the day, but here we can see a few differences. First of all, Romeo and Juliet were both seemingly young; here we have a young girl and an older man it would seem. Romeo and Juliet also had a lot of deaths before their final scenes. Here we don't see any deaths. Romeo and Juliet was also full of characters who seemed to be on one side or the other; this play has a lot of characters, but they aren't pitted against one another.
    Q3: As college students we can appreciate this scene. So Timothius is being "so smart" that he thinks himself to be such a big deal. In act three scene one, around line 130, he seems to be "fighting off" the married women because he's a young bachelor. He continues to talk in latin with his tutor, and at one point their discussion moves toward fools. Tim is the fool because he's too stupid to see the irony in his words. In the end, this kid is the epitaph of foolish, striving for greatness, reaching higher than his station, Shakespearean london character.

  6. Q2: We can see Middleton's acceptance and denial of certain morality traits with how much fun he makes of them. For example, he makes a lot of fun of Tim, which suggests he doesn't like those who are pretentious in learning. He also makes a lot of fun of the Puritans. This suggests that he does not appreciate those who are pretentious in religion.

    Q4: In this scene, it is really funny- and would be to those in the seventeenth century audiences- that the Puritan ladies are getting drunk while they are surrounded by sin (a bastard!). Puritans certainly aren't supposed to do this.

  7. Q1: While there are similarities, Marlowe has an almost sacrilegious approach when compared to Shakespeare. He always harps on the hypocrisy and ludicrousness of the characters. Shakespeare makes murder and suicide seem like a ritual with beautiful vocabulary that makes awful acts take on an almost angelic tone. On the other side, Marlowe makes the abandonment of an infant a gag. The vocabulary that Marlowe chooses is low, slang, even. He brings the tragedies of everyday life into the spotlight and then turns around and makes fun of them, just like we do. He reflects and satirizes the absurdity that is rationalizing and normalizing tragedies. In my opinion Marlowe presents a more realistic view of life in that era than Shakespeare did. Marlowe shows the nitty gritty, and the lighter side that comes with real life. It may be staged as a comedy, but I think it reads a lot more like Reality TV.
    Q3: Tim’s character is one that still exists today. An uneducated person finds themselves outside of their relatively small surroundings and is forced to sink or swim, socially speaking. Over time this posturing becomes their lifejacket and then their personality. When they return home they feel the need to show their old peers how they’ve changed, and in the same way the puritans condemn the other characters, they supplement their identity by reminding the people around them of their differentiation. This shows that the Yellowhammers are so concerned about moving vertically in society that they seldom think twice about putting others down to ensure their own success. But all characters are guilty of this. They feel that by making fun of Tim they are better than him. They think that by making his education something to be ashamed of that their ignorance is morally justified. They paint their stagnation in society as a preservation of a lifestyle, rather than laziness.

  8. Q2: Middleton seems to favor the more oblivious and reserved in this play. Throughout the play we see him continually make fun of those who are flamboyant about a trait or quality. While the most obvious example of this is Tim, as we see him constantly make a fool of himself as he pretends to be learned, we also see this through the continuous harassment of the Puritans. However, the characters that resemble a lower class or those who attempt to portray a more normal person seem to be the ones who make these jokes and tease they others.

    Q3: We all are aware that the Yellowhammers attempt to act above their class, or that they at least struggle to fit in with the upper classes. We can see this through Tim. It is an honor and speaks well of your family to send your son to such a prestigious school, and even more so when he can come back and speak Latin, the language of the scholar. However, Middleton spends pages upon pages making fun of Tim’s attempt to fit in with the crowd, similar to his parents. While he speaks Latin, those around him don’t understand him. This becomes humorous for the audience and helps us to see Tim as more of a joke than the scholar he is attempting to portray.


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