Agency and the Sea in “The Roaring Girl”

In scene two of their play The Roaring Girl (c.1607–10), Middleton and Dekker gesture to a sea with agency that also incorporates echoes of reality and instability. Sir Alexander, who believes his son Sebastian is in love with Moll, laments, “All my joys / Stand at the brink of a devouring flood / And will be willfully swallowed, willfully!” (2.2.188–190). Like Shakespeare’s portrayals of the sea entity in Clarence’s dream (Richard III 1.4.24–41) and the tides in Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (1.2.48–51), these lines describe a malicious flood primed and eager to destroy human desires. They also knit together threads of description and allusion used by Middleton and Dekker to characterize Moll and the city of London. As noted in a previous blog post, the play associates Moll with sea-related images, and her movement through the urban landscape resembles tidal ebbs and flows. In Sir Alexander’s lament, these allusions merge; he envisions Moll as a deluge poised to dash all his hopes for Sebastian’s contracting an advantageous marriage. In Sir Alexander’s mind the blame rests on the culture of a city that suffers a girl like Moll to flow freely through it, and he imagines a flood of circumstances standing ready and willing to consume his carefully laid plans. To make this point, Middleton and Dekker employ sea imagery that becomes the embodiment of all Sir Alexander’s fears: a devouring agent contrary to all his wishes, ready to efface what was acceptable in his son and recreate it in ways destructive to his parental strategies and aspirations.    

Text used for The Roaring Girl and The Spanish Tragedy:
Bevington, David, Lars Engle, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Eric Rasmussen, editors. English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology, W.W. Norton & Co., 2002.

For Richard III:
Kastan, David Scott, Richard Proudfoot, and Ann Thomas, editors. The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works. Bloomsbury, 2011.

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earlymodernetc

Shakespeare and early modern drama. MA in English, BA in Liberal Studies. Reader, playgoer, music lover. Twitter: @16thCenturyGirl

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