Abstract: Many considerations of city comedy add an additional distracting modifier: Jacobean. The Three Ladies of London and its sequel, however, are quite manifestly proto-city comedies, drawing on themes and anxieties about city life explored in such Tudor plays as Jack Juggler and Hick Scorner. This brief paper will explore the common thematic elements established in Tudor city comedies, and examine the role of Three Ladies of London in shaping how those elements were transmitted into seventeenth-century dramatic writing. In particular, I will focus my attention on the relationship between financial fraud, disguise, and what we would presently call identity theft.
Citation: McKeown, Roderick, ‘The Three Ladies of London and the Pre-History of City Comedy’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/RoderickMcKeown.htm.
Abstract: In the tenth scene of Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London, Lady Lucre takes ink from ‘the box of all abomination’ and spots the face of Lady Conscience. The action is designed to indicate the moral contamination and depravity of London. The City has prostituted itself to fraudsters, usurers, and foreigners, and allowed itself to be tainted through sordid deals or shameful behaviour. This article draws on evidence of prostitution from the Governors’ Minute Books of Bridewell Hospital to gain glimpses into the lives of London women in the 1570s. Many were vulnerable to exploitation. A few, like Anne Levens, Elizabeth (‘Bess’) Kelsey, and Mary Dornelly, managed to make a living from prostitution until they were prosecuted. Others, like Jane Trosse, Rose Flower, and Black Luce of Clerkenwell, enjoyed a degree of fame, surfacing in literary and dramatic texts of the time. The article illustrates ways in which women either suffered alone, or worked to achieve a measure of solidarity with others despite the risks. In refusing to romanticize London, and the women drawn to it in hope of prosperity, Wilson’s play conceals an implied realism beneath its cover of allegory.
Citation: Salkeld, Duncan, ‘Ladies of London: Prostitution in the 1570s’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/DuncanSalkeld.htm.