Article Title

Shakespeare, Molly House Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Stage


Charles Conaway


This essay argues that Christopher Bullock’s The Cobler of Preston (1716)—a two-act farcical afterpiece based on the Induction from The Taming of the Shrew—ridicules the notion that men can tame their wives, burlesques companionate marital relations by suggesting that spousal affections can be cheaply bought and sold, and demystifies heteronormative assumptions about sex, gender, and desire by employing a nearly all-male adult cast that replicates the same-sex subculture of the early-eighteenth-century molly house. Furthermore, Bullock’s farce equates heteronormative interests with elite culture and attacks them both. His Cobler embraces its status as a product of lower class culture, unabashedly announcing its position in the marketplace when it explicitly states in its Prologue that its aim is “To please some Friends—and draw the Vulgar in,” and suggesting, in its enthusiasm for that status, that lower-class culture is not, as cultural elitists would have us believe, a denigrated culture. At the same time, Bullock explicitly attributes to Shakespeare an ownership interest in the intellectual property of his text, thus locating Shakespeare’s literary authority in the “popular” and constructing his cultural authority against the heteronormative politics of the elite and in line with the sexual identity and desires of the molly house.

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