One of the central figures inThe Roaring Girl by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton is Moll Cutpurse, a cross-dressing woman who does not care for societal norms. During the time period the The Roaring Girl is set in, smoking tobacco had become a popular pastime among men, but was far from normal for a woman to partake in. The men used pipes, a long stem of wood or clay with a bowl at the end, to smoke their tobacco. As somebody that throws societal gender roles to the wind, Moll is often depicted with a pipe in her hand. Moll’s smoking habit violates gender conventions and makes the pipe a significant part of her rebellious ensemble.
The only use of a pipe that we see in the text is in Act Two when Goshawk, Greenwit, and Laxton are gathered at the market. At this point, Mistress Gallipot is also present and even fills and lights the pipe for the gentlemen, but never actually joins them in smoking. Considering the men agree that “women are the best mincers” of tobacco, it is interesting that we have not seen a woman engage in smoking (2.1.38). The fact that women are often the best at preparing a pipe, but never participate in smoking shows how men dominated the pastime. Wives are expected to prepare pipes for their husband and his acquaintances without ever being invited to share the pipe. Moll actively participating in a male-dominated activity shows her masculinity goes beyond just her dress.
The pipe becomes an important part of Moll’s character because it helps authenticate her male appearance. As discussed earlier, during this time period it is very out of the ordinary for a woman to be smoking. Despite this Moll is such an experienced smoker that the gentlemen invite her to join them and ask her opinion on the quality of their tobacco. Initially Moll tells the men that she cannot stay, but they are adamant that she answer their inquiry and after some convincing Goshawk asks, “Now thy judgement Moll, is ‘t not good?” (II.i.182). The surprising amount of effort the men show in having Moll rate their tobacco shows that they value her opinion. The fact that a group of men would defer to Moll on a male pastime makes her fit in with the men even more and authenticates her cross-dressing appearance.
Within The Roaring Girl, pipes are objects associated with the social gathering of men. The only woman who is invited to join the gentlemen in smoking, and the only woman who the gentlemen ask the opinion of, is Moll Cutpurse. As a result of the association of pipes with men, Moll is often depicted with a smoking pipe in her hand to add to the authenticity of her character.