St Paul’s was the City of London’s Cathedral, at this time a Gothic style building rather than Christopher Wren‘s famous domed structure built after the Great Fire of London. St Paul’s was a civic as well as religious space, and “served as a meeting place for fashionable gentlemen” (Gossett p.44) to exchange gossip. The Cathedral’s middle aisle, known as Paul’s Walk, was particularly well-known as the gossip-hub of London. According to Chalfant the first state lotteries in England were held at the west door of St Paul’s in 1569 (156).
It is also apparent that commercial and recreational activities took place inside St Paul’s: The Bishop Baybroke is on record complaining about people who “expose their wares as it were in a public market, buy and sell, buy and sell without reverence for the holy place. Others too by the instigation of the Devil do not scruple with stones and arrows to bring down birds, pigeons and jackdaws which nestle in the walls and crevices of the building; others play at ball… breaking the beautiful and costly windows” (qutd. in Chalfant, 156).
For digital reconstruction what St. Pauls and it’s churchyard might have looked like c.1622 take a look at the video from the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project below:
The Roaring Girl
Middleton and Dekker make a passing reference to St Paul’s in Act 2, referring to Jack Dapper’s identity as a fashionable, but foppish young gentleman.
However, the play has another connection with St Paul’s: the real Moll Cutpurse, Mary Frith, was compelled “to do public penance for ‘wearing undecent and manly apparel,'” (Dawson, 388) at Paul’s Cross on 9th February 1612. Paul’s Cross was the Churchyard outside St Paul’s where public sermons were delivered. John Chamberlain described Mary Frith’s penance as follows: “Mall Cut-purse a notorious bagage (that used to go in mans apparell and challenged the feild of divers gallants) was brought to [Paul’s Cross], where she wept bitterly and seemed very penitent, but yt is since doubted she was maudelin druncke, beeing discovered to have tipled of three quarts of sacke before she came to her penaunce” (qutd. in Dawson, 388).
It seems unlikely that the fact that this event took place 9 days before the The Roaring Girl was recorded in the Stationers Register is a coincidence: it seems clear that someone was taking advantage of public interest in Mary Frith’s public shaming at Paul’s Cross to sell copies of the play.
Jack Dapper: “Here’s three halfpence for your ordinary, boy; meet me an hour hence in Paul’s” (2.1.121-122)
Jonson alludes to the reputation of St Paul’s as a meeting place for fashionable gentlemen when introducing one of his main characters, John Littlewit. The pun on Littlewit’s name suggests that the conversation to be had at St Paul’s might not be so witty.
Littlewit: “Proctor John Littlewit, one o’ the pretty wits o’ Paul’s, the Little wit of London” (1.1.11-13)