Scene Two

Mrs Cresswell has returned to the house and is sat at the dining room table in the gloom. Dorothea is ready and eager to begin. The maid tears open the dust-filled curtains and cold morning light streams into the derelict drawing room. Mrs Cresswell squints and scowls as the white light cuts across her face. The made takes a seat and attends to her sewing supplies.

I’m ready to listen to you with the same respect as the young scholar does to his rigid master or a zealous Christian to a preacher.

Excellent. [Still scowling at the light] And do not let your mind wander. The Whore’s Rhetorick is nothing else but the art of insinuating words, false pretenses, and moving the minds of men. The art is as astute and delicate as the sewing supplies required by a fine embroiderer. However, as trade and traders increase, so must industry and ingenuity; in the current climate the competition is stiff, so it is necessary to understand more than vulgarity.

Do not discourage me already!

Daughter. Remember – industry!1

Idle Hands

[Takes her seat] Yes Mother.

Believe me, it is a crowded market that makes commerce competitive. Lack of employment suppresses the price of labour. They will be willing to do more for less and in greater volume. Poverty drives their urgency!2 Not least since the alternative is spinning sewing supplies until their hands are rubbed to the bone in Aldersgate for little more than a pig!3 Better a porking, frankly.

Yet risk multiplies by the day.4 It were impossible so many whores should daily become such spectacles of misery if they would make the right use of half that wit, nature and their own experience has furnished them with; discretion is key, my girl. They needed not fear the constable’s staff, or the justice’s warrant, a public whipping or a private one in Bridewell, where Sir William5 knocks and keeps time with the lash; they might scape the halter, starving in a corner, rotting of the canker, or French-pox, if they were not negligent, sots, extravagant, lewd, the Devil and worse!


Whilst Mrs Cresswell delivers this warning, the sound of hard knocking rings through the old dining room.

Pins and Needles

Even then, these stupid jades do sometimes work wonders and govern the world; so imagine what they could achieve with some wit.

[squealing with delight] We should ride them more unmercifully than they do their horses!

[sharply] Not every insipid slut is qualified for this trade; the highest point of policy and circumspection is necessary to render a whore successful in her own art; she must be at least as dexterous in the vending of her goods as the haberdasher at putting off his sewing supplies: and if she knew her own wealth, she has in her shop no less variety than the haberdasher’s in his: for if he can cry pins, needles, laces, thimbles and other such things6 she likewise has in her magazine dainty words, sweet kisses, pretty smiles, and charming looks. Anyway. But I digress – I will continue my Rhetorick in the proper order.

I won’t trouble you with an account of the division of Rhetorick, from oration, elocution, tropes or figures. However, I will introduce you to the foundation of this lesson: like a priest seemingly takes vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, but instead devote themselves to luxury, avarice, and dissimulation. You must always put on a seeming modesty, even when performing the most essential parts of your profession. You must show contempt of money, yet your avarice must be insatiable. Your whole existence must be one continuous act of dissimulation.

I will obey you good Mother.


Make no mistake, your profession will impose on you in ways far different than the ordinary artifices of our sex. We are all, it is true, naturally inclined to weave fraudulent webs. But you must surpass others of your sex in this undertaking; you move in a higher sphere than the rest of women and your actions ought to seem public-spirited. You must be furnished with a great variety of words, like the variety of thread amongst your sewing supplies. Use ambiguous expressions, synonymous terms, to equivocate, vary and double, adding particular gallantry to your discourse.

A whore’s language is the lascivious dialect, is ever to please the present lover; who is always coming to feed on the same dish. You must seem altogether insatiable in pleasing him, ever pretending to receive yourself particular satisfaction. Let me not mince my words; just fucking fake it daughter.

Bay like a heifer if you must, trust, it’s better to give some encouragement lest the sniveling prick be going at like some fumbling adolescent. Get out of it what you can. If you have to fuck someone that appalls you, a lascivious picture or two is a good lubricant. I recommend literature by Aretino but disregard the sodomy.7


Dorothea looks a little taken aback.


Goodness knows I’ve done it for free as many times as I’ve had the proper remuneration. We all fuck for many reasons and rarely for love.

Conversely, if his experience has taught him some diverse forms of enjoyment just go with it – condescend to his humour. Shove your tall finger into his backside, wriggle, and let the comedy end with a wheezing lurch.


That said, it’s a good opportunity to gain a supplement on the fee; when the minion is drowning in lascivious excess, try an experiment. Insinuate a request – for instance, say you need money to recover a pawned ring, pendant, sewing supplies, or some like utensil, which unless paid for today will be irrevocably lost.


Focus drifts from Mrs Creswell to rest on the maid. Her black eyes look on.


Complain of the obligation that lies upon you; insist the debt must be paid in a day, or else you’ll damage your credit, as your creditor is one of your main benefactors. If your lover is retentive, abound protestations and insist goodwill. Trade in the bank of subtlety so that your cash may increase.


Focus snaps back to Cresswell.


[She points to the maid] Oh – And make sure your maid is in on it! [The maid looks up from her sewing supplies]

A Tax on Piss

Dorothea is enthralled. Mrs Cresswell continues.


Securing your cash flow is mandatory. Every worker is subjugated by an in inevitable decree to satisfy the most lascivious appetites, provided they come with money in their purse and is willing to purchase at your rates.

Besides. Money neutralizes everything – it cleanses. The Emperor that raised a tax from piss to refute those that thought it beneath the dignity of royalty, produced a heap of gold into his Treasury. Does this, says he, stink of the excrement from whence it was drained? No. You see, money removes all stench by virtue of its purging quality.

Sewing Supplies

Therefore, you must move with a superficial stateliness; always be magnificently dressed and serious. Follow the strict rules of sobriety, never deviating into the excesses of lewdness and obscenity. Men will be sure to respect those who set a high value on themselves and their goods: she who sells the best ware and at the best rate, but never seems too fond of the buyer. Men deal with their women as they do their haberdashers; let the shop be in a gentile part of town, the cellar be stored with shop-rhetoric, and the best sewing supplies displayed.

Amatory Democracy

I remember you told me I was to understand these points, for which, good mother, I do again return you my thanks. I hope I shall never give you any cause to repent, either your charge or trouble.

Among all the qualities of an exact oration, there is none more pleasing, than those delivered in numerous and smooth periods. These will gratify even the most exacting orator with their regulated sound. The harmonious conjunction of my Rhetorick is like the sound of coins clashing in your pocket. To multiply these, it is necessary to likewise increase your clientele. Beware of becoming too reliant on a single client’s purse strings. It is a poor business plan to languish at the discretion of one man. Do not expect any considerable return through dealing with one correspondent. The most famous rivers in the world receive tribute from a multitude of inferior brooks; and the ocean itself could not brag of its vast extent if it wasn’t for the unaccountable limits of its supply.

A long acquaintance will create a fatal familiarity. It will embolden him to deny you even the most modest requests, raising his dominion over you to such a height as to tread on you with his cruel feet. You must keep in your own hands the power to retract, offer a favourable gale, that might waft you into a better port. You must fancy yourself the governess of the amorous republic, who rewards based on the proportion of their wealth and their readiness to open their purse strings. Your law must mean generosity on the one hand, and retentive parsimony on the other.


Encourage loyalty and humble deference amongst your vassals. But it is foolish to assume security; even if any person whose services merit a single reward, be careful not to give him any grounds to assume your good favour.

He was certainly a coward, and not a wise man, the Emperor, who first introduced the custom of reclaiming mutineers by heaping honors on their undeserving heads, stopping the mouths of the dissenting with preferment from the state. This does nothing but open a wide gap for the adventurous villain to entering the bewitching fortress of rebellion. Anyone who thinks this is the fastest way to secure allegiance is guilty of the same ignorance and weakness. When treating a fever, everyone knows that losing a little blood is the only way to save a life. Open up your sewing supplies and pick a pin; in the first case, phlebotomy is indispensably necessary, and the only remedy to a feverish body politic.

Why Mother, I might think you’re teaching me to be a politician!


It’s not dissimilar. Although all of this said if you do find a client wealthy enough to sustain you, be sure to secure your future should his humour change. Consider how you might enjoy the third part of his estate should you survive him – what lawyers call a dower in their jargon. It is the single courtesy the law may afford you – that you can cuckold a husband all his life and yet they shall not be able at their death to stop this legal current.

Pray Madam, do not speak of lawyers any longer; as I have heard my father say, they have more jilting tricks than you desire to teach me.

Yes – quite right. I shouldn’t dwell on these imperitinents as I love them as little as you, especially since my late overthrow at Westminster. Nonetheless, if you must, take a single lover, wrench as much money from him as you can.

I think it would be more pleasing to take many lovers than maintain one gentleman; I would think he would become in time as troublesome as a husband.

Yes, this is an excellent point. Variety is the spice of life, and I would not be so cruel as to confine you to one dish of meat, or one petticoat, or but one reel of thread in your sewing supplies. But then, daughter, be discrete. They can indeed rail at women as weak and frail vessels; and yet they themselves are rather more leaky.

But if he would prove a blab he might not –


Even after her long monologue, Mrs Cresswell is determined to stay centre stage. She cuts Dorothea off:


Mrs. C: As you would seem to be, hm?

[meekly] Excuse me, Mother.

If you’re concerned of discovery, be sure to take a house of your own; lodgings are subject to several rules. Lodgers will insist not to carry on any trade, business or profession from the property or to use the property for any ‘immoral’ activities. Moreover, within your own convenient house you can have dark refuges, just large enough to contain a bed. With these, you can entertain many clients at once, with the maid standing sentinel.


The maid has abandoned her sewing supplies. Instead, she is looking on, despondent but inquisitive.


With these hovels are useful for a quick turnaround. With a few jabbing, needle-like rabbit-thrusts, eyes clenched, lips puckered, and a light spray of spit, you can get it over with efficiently, should you desire to sleep or attend to a more lucrative invitation.

A Plucked Goose

But will a man be fond of a lady’s company should she come hot from another man’s embrace.

If any suspicion arises, insist you are away to speak with a precise female friend; or else capitalize on their jealousy. When in the company of many admirers, be sure to act with appropriate indifference; and then in private, let each be the beloved. Let you be particularly dexterous in this endeavor, like the seamstress picking and stitching with her sewing supplies.

However, if matrimony does not ensure, let her pluck the master-feather from the goose, and show her trophies to the next bird that comes to the net to encourage him more freely to part with his own: thus wheeling round in an eternal circle of fraud, she will fulfil the vow of avarice and dissimulation taken at her initiation.

A Memory

  1. Despite her lifestyle, Cresswell was a zealous Protestant.
  2. From the Interregnum through the Restoration, capital as the production of scarcity was put into full force. Vagrancy, work, and wages operated in a delicate triangulation where the first was criminalised but ballooning, the second was compulsory but scarce, whilst pay was low enough to compel workers to keep working. In 1683 (the same year The Whore’s Rhetorick was published) Chief Justice Matthew Hale wrote that 10s a week was sufficient remuneration to keep a family continually working.
  3. The first workhouse opened in Aldersgate in 1676. The institution employed 1,700 people to spin yarn for 6d a day or a “pig”. Towards the turn of the century, they span silk imported from Bengal.
  4. Once thought of as a necessary evil, condemnation of sex work was gaining traction. For instance, the 1668 Bawdy House Riots were triggered by tension around the ‘licit’ labour of apprentices and the ‘illicit’ labour of prostitutes. Equally, towards the end of the century, religious vigilantes began to harass sex workers. These “outriders of Puritan work and family ethic” prosecuted between 200 and 900 women a year.
  5. This is a reference to Sir William Turner, former Lord Mayor of London, President of Bridewell, and long-time director of the East India Company.
  6. ‘Pins and needles’ was a collective noun for sex workers. However, this the first of a series of references to the textiles and sewing supplies that punctuate the original text. When the book was written, textile merchants – who were typically bourgeois republicans – were wooed into suppressing the uprising they had financed not thirty years earlier. A variety of protectionist acts were passed from around 1660, where the importation of sewing supplies was banned. The reasoning behind this maneuver was to inflate the textile industry to create jobs and put idle hands to work and manage dissent. Therefore, the well-disciplined textile labourer’s body was the foundation of social order.
  7. In the original Italian version of The Whore’s Rhetorick, the author recommends Pietro Aretino’s pornographic drawings. However, in the English translation, they are denounced for their depictions of anal sex.