This essay interprets the depictions of elite London society in Ben Jonson's Epicoene through the lens of popular tales of urban con artists and seductresses. I argue that Sir Dauphine Eugenie and Mistress Epicoene's efforts to fleece Dauphine's rich uncle have surprising affinities with a sexual extortion scheme called "cross-biting," found in popular urban crime fiction. Cross-biting injects their partnership with the sexual energy and economic competitiveness characteristic of the partnerships between pimps and prostitutes, turning the play into a contest between emergent models of urban masculinity and femininity—one that can be resolved only by revealing that Epicoene is in fact a loyal, cross-dressed male servant. The sex/gender codes of the debased criminal underclass thus are transformed, allowing them to participate in the contemporary cultural construction of new forms of elite masculinity and social capital.


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pp. 379-399
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