“More legs than nature gave thee”: Performing the Cripple in The Fair Maid of the Exchange

This essay argues that the figure of Cripple, central to the unattributed play The Fair Maid of the Exchange (1607), can reshape critical notions of early modern disability. Cripple depends upon distinctive prosthetic devices, his “crutches” and “crooked habite,” which he loans as stage properties for an act of disguise. Though Cripple’s character suggests the stereotype of the crippled beggar who makes a fraudulent appeal for charitable aid, the play foregrounds the vexed relationship between Cripple’s deformed body and his crucial position in the dramatic economy. In a comedy preoccupied with the exchanges of identity that make possible social and financial advancement, disability funds theatrical performance and defines the limits of impersonation.