6 - Moll's wake

Moll’s Straw Hat Hanging on the Wall

The English employed “paupers in making straw hats” (Marshall 147). In the eighteenth-century it was the most common hat, worn by lower and middle-class women. The straw hat was referred to as the “chip, usually flat-crowned with a wide brim” (Olsen 99); the brim was sometimes flat as well and folded down at the sides or worn tilted. Typically, the chip is worn over a cap and tied to the head. Moll’s straw hat seen hung on the wall could indicate her farewell to life or could be a reminder of a simpler time.

Material Culture

The Parson’s Clothing

In most Christian traditions parsons wore clerical clothing. The Church of England adopted the gentleman’s dress of the eighteenth-century, this included “black knee britches, gaiters, a frock coat and white bands” attached to the collar (Percy 89). Some clergy still wear this today, though most have adopted the evolved form, the clerical shirt with a white plastic ‘dog-collar’. This type of dress helped the clergy to attain a “distinctive persona” as virtuous (Percy 90). However, even though the parson is seen wearing his clerical uniform, he exposes the Church as less honourable with his indecent behaviour.

Material Culture

Unconventional Mourners

Rather than display respectful mourning at Moll’s wake, the “urban vice and predation” that led to her death continues “unabated” through the gatherers (Momberger 54). Her “bawd” illustrates exploitation by “lamenting the loss of revenue” (61).  “Alcohol,” “vanity,” and “theft” are seen to hold the interests of the other prostitutes, as well as a gathering of the “forces that converged to destroy” Moll since the beginning (62).

Moll's Social World

Pock-Marked Prostitute

Plate 6 shows the “cycle of innocence which is corrupted” (Tate). It uses irony, in the sense that most of the women in attendance are prostitutes who do not heed the warning seen in Moll’s life and death. The women gather for the death of their friend, but what caused her death will surely be their demise as well. This can be seen with the woman in the corner with the pox mark who is still practicing her trade by courting a customer at her friend’s funeral.

Moll's Social World

Date on the Coffin

This date symbolizes the 65th anniversary of the Great Fire of London in 1666 . Hogarth ironically emphasizes the role of the church during the devastation caused by the fire (Momberger 61) contrasting the church's care in the past with its neglect of the present (Gilpin 318).

Allusions and Symbols


The woman stares at her reflection entranced with herself. She mimics the acts of Narcissus who starred into a pool until he fell into it and drowned (Graves 168). A syphilitic spot in her reflection foreshadows her death.  Here myth is linked to scrying (fortune-telling) and there is a correlation here between myth and magic (Nelson 370).

Allusions and Symbols

In the final plate, Moll is dead, and all of the scavengers are present at her wake. A note on the coffin lid shows that she died aged 23 on 2 September 1731. The parson spills his brandy as he has his hand up the skirt of the girl next to him, and she appears pleased. Moll's son plays ignorantly. Moll's son is innocent, but he sits playing with his top underneath his mother's body, unable to understand (and figuratively fated to death himself) (Source: Wikipedia).