In 1649, John Dury wrote, "the main scope of the whole work of education, both in boys and girls, should be this: to train them to know God in Christ that they may walk worthy of him and become profitable instruments of the commonwealth" (qtd. in 30).

Certainly traditional forms of education, such as grammar schools, applied to the more fortunate youth in early modern England but just as often, youth were instructed within the household, especially in regards to religion, whether it be a country home or a city home (30). Your parents would be expected to teach you the ways of the church and instill a faith in you that would last you throughout your lifetime (30). Even more, your parents were to teach you how to be an active member of society, as is demonstrated in the scene below from Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. Put yourself in the shoes of Moll, who is being critiqued by her mother, Maudline, for not being girly or flirtatious enough. (27)

Enter MAUDLINE and MOLL, a shop being discovered.

Maudl. Have you play’d over all your old lessons
O’ the virginals?

Moll. Yes.

Maudl . Yes? You are a dull maid o’ late, methinks;
You had need have somewhat to quicken
Your green sickness—do you weep?—a husband!
Had not such a piece of flesh been ordained,
What had us wives been good for?—to make salads,
Or else cry’d up and down for samphire.
To see the difference of these seasons!
When I was of your youth, I was lightsome
And quick two years before I was married.
You fit for a knight’s bed!
Drowsy-brow’d, dull-eyed, drossy-spirited!
I hold my life you have forgot your dancing:
When was the dancer with you?

Moll. The last week.

Maudl. When I was of your bord, he miss’d me not a night;
I was kept at it; I took delight to learn,
And he to teach me; pretty brown gentleman,
He took pleasure in my company;
But you are dull, nothing comes nimbly from you:
You dance like a plumber’s daughter and deserve
Two thousand pound in lead to your marriage,
And not in goldsmith’s ware (27).

This opening scene of the play sets up a dialogue about what it means to become a lady in the context of the society in Cheapside. It is slightly vulgar and very amusing, as we are introduced to a world in which, far from the topic of sexuality being taboo, a mother discusses it openly with her daughter, encouraging her to exert herself sexually, all the while using the cover of language to subtly hide the true vulgarity of her speech. For instance, when she says “Have you play’d over all your old lessons/ O’ the virginals?,” it is hard to ignore the glaring “virgin” that is embedded in the word “virginals.” It is probable that just as much as Maudline is encouraging Moll to practice the musical instrument, she is urging her to develop her sexuality and get some practice with her musical instrument, a possible metaphor for the female genitalia. This makes us, as readers, see the attitudes toward the education of females as one inwardly focusing on sexuality and the securing of a husband while outwardly covering its true purpose under the guise of gentlewomanly pastimes, like music and dancing.

After your basic education within the home about topics such as religion and social interactions, it is important that you do not simply loaf around the house and succumb to the sin of idleness, as Maudline accuses Moll of doing. Therefore, living in either the country or city and being of either gender, you must do something productive with your time. You must get to work.

To learn more about sexuality at this time, visit Deviant Sexuaity in Early Modern England.