Thomas Middleton

Definition

Theater

  • (1570 - 1627) English dramatist, who excelled in both comedy andtragedy. Whilst his so-called 'city comedies' provide insight into 17th-centuryLondon life and manners, his tragedies are noted for their richly poetic verse,their emphasis on guilt and corruption, and their understanding of feminine psychology. His admirer T. S. Eliot wrote:
    Middleton was a great observer of human nature, without fear,without sentiment, without prejudice.
    Middleton's first plays were acted by boy companiesat Blackfriars Theatre and other venues. He often worked in collaborationwith other dramatists for the theater owner Philip Henslowe.With Thomas Dekker (c. 1570 - 1632) he wrote The HonestWhore (1604) and The Roaring Girl (1610), and with WilliamRowley he produced the powerful tragedy The Changeling (1622).Some modern scholars also believe that the texts we now have of Shakespeare'sMacbeth and Measure for Measure were substantially altered byMiddleton. The Revenger's Tragedy (1606) is now generally attributedto Middleton, rather than Cyril Tourneur.

    Middleton's social comedies include A Trick to Catch theOld One (1604 - 05), which provided the basis for Philip Massinger'sA New Way to Pay Old Debts (1623), A Mad World, My Masters(1605), which introduced Sir Bounteous Progress, a lively countrygentleman who is generous to all except his heir Dick Follywit, andA Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1619), which satirized ordinaryLondoners. Other works include the tragedy Women Beware Women(1621) and the political satire A Game of Chess (1624), aboutthe futile efforts to unite the royal houses of England (representedby the White Knight) and Spain (the Black Knight):

    The White Knight, with wit-wonderous strength
    And circumspective prudency,
    Gives check-mate by discovery
    To the Black Knight...
    The play drew huge crowds to the Globe Theatre but the Spanishambassador protested and James I had A Game of Chess bannedafter only nine performances. It proved equally popular in print.
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