Thomas Middleton

Thomas MiddletonThomas Middleton was christened son of William Middleton and Anne Snow at St. Lawrence in the Old Jewry on April 18, 1580. As a lad in his teens he published The Wisdom of Solomon Paraphrased (1597) and Micro-Cynicon, Six Snarling Satires (1599), but meanwhile, in April, 1598, had matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford. There is no record of his connection with the theater until May 22, 1602, when Henslowe records in his Diary a payment made to him together with Munday, Drayton, and Webster "in earnest of a book called Caesar's Fall." From this time almost to his death numerous references to his dramatic activity show that he sometimes wrote alone but more often with other well-known dramatists, notably Dekker and Rowley. Two satirical tales, The Black Book and Father Hubbard's Tale, published in 1604, reveal his early interest in the seamy side of London life, which he was to turn to good account in his comedies of manners written between 1604 and 1611. Among these may be mentioned A Trick to Catch the Old One; A Mad World, My Masters; and Michaelmas Term--all dealing with the duping of an unsuspecting victim by London sharpers; Your Five Gallants which reveals the wiles of five different types of swindlers and ruffians; and that laughter-provoking farce, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. Middleton's one unaided tragedy, Women, Beware Women, written about 1612, was followed in 1613 by his first masque, The Triumphs of Truth; and until his death he was in demand as a writer of this type of entertainment. The temporary amalgamation of the companies of the companies of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Charles in 1614 or 1615 brought Middleton and Rowley together, and their period of collaboration began shortly thereafter ... From 1620 until his death Middleton held the office of city chronologer. He was buried in the Newington Butts Parish Church on July 4, 1627.

Middleton possesses no unusual poetic gifts, and his style is often uneven. His strength lies rather in his constructive skill, and in his fine dramatic sense, which enables him to give rapidity of movement and effectiveness to his scenes, and to make very real his pictures of low life in London. These features are well illustrated by A Trick to Catch the Old One, which was composed between 1604 and 1606, entered in the Stationer's Register October 7, 1607, and issued in two quartos dated 1608, and again in 1616. The plot, ingeniously contrived save for the lack of moral justice in the dénouement, is presumably of Middleton's own invention, and the materials of the play are drawn from the dramatist's experience in London life.

The Changeling, the best of Middleton and Rowley's joint efforts, although written between 1622 and the date of its performance at Whitehall on January 4, 1624, was not published until 1653. The story of Beatrice Joanna and Deflores is drawn from John Reynolds' The Triumphs of God's Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Murther, entered in the Stationer's Register June 7, 1621, and published later the same year; and one episode in the story is derived from Leonard Digges' translation of the Spanish novel of Cespedes, Gerardo, the Unfortunate Spaniard (1622). For the sub-plot, which gives the play its name, no source is known. According to Miss Pauline G. Wiggin (An Inquiry into the Authorship of the Middleton-Rowley Plays, Boston, 1897), "the first and last scenes, as well as the underplot" of the play are by Rowley. The play has been accorded high praise as a psychological tragedy and as one of the most successful plays written in collaboration in the whole range of Elizabethan drama.

†This article was originally published in Elizabethan and Stuart Plays Ed. Charles Read Baskervill. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1934. pp. 1279-80.

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Thomas Middleton

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