Thomas Middleton, Renaissance Dramatist

Thomas Middleton, Renaissance Dramatist

Thomas Middleton, Renaissance Dramatist

Thomas Middleton, Renaissance Dramatist

Synopsis

Thomas Middleton is a major English Renaissance dramatist, in league with Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson. Known for his dark humor and wry treatment of sexuality, morality, and politics, Middleton is a consummate professional dramatist, combining the visual and the verbal to shocking effect. Michelle O'Callaghan studies the stagecraft of Middleton's major plays. The playwright experimented with a range of genres-city comedy, tragicomedy, romance, and revenge tragedy. O'Callaghan figures how these plays work in terms of the early modern theater and dramatic genres, and she elucidates the broader cultural issues shaping the plays. She also introduces the critical readings of Middleton's plays and their modern performances, mapping how modern critics, producers, dramatists, and filmmakers treat Middleton's dark and challenging works in our time.

Excerpt

'I'faith, 'tis true too; I am an uncertain man' (The Revenger's Tragedy, 1, ii, 133)

Spurio, the bastard son of the Duke in The Revenger's Tragedy, realises that the one truth he can be certain of is that the identity of his father, and hence his own identity, is uncertain. Middleton's plays are characterised by such witty ironies. Social identities are destabilised, and made contingent on shifting relations of wealth and power. The nature of Middleton's critical identity has proved just as uncertain. Rising to the challenge posed by T. S. Eliot's arguments for Middleton's 'impersonality', for most of the twentieth century, critics searched for Middleton-the-man in his plays, 'hunt[ing] for his missing “personality” and “point of view” ' (Chakravorty 1996: 2). In the closing decades of the last century, critics and directors discovered in Middleton a modern, even postmodern, sensibility that speaks to the preoccupations of our age with sex, money and power. The 'permissive' society of the 1960s had already found its reflection in The Revenger's Tragedy, and revived this play and Middleton's other dark tragedies, The Changeling and Women Beware Women, which had been regarded as unplayable for centuries. More recently, Alex Cox celebrated an anarcho-punk Middleton in his film version of The Revenger's Tragedy, while Melly Still's 2008 production for the National Theatre presented us with a playwright who is able to capture, with . . .

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