Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Some Woman Is the Father": ,Middleton, and the Criss-Crossed Composition of Measure for Measure and More Dissemblers Besides Women

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Some Woman Is the Father": ,Middleton, and the Criss-Crossed Composition of Measure for Measure and More Dissemblers Besides Women

Article excerpt

THE publication of the Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works by Oxford University Press in 2007 has placed Middleton's work in direct dialogue--sometimes contentious--with Shakespeare's plays in recent scholarship. There are two main reasons for the attention and the attendant fray: first, the Oxford Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works volume is, purposefully, a direct aesthetic parallel to The Oxford Shakespeare, and the two texts have one general editor in common (Gary Taylor). Moreover, Taylor has, provocatively, presented the Oxford Middleton as supporting evidence for Middleton as "our other Shakespeare."

Second, the Oxford Middleton performs what some perceive as a sort of "raid" on the terrain of The Oxford Shakespeare, claiming Timon of Athens, Macbeth, and Measure for Measure for both volumes on the basis of the conclusion (not at all conclusive with respect to Macbeth and Measure, in the view of some scholars) that Middleton either revised these plays for their 1623 publication in Shakespeare's First Folio, or collaborated with Shakespeare in their composition. Among the reviewers who acknowledged this controversial aspect of the Oxford Middleton are Jonathan Bate in the TLS, Heather Hirschfeld in Theatre Survey, Lukas Erne in Modern Philology, and Mark Hutchings and Michelle O'Callaghan in Review of English Studies; Hutchings and O'Callaghan neatly sum up both sides of the debate: "Some readers may cavil at the inclusion of the Middleton-Shakespeare collaboration Timon of Athens, alongside Measure for Measure and Macbeth (both adapted by Middleton), but if deliberately provocative this is also a necessary corrective to the silencing of Middleton by Shakespeare editors" (Hutchings and O'Callaghan 318).

Alice Walker and Gary Taylor and John Jowett have considered the role that Middleton likely played in revising the text of Measure for Measure that has come down to us in the First Folio of 1623, (2) and Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith teamed up to argue that evidence of Middleton's impact on the composition of Timon can be found in his own A Mad World, My Masters. Maguire and Smith conclude that "perhaps Mad World begins a dramaturgical collaboration with Shakespeare which will take in most of the plays traditionally allocated to the period around 1604-7--Measure for Measure, All's Well, Macbeth, and Timon ... What the [Middleton] Collected Works has done--as we have--is to raise the possibilities about the interaction between Shakespeare and 'our other Shakespeare'" (195). (3) The present essay takes up the challenge implicitly made by Maguire and Smith, reading the interaction between Shakespeare (and Shakespeare and Middleton's) Measure for Measure, and Middleton's More Dissemblers Besides Women, systematically analyzing the full range of parallels in tragicomic form, plot and character within the two plays to explore what the similarities between these two plays suggests about the reciprocal influence Middleton and Shakespeare seem to have exerted on one another.

Careful consideration of the numerous parallels between More Dissemblers Besides Women and Measure for Measure provides a fascinating glimpse of the dialogic nature of the early modern London theatre, demonstrating the way in which Middleton adopted and adapted the plot strands and characters of predecessor playwrights such as Shakespeare, and the reciprocal influence that Middleton may have had on him. In particular, Middleton's adaptation of Shakespeare's plot and characters in More Dissemblers and his subsequent alterations to Shakespeare's own writing in the Folio text of Measure for Measure demonstrate his abiding fascination with the plight of female characters.

The plot of More Dissemblers parallels that of Measure in a variety of particulars, but Middleton places a woman in the role of central authority where Shakespeare presents a male Duke. While Middleton's Duchess emerges as one of the play's titular dissemblers, her feints do not involve literal disguise, as Shakespeare requires of his Duke. …

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