6
Shakespeare, Middleton, and Fletcher

As was set out in the Introduction, Shakespeare's late work is partly collaborative. It also marks the end of a period in which Shakespeare dominated his company, the King's Men, and the beginning of other ascendancies. In his book The School of Shakespeare David Frost chooses Thomas Middleton as Shakespeare's true heir, the writer who best represents the continuing legacy of Shakespeare.1 He does so because in Middleton's later tragedies, Frost argues, the moral order of Shakespearian tragedy is preserved—that is, action, character, and environment are all infected with sin and disaster. There is much to dispute in this. Middleton's tragedies may indeed show the contagion and pervasion of evil, but they tend to treat evil as something endemic in a corrupt world, always liable to metamorphose and return again. In Shakespeare's tragedies, more often, one might argue, evil arises without full explanation and the plays' worlds (Venice and Cyprus in Othello, Britain in Lear, Denmark in Hamlet, Scotland in Macbeth) are left denuded of all energy by the end. In Frost's account Beaumont and Fletcher are treated rather scornfully, and are not seen to have meditated seriously on Shakespeare.2 As will be seen, I think Fletcher's works in particular, but the Beaumont–Fletcher canon more generally, are full of insight into Shakespeare, even if the tragic dimension is not always at the forefront. Nevertheless, Middleton is a presence in and around, as well as after, late Shakespeare. Or rather, unlike Fletcher who participates in a harmonious collaboration with Shakespeare, Middleton haunts the fringes of the late Shakespearian canon.

There have been great problems in identifying Middleton's works because of the tendency towards anonymous or misattributed publication of many plays. Nevertheless, thanks to the stylometric

-116-

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Shakespeare's Late Work
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Oxford Shakespeare Topics - General Editors: Peter Holland and Stanley Wells Shakespeare S Late Work iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1: The Late Shakespearian Canon 1
  • 2: Seeing is Believing 30
  • 3: Faith and Revelation 55
  • 4: Family Romances 81
  • 5: Conservative Endings 99
  • 6: Shakespeare, Middleton, and Fletcher 116
  • 7: Shakespeare, Early and Late 138
  • Further Reading 156
  • Notes 160
  • Index 171
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