Thomas Middleton, Thomas Middleton in London 1613

By Benzeron, David M. | Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

Thomas Middleton, Thomas Middleton in London 1613


Benzeron, David M., Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England


WHAT did Thomas Middleton, a London Grocer, and Thomas Middleton, a London playwright, have in common in 1613? Plenty, as it turns out. Their professional and personal lives intersected several times this year in important ways. Their intertwined connections underscore a powerful link between dramatists and the City of London's guilds, as the playwrights themselves participate in the mercantile class of the city even as their acting companies resemble the guilds in structure and operation. Thomas Middleton, the playwright, made an explicit link to the Grocer in the epistle dedicatory to his The Triumphs of Truth, the Lord Mayor's Show of 1613: "myself, though unworthy, being of one name with your lordship ... should thus happily live, protected by part of ... mercy." (1) He also refers to the hardships that the Grocer has experienced, especially in foreign countries. And the dramatist thinks that he, too, has suffered. Middleton writes self-reflexively in this his first epistle dedicatory in a dramatic text. He will never write again so personally in such a paratext. This choice reinforces the playwright's connection to the Grocer-Mayor.

This essay examines four of Middleton's dramatic entertainments that impinge in varying ways on the life of Thomas Middleton, Grocer and Mayor, in 1613. I argue that this rich connection changed the dramatist's professional life, leading him ever deeper on the complementary road of civic involvement and the production of seven Lord Mayor's Shows, the appointment in 1620 as City Chronologer, and the publication of Honourable Entertainments (1621). The playwright moved away from "city comedy," never again to write one after 1613 and thus moved from fictional representations of London toward actual engagement with city and guild authorities in the production of numerous pageants. (2) Thomas Middleton began to participate in the creation of London's history, to write for London, not just about London. This transformation came about. I think, in large measure by the playwright's dealings with Thomas Middleton, Grocer and Mayor.

This Grocer, born in 1549, one of sixteen children of Richard Middleton (sometimes spelled "Myddelton") in Wales, had by 1575 become apprenticed to Femandino Poyntz, Grocer, whom he served in the sugar trade in Flushing and Antwerp. (3) By 1582, he had been admitted to the Grocers' company and in 1592 elevated to its livery ranks. Thomas pursued a vigorous career in trade, even establishing his own sugar mill in London. He contributed financially to several voyages of discovery and exploration, such as that taken by Martin Frobisher and Sir Walter Ralegh to the West Indies, and the exploration of the Azores. A founding member of the East India Company, Middleton also supported the first attempts to colonize North America by the Virginia Company. The English government named him to the post of .Collector of Customs. in 1587.

Thomas made shrewd and numerous investments in land, leading to considerable wealth; thus, he often made loans to well-connected court and aristocratic figures. He regularly helped his several brothers financially, for example Hugh. who became a Goldsmith. In May 1603, London's authorities elected Thomas to the post of Alderman; but when he sought an "exemption" to taking this position, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen imprisoned him in Newgate. The City's records reveal a letter, dated June 11, from King James to the city's officers, "complaining of their conduct in committing Thomas Middleton to Newgate, for refusing to serve the office of Alderman, to which he had been chosen, and directing them to release him immediately." (4) The authorities complied, and in July, King James knighted Thomas Middleton. From imprisonment, he moved to election by the Aldermen on September 29, 1613 as London's Lord Mayor--a capstone to his career in the Grocers and in London politics.

Possessing Puritan sympathies, Middleton also supported Puritan causes, which led him, for example, to pay the wages of a Dutch minister for three months. …

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