Authors: Thomas Middleton

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works

Drama:

The Honest Whore, Part I, pr., pb. 1604 (with Thomas Dekker)

The Family of Love, pr. C. 1604-1607

The Phoenix, pr. 1604

Your Five Gallants, pr. 1604-1607

A Trick to Catch the Old One, pr. C. 1605-1606

A Mad World, My Masters, pr. C. 1606

Michaelmas Term, pr. C. 1606

The Roaring Girl: Or, Moll Cutpurse, pr. C. 1610 (with Dekker)

The Witch, pr. C. 1610

A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, pr. 1611

No Wit, No Help Like a Woman’s, pr. C. 1613-1627

More Dissemblers Besides Women, pr. C. 1615

A Fair Quarrel, pr. C. 1615-1617 (with William Rowley)

The Widow, pr. C. 1616 (with Ben Jonson and John Fletcher?)

The Major of Queenborough, pr. C. 1616-1620

The Old Law: Or, A New Way to Please You, pr. C. 1618 (with Rowley and Philip Massinger)

The World Tossed at Tennis, pr. 1620 (with Rowley)

Anything for a Quiet Life, pr. C. 1621 (with John Webster?)

Women Beware Women, pr. C. 1621-1627

The Changeling, pr. 1622 (with Rowley)

A Game at Chess, pr. 1624

The Selected Plays of Thomas Middleton, pb. 1978

Poetry:

The Wisdom of Solomon, Paraphrased, 1597

Micro-cynicon, 1599

The Ghost of Lucrece, 1600

Miscellaneous:

The Magnificent Entertainment Given to King James, 1603 (with Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson)

The Black Book, 1604

Father Hubburd’s Tales, 1604 (includes poetry)

Sir Robert Sherley, 1609

The Works of Thomas Middleton, 1885-1886 (8 volumes; A. H. Bullen, editor)

Biography

For about three centuries little definite information was available about the life of Thomas Middleton. Even now a full-scale biography could hardly be compiled. E. K. Chambers believed him to be one of two Thomas Middletons who entered Gray’s Inn in the 1590’s. Mark Eccles, in 1931, established the currently accepted identification and furnished biographical facts.{$I[AN]9810000539}{$I[A]Middleton, Thomas}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Middleton, Thomas}{$I[tim]1580;Middleton, Thomas}

Thomas Middleton was the son of William Middleton, a London bricklayer with a coat of arms. Thomas entered Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1598. His first published work, The Wisdom of Solomon, Paraphrased, was followed by other pamphlets in prose and verse.

He began his career as a playwright with Philip Henslowe’s company, the record of his employment giving the year as 1602. Later he composed for other companies, including Paul’s Boys and the King’s Men. Both the canon and the chronology of his dramatic work are very uncertain. Some of his works were written in collaboration; some were revised by other playwrights years after the original writing. The Revenger’s Tragedy, for example, has been attributed to Cyril Tourneur in the past, but current scholarship points to Middleton as the author. Several of his plays are lost. He took part in writing entertainments for official occasions. In the 1604 edition of The Magnificent Entertainment Given to King James (presented in 1603), Thomas Dekker, ignoring the contribution of his enemy Ben Jonson to the work, gave generous credit to Middleton for a much less significant share. Middleton’s writing of city pageants and masques resulted apparently in his being appointed city chronologer of London in 1620. His last play was a satirical political allegory, A Game at Chess. This drama dealt too boldly with international politics; after a brief run it was banned, and the Globe Theater itself closed. This drama employs chess pieces that represent actual political figures; the play, banned because of its anti-Spanish sentiment, was popular with English audiences. The play is most unusual in that the author’s manuscript survives. Middleton’s final work was a Lord Mayor’s Pageant in 1626.

Although Middleton’s reputation is primarily that of a comical realist and satirist, he left at least two very effective tragedies of evil: Women Beware Women and The Changeling, the latter written with William Rowley. The former concerns Bianca, who is coerced by the king into bed shortly after she marries Leantio. The question arises whether she commits adultery because she is compelled to or because she desires social advancement. In The Changeling, Beatrice Joanna falls in love shortly after her father arranges for her to marry another. The disfigured Deflores, a servant she loathes, agrees to murder her prospective husband so that she may marry her new love; however, Deflores then demands that she sleep with him. His bawdy farce, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, is a worthy and amusing forerunner of Restoration comedy. A Trick to Catch the Old One, a city comedy, demonstrates the growing power of the rising middle class. Born in London in April, 1580, Middleton died there in July, 1627.

BibliographyBrittin, Norman A. Thomas Middleton. New York: Twayne, 1972. Presents in a chronology and an introduction what little is known of Middleton’s life, then marches through the generally accepted canon. The final chapter outlines the critical response to Middleton, and the annotated secondary bibliography is a good guide.Chakravorty, Swapan. Society and Politics in the Plays of Thomas Middleton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. A look at the political and social world that surrounded Middleton and found its way into his plays. Includes bibliography and index.Daileader, Celia R. Eroticism on the Renaissance Stage: Transcendence, Desire, and the Limits of the Visible. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Daileader looks at the depiction of women and eroticism in the works of Middleton and Shakespeare. Includes bibliography and index.Heinemann, Margot. Puritanism and Theatre: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama Under the Early Stuarts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Heinemann considers a series of problems: Why do Middleton’s tragedies differ in tone from others of the period? Why did his work change so much over his career? How could A Game at Chess have been staged in the midst of a political crisis? Heinemann finds the answers in the plays’ political settings.Heller, Herbert Jack. Penitent Brothellers: Grace, Sexuality, and Genre in Thomas Middleton’s City Comedies. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2000. Heller looks at Calvinism, sex, and city and town life in Middleton’s comedies. Includes bibliography and index.Martin, Mathew R. Between Theater and Philosophy: Skepticism in the Major City Comedies of Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001. A scholarly study that looks at skepticism as it appeared in the urban comedies of Middleton and Jonson. Includes bibliography and index.
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