Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Alicante. Mediterranean port city near Valencia in eastern Spain in which the play is set. The play opens outdoors, near a church by the port, with the Valencian nobleman Alsemero delaying his departure for Malta and getting drawn into Beatrice-Joanna’s adulterous and murderous plots. The rest of the play is wholly restricted to interiors, as if to suggest women’s domestic confinement.
*Valencia. Capital city of the eastern region of Spain from which Alsemero comes. Valencia is about one hundred miles north of Alicante—a distance great enough to make Alsemero a “stranger” to Beatrice-Joanna’s father, Vermandero, who hesitates to give him a tour of his castle.
Vermandero’s castle. Alicante headquarters of Governor Vermandero and the setting for all the scenes in the play following its opening. The castle citadel into which Beatrice-Joanna invites her lover Alsemero represents Beatrice-Joanna herself, with the underground vault in which De Flores murders her fiancé reflecting her sinful depths.
Dr. Alibius’s house
Dr. Alibius’s house. Home of Alibius, a jealous old doctor who keeps his lovely young wife, Isabella, confined at home with his mad patients. The madness and folly observed in Alibius’s institution form a grotesque reflection of the madness and folly of the outside world. The...
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Jacobean drama in England covers the period from 1603 to 1625, coinciding with the reign of King James I. The Jacobean professional theatre has been described by David Farley-Hills in Jacobean Drama as “the most brilliant and dynamic the world has seen.” The dominant figure during the first part of the Jacobean period was William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Although many of Shakespeare’s plays were written during the reign of Elizabeth I, some of his greatest works appeared in the first decade of the Jacobean age, including the tragedies of Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, and the romances Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. During this decade, Shakespeare’s preeminence was challenged by other dramatists, including Ben Jonson (1572–1637), George Chapman (c. 1560–1634), John Marston (c. 1575 or 1576–1634), Middleton, John Webster (c. 1580–c. 1625), and John Fletcher (1579–1625).
The Jacobean theatre enjoyed the rich legacy bequeathed by the Elizabethan age: a public used to attending plays and to paying for the privilege; a number of permanent theatres, both large and small; and a system that enabled those involved in writing and putting on plays to gain some financial reward from doing so. The largest theatres were open-air buildings such as the Globe, which could accommodate an audience of...
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There are many images of eyes and references to sight, many of which are used with unconscious irony by Beatrice, who points out that the eye can deceive when it comes to reaching reliable judgments about love and character. In act 1, scene 1, she says to Alsemero:
Our eyes are sentinels unto our judgements,
And should give certain judgement what they see;
But they are rash sometimes, and tell us wonders
Of common things, which when our judgments find,
They can then check the eyes, and call them blind.
Beatrice says of her quickly forgotten love for Alonzo, “Sure, mine eyes were mistaken,” and she contrasts the superficiality of the eyes with what she calls the “eye of judgment” and “intellectual eyesight.” The irony is that Beatrice is never more blind than when she thinks she is seeing with the eyes of judgment.
Images of sickness, poison, and blood reinforce the themes of the play. In the first scene, Alsemero, dismissing any idea that he is unwell, says, “Unless there be some hidden malady / Within me that I understand not.” He does not know it yet, but the love he has just conceived for Beatrice will act as a sickness, a poison to him. Beatrice regards De Flores as like a “deadly poison,” and says that he is to her a “basilisk” (a mythical reptile whose glance was said to be fatal). When the poison introduced by Beatrice...
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Compare and Contrast
Jacobean Age: In 1623, the first folio edition of Shakespeare is published. It contains thirty-six plays, eighteen of which are published for the first time. It sells for £1, and over 1,000 copies are printed.
Today: There are 228 surviving copies of Shakespeare’s first folio, over one-third of which are owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. In 2003, Oxford University’s Oriel College sells its copy of the first folio for £3.5 million, to philanthropist Sir Paul Getty.
Jacobean Age: Great Britain in the reign of James I is an emerging European power. Largely Protestant, its great rival is Catholic Spain, and there is mutual suspicion between the two countries.
Today: Religion is no longer a divisive factor in relations between European nations. Spain and Britain are democratic nations, and both are members of the European Union.
Jacobean Age: In 1605, a group of Catholics smuggles thirty-six barrels of gunpowder into the vault of parliament. King James is addressing parliament when a man named Guy Fawkes is apprehended as he is about to ignite the fuse. This attempt to wipe out the entire government of Britain becomes known as the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes is hanged in 1606.
Today: On November 5 every year, England commemorates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. The event is called Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. Huge bonfires are lit,...
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Topics for Further Study
Some critics have argued that Beatrice is unconsciously attracted to De Flores from the beginning. Is there any evidence from the play to support such a notion? What might she find attractive in De Flores?
Dramas often feature characters who act as foils for other characters; they set one another off, offering the audience a study in contrasts. In what sense is Isabella a foil for Beatrice? Is Alsemero a foil for De Flores?
In their collaboration, Middleton wrote most of the main plot, while Rowley wrote the comic subplot. What evidence can be produced to show the closeness of their collaboration? In other words, how are the two plots related, in terms of themes and language?
Research and describe the main features of the Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouses. What was the physical structure of the theaters, i.e., what did they look like? In what sense was the audience more involved in the action than a modern audience might be? How were plays staged? What social class of people attended the plays?
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What Do I Read Next?
Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1611) is often considered Middleton’s finest comedy. It is a skillfully plotted, cynical drama about the seamier side of life in London, as unscrupulous characters seek money, marriage, and sex. The title is a joke, since Cheapside was a notorious location in London frequented by prostitutes.
William Shakespeare’s dark comedy Measure for Measure (1604) has some similarities with The Changeling. Like De Flores, Shakespeare’s character Angelo allows his sexual obsession with a woman to lead him into sinful actions. The play also features the plot device known as the “bed trick,” in which a man is tricked into making love to a woman who is not the woman he thinks she is. Shakespeare’s play, however, ends in forgiveness rather than death.
Volpone (first performed 1606) is one of Ben Jonson’s great comic plays. It satirizes hypocrisy, greed, and self-deception, which are all unmasked in the end. Some of the characters resemble predatory birds such as the crow, vulture, and raven. Volpone is likened to a fox.
The Shakespearean Stage, 1574–1642 (2d ed., 1980), by Andrew Gurr, is a concise guide to the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre world. There are chapters on the companies, the actors, the playhouses, the audience, and how the plays were staged.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Eliot, T. S., “Thomas Middleton,” in Selected Essays, Faber, 1958, pp. 161–70.
Ellis-Fermor, Una, Jacobean Drama: An Interpretation, 4th ed., Vintage Books, 1961, pp. 144–49.
Farley-Hills, David, Jacobean Drama: A Critical Study of the Professional Drama, 1600–1625, Macmillan Press, 1988, p. 1.
Middleton, Thomas, and William Rowley, The Changeling, edited by Joost Daalder, A. C. Black/W. W. Norton, 1990.
Mulrayne, J. R., Thomas Middleton, Longman, 1979, pp. 36–45.
Ricks, Christopher, “The Moral and Poetic Structure of The Changeling,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. X, No. 3, July 1960, pp. 290–306.
Schoenbaum, Samuel, Middleton’s Tragedies: A Critical Study, Columbia University Press, 1955, pp. 132–49.
Shakespeare, William, As You Like It, edited by Agnes Latham, Methuen, 1975, p. 78.
Williams, George Walton, “Introduction,” in The Changeling, University of Nebraska Press, 1966, pp. ix–xxiv.
Bromham, A. A., and Zara Bruzzi, “The Changeling” and the Years of Crisis, 1619–1624: A Hieroglyph of Britain, Pinter Publishers, 1990.
This work examines the relationship between The Changeling and the politics of the early seventeenth century. The play’s authors see it...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bradbrook, M. C. Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Analysis of the drama of the period, including its staging and conventions of plot and character. Chapter on Middleton finds him untypical in his simplicity of language, but subtlety of implication.
Brittin, Norman A. Thomas Middleton. New York: Twayne, 1972. A good basic guide to Middleton’s drama. It claims that he is the most important writer of the Jacobean comedy of manners. Sensitive analysis of The Changeling and a useful summary of critical assessments.
Farr, Dorothy M. Thomas Middleton and the Drama of Realism. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. Traces Middleton’s development, initiated with the aid of Rowley in The Changeling, toward a new form of tragic drama, which, Farr claims, is close to the modern theater.
Jump, J. D. “Middleton’s Tragic Comedies.” In The Pelican Guide to English Literature. Vol 2. New York: Penguin Books, 1964. Focus is the two tragedies, Women Beware Women and The Changeling, with emphasis on the quality of the verse and the realism of the drama.
Mulryne, J. R. Writers and Their Work: Thomas Middleton. New York: Longman, 1979. Surveys the body of Middleton’s work, including...
(The entire section is 202 words.)