Study Guide

The Changeling

by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley

The Changeling Themes


Reason and Passion

This tragedy is propelled by a conflict between reason and passion, in which passion rules. In dealing with sexual desire, the central characters fail to use proper judgment. Lust overwhelms all other considerations. In the case of Beatrice, there is considerable irony in the explanations she offers herself for her changing emotions. She falls in love with Alsemero immediately, but convinces herself that she is making a reasoned choice. She justifies her desertion of Alonzo by telling herself that when she fell for him, she was being led astray by appearances and she lacked judgment. She even warns Alsemero of the need to test an emotion such as love, by the use of reason. But she gives a clue to her state of mind when she admits in act 1 to a “giddy turning” in her affections as she turns from Alonzo to Alsemero. This does not sound like the state of mind that accompanies reasoned judgment. In fact, Beatrice is deceiving herself, justifying her fickleness by claiming it is something else. She even convinces herself that Alsemero is a man of sound judgment, because she approves of his choice of Jasperino as a friend: “It is a sign he makes his choice with judgement,” she says. She extrapolates from that she too, in choosing a man of judgment, is exercising a similar virtue: “Methinks I love now with the eyes of judgement, / And see the way to merit.” The truth, however, is that Beatrice is living in a state of self-delusion, which she never questions. When it comes to her dealings with De Flores, for example, it never occurs to her that De Flores wants from her something other than money. She fails to assess his character correctly.

Alonzo is another character who blinds himself to reality, owing to romantic or sexual desire. In act 2, scene 1, he fails to notice that Beatrice does not greet him with any warmth and shows no interest in him at all. He rejects Tomazo’s warning simply because he cannot bear to hear any ill spoken of Beatrice, even though the evidence of her coolness toward him is obvious to his brother. Tomazo is one of the few characters in the play who retains his good judgment (since he is not affected by love or passion), and he speaks a truth that the play will ultimately reveal: “Why, here is love’s tame madness: thus a man / Quickly steals into his vexation.” He means that it is madness to fail to perceive an ugly truth due to feelings of love, because it will...

(The entire section is 1004 words.)