Thomas Middleton Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Thomas Middleton’s nondramatic work includes a number of youthful, less accomplished works. He produced The Wisdom of Solomon, Paraphrased (1597), a poem based on the Book of Solomon; Micro-cynicon (1599), a volume of satiric poems; The Ghost of Lucrece (1600), a narrative poem; and The Black Book (1604) and Father Hubburd’s Tales (1604), two satiric pamphlets, the latter of which includes poetry. Through the rest of his career, the main body of Middleton’s writing that was not for the theater consisted of the lavish public or court entertainments known as masques, pageants, or shows. Middleton was the author of at least seven Lord Mayors’s shows—huge allegorical spectacles honoring the city, performed outdoors using expensive sets and costumes. In 1603, he collaborated with Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson on a coronation pageant, The Magnificent Entertainment Given to King James, and in 1625, he was in charge of a pageant to welcome Charles I to London after King James’s death. Between 1604 and 1625, he wrote at least six other masques and entertainments for the court and for important occasions.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Like most of the dramatists of his day, Thomas Middleton lived as a practicing man of the theater without apparent concern for claiming literary stature. As with William Shakespeare (but in contrast to Jonson), the evidence suggests that he cared little about having his works published. Apparently the success he sought was that of the playwright whose works were performed, not read. Yet his works do have stature, both in reading and in performance. He created a number of interesting and insightful comedies, several substantial tragicomedies, and the most fascinating political satire of the age. Four of his comedies are frequently described as masterpieces, and two of his tragedies are considered great works. The four comedies, all dating from the first half of his career (1604-1613), are A Chaste Maid in Cheapside; A Mad World, My Masters; The Roaring Girl; and A Trick to Catch the Old One. The two tragedies, both written later (1620-1627), are The Changeling and Women Beware Women. Middleton is judged by some to be the third great playwright, after Shakespeare and Jonson, in a period notable for its abundance of gifted dramatists.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Brittin, 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.