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Thomas Middleton

Posted in Actors, English Literature, Literature on Tuesday, 31 May 2011

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Thomas Middleton (1580 – 1627) was an English playwright and poet whose theatrical canon remains a subject of some conjecture.

Middleton, picture, image, illustration

Thomas Middleton

He was a frequent collaborator, considered brilliant enough to revise and rewrite  Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Measure for Measure, and while some co-authored works are disputed, other attributions remain largely accepted. This is true of the most famous play he almost certainly wrote, The Revenger’s Tragedy, one of the greatest triumphs in that eponymous genre. Middleton was the son of a bricklayer, like Ben Jonson, but his father had risen to be a gentleman, and so the son unsurprisingly  entered The Queen’s College, Oxford. He left without taking a degree and was soon writing for the theatre in London, where after the 1603 closures, he was given work by several companies who evidently regarded him as a trusted freelance. He was soon collaborating with Chapman, and the two opposed Jonson and his cronies in the Theatre Wars; indeed, this bitter rivalry he kept up for many years, referring in one of his masques to the “silent bricklayer”, a cruel jibe at Jonson. Satirical cruelty and cynicism were Middleton’s lifeblood, and his best work is largely city comedy or that extravagant tragedy so popular with the Jacobeans. Women Beware Women and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside are unrelenting masterpieces, glittering with fully imagined characters capable of amoral loftiness and immoral depravity, ever able to betray and destroy their fellow man in whatever manner comes to hand. Middleton appears to have been a Calvinist, and this view of a world divided into sinners who are damned and the elected who are saved may well have fired his moral indignation. He probably co-authored Timon of Athens with Shakespeare, and was considered second only to that peerless dramatist by no less a critic than T S Eliot.

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