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Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works de…
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Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works (edição: 2007)

de Gary Taylor (Contribuinte), John Lavagnino (Contribuinte)

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Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) - 'our other Shakespeare' - is the only other Renaissance playwright who created lasting masterpieces of both comedy and tragedy; he also wrote the greatest box-office hit of early modern London (the unique history play A Game at Chess). His range extends beyondthese traditional genres to tragicomedies, masques, pageants, pamphlets, epigrams, and Biblical and political commentaries, written alone or in collaboration with Shakespeare, Webster, Dekker, Ford, Heywood, Rowley, and others. Compared by critics to Aristophanes and Ibsen, Racine and Joe Orton, hehas influenced writers as diverse as Aphra Behn and T. S. Eliot. Though repeatedly censored in his own time, he has since come to be particularly admired for his representations of the intertwined pursuits of sex, money, power, and God.The Oxford Middleton, prepared by more than sixty scholars from a dozen countries, follows the precedent of The Oxford Shakespeare in being published in two volumes, an innovative but accessible Collected Works and a comprehensive scholarly Companion. Though closely connected, each volume can beused independently of the other.The Collected Works brings together for the first time in a single volume all the works currently attributed to Middleton. It is the first edition of Middleton's works since 1886. The texts are printed in modern spelling and punctuation, with critical introductions and foot-of-the-pagecommentaries; they are arranged in chronological order, with a special section of Juvenilia. The volume is introduced by essays on Middleton's life and reputation, on early modern London, and on the varied theatres of the English Renaissance. Extensively illustrated, it incorporates much newinformation on Middleton's life, canon, texts, and contexts. A self-consciously 'federal edition', The Collected Works applies contemporary theories about the nature of literature and the history of the book to editorial practice.… (mais)

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The Phoenix

Middleton bursts on to the scene with a highly competent, if unambitious, debut tragicomedy with the level of peril to be found in, say, Much Ado About Nothing. It doesn't have Shakespeare's level of wit, poetry or word-play but it does have a slight satirical edge absent from most of the Bard's work, more reminiscent of Ben Jonson, in fact. (Lawyers and judges come in for heavy criticism, some of it in very comic fashion.) Certain tropes of the era are present; disguised characters and treason against the ruling family, for example, drive this well-constructed plot to it's neat set of final scene revelations and resolutions. I'd go see this ahead of several of Bill's lesser works.

News from Gravesend: Sent to Nobody
Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton


Published as a "pamphlet," a form of publication that the study of Shakespeare's work will not even reveal the existence of, this is a poem about the plague, prompted by the outbreak of 1603, which was a particularly severe one for the period. It is prefaced by an "Epistle Dedicatory" of unprecedented length, taking up nearly half the pamphlet. The dedicatee is "Nobody" a symbolic personage who is specifically not any real person. The reason for this is explained in the Epistle as
a plea for a change from writers currying favour from rich patrons in order to earn a living to some other method. This and the subsequent attack on the wealthy members of the legal professions for abandoning London to its fate in favour of Winchester during plague outbreaks is all rather political and I'm surprised that it passed the censors. There's nothing directly attacking the King or the institutions of the Monarchy so perhaps they were not too bothered.

I'm not much familiar with the lyric poetry of the period. I've read Shakespeare's contributions and nothing else to speak of. Being neither a narrative poem, nor the sort of personal topics addressed in the sonnets, but instead a discursive examination of a topical subject with moral, political and philosophical implications, this was again unique in my experience. It's also good, with some exceptionally vivid imagery (buboes like purple grapes sticks in my mind) although the science of disease is entirely discredited, now, as is the notion put forward by the authors that it is really a God-sent punishment of the immoral.

A very interesting read from the perspective of learning about the Jacobean literary world and on its own terms as a literary work.

Father Hubburd's Tales

Another satirical pamphlet, existing in two versions, the later of which is longer and contains three stories rather than two. There's an academic debate about how this state of affairs came about and I'm still reading about it in the Middleton Companion. There's a frame story about an ant that can transform into a human, telling his adventures to Philomel of Metamorphoses fame in her nightingale form. Each story is satirical, attacking the class structure and poor treatment of...poor people. The last seems heavily autobiographical, being about patronage of writers. I detect considerable bitterness over the matter, considering also that the "Epistle Dedicatory" of News from Gravesend makes the same points. There's also further attacks on lawyers and the negativity towards lawyers and judges seems to be rooted in personal experience, too, his mother having been embroiled in divorce proceedings and subsequent disputes for years. Anyway, it's a fun little set of tales.

The Patient Man and the Honest Whore
This is a comedy that reminds me of Much Ado About Nothing, which has two plot strands that don't really have much to do with each other and are mainy an excuse for wit and shenanigans. Here it is the same, although one could argue that there are actually three plot strands loosely woven together, eventually being tied up together in a neat bow by the end of the long final scene.

There's plenty of wit and potential for comedy here, though it's not on the level of Benedick and Beatrice's bickering and I think it could be successfully staged for contemporary audiences.

This is the second work in this volume where it is believed that Middleton was the junior partner to Dekker and I have to say on this evidence Dekker is himself worth a read. The average standard of writers of the period seems ridiculously high.

I read somewhere the suggestion that one reason why Middleton fell off the radar whilst Shakespeare did not is that he couldn't be Bowdlerised, because if you tried you'd find nothing was left of many of his works. This would be a case in point; central characters and an entire plot strand would have to be removed. Not even the title would survive unscathed.

Anyway, amusing daftness!

The Wisdom of Solomon Paraphrased

Absolutely atrocious! Even dramatists with excellent reputations were once inept teenagers, it seems - usually they don't get their horrible juvenilia published before they enter their third decade, though. No wonder the dedicatee didn't cough up any money for this poem - it's complete drivel that nobody with any appreciation would want to be associated with. For completists only and best treated with a big dollop of laughter in order to stave off a breakdown. It's a very loose adaptation of one of the apocryphal books of the Bible; probably best to read it there.

The Whole Magnificent Entertainment
Being several pageants, by several authors, in celebration of the coronation of James I of England - delayed several months by a plague outbreak. Several descriptions of the affair were published shortly afterward and here they are conflated into a complete description of all parts. Each part takes the form of a Triumphal Arch, constructed from wood for the event, under which the Procession of the King, his family and retinue (which was extensive) passed. The Arches were populated with allegorical and mythical figures, some of whom gave speeches. Middleton's contribution is one of these speeches.

It's an odd literary form that I had not come across before, mainly because of the dominance of Shakespeare - who never wrote a pageant - over all other writers of the era. His lack of participation in any genres but drama, lyric and narrative verse tends to obscure the fact that any others existed! Middleton was freelance and turned his skill to any form of literature that would pay.

Michaelmass Term
This is a comedy reminiscent of Jonson, being set in London and featuring swindlers and conmen as the villains - Volpone and The Alchemist spring to mind. It doesn't have Jonson's extremely heavy reliance on Classical Greek and Latin literary references, though. It also reminds me of Shakespeare, with dense punning and daft romantic plot lines. Unfortunately, most of the wit and puns are focused on bawdy double-entendres and the like that have, over time, mostly become very obscure and opaque, requiring the copious glosses to be recognised and understood - and we all know that a joke that has to be explained isn't funny any more. Presumably circa 400 years ago everybody would have been smirking and sniggering throughout.

The story offers plenty of opportunity for other laughs, though, with hardly anybody recognisable to one or more others, including close family members (one character going through at least four aliases!) and the ensuing dramatic irony providing laughs and tension in equal measure.

It's structurally conventional, with main plot and sub-plot, but the sub-plot is poorly integrated and might have been better excised completely. The final Act resolves everything extremely abruptly, as was the usual fashion. But plot structure did not seem to have the same level of importance then that we tend to give it, now. For example, examine the structure of A Midsummer Night's Dream; it's a complete disaster! That doesn't stop performances being magnificently entertaining, though.

Microcynicon, or Six Snarling Satires

This second item of juvenalia confused scholars for some time because the external evidence suggested it was by Middleton but it seemed too immature to be his. Then they learned he was born ten years earlier than previously supposed...

It's a vast improvement on The Wisdom of Solomon, but it's still not great poetry. It takes a pretty weird turn by satirising satire towards the end! The satire against "ingles" leads me to believe Shakespeare might be a misleading representative of the era in his apparent tolerance of homosexuality.

A Trick to Catch the Old One
Apparently widely considered to be Middleton's best comedy, yet for me certainly less funny than Michaelmas Term. I struggled through this, but through no fault of Middleton's; my mental health has been unreliable and reading anything demanding in those circumstances is tough, as I know well from experience. Pausing until improvement makes for it's own problems with following a convoluted plot involving characters whose relationships can be difficult to keep clear. So this didn't really receive an optimal hearing. Nevertheless, despite perhaps not being the funniest, this play is interesting in social and moral terms. It makes a courtesan not only the heroine but clever and spirited enough to be instrumental in her own success in beating the odds and securing herself a respectable future. It also promotes the values of repentence and forgiveness and sympathises with Jane as largely a victim in ending up as a kept mistress in the first place. These are emerging themes in the canon that contrast with Shakespearean heroines who tend to be accused of crimes of which they are innocent. Middleton instead has women who are socially disgraced but are victims of circumstance or malice rise up and gain respectability, which he considers a form of natural justice.

The Ghost of Lucrece
Middleton's take on the story of Lucrece and Tarquin is to summon their ghosts from Hell and listen as Lucrece gives her complaint. In a period of less than four years, Middleton went from the risible Wisdom of Solomon Paraphrased to this, a vastly more competent effort. It's still a bit muddled, with even the most learned academics still a bit confused between the voices of Lucrece, Tarquin and the author in places but you can read it for more than unintended humour, at least.

A Mad World, My Masters
Of the comedies so far, this seems to me to have the most obvious opportunities for visual humour and is more Shakespearian in approach, too. That said, it's still a city comedy rather than an aristocratic or royal one and the theme of socially outcast women making good is all present and correct.

  Arbieroo | Jul 17, 2020 |
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Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) - 'our other Shakespeare' - is the only other Renaissance playwright who created lasting masterpieces of both comedy and tragedy; he also wrote the greatest box-office hit of early modern London (the unique history play A Game at Chess). His range extends beyondthese traditional genres to tragicomedies, masques, pageants, pamphlets, epigrams, and Biblical and political commentaries, written alone or in collaboration with Shakespeare, Webster, Dekker, Ford, Heywood, Rowley, and others. Compared by critics to Aristophanes and Ibsen, Racine and Joe Orton, hehas influenced writers as diverse as Aphra Behn and T. S. Eliot. Though repeatedly censored in his own time, he has since come to be particularly admired for his representations of the intertwined pursuits of sex, money, power, and God.The Oxford Middleton, prepared by more than sixty scholars from a dozen countries, follows the precedent of The Oxford Shakespeare in being published in two volumes, an innovative but accessible Collected Works and a comprehensive scholarly Companion. Though closely connected, each volume can beused independently of the other.The Collected Works brings together for the first time in a single volume all the works currently attributed to Middleton. It is the first edition of Middleton's works since 1886. The texts are printed in modern spelling and punctuation, with critical introductions and foot-of-the-pagecommentaries; they are arranged in chronological order, with a special section of Juvenilia. The volume is introduced by essays on Middleton's life and reputation, on early modern London, and on the varied theatres of the English Renaissance. Extensively illustrated, it incorporates much newinformation on Middleton's life, canon, texts, and contexts. A self-consciously 'federal edition', The Collected Works applies contemporary theories about the nature of literature and the history of the book to editorial practice.

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