The 2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season features two of Thomas Middleton’s most sensational (and shocking) plays, The Changeling and The Revenger’s Tragedy.
- When was the play first performed?
- Where was the play first performed?
At the Globe by the King’s Men. We have no record of the play being performed once they moved into the Blackfriars, but in all likelihood it played there as well.
- Who wrote it?
Thomas Middleton (1580 to 1627), sixteen years Shakespeare’s junior, son of a bricklayer (like Ben Jonson). Went to university (unlike Shakespeare or Jonson). Wrote almost every kind of thing from pamphlets to poems and every kind of play from pageants to tragedies. Interest in his work has grown exponentially since Gary Taylor’s huge Oxford University Press project of an edition of his complete works.
- How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Like Shakespeare he seems never to judge his characters. Like Shakespeare he creates women characters that seem as strong or stronger than the men around them.
- How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
Middleton’s work is invariably unsentimental. Unlike Shakespeare, he frequently looks at the underbelly of society, and unlike Shakespeare, his females express a strong sexuality. His writing is rarely as lyrical as Shakespeare’s.
- What do scholars think about this play?
Scholars think that The Revenger’s Tragedy is one of the greatest examples of the genre of revenge tragedy, a favorite genre of the Tudor-Stuart stage that includes The Spanish Tragedy (Kyd), ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Ford), and, of course, Hamlet. The consensus is that the ferocity and cruelty of the revenge in this play tops the others.
- Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
Because the play was first entered in the Stationers’ Register with Cyril Tourneur’s name attached to it, for years scholars attributed it to him; but now the view, because of internal and external evidence, is that Middleton wrote it.
- What characters should I especially look for?
Vindice (whose name means revenge) is the protagonist out to revenge the murder of his fiancée, and he is spectacular in his ruthlessness and shocking in his darkly comic view of a corrupt world. He would seem an impossible “hero” if it weren’t for the cast of vile and corrupt – to the point of hilarity – people who surround him, including the shocking quintet of brothers and step brothers – Lussurioso, Spurio, Ambitioso, Supervacuo, and Junior Brother, whose names give you some idea of their characteristics.
- What scene should I especially look for?
The scene in which Vindice tricks the Duke into embracing the dead body and kissing the poisoned skull of the woman he had raped and killed has a kind of intrinsic interest.
- What is the language like?
The language in this play is exceptionally vivid and exceptionally decadent. The syntax, however, is clear and direct, and the vocabulary is neither overly exotic or colloquial.
Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, ASC Director of Mission