The Changeling is the second play by Thomas Middleton in the 2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season. Again: sensational and shocking.
- When was the play first performed?
- Where was the play first performed?
At the Cockpit, by Lady Elizabeth’s Men.
- Who wrote it?
Thomas Middleton (1580 - 1627), sixteen years Shakespeare’s junior, son of a bricklayer (like Ben Jonson), wrote the main plot, and William Rowley (1585 - 1626) wrote the subplot set in the madhouse. Middleton went to university (unlike Shakespeare or Jonson). He 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. William Rowley, who was an actor specializing in fat clowns, was not a prolific writer. Only two plays are fully attributed to him.
- How are these playwrights like Shakespeare?
Like Shakespeare, Middleton seems never to judge his characters. Like Shakespeare, he creates women characters that seem as strong or stronger than the men around them. Rowley’s work on the subplot has a wry sense of the absurd and his characters in the madhouse are a mixture of Bottoms and Edmunds.
- How are these playwrights unlike Shakespeare?
The very fact that the play has two authors is a reminder that Shakespeare’s work is remarkable in part for its relative lack of collaboration. Certainly Shakespeare, especially at the end of his career, wrote plays with other people (Pericles, Henry VIII, and The Two Noble Kinsmen), but his single authorship of most of his plays was the exception to the prevailing model in which two or even three writers worked on the plays.
- What do scholars think about this play?
The Changeling is one of the period’s most compelling and one of its oddest tragedies. Though it deals with aristocrats, the story is essentially about a domestic love affair brought about by a murder. The connection of the main plot to the madhouse subplot is more of a matter of parallel lines than of intertwined threads, and the material is unusually strong in its thematic weight.
- Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
Not controversy, exactly, but discomfort. The amoral tone of the play, its unblinking look at the subject of murder and the power of sexual desire, is disturbing. How we judge love and goodness shifts as the play goes on.
- What characters should I especially look for?
Beatrice Joanna, the female protagonist, is part Portia, part Lady Macbeth, and part Isabella. Her partner in crime and in lust is De Flores, who is riveting in his amorality and compelling – almost wonderful – in his obsession for Beatrice.
- What scene should I especially look for?
The scene in which De Flores makes it clear to Beatrice that his recompense for murdering her fiancé will not be the money she expected to pay him but her body is unforgettable.
- What is the language like?
The language in the main plot is exceptionally ironic or blunt and the conversations seem both realistic and modern. The language in the subplot is what you would expect if insane asylums specialized in wit.
Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, ASC Director of Mission