Thomas Middleton

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Thomas Middleton (18 April 1580 – 1627) was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in comedy and tragedy. Also a prolific writer of masques and pageants, he remains one of the most noteworthy and distinctive of Jacobean dramatists.

Contents

Life

Middleton was born in London and baptized on 18 April 1580. He was the son of a bricklayer who had raised himself to the status of a gentleman and who, interestingly, owned property adjoining the Curtain theatre in Shoreditch. Middleton was just five when his father died and his mother's subsequent remarriage dissolved into a fifteen year battle over the inheritance of Thomas and his younger sister: an experience which must surely have informed and perhaps even incited his repeated satirizing of the legal profession.

Middleton attended Queen’s College, Oxford, matriculating in 1598, although he did not graduate. Before he left Oxford (sometime in 1600 or 1601[1]), he wrote and published three long poems in popular Elizabethan styles; none appears to have been especially successful, and one, his book of satires, ran afoul of the Anglican Church's ban on verse satire and was burned. Nevertheless, his literary career was launched.

In the early 17th century, Middleton made a living writing topical pamphlets, including one—Penniless Parliament of Threadbare Poets—that enjoyed many reprintings as well as becoming the subject of a Parliamentary inquiry. At the same time, records in the diary of Philip Henslowe show that Middleton was writing for the Admiral's Men. Unlike Shakespeare, Middleton remained a free agent, able to write for whichever company hired him. His early dramatic career was marked by controversy. His friendship with Thomas Dekker brought him into conflict with Ben Jonson and George Chapman in the War of the Theatres. The grudge with Jonson continued as late as 1626, when Jonson's play The Staple of News indulges a slur on Middleton's great success, A Game at Chess.[1] It has been argued that Middleton's Inner Temple Masque (1619) sneers at Jonson (then absent in Scotland) as a "silenced bricklayer."[2]

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