play macbeth author mayor
MIDDLETON, THOMAS (c. 1570-1627), held a leading place among the dramatists of the reign of James I. His popularity would seem to have first come to a height about 1607. This is a fair inference from the fact that in this and the following year a whole swarm of comedies from his pen were licensed and published - A Trick to Catch the Old One, The Family of Love, The Phcenix, Michaelmas Term, Your Five Gallants, A Mad World My Masters. Only the first of these kept the stage after the author's own generation, though in point of wit and constructive skill it is not superior to The Phoenix (a serious comedy) or Y0111' Five Gallants (a bustling and gaily humorous farcical comedy). The plot of the Trick bears a family likeness to that of Massinger's New Way to Pay Old Debts; the titles in fact might be interchanged. A ruined scapegrace outwits his creditors and a usurious uncle by coming to town with a courtesan and passing her off as a widow with a fortune, whom he treats with deferential friendship, but hardly dares to love, ruined and hopeless as he is. His uncle lends him money that he may woo in proper state ; his creditors also intrigue to have the honour of supplying him with all the needs of fashion ; and the lady receives many costly presents from aspirants to her hand and fortune. Though Middleton was apparently not in high popularity till 1607, he had made his debut as a satirist ten years before ; and if Malone is right in his conjecture that the Mayor of Queensborough is identical with the Randall Earle of Chester mentioned by Henslowe in 1602, he had done dramatic work of a much higher kind. Like The Changeling, a later production, in which Middleton had the assistance of Rowley, the tragedy of the Mayor is named after a character in the insignificant comic underplot. Such a title scares away readers weary of half-intelligible Elizabethan fun and satire; but Simon the comic mayor is a very subordinate figure in the play, and the tragic portions alike in situation, characterization, and language rank among the very noblest productions of the Shakespearian age. There are scenes in the Changeling also which Mr Swinburne, with a judgment that will not be disputed, assigns to Middleton, unsurpassed for intensity of passion and appalling surprises in the whole range of Elizabethan literature. The execution of these scenes is far beyond any power that Rowley showed in single-handed work, but well within the scope of the author of the Mayor of Queensborough and Women Beware Women. This last play, in which every one of the characters important enough to be honoured with a name perishes at the end in a slaughter so rapid as to be somewhat confusing, was apparently one of Middleton's later works, and the simple and measured development of the plot In the first acts seems to show traces of the influence of Massinger. Middleton's verse, when charged with the expression of impassioned love, contains many echoes of the verse of Romeo and Juliet, as if his ear had been fascinated by it in his youth. His language generally proclaims him an admiring disciple of Shakespeare's ; and in daring and happy concentration of imagery, and a certain imperial confidence in the use of words, he of all the dramatists of that time is the disciple that comes nearest the master. The Witch, by which Middleton's name has of late been linked with Shakespeare's in groundless speculation as being part author of Macbeth, is by no means one of Middleton's best plays. The plot is both intricate and feeble, as if the play had been written with a view to the half-comic spectacular exhibition of the witches, with their ribald revelry, their cauldrons, hideous spells, and weird incantations. Charles Lamb's comparison of Middleton's witches with Shakespeare's is one of the most exquisite morsels of criticism; but, when he says that Middleton's witches are "in a lesser degree fine creations," he ought perhaps to have added that they are merely embodiments of the vulgar superstition, put on the stage to excite laughter rather than fear among a half-believing audience, an audience ready to laugh at them in the light and in a crowded meeting, whatever each might do in the dark alone. That Middleton had any share in Macbeth is a conjecture resting solely on the fact that the opening words of the song of the witches about the cauldron in Shakespeare's Macbeth occur also in the incantations about a cauldron in the last act of Middleton's Witch, and that Middleton's song was inserted by Davenant in an " amended " reproduction of Macbeth. If either borrowed the words of this song from the other, that is no evidence of further co-operation ; besides all that is common to the two was probably as much public property as a nursery rhyme. There is no evidence as to whether The Witch appeared before or after Macbeth. Middleton co-operated with Dekker in the Roaring Girl ; with Rowley in A Fair Quarrel, The Spanish Gipsy, and The Changeling; and with Jonson and Fletcher in The Widow (one of the few of Middleton's plays reproduced after the Restoration). Towards the close of his life Middleton got into difficulties with the privy council from writing a very clever political play apropos of Prince Charles's unsuccessful wooing of the Spanish infanta in 1623. The chief personages in Spanish politics and their manoeuvres were represented with most ingenious skill in the pieces and movements of A Game at Chess. This play was stopped by royal authority, and the prosecution of the author was allowed quietly to drop. The few unimportant facts known in Middleton's private history are collected in Mr Dyce's admirable edition of his plays. He enjoyed the office of city chronologer, and was often employed to write pageants and masques, in one case at least contracting for the whole exhibition, besides furnishing the words. He died in 1627, and was buried at Newington Butts.