A recent survey of drama and society in the English Renaissance ends with applauding Thomas Middleton as ‘a master’ who ‘will take no contemporary value for granted, no reality as unchanging’. His promiscuous texts are proven material for postmodern theatre and pedagogy, constantly assaulting the tidy notions of high and low, genre and counter-genre. It is not surprising that academic criticism should have managed to find in Middleton the extremes of both committed didacticism and detached irony. One reason it still finds him so difficult to place is the suggestion in his plays that desires, morals, society, and politics are subject to rules that can operate only by misrepresenting themselves to our consciousness. The suggestion makes Middleton an important waymark in our emergence out of cognitive innocence.
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