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Society and Politics in the Plays of Thomas
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Swapan Chakravorty

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198182665

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198182665.001.0001

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The Court and the Populace: Tragicomedy and Comitragedy

The Court and the Populace: Tragicomedy and Comitragedy

(p.107) 5 The Court and the Populace: Tragicomedy and Comitragedy
Society and Politics in the Plays of Thomas Middleton


Oxford University Press

Thomas Middleton’s major comedies and tragedies appeared to T. S. Eliot ‘as if written by two different men’. However, the truth is that Middleton tried the tragicomic vein as early as in Phoenix; his other early tragedies include Timon, Yorkshire, and Revenger. In the The Witch, the plot revolves around witchcraft, which carries the double metaphorical charge of tyranny and treason. Here, the Duke sexualizes conquest and tyranny by marrying the beaten enemy’s daughter, and then forcing her to commit symbolic parricide. The focus shifts to the Duchess’s scheme to allure, use, and then kill Almachildes. The shift reflects the complicity of sex, blackmail, and political misrule glimpsed in the Essex case. The play’s blend of Machiavelli and the occult is an instance of Middleton’s socially engaged opportunism which could turn palace gossip into political fable. Honour, privilege, nature, and law are other themes found in Middleton’s plays.

Keywords:   Thomas Middleton, tragicomedies, witchcraft, tyranny, sex, political misrule, honour, nature, law

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