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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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Vulgar Pasquin and Lordly Players: A Game at Chess

Vulgar Pasquin and Lordly Players: A Game at Chess

(p.166) 8 Vulgar Pasquin and Lordly Players: A Game at Chess
Society and Politics in the Plays of Thomas Middleton


Oxford University Press

Thomas Middleton’s last work for the stage is about playing in the related senses of the histrionic and the ludic. Chess pieces had long been metaphors for social estates; and the game, for politics and warfare. The action of A Game at Chess (1624) is the game itself, and its characters are both players and played. The inset play-game, joining the fictional to the ludic, had always been ‘a mirror-image of earnest’ in English drama. But the game in this play is its own alienating device, never letting playgoers forget the fantastic and ludic nature of the action. At the same time, the play alludes to the recurrent use of ludic and theatrical metaphors in the religious and political controversies that occasioned its writing. A recovery of that figurative context should enable us to see how the biggest hit in Jacobean stage history absorbed the rhetoric of propaganda to produce a subtle text on the theatre of politics and the politics of theatre.

Keywords:   Thomas Middleton, A Game at Chess, metaphors, chess, politics, propaganda, theatre

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