By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley
Directed by Jesse Berger
December 26, 2015-January 24, 2016
Lucille Lortel Theatre
What will she give to get what she wants?
Beatrice is in love with Alsemero — who is unfortunately not her fiancé. But when she employs her loathsome servant De Flores to bump off her betrothed, the price is her own virgin flesh. Together with a madcap subplot set in an insane asylum, this brilliant and rarely performed Jacobean tragicomedy explores the follies of love and the nature of madness.
SET DESIGN Marion Williams
COSTUME DESIGN Beth Goldenberg
LIGHTING DESIGN Peter West
SOUND/MUSIC Ryan Rumery
HAIR/MAKEUP Erin Kennedy Lunsford
FIGHT DIRECTION J. David Brimmer
CHOREOGRAHY Tracy Bersley
VOICE/TEXT Elizabeth Smith
PRODUCTION STAGE MANAGER Rebecca C. Monroe
GENERAL MANAGER Sherri Kotimsky
PRODUCTION MANAGER Gary Levinson
CASTING Stuart Howard & Paul Hardt
PUBLICITY David Gersten & Associates
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHTS
Thomas Middleton (1580–1627) was an English playwright and poet. Born in London, Middleton was the son of a bricklayer who had raised himself to the status of a gentleman. He was five years old when his father died. His mother's remarriage resulted in a fifteen-year battle over the inheritance of the children, an experience that perhaps accounts for Middleton’s repeated satirizing of the legal profession.
Middleton matriculated at Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1598, although he did not graduate. He began his literary career while still at Oxford, publishing three long poems, including a verse satire that was burned on the order of the Anglican Church.
Like many playwrights of the time, Middleton collaborated extensively with others, including Thomas Dekker (The Roaring Girl), William Rowley (A Fair Quarrel, The Changeling). He also wrote a number of plays on his own, including his city comedy A Chaste Maid in Cheapside and probably the The Revenger’s Tragedy. He also participated in revising Macbeth and Measure for Measure. Middleton’s friendship with Dekker brought him into conflict with Ben Jonson and George Chapman in the War of the Theatres. Middleton's Inner Temple Masque (1619) takes a swipe at “silenced bricklayers,” believed to be a reference to Jonson, who was then away in Scotland. The conflict with Jonson continued as late as 1626, when Jonson's play The Staple of News mocked Middleton's A Game at Chess.
Middleton was one of the busiest and most successful popular writers of the period, making his living primarily as a pamphleteer. He had no binding affiliation with any theater company, but rather wrote on a freelance basis for several of them. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve success in comedy, history, and tragedy. He was also a prolific writer of masques and pageants. As a result of his involvement with civic pageants, he was appointed City Chronologer to the City of London in 1620, a post he held until his death seven years later (at which point the post was given to Ben Jonson).
Middleton’s last known play for the commercial theater was the political allegory A Game at Chess (1624), which satirized the intrigue surrounding the Spanish Match (the controversial proposed marriage of Prince Charles, the son of King James I, to the Spanish Infanta Maria). Though Middleton’s approach in the play was patriotic, the Spanish Ambassador complained about the play and the Privy Council shut it down after nine performances. It is believed that Middleton was forbidden to write for the stage following this incident.
Middleton is best known for The Changeling and for Women Beware Women (produced by Red Bull Theater in 2008), and is believed by many to have written the anonymous play The Revenger’s Tragedy (produced by Red Bull Theater in 2005.)
William Rowley (c.1585-1626) was an actor/dramatist known for writing and performing comic roles. He was also a serial collaborator: works survive from ventures with Middleton, Webster, Heywood, and Fletcher, among others. One of his last works was the highly topical The Witch of Edmonton (produced at Red Bull Theater in 2011), co-authored with Ford and Dekker and based on a recent witch trial in England. In general, Rowley handled the comic subplots and scenes, though he didn’t shy away from dramatic content if required. Rowley the writer also made good use of Rowley the clown, writing numerous roles for himself. The quarto of one of his rare solo works, All’s Lost by Lust, states that the clown Jaques was “personated by the poet.” He seemed to specialize in fat-man clown parts (probably by anatomical necessity), as shown in several Middleton-Rowley collaborations.
Middleton was one of his favorite artistic partners, and surviving title pages (coupled with stylistic analysis) suggest that the two co-produced 5-6 plays (or more) in a decade. The Changeling was one of their last co-authored plays together. Rowley acted in Middleton’s last play, the sensationally successful political satire A Game at Chess. He played the Fat Bishop. Rowley got his start in the first decade of the seventeenth century at the original Red Bull Theatre in London.
He co-founded a new acting company, The Duke of York’s Men, with a group of actors in 1609 (later called Prince Charles’ Men) who performed in many court entertainments in addition to public performances at numerous playhouses. Rowley joined the highly successful King’s Men in 1623. He passed away on the 11th of February 1626, leaving behind a widow and his debts.
ABOUT THE PLAY
Changelings in Myth and Pop Culture
by Ben Prusiner, dramaturg
In European folklore, a changeling was a fairy child substituted in place of a human baby the fairies had stolen. It could also refer to the human baby while in custody of the fairies (such as the Indian boy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream). The substitute fairy baby was inevitably stupid, ugly and troublesome, with ear piercing screams and a ravenous appetite. Interestingly, the one positive aspect of changelings was that they might have a preternatural aptitude for music.
Once the swap had been made, the human family would have no good fortune unless they managed to force the fairies to give the mortal baby back again. The most innocuous way to do so was to surprise the changeling into revealing its true character, often by making it laugh. However, the more common methods forced the fairies to rescue their own children from ill-treatment, such as leaving the baby to cry on a cold hillside, boiling it over the fire, or even stabbing it with a knife.
The key was successfully identifying whether a baby was really a changeling child or not. In the medieval world, people took for granted that inner beauty or deformity corresponded with outward appearance, so naturally an ugly or deformed baby had to be a changeling. In the renaissance, the connection between the inside and outside was finally being questioned and explored.
In Middleton & Rowley’s play, almost every character grapples with this conflict. In the very first scene Beatrice-Joanna (a two sided woman with two names) warns her prospective lover, Alsemero, against judging by appearances, for “Our eyes … are rash sometimes, and tell us wonders / Of common things, which when our judgments find, / They can then check the eyes and call them blind.” When Alsemero offers to challenge Beatrice’s fiancé to a duel, she asks him not to, because “Blood-guiltiness becomes a fouler visage, / And now I think on one…” In that moment she lights on the outwardly ugly De Flores, assuming that he will be just as ugly on the inside and therefore capable of murder. The irony is that she may be just as ugly inside as he is, in spite of her outward beauty.
The conflict between interior and exterior continues in the mad-house subplot, where Antonio begs Isabella to “Take no acquaintance / Of these outward follies; there is within / A gentleman that loves you” (emphasis added). While Antonio is only one of many characters that could say to the audience “Cast no amazing eye upon this change,” the original character list points him out as the changeling. The character apparently proved so popular as to make it onto the cover of a collection of play excerpts and adaptations (called “drolls”) in 1662, along with an image of Falstaff.
While myths around changeling children have faded from common knowledge, it remains in our cultural sub consciousness, cropping up most recently as the title of a 2008 film. The screenplay is based on the true story of a woman who realizes that the child “rescued” from kidnappers is not her real son. The fear of not knowing the true identity of people closest to us lives on in the present day.
The Erotics of Aversion
by Professor Jean E. Howard
Few Renaissance tragedies match The Changeling for sheer audacity. Its female protagonist, Beatrice-Joanna, is a privileged Spanish lady on the brink of a wedding to a gentleman named Alonso de Piracquo and possessed of an abiding hatred for an ugly man, De Flores, servant to her father Vermandero. Though she loathes him, De Flores will not stop following Beatrice-Joanna and offering her his services. By the end of the play, Beatrice-Joanna and DeFlores are not only adulterous lovers, but bound together by a chain of sexualized crimes and intimate encounters more vivid and more engaging than anything else in the play. With breathtaking daring, The Changeling explores the terror, the horror, the passion and the soul-shattering insights that attend lives lived outside social norms.
The Changeling, one of only a handful of Renaissance tragedies set in Spain, has a double plot. Like many early modern plays, it was written by two playwrights, Thomas Middleton, whom scholars think wrote most of the Beatrice-Joanna story, and Samuel Rowley, who was mainly responsible for a second plot involving a madhouse resembling Bedlam, or Bethlehem Hospital, the famous London institution for the incarceration and “cure” of madmen and fools. The madhouse, a cacophonous site of babble and cruelty, becomes a symbol for the general loss of moral orientation that attends the events in the main plot and hints at the depravity with which many Englishmen associated Catholic Spain. In the bedlam scenes, the keeper of the hospital has a young wife, Isabella, whom he confines to the hospital under the watchful eye of a servant so that she will not betray him sexually. Of course, suitors disguised as fool and madman, Antonio and Franciscus, infiltrate the madhouse and proposition Isabella. She remains chaste, her choice underscoring Beatrice-Joanna’s opposite response to sexual temptation. In moral terms, the two plots set a virtuous woman against an immoral one, but that fact hardly determines the flow of audience sympathy. Beatrice-Joanna is infinitely more interesting and complex than the virtuous Isabella, and the audience is asked to extend its sympathy in unexpected directions.
It is the subplot, moreover, that gives the play its name. The word “changeling” had several meanings in the period. In folktales, it signified an ugly child left in the cradle by fairies when they stole away a typical child; in general use, it had come to mean a stupid or foolish person. Antonio, the gentleman turned fake madman in the subplot, is the play’s most obvious changeling in the sense of someone who by going in the disguise of a fool, substitutes one identity for another. However, main plot characters are also changelings in a less literal way. Beatrice-Joanna, for example, does not change outwardly, but is transformed from reputable virgin (in the first scene she is coming from church) into a whore; and De Flores changes from being the ugly object of her loathing to the object of her deepest affection.
The main plot economically and powerfully dramatizes the stunning transformations of virtue and fortune attending its main characters. Beatrice-Joanna, on the brink of her wedding to Piracquo, meets a gentleman named Alsemero and suddenly and willfully decides she must marry him. Unable to shake off Piracquo, on impulse she unthinkingly asks De Flores to kill her betrothed. He does, in a grizzly murder deep in the bowels of Vermandero’s castle, and then demands that Beatrice-Joanna sleep with him. Shocked and horrified, she must comply or be exposed. Deflowered by De Flores, Beatrice-Joanna fears being revealed on her wedding night as no virgin. Ever inventive, she then asks her maid Diaphanta to sleep with her husband in her place (the well-worn Renaissance bed trick). But Diaphanta lingers all night in Alsemero’s bed, and to rouse her before dawn, De Flores sets fire to Diaphanta’s chamber and kills her when she returns there from Alsemero’s quarters, claiming she was burned to death. Exposed as lovers and co-conspirators by a gentleman who overheard them talking together in a private chamber about all these events, De Flores kills Beatrice-Joanna and himself rather than face separation and the punishment of the state.
The sudden jerks and turns of Beatrice-Joanna’s desires and the responsiveness of De Flores to her every mood, reveal her undisciplined and naïve impulsiveness and his endless devotion to her service. Together, these two tread a dangerous labyrinth in which she is made to come face to face with her own depravity and her likeness to and affection for the one man who really knows her. All the other men in the play treat Beatrice-Joanna with rote reverence. Focusing on her beauteous outside, until the final revelations they cannot imagine she could be anything but what she seems. But as the play over and over demonstrates, surfaces are deceptive, and dark secrets (one of the play’s keywords) lurk beneath those surfaces. De Flores alone does not shrink from confronting Beatrice’s darker desires, nor does he allow her to evade them either. After she—assuming the privilege rank and beauty have given her-- casually commands the ugly servant to murder her husband-to-be, he returns with a token to show he has done the deed: a finger cut from Piracquo’s hand with the ring she had given him still on it. The grizzly body part, sign of De Flores castration of a rival suitor, also makes real the horrific consequence of Beatrice-Joanna’s casual command. A man has died; his blood now stains the castle. But De Flores is not done. If Beatrice-Joanna still treats him as a servant to be packed off with a monetary reward, he now drives home their moral equivalence: “You are the deed’s creature; by that name/ You lost your first condition, and I challenge you,/ As peace and innocency has turn’d you out,/ And made you one with me” (III.iv.137-40). Laying out her moral deformity, calling her by the name of whore, denying her immunity by virtue of her birth, De Flores nonetheless continues to love Beatrice-Joanna with passion and devotion. He becomes her servant in the Petrarchan sense of a lover devoted to his beloved, only Beatrice-Joanna is not the chaste woman on a pedestal of that tradition, but a fallen, passionate and inventive soul mate. When her husband offers her a virginity test before the consummation of her marriage, she reaps the benefits of having pried into his secret medical closet. She yawns, sneezes, and laughs, just as his book of secrets says a virgin would do. She and De Flores are devilishly clever, both skilled at hiding sin under the appearance of virtue and making monkeys of the learned and privileged men around them.
Act V pushes Beatrice to ever-deeper recognitions. After De Flores rushes out to set Diaphanta’s chamber on fire, she exclaims: “How rare is that man’s speed!/How heartily he serve me! His face loathes one,/ But look upon his care, who could not love him?/ The east is not more beauteous than his service” (V.i;.69-72). But Beatrice-Joanna not only recognizes what is beautiful in De Flores, but what is ugly in herself. As she dies, she confesses to Vermandero how completely she has defiled her family’s good name, comparing herself to infected blood that should be sluiced down the common sewer. Yet as she and De Flores die, entangled in one another’s bloody arms, what an audience feels may not be smug satisfaction at seeing sinners brought to bay, but something more akin to wonder at the strange passions and secrets of the human heart. As Alsemero and the other men band together, hugging their virtue, at the play’s end, one can only wonder what dark secrets lurk, unacknowledged, underneath their smooth exteriors.