STRICTLY LIMITED OFF-BROADWAY ENGAGEMENT
By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley
Directed by Jesse Berger
Must Close This Sunday (Jan. 24)
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St, New York, NY 10014
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.
Middleton Portrait from Two New Plays in 1657
Rowley as the Fat Bishop on the title page of Middleton's A Game at Chess