In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Thomas Middleton

  • Introduction
  • Essay Collections
  • Cross-Dressing and Sexuality
  • Urban Space and Performance
  • Economics
  • Collaboration
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Genre, Imagery, and Wordplay
  • Identity and Interiority
  • Religion, Politics, and Economics
  • Performance and Film

British and Irish Literature Thomas Middleton
Adrian Streete
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0130


The publication of Thomas Middleton’s Collected Works by Oxford University Press in 2007 is an important marker of his rise in critical esteem. Near the start of the 20th century, T. S. Eliot said that the playwright had no point of view. In the intervening period, however, Middleton’s reputation underwent considerable revision. While Gary Taylor’s claim that Middleton is “our other Shakespeare” might be overstating the case, few critics today would agree that the playwright is essentially a cipher. The extremes represented by Eliot and Taylor do not, of course, tell the whole story. Middleton’s facility in comedy, tragedy, and political drama has been remarked upon since his own day. Following Eliot, early-20th-century criticism largely considered Middleton as a moralist, realist, or economic commentator. In more recent years, feminism, New Historicism, cultural materialism, post-structuralism, and political criticism have left their mark on Middleton scholarship. The Collected Works (Taylor and Lavagnino 2007, cited under Complete and Collected Works) is a monumental achievement and is supplemented by an equally compendious companion guide, Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture (Taylor and Lavagnino 2007, cited under Textual, Bibliographical, and Canon Studies). Both are essential reading for any modern scholar of Middleton, who will also need to take into account the inevitable criticisms that such an ambitious project has attracted. Middleton’s collaborations with, or revisions of, Shakespeare have provoked particular controversy. As scholars continue to explore collaborative authorship in the early modern theater, Middleton is likely to remain an important test case. Although long attributed to other writers, The Revenger’s Tragedy is now generally accepted as Middleton’s work and has been frequently performed and filmed in recent years. His hand has also been detected in Measure for Measure and other plays by Shakespeare. Middleton wrote one of the most politically contentious plays to be staged before the closure of the public theatres in 1642, A Game at Chess, and his political and religious affiliations continue to be of interest to scholars. His city comedies, such as A Trick to Catch the Old One and The Roaring Girl, are among the finest of the genre. Indeed, Middleton’s significance as a playwright of London has been an important area of recent scholarly interest (see the first ten essays in Gossett 2011 [cited under Essay Collections], the section on The Roaring Girl—with Thomas Dekker, and many of the essays collected under Single-Authored Plays: Comedies). The late tragedies The Changeling and Women Beware Women have long been admired for their exploration of female identity and have provoked a number of seminal feminist analyses. Middleton wrote or collaborated on well over fifty plays, masques, and pageants, and he also wrote a number of poems and prose works. This bibliography necessarily focuses on a selection of the best-known plays. It does not consider his pageants, masques, poetry (generally not highly regarded by critics, though there are signs that this is changing), nor on his religious writing (Middleton is, like John Bale, one of the few early modern playwrights who also wrote exegetical works). The publication of the Collected Works has undoubtedly encouraged scholars to consider the author afresh. In addition to the ongoing scholarly reconsideration of Middleton’s familiar texts, the less-well-known parts of his canon will hopefully be studied more fully in years to come.

General Overview and Surveys

While most early monographs on Middleton tend to focus on either tragedy or comedy, general overviews of Middleton’s work covering a range of genres can be found in Barker 1958 and Holmes 1970 (cited under Critical Monographs, 1955–1979), and in Heinemann 1980, Chakravorty 1996, and O’Callaghan 2009 (all under Critical Monographs, 1980–2009). Other books that focus on specific aspects of Middleton’s dramatic art include Asp 1974, Hallet 1975, and Rowe 1979 (all cited under Critical Monographs, 1955–1979), as well as White 1992, Nordlund 1999, Heller 2000, and Martin 2001 (all under Critical Monographs, 1980–2009).

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