Biography of Thomas Middleton

Thomas Middleton is one of the most prolific English dramatists of all time. Along with Ben Jonson and John Fletcher, he established himself a celebrated playwright of the Jacobean era. Many contemporary critics consider Middleton to be the author of The Revenger's Tragedy, although others adhere to the historical consensus that Cyril Tourneur wrote the play.

Middleton was born in London in 1580, the son of a bricklayer and a housewife. He started writing poetry at a young age and published three volumes of his work during his teenage years. In 1598, Middleton matriculated at Queen's College at Oxford University, but he does not appear to have graduated. As a young adult, Middleton wrote topical pamphlets and worked for the Admiral's Men. By the early 1600s, he had solidified his reputation as a playwright, after which his fame grew rapidly. Sixteen of Middleton's plays are extant, although some scholars place the number at 20 (many Jacobean playwrights' work has been lost or attributed to other writers). By the time Blurt, Master Constable (1602) debuted, Middleton's talent was widely renowned. He married a woman named Magdalene in 1603.

Besides writing his own plays, Middleton collaborated with other prominent playwrights of his era. He worked with Thomas Dekker on The Honest Whore (1604) and The Roaring Girl (1610). A few years later, Middleton and William Rowley wrote A Fair Quarrel (1617) and The World Tossed at Tennis (1620). Some scholars also believe that Middleton contributed to the witches/Hecate scenes in William Shakespeare's Macbeth (1605-06).

Middleton's plays were often satirical and frequently targeted the middle class (most visibly in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside). The political satire A Game of Chess ran for an unprecedented nine consecutive nights after it debuted in 1624. It is possible that Middleton was imprisoned for writing this controversial play. Besides plays, Middleton also wrote masques to be performed in private homes. Most notably, he wrote pageants for the lord mayor of London.

Scholars base their conclusion that Middleton wrote Revenger's Tragedy on its similarities to his tragedy Women Beware Women (1622). Both are twisted love stories with themes of revenge and contain similar descriptions of violence and gore. It is possible that The Revenger's Tragedy might be Middleton's lost play The Viper and Her Brood, which has been listed in records but never found. In 1620, Middleton was honored with the post of city chronologer for London. He died at his home in 1627.


Study Guides on Works by Thomas Middleton