A Satire against Mankind: Middleton’s A Mad World, My Masters

  • David Farley-Hills

Abstract

Jonson’s disparaging remark that Middleton was ‘not of the number of the faithful … poets’1 is surprising when we consider what the two playwrights have in common. The comedies of both mirror their society in order to deride it. To both, the world of appearances is a world of deception and true worth resides in moral values that the comedies imply rather than exhibit. For both Jonson and Middleton the ‘reality’ of men is in fact a world of shadows, in which men absurdly strive for illusory gains at the peril of their eternal souls; to both, the world is Vanity fair’, ‘a mad world, my masters’. It is the achievement of both playwrights that they bring the long tradition of the morality play to perfection by reconciling moral import with naturalistic medium. In both the source of the comedy is in the contrast between the actual and the ideal. Both are, in short, dramatic satirists.

Keywords

Clay Burial Blindness Verse Plague 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Conversations with William Drummond, ed. George Parfitt in Ben Jonson, The Complete Poems (Harmondsworth, 1975) p. 465.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Line references are to the edition of A. H. Bullen, The Works of Thomas Middleton, 8 vols (London, 1885), and quotations are from this edition unless otherwise stated. This quotation is from Q1 (1608) as emended by Richard Levin in his edition.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays (London: Faber,1951) p. 162.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    R. Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy (Madison, 1960) p. 105.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    U. Ellis-Fermor, The Jacobean Drama: an Interpretation (London: Methuen, 1965) p. 128.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    M. Shapiro, Children of the Revels (New York, 1977) p. 57.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    D. Holmes, The Art of Thomas Middleton (Oxford, 1970) pp. 1–2.Google Scholar
  8. I. Ribner, Jacobean Tragedy (1962) p. 124.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    D. J. Lake in The Canon of Middleton’s Plays (Cambridge, 1975).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    C. A. Hallett, ‘Penitent Brothel, the Succubus and Parsons’ Resolution: A Reappraisal of Penitent’s Position in Middleton’s Canon’, SP LXIX (1972) pp. 72–3. ‘The suddenness of Penitent Brothel’s conversion has become the Hamlet’s delay of Middleton Scholarship.’ See also Henning’s edition of Mad World (London: Edward Arnold, 1965) p. xiii.Google Scholar
  11. 25.
    For ‘strike’ meaning ‘to copulate’, see E. Partridge, Shakespeare’s Bawdy (revised and enlarged, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968).Google Scholar
  12. 33.
    R. Levin, The Multiple Plot in English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, 1971) p. 132.Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trs. H. Beveridge, 2 vols (London: Clarke, 1949) II. i. 8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Farley-Hills 1981

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  • David Farley-Hills

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