Sunday, December 2, 2007

Did Shakespeare have a rival?

I checked the weekend Books sections of the newspapers like I always do, and discovered an interesting article in todays Toronto Star. This article is about a playwright called Thomas Middleton.

Who is the `other Shakespeare’? By Philip Marchand

A portrait of playwright Thomas Middleton, a contemporary of Shakespeare. A contemporary who excelled at bawdy comedies and gory tragedies alike, Thomas Middleton is about to be `inserted into modern culture'

William Shakespeare is not just a poet, he is The Poet. He's so famous that even people who can barely sign their own names would hoot at you if you thought Shakespeare was a basketball player.

But now he has a rival.

Unless you've taken a course in Renaissance drama at university, you may not know the name of this rival. He was a contemporary of Shakespeare, a fellow playwright who doctored some of Shakespeare's scripts – he cut Macbeth, in the view of some scholars, trimmed bits of long-winded Shakespearean dialogue, made it more intense.

He was also a modern man who chronicled the dirty politics and cruel sex and the struggle for survival in the London of his time, in language much closer to our own spoken English.

You can read him now in a 2,016-page Oxford edition entitled Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works. Gary Taylor, one of the two general editors of this huge volume, 20 years in the making, was also a general editor of Oxford's 1986 edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works, which came in at 1,432 pages. By my math, Middleton gets 584 more pages than Shakespeare. That's fair. Shakespeare took up all the oxygen in the English-language, poetic-drama universe for 400 years. Time to give Middleton his space on the bookshelf.

Read the rest of the article..

I also found a mention of this story here.

Here is an example of Middleton's verse.

The Bloody Banquet

The title of this tragedy by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker "draws attention to the final scene of this play, in which the Tyrant compels his wife, the young Queen Thetis, to publicly eat the corpse of her lover, Tymethes," writes Julia Gasper. (And you thought the Saw movies were gruesome.)

The play's "transgression of certain boundaries of `good taste' – an ironic phrase, in this context – is surely as deliberate as that of, say, Oscar Wilde's Salome."

She did from her own ardour undergo
Adulterous baseness with my professed foe.
Her lust strangely betrayed, I ready to surprise them,
Set on fire by the abuse, I found his life
Cunningly shifted by her own dear hand
And far enough conveyed from my revenge.
Unnaturally she first abused my heart,
And then prevented my revenge by art.
Yet there I left not. Though his trunk were cold,
My wrath was flaming, and I exercised
New vengeance on his carcass, and gave charge
The body should be quartered and hung up. `Twas done.
This as a penance I enjoined her to:
To taste no other sustenance, no nor airs,
Till her love's body be consumed in hers ...

Alas, poor lady!
It makes me weep to see what food she eats.
I know your mercy will remit this penance.

Never, our vow's irrevocable, never.
The lecher must be swallowed rib by rib.
His flesh is sweet; it melts, and goes down merrily.
... There is my jealousy flown.
O happy man, 'tis more revenge to me
Than all your aims: I have killed my jealousy.

Excerpted from Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, general editors Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino. Published by Oxford University Press.

I've never heard of Thomas Middleton before. How interesting.

No comments: