How is it–after completing an MA in Staging Shakespeare and vowing up and down that my doctoral thesis would be about something other than this ridiculous monolith we call the Bard–how is it that I’ve ended up writing and reading about Shakespeare basically all the time? He’s inescapable. Even the Oxford Collected Works of Thomas Middleton talks an awful lot about Shakespeare.
Since he seems to be following me–or, more accurately, since he takes ‘ubiquitous’ to a whole new level–I have come to begrudgingly accept that I can’t run away from him. It might be impossible; it’s certainly very difficult, and I am just a lowly doctoral candidate without enough real clout to declare to anyone besides my anonymous blog audience that Shakespeare is, objectively speaking, no better at playwriting than his contemporaries. Besides, that terrible, constructed dichotomy of ‘Shakespeare’ and then ‘everyone else’ really gets on my nerves (which is totally an academic turn of phrase). As I pointed out in a recent post here, it makes very little sense to me to go around comparing Shakespeare’s plays to, say, Middleton’s in search of a value judgement on either of their works. That would be like taking Shaw’s Pygmalion and Ibsen’s Ghosts and trying to decide which was the ‘better’ play. Ibsen and Shaw wrote different kinds of plays. Is it useful to compare and contrast them without making an (implicit or explicit) value judgement or pitting their works against each other in some kind of ridiculous battle for supremacy? Absolutely! But why does everyone insist on reminding their readers that the constructed idea of “Shakespeare” would cringe at some of the scenes in The Changeling? Please keep in mind that we’re talking about the man who wrote King John.
(Thinking about it in retrospect, I sort of take that back…it would be better to say that comparing Shakespeare and Middleton is like comparing Shaw to Shaw’s slightly-less-well-known contemporary who was notwithstanding a very good playwright. But I think you can see what I mean. Hopefully.)
I’m starting to think, however, that there might be interesting research to be done around what happens to the relationship between Shakespeare and Middleton over time. It’s probably not a topic unto itself (not yet, anyway, I’m still developing the idea), but it might be worth at least a chapter. How and why did Middleton return to vogue? Why was 2007 the year in which the first Middleton Collected Works was published? What does the 20th-century theatre see in Middleton that the 19th-century theatre didn’t (despite his strong–if Bard-qualified–presence in academia)?