THE HISTORY OF THE PLAY
'The Changeling' (1622) is a powerful work which has been performed, appreciated and exhaustively analysed for over three hundred years. Samuel Pepys recorded a visit to a successful performance at the Salisbury Court Theatre on the 23 February 1660. It is now regarded as one of the major plays of the Jacobean period. According to critic TB Tomlinson 'outside of Shakespeare, the most obviously intelligent play in English'. It is frequently studied as part of the English 'A' Level syllabus.
Though 'The Changeling' is in many ways a play of its time, particularly in its mood, it's concern with the process of human corruption, and its scenes of sensational horror, it has become increasingly popular with twentieth century audiences. In recent times it has moved literally into the limelight as one stage director after another has responded to the contemporary appeal of Middleton's sardonic realism and his strong sense of theatre.
It is a play which has received a considerable amount of critical attention. T.S Elliot expressed the view that 'The Changeling' has a moral universality which makes it not simply a play of it's times; he said that 'more than any other play except those of Shakespeare it has a profound and permanent moral value and horror'. Twentieth century audiences have become receptive to Jacobean plays, and there can be many reasons. It may be that contemporary audiences see the predominant sexual interest and the violence of some scenes as being true to life. The events of 'The Changeling' are hardly more lurid and sordid than events reported in some of our more sensational newspapers. The modern audience is aware of the inner life of the individual and of human sexuality. We respond with fascination to a pre-Freudian play which shows such a remarkable intuitive understanding of human psychology. The main interest of twentieth century critics has been in the psychological exploration of the Beatrice - De Flores relationship. Critics have been divided over the interest and artistic integrity of the sub-plot, though many argue a close thematic relation between the main plot and sub-plot, in which the sub plot presents the triumph of virtue whilst the main plot shows the overthrow of vice, sin and temptation.
'The Changeling' powerfully presents the tragic spectacle of a woman unwittingly bringing about her own destruction, and, although she is not admirable, nor even very likable, the audience watches in horror. Middleton and Rowley found the story for the main plot of 'The Changeling' in a book by John Reynolds entitled 'The Triumphs of God's Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Wilful and Premeditated Murder' (1621), and a translation by Leonard Digges of a Spanish story called 'Gerardo, The Unfortunate Spaniard' (1622). No definite source for the sub-plot has been identified.
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‘One has to salute the obsessive determination of Marcus Thompson… this Changeling has a bright,
sharp visual impact, and the plot of of the play is faithfully followed.’
What’s On In London
‘…radical and imaginative’
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‘It was unlikely that Marcus Thompson’s treatment of a Jacobean tragedy would follow any normal rules.'
Sight And Sound
‘brusquely updated… there’s a raw anything goes energy and an irrepressible enthusiasm …
those who dismiss British literary adaptation cinema as bloodlessly tame and tasteful
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this classic drama has been brought vividly to life. Esoteric and surreal…
all the ingredients that makes Jacobean drama so enticing’
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