Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 3. His first Plays: The Mayor of Quinborough

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

III. Middleton and Rowley

§ 3. His first Plays: The Mayor of Quinborough

It is quite possible that The Mayor of Quinborough, which was printed with Middleton’s name in 1661, is the earliest play of his that we have; and quite possible that we have it only in a revised state. Such merit as there is in the play lies almost wholly in individual lines and passages, which stand out from a confused and rather hideous mingling of tragic bombast and strained farce. The dumb-show and choruses between the acts are not less immature than the horrors in action by which we can imagine Middleton to be trying to force himself to be tragic. No trace of Rowley is to be seen anywhere in the play, least of all in the comic scenes, which have distinct traces of the manner of Middleton. The whole play seems to be the premature attempt of a man, not naturally equipped for tragic or romantic writing, to do the tragic comedy then in fashion; and this attempt was probably continued in the plays, now lost, at which we know Middleton was working in 1602: Caesar’s Fall, with Munday, Drayton and Webster; The Two Harpies, with the same and Dekker; and The Chester Tragedy. In Blurt Master-Constable, which belongs to the same year and is the first of his published plays, we see him recovering himself after his false start, and setting off spiritedly on the comedies of intrigue which were to form the first division of his work. The prose has become alive, and swift of foot; the dialogue slips easily from prose into verse and back again; the action, and the unchastened tongues, gallop. Middleton has found a theme and a technique; and to these he will be almost wholly faithful for the long first half of his career, the fifteen years of comedy.