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About this book

The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley is a luridly sensual dramatic work which was highly regarded in its day, but then largely forgotten until its revival three hundred years later. This timely Handbook:
• offers a detailed theatrical commentary which tracks the motivations of the capricious characters and explores performance possibilities
• examines the cultural conditions that gave rise to the play, juxtaposing them with the conditions of the twentieth century
• analyses early performances as well as later stage and film productions
• presents key critical debates and assessments of The Changeling.

Table of Contents

1. The Text and Early Performances

Abstract
Jacobean playwrights played well with others. Unlike the un-credited collaboration from which Shakespeare mostly likely benefited, paired teams of writers like Middleton and Rowley, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Barksted and Machin were common in the early seventeenth century. Much like contemporary film or television writers, these men were able to unite on projects where there was a clear distribution of labour. They worked at a fevered pace on a product that wasn’t perceived as a revered cultural form so much as ephemeral entertainment constantly required to deliver novelty and excitement to sate its audience. As with Shakespeare’s plays these now-classical Jacobean texts were likely written as something more akin to the modern blockbuster than foreseen as enduring treasures. That’s doesn’t preclude the best (and The Changeling is among the very best) from containing deep, probing plots and characters who speak of universal dilemmas while sugaring the pill with plenty of action and eroticism.
Jay O’Berski

2. Commentary: the Play in Performance

Abstract
There are numberless ways to analyse a play but I’ll be focusing on a practical, page-to-stage method that comes out of contemporary actor/director training. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Konstantin Stanislavsky became the progenitor of a structured way of thinking about making plays. Although he never formalized any strict method (contrary to many people’s confusion with the Americanized ‘Method’ he unwittingly inspired), Stanislavsky did, by the end of his long life in art, boil down almost everything the actor does to action. Acting is action shown on a stage and the actor’s role is to divine what intentions the character must pursue based on clues inherent in the text. Stanislavsky freely admitted his ideas were superfluous in analysing how to play Shakespeare because there was no subtext, unlike with psychological fare like Chekhov, Ibsen or almost any contemporary play we make today. In Shakespeare nine times out of ten if one character tells another, ‘I smite thee!’ it means duck. We know what a character is thinking because she says it aloud, whether publicly or privately in an aside.
Jay O’Berski

3. Intellectual and Cultural Context

Abstract
‘May you live in interesting times.’ This phrase may be used as a curse or a blessing and since no one knows for sure where the saying originated we have no context for how it should be used. Whether seen as positive or a negative it’s an ideal tag line for the Jacobeans.
Jay O’Berski

4. Key Performances and Productions

Abstract
Whether it’s the artistry of the director, the actors, the designers or the musicians, a stage production’s effect is largely a matter of where the ‘spotlight’ has been focused. The same is true for all works of art; we respond to how the artist accentuates elements like language, colour, humour, rhythm, pathos, imagery, shape and dissonance. Countless tools work together to create a story or to convey a non-narrative experience and no art form is as collaborative as theatre.
Jay O’Berski

5. The Play on Screen

Abstract
What happens to a play when it’s made into a film? Does one just shoot a pre-existing stage version or break away from a theatrical setting entirely and take it to locations and film lots? Close-ups are a part of cinematic language that doesn’t have an equivalent on stage. How do they focus or distract from a line of text’s meaning? Similarly, filmed voice-overs have largely replaced stage soliloquies and asides. What’s the effect of this further intimacy of ‘reading a character’s mind’? Three hours of play text are often cut down to 90 minutes for the attention span of a film audience and long thoughts are broken into smaller, more digestible sound bites. How does this diminish the poetry and its deeper meanings? Imagery becomes more important as the eye does the work and the ear becomes more attuned to the atmospheric musical underscoring than the text, which is often negligible in popular movies. The works of Shakespeare have been filmed in every known permutation from direct stage tapings to blockbuster studio versions to highly adapted teen versions without a hint of original text. How does one attempt to capture the power and the passion of a work like The Changeling on the screen?
Jay O’Berski

6. Critical Assessments

Abstract
In 2007 the holy grail of all things Middleton was revealed. The Complete Works of Thomas Middleton, edited by Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino, includes all the works of Middleton collected in a single volume for the first time, creating the kind of resource the works Shakespeare have long enjoyed. Along with its companion, Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture, the massive undertaking works to resurrect the reputation of an undeservedly obscure master. As an overview of Middleton’s rich and varied career and the times in which he wrote in, it’s unprecedented; however, I’ll be focusing on writings before Taylor and Lavagnino’s opus, since that source is so conveniently concentrated for anyone who seeks it out.
Jay O’Berski
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