My dissertation project, Thomas Middleton in Performance 1960-2013: A History of Reception, responds to a growing interest in the work of Thomas Middleton.* In the past 50 years, literary critics and theater directors in both the US and the UK have published and produced more Middleton-related work than in the three centuries since his death. However, there is as yet no comprehensive stage history of his plays that is informed by the recent scholarship. My project, using archival production records such as video, photography, design sketches, prompt books, playbills, and reviews, fills this significant gap in current Middleton scholarship.
I argue that, during the five decades that comprise Middleton’s modern revival, theater companies respond to Middleton’s texts in ways that strongly correspond with both social and artistic movements of their cultural moment. In the sixties and seventies, productions of Middleton’s plays focused strongly on the female sexuality displayed in The Changeling, The Revenger’s Tragedy, and Women Beware Women. In the eighties, directors utilized productions of these plays and The Roaring Girl to subvert other structures of authority beyond gender, such as class and race. In the last twenty years, the interest in recreating early modern staging has resulted in several Middleton Original Practices productions; I examine several OP productions of A Mad World, My Masters, A Trick to Catch the Old One, The Honest Whore, and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. Finally, more recently, directors and playwrights have used Middleton’s plays as springboards for adaptations and original works of their own, resulting in a musical adaptation of The Roaring Girl and a jazz opera based on The Revenger’s Tragedy.
This project was completed with funding from several institutions. I am grateful to the IHR Junior Mellon committee for granting me a summer fellowship that enabled me to begin my London research in the summer of 2012. With the help of dissertation research funds from both the English Department and the Graduate School at Florida State University, I was able to complete research in New York City and Staunton, VA. Finally, due to a generous assistantship (jointly held through the FSU English department and International Programs), I was able to complete the larger part of my London research during the fall of 2013.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to all of the archivists and librarians who helped me locate materials, specifically at the American Shakespeare Center Archives, the British Library, the National Theatre Archives, the Royal Shakespeare Company archives at Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, the Shakespeare’s Globe Archives, the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the New York Public Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Archives.
Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank both Celia Daileader, for her advice and feedback on this manuscript, and Gary Taylor, for giving me the idea that began the entire project.
*The first chapter of my dissertation can be read here: Lechler Dissertation Introduction (PDF)