The Changeling

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Editor: Anne Marie Hacht
Date: 2006
Drama for Students
From: Drama for Students(Vol. 22. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Character overview; Critical essay; Play explanation; Work overview; Biography; Plot summary
Pages: 28
Content Level: (Level 4)

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The Changeling




The Changeling, by English dramatists Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, was first performed at London's Phoenix Theatre in 1622, during the period known as the Jacobean age. The play was first printed in London in 1652 or 1653. A dark story of lust, murder, and adultery, with a comic subplot set in a lunatic asylum, The Changeling was a popular play in its own day, but then fell into neglect. The last performance before modern times was in 1668. Interest in the play renewed in the twentieth century, and since 1930, there have been numerous successful productions in Britain and the United States.

The Changeling is considered to be Middleton's finest tragedy. It was common at the time for dramatists to collaborate, and Middleton and Rowley collaborated on five plays over a period of five years. For The Changeling, scholars believe that Rowley wrote the first and last scenes and the subplot, while Middleton was responsible for the main plot and the characterization of the major characters.

The Changeling takes its title from the fact that several characters go through changes that make them unrecognizable from what they formerly were or appeared to be—such is the power of love and lust.


Thomas Middleton was born in 1580 in London, England; his exact date of birth is unknown, but he Page 80  |  Top of Article was baptized on April 18. His father was a prosperous bricklayer who died when Middleton was five. Middleton attended grammar school and in 1598 he matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford, where he studied from 1598 to 1601. There are no records indicating whether he ever received a degree.

Middleton married Magdalen Marbeck in 1602, and returned to London the following year. By this time, he was writing plays for the prominent theatre manager, Philip Henslowe. His earliest surviving independent play is Blurt, Master Constable (1602). From 1602 to 1607, he penned many plays for boy's companies, especially the Boys of St. Paul's. Many of these plays were citizen comedies (also called city comedies), which were set in London, featured mostly lower- and middle-class characters, were moral in tone, and which glorified the city of London. Examples of some popular Middleton citizen comedies are Michaelmas Term (c. 1606), A Trick to Catch the Old One (c. 1605), and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1611), which is probably Middleton's most widely read play today. Middleton also wrote tragedies, including The Revenger's Tragedy (1607)—although the authorship of this play is sometimes questioned—and A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608).

It appears that from 1608 to 1610, Middleton struggled to make a living and may have been in debt. Between 1615 and 1617, he wrote A Fair Quarrel, marking his first collaboration with actor and playwright William Rowley. He collaborated on works with other playwrights of the time as well, including Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, Anthony Munday, John Webster, and possibly even William Shakespeare.

By this time, Middleton had become well known as a dramatist and he began to prosper. He was hired on many occasions to write and produce City of London pageants, and in 1620, he was appointed city chronicler, a position he retained until his death. With the income he continued to receive from his plays, he became moderately well-to-do. He wrote for the King's Men, the Prince's Men, and for Lady Elizabeth's Men.

The two plays that are generally considered his masterpieces in the genre of tragedy were written late in his career. These were Women Beware Women (c. 1625), his last know play, and The Changeling, written in collaboration with Rowley and performed in 1622.

In 1624, Middleton's play Game at Chess was a theatrical sensation at the Globe Theatre. It dealt with the English dislike of Spanish influence at the English court, and the English suspicion of Catholics. The play was the first to be performed for nine consecutive days, and it would have continued even longer had it not been suppressed by the authorities for its anti-Spanish content.

Middleton died of natural causes, and was buried July 4, 1627, in Newington Butts, London. He is often ranked by contemporary scholars behind only Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare in the ranks of Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists.


Act 1

When The Changeling begins, Alsemero has fallen in love with Beatrice, whom he has just met in a church. He intends to cancel his voyage from Alicant, Spain, to Malta, and marry her. When he tells Beatrice of his love, she regrets that five days ago she was promised in marriage to Alonzo de Piracquo.

De Flores enters the scene; he is the servant of Vermandero, Beatrice's father. Beatrice despises De Flores, but he is in love with her and persists in seeing her at every opportunity. When her father enters, Beatrice asks him to invite Alsemero to his castle. Vermandero agrees when he discovers that Alsemero's deceased father was an old friend of his.

The second scene introduces the subplot. Alibius, an old doctor who is in charge of a lunatic asylum, confides in his servant Lollio that he is worried his young wife Isabella may seek affection elsewhere. He asks Lollio to keep watch on her while he is away and to prevent visitors to the madhouse from seeing her. Pedro and Antonio enter; Antonio is dressed to look like a fool, and Pedro pays Alibius to admit him to the asylum.

Act 2

Beatrice has decided she wants to marry Alsemero. De Flores enters, still using every excuse to see Beatrice, even though she insults him. He tells her that Alonzo has arrived with his brother Tomazo. After De Flores exits, Beatrice, repelled by De Flores, says she will get her father to dismiss him.

Vermandero, Alonzo, and Tomazo enter. While Beatrice and Vermandero talk, Tomazo tells his brother that Beatrice did not seem pleased to see him. Alonzo dismisses the remark. After Vermandero informs Alonzo that Beatrice has Page 81  |  Top of Article requested a three-day postponement of their wedding, Tomazo repeats his misgivings. He tells Alonzo not to marry Beatrice because she is in love with someone else. Alonzo refuses to listen.

In the second scene, Beatrice confesses her love to Alsemero. He wants to challenge Alonzo to a duel, but Beatrice fears this will only make the problem worse. She has already decided on a course of action. When she sees De Flores, she speaks kindly to him and promises him some medicine that will cure his bad skin. He is delighted at her apparent change of heart. She tells him she is being forced to marry a man she hates, and De Flores realizes she wants him to murder Alonzo. She gives him money and he readily agrees to perform the deed. Beatrice says she expects him to leave the country after the murder; she is pleased that she can get rid of De Flores and Alonzo at the same time. De Flores, however, sees this as an opportunity to possess Beatrice sexually.

Act 3

While De Flores is showing Alonzo around the castle, De Flores stabs him to death. Unable to remove a ring from Alonzo's finger, he cuts off the finger instead.

Meanwhile, in the madhouse, Lollio introduces Isabella to Franciscus, who is only pretending to be mad, and to Antonio, who is only pretending to be a fool. Both men wish to gain access to Isabella. After Lollio exits, Antonio reveals his true self and declares his love for Isabella, but she is not impressed. Antonio persists, and Lollio overhears his words of love. After he escorts Antonio out, Lollio makes a pass at Isabella. She tells him that if he does not stop, she will get Antonio to cut his throat. Alibius enters and informs them they must get some madmen and fools to put on a dance to entertain the guests at the wedding of Beatrice and Alonzo.

De Flores reports to Beatrice that he has murdered Alonzo. He shows her the dead man's finger, which horrifies Beatrice. The ring was a gift from her, at her father's request. She tells De Flores to keep the ring, which is worth three hundred ducats. When this does not please him, she gives him three thousand golden florins. De Flores explains that he did not commit murder for financial reward, but Beatrice does not understand what he is trying to tell her. She offers to double the sum, but when he scorns at that, she asks him to get out of the country and to write to her, naming his own price. He replies that if he leaves, she must too, since they are bound together in guilt. He tries to kiss her and reveals how desperately he wants to make love to her. She tries to reject him, but he reminds her of her guilt. She tries to impress on him the difference in their social class, but he claims that her evil act has made them equals. He says that if she does not do what he wants, he will inform on her. She makes one last effort to offer him money, but again he refuses. She begins to see the terrible consequences of her actions.

Act 4

Beatrice has yielded to De Flores's sexual demands, and has also married Alsemero. Alone in the afternoon, she realizes she cannot offer herself to her new husband, because he will know she is not a virgin. In Alsemero's medicine cabinet, she finds a book that prescribes a potion designed to show if a woman is a virgin. She tries it out on Diaphanta, on whom it has the required effect: she gapes, sneezes, and then laughs. Beatrice arranges for her to go to Alsemero's bed that night, in the pitch darkness, and pretend to be Beatrice.

Vermandero issues warrants for the arrest of Antonio and Franciscus, since he believes they are responsible for the murder of Alonzo. Tomazo enters, seeking revenge for his brother's death. He challenges Alsemero to a duel, and Jasperino reports to Alsemaro that he and Diaphanta have overheard suspicious conversations between De Flores and Beatrice. Puzzled, Alsemero gives Beatrice the virginity test, which Beatrice, knowing how to react, passes with flying colors.

Sidebar: HideShow


The Changeling was adapted for film in Great Britain in 1998. The film was directed by Marcus Thompson and starred Ian Dury, Billy Connolly, and Colm O'Maonlai.

Isabella shows Lollio a letter that Franciscus has written to her, confessing his love for her. Lollio teaches Antonio the dance that is to be performed at the wedding. Isabella enters, disguised as a madwoman and ready to flirt with Antonio, but Page 82  |  Top of Article Antonio speaks roughly to her, and she rejects him. Lollio then falsely informs Antonio that Isabella really is in love with him. The two men agree to conspire against Franciscus. But then Lollio tells Franciscus that Isabella is in love with him, and encourages him to beat up Antonio when the evening revels end.

Act 5

Beatrice is angry with Diaphanta because it is two o'clock in the morning and the maid still has not returned. De Flores sets fire to Diaphanta's chamber, hoping she will run home and die in the fire. Beatrice starts to love him because he takes care of her interests. The plan works; Diaphanta is burnt to death.

Tomazo, still seeking revenge but not knowing on whom to take it, encounters De Flores and strikes him in anger. De Flores does not hit back since he feels the pangs of conscience. Vermandero informs Tomazo that he has arrested Antonio and Franciscus for the murder; their behavior in disguising themselves looked so suspicious.

Alsemero accuses Beatrice of adultery. She confesses that she employed De Flores to murder Alonzo, but explains that she did it out of love for Alsemero. Alsemero confronts De Flores with Beatrice's confession. Then Vermandero, who believes he has caught the murderers, enters, and Alsemero brings forth the guilty pair. De Flores has fatally wounded Beatrice and has also stabbed himself. Beatrice confesses she sent Diaphanta in her place to the bedroom, and De Flores admits his guilt. He stabs himself again and dies; Beatrice dies also, leaving Vermandero, Tomazo, and Alsemero to reflect on the fact that justice has been done.



Alibius is a jealous old doctor who is in charge of a private lunatic asylum. He is married to Isabella, a woman much younger than himself, and he is worried that when he is away another man may usurp his position. He therefore instructs his servant Lollio to prevent any of the visitors to the asylum, who may include young nobleman who come to gawk at the inmates, from seeing Isabella.


Alsemero is a nobleman from Valencia who falls in love with Beatrice. He immediately postpones his voyage to Malta to declare his love for her. Alsemero is an honorable man. When he finds out that Beatrice is betrothed to Alonzo but would sooner marry him, Alsemero, he wants to challenge Alonzo to a duel. But Beatrice refuses to allow this. When Jasperino informs him that he and Diaphanta have overheard suspicious conversations between De Flores and Beatrice, Alsemero gives her a potion that is supposed to reveal whether a woman is a virgin. Not a jealous man by nature, he does not want to think ill of his new bride and is relieved when she passes the test. When Beatrice is finally forced into confessing her crime to him, he is horrified and rejects her utterly.


Antonio is the changeling, the counterfeit fool. He is a member of Vermandero's staff, but he gets permission to leave for a while, pretending that he is going on a trip to Bramata. In truth, he wants to gain access to Isabella, so he pretends to be a fool and is admitted to the lunatic asylum. After a while he casts his disguise aside and declares his love for Isabella. Unfortunately for Antonio (as well as for Franciscus), he happens to enter the asylum on the same day that Alonzo is murdered. When this fact transpires, Vermandero arrests him for murder. He is only spared the gallows when the truth comes out in the final scene.


Beatrice, also called Joanna, is the young, beautiful daughter of Vermandero. But behind her beauty lies an immature, selfish, cruel and cunning nature. When the plays begins, she is engaged to marry Alonzo, and it appears that she has some affection for him. But as soon as Alsemero declares his love for her, she switches her affections to the new man. Not wanting to be thwarted in her desires, and without a thought for the possible consequences, she employs De Flores, a man whom she loathes and despises, to murder Alonzo. But she completely misjudges De Flores. She thinks she can pay him for his services and get him to leave the country; instead, he demands sex from her. She is forced to submit to him, since he makes her realize that they are partners in crime and she cannot escape from him. But this creates another problem for her. Although she is now free to marry Alsemero, she cannot allow him to detect on their wedding night that she is not a virgin, so she employs Diaphanta to go to Alsemero's bed in her place. De Flores then efficiently disposes of Diaphanta in a house fire, before the truth can come out, and Beatrice decides that she is now in love with him. Page 83  |  Top of Article Her crimes catch up with her when Jasperino overhears incriminating conversations between her and De Flores and reports them to Alsemero. When challenged by her husband, she confesses her role in the murder, but omits the substitution of Diaphanta in the marriage bed. After being rejected by her husband, she is stabbed by De Flores. Wounded, she is shamed in front of her father, and finally admits the full truth to Alsemero just before she dies.

De Flores

De Flores is a servant of Vermandero, Beatrice's father. He has an ugly appearance, particularly the skin on his face. De Flores is known to most people as an honest man, and Vermandero thinks highly of him. But in fact De Flores has no ethical sense at all, and his besetting sin is his sexual obsession with Beatrice. He invents any little excuse to go and see her, even though she loathes him and insults him. He is ready to endure such humiliations simply to have a glimpse of her. De Flores is more experienced and worldly-wise than Beatrice, and when she hints to him that she would like to see Alonzo murdered, he at once sees how he can use the opportunity to blackmail her into sexual submission. After he has killed Alonzo, he ignores Beatrice's attempts to buy him off, insisting that he will only be satisfied by his sexual enjoyment of her. Having outwitted and outmaneuvered her, he has his desire. Then, when Beatrice is threatened by the fact that Diaphanta has not returned from Alsemero's bed, it is De Flores who thinks up a scheme to save her. De Flores is so efficient in planning and acting upon it that Beatrice convinces herself that he is a man worth loving, because he takes such good care of her. Although De Flores does have some moments when his conscience troubles him, when his crimes are discovered, he remains defiant. He kills himself and Beatrice so they can be together in hell.


Diaphanta is Beatrice's maid who flirts with Jasperino. At Beatrice's request, she takes Beatrice's place in Alsemero's bed on the wedding night. Beatrice thinks Diaphanta is a little too eager to accept the assignment and wonders whether she really is a virgin. But she is satisfied when she gives Diaphanta the test for virginity prescribed in a medical book, and the maid passes it. But Diaphanta apparently enjoys her love-making with Alsemero since she fails to return at midnight, as she had promised. When the first streaks of dawn appear in the sky, De Flores sets fire to Diaphanta's chamber, to lure her home. When the alarm is sounded about the fire, Diaphanta rushes back to her chambers, where she meets her death in the flames, just as De Flores had intended.


Franciscus is an employee of Vermandero who gets a leave of absence. He uses it to disguise himself as a madman and enter the lunatic asylum, where his purpose is to declare his love for Isabella. For a while he acts like a madman, but then sends Isabella a love letter, which unfortunately for him is intercepted by Lollio. Franciscus is arrested along with Antonio on suspicion of the murder of Alonzo, and would have been hanged had the truth not come out.


Isabella is the young wife of Alibius. She is attractive to men and her old husband fears that her affections may stray. Confined to a room where she may only meet the inmates of the lunatic asylum rather than the visitors, she finds herself subject to the unwanted romantic attentions of Antonio and Franciscus. She also has to fend off an attempted seduction by Lollio. Isabella's common sense and good judgment are contrasted with Beatrice's complete lack of those qualities.


Jasperino is Alsemero's friend. He expresses surprise at Alsemero's sudden change of plans after he falls in love with Beatrice, and decides that he will entertain himself by seducing Diaphanta, who seems more than willing to be seduced. Jasperino later reports to Alsemero that he and Diaphanta have overheard incriminating conversation between De Flores and Beatrice.


Lollio is Alibius's servant. Alibius charges him with ensuring that none of the visitors to the lunatic asylum are allowed to see Isabella. Lollio, who wants to seduce Isabella himself, readily agrees. He introduces Franciscus and then Antonio to Isabella, not realizing that they are only pretending to be madman and fool, respectively. When Lollio tries to kiss Isabella, she rebuffs him severely, telling him that if he does not stop, she will get Antonio to cut his throat. Lollio then tries to set Antonio and Franciscus against each other by telling each man separately that Isabella is in love with them.


Pedro is Antonio's friend who takes him to the lunatic asylum.

Page 84  |  Top of Article

Alonzo de Piracquo

Alonzo de Piracquo is a nobleman who when the play begins is engaged to marry Beatrice. Beatrice's father thinks very highly of him and is pleased that he is going to he his son-in-law. But Beatrice quickly loses interest in Alonzo when she meets Alsemero. Alonzo's brother Tomazo warns him not to marry Beatrice but he does not listen. He is murdered by De Flores as De Flores shows him around Vermandero's castle.

Tomazo de Piracquo

Tomazo de Piracquo is Alonzo's brother. He sees that Beatrice does not love Alonzo, and advises him not to marry her. After the murder of Alonzo, Tomazo comes to Vermandero's castle, seeking revenge, but he does not know the identity of the murderer. At first he is courteous to De Flores, thinking him an honest man (Act 4, scene 1), but later (Act 5, scene 2) takes an instinctive dislike to him and strikes him. At the end of the play he is satisfied that justice has been done.


Vermandero is Beatrice's father. He occupies a high position in Alicant society, since he lives in a castle and is attended by servants and has other employees. He is an old friend of Alsemero's late father, so is well-disposed to Alsemero. He is a good-hearted man, hospitable and honorable who is forced in the final scene of the play to watch in dismay as the evil acts are revealed and his own daughter is killed.


Reason and Passion

This tragedy is propelled by a conflict between reason and passion, in which passion rules. In dealing with sexual desire, the central characters fail to use proper judgment. Lust overwhelms all other considerations. In the case of Beatrice, there is considerable irony in the explanations she offers herself for her changing emotions. She falls in love with Alsemero immediately, but convinces herself that she is making a reasoned choice. She justifies her desertion of Alonzo by telling herself that when she fell for him, she was being led astray by appearances and she lacked judgment. She even warns Alsemero of the need to test an emotion such as love, by the use of reason. But she gives a clue to her state of mind when she admits in act 1 to a "giddy turning" in her affections as she turns from Alonzo to Alsemero. This does not sound like the state of mind that accompanies reasoned judgment. In fact, Beatrice is deceiving herself, justifying her fickleness by claiming it is something else. She even convinces herself that Alsemero is a man of sound judgment, because she approves of his choice of Jasperino as a friend: "It is a sign he makes his choice with judgement," she says. She extrapolates from that she too, in choosing a man of judgment, is exercising a similar virtue: "Methinks I love now with the eyes of judgement, / And see the way to merit." The truth, however, is that Beatrice is living in a state of self-delusion, which she never questions. When it comes to her dealings with De Flores, for example, it never occurs to her that De Flores wants from her something other than money. She fails to assess his character correctly.

Alonzo is another character who blinds himself to reality, owing to romantic or sexual desire. In act 2, scene 1, he fails to notice that Beatrice does not greet him with any warmth and shows no interest in him at all. He rejects Tomazo's warning simply because he cannot bear to hear any ill spoken of Beatrice, even though the evidence of her coolness toward him is obvious to his brother. Tomazo is one of the few characters in the play who retains his good judgment (since he is not affected by love or passion), and he speaks a truth that the play will ultimately reveal: "Why, here is love's tame madness: thus a man / Quickly steals into his vexation." He means that it is madness to fail to perceive an ugly truth due to feelings of love, because it will quickly lead to distress. In Alonzo's case, it leads to more than that—it leads directly to his death.

Diaphanta also suffers the fatal consequences of letting passion override judgment. On Beatrice's wedding night, she enjoys Alsemero's embraces too much and fails to return at the appointed hour. She dies in a fire as a result.

De Flores is yet another character in whom lust annihilates judgment. Unlike Beatrice, he does not fool himself into believing something other than the truth. He knows that Beatrice loathes him, and yet he keeps going back to see her, whenever the opportunity presents itself, and he endures her abuse. He knows that from a rational point of view, his actions make no sense. But he also knows that he lusts after Beatrice with such passion that nothing else is of any significance. He admits that he "cannot choose but love her," and that "I can as well be hanged as refrain from seeing her." De Page 85  |  Top of Article Flores has gone beyond the point where he can exercise judgment; he is in the grip of lust and it will not let him go.

Once the characters have fallen under the spell of love or passion or lust, the crimes that follow seem inevitable.

Appearance versus Reality

There is a contrast between appearance and reality. Beatrice looks outwardly fine, but her beautiful appearance masks a selfish, ruthless, violent nature. During the play, she goes through a series of inner transformations that make her quite different from how she initially appears. Early on, betrothed to Alonzo, she is in love with Alsemero; later, in the dumb show that begins act 4, scene 1, she appears as a modest, virtuous bride in a solemn wedding procession, while the reality is that she is an accomplice in murder and has already been unfaithful to her husband. By passing the virginity test, she appears to be a virgin when she is not. She is also soon to create adulterers out of her maid and her unknowing husband; then finally, she will change affections once more, from her husband to De Flores. This makes Beatrice one of the "changelings" of the play's title.

The deception of Alsemero, who thinks he is making love to his bride when in fact his lover is Diaphanta, adds another layer to the appearance versus reality theme. This theme is also part of the comic subplot, which comments on the main plot. Antonio (who is described in the dramatis personae as the changeling) pretends to be a fool, and Franciscus pretends to be mad. Their appearances are quite contrary to the reality, although in a sense they too, like Beatrice, Alsemero, and De Flores, are mad for love, since they go to such absurd lengths to access to Isabella.

The theme of appearance versus reality also extends to Lollio who (like De Flores) appears to be the loyal servant of his master, but in fact is plotting to have Isabella for himself. Isabella provides a twist to the appearance-reality theme. Alibius suspects that she is virtuous only on the surface and that she will be tempted to gain sexual satisfaction elsewhere; he thinks there may be a dichotomy between the way she appears and who she really is. In that, however, he is mistaken. Although Isabella is not beyond using playful sexual innuendo with Lollio and Antonio, she is what she appears to be: a virtuous wife.

Sidebar: HideShow


  • Some critics have argued that Beatrice is unconsciously attracted to De Flores from the beginning. Is there any evidence from the play to support such a notion? What might she find attractive in De Flores?
  • Dramas often feature characters who act as foils for other characters; they set one another off, offering the audience a study in contrasts. In what sense is Isabella a foil for Beatrice? Is Alsemero a foil for De Flores?
  • In their collaboration, Middleton wrote most of the main plot, while Rowley wrote the comic subplot. What evidence can be produced to show the closeness of their collaboration? In other words, how are the two plots related, in terms of themes and language?
  • Research and describe the main features of the Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouses. What was the physical structure of the theaters, i.e., what did they look like? In what sense was the audience more involved in the action than a modern audience might be? How were plays staged? What social class of people attended the plays?



There are many images of eyes and references to sight, many of which are used with unconscious Page 86  |  Top of Article irony by Beatrice, who points out that the eye can deceive when it comes to reaching reliable judgments about love and character. In act 1, scene 1, she says to Alsemero:

Our eyes are sentinels unto our judgements,
And should give certain judgement what they see;
But they are rash sometimes, and tell us wonders
Of common things, which when our judgments find,
They can then check the eyes, and call them blind.

Beatrice says of her quickly forgotten love for Alonzo, "Sure, mine eyes were mistaken," and she contrasts the superficiality of the eyes with what she calls the "eye of judgment" and "intellectual eyesight." The irony is that Beatrice is never more blind than when she thinks she is seeing with the eyes of judgment.

Images of sickness, poison, and blood reinforce the themes of the play. In the first scene, Alsemero, dismissing any idea that he is unwell, says, "Unless there be some hidden malady / Within me that I understand not." He does not know it yet, but the love he has just conceived for Beatrice will act as a sickness, a poison to him. Beatrice regards De Flores as like a "deadly poison," and says that he is to her a "basilisk" (a mythical reptile whose glance was said to be fatal). When the poison introduced by Beatrice and De Flores has done its work, Jasperino refers to the situation as an "ulcer" that is "full of corruption." An image of sickness is also used by De Flores, who refers to his lust for Beatrice as a "mad qualm" (a qualm is an illness).

Images of sickness are balanced by references to healing. Beatrice offers to make a medicine to cure De Flores's skin; Jasperino informs Diaphanta that he can be cured of the madness he jokingly claims to suffer from by sexual intercourse with her. Alibius, who is a doctor, claims to be able to cure both madmen and fools. The irony is that he cannot; the inmates are kept in line with whips, not cured by medicine. There is no medicine that can cure the sickness that afflicts Beatrice and De Flores, which also infects the characters around them.

Images of blood convey both lust and murder. Jasperino says he has the "maddest blood i' th' town," by which he means the most lustful. De Flores uses the word in the same sense when, after realizing he has a workable plan to possess Beatrice's body, he exclaims: "O my blood! / Methinks I feel her in mine arms already." But De Flores's use of the word is also linked to his knowledge that he must shed blood (by murder) in order to satisfy his blood (his lust). After he has killed Alonzo, he seeks to collect from Beatrice what his lust demands, and he uses the word blood to mean murder: "A woman dipped in blood, and talk of modesty?" The blood image recurs later, when Alsemero tells his daughter that she should have gone "a thousand leagues" in order to avoid "This dangerous bridge of blood!"

Finally, Beatrice herself takes up the image of blood but she links it not to lust or murder but to the medical practice of blood-letting to cure a patient. This connects the image of blood with the references in the play to healing. In act 5, scene 3, Beatrice says to her father:

I am that of your blood was taken from you
For your better health. Look no more upon't,
But cast it to the ground regardlessly;
Let the common sewer take it from distinction.


Jacobean Drama

Jacobean drama in England covers the period from 1603 to 1625, coinciding with the reign of King James I. The Jacobean professional theatre has been described by David Farley-Hills in Jacobean Drama as "the most brilliant and dynamic the world has seen." The dominant figure during the first part of the Jacobean period was William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Although many of Shakespeare's plays were written during the reign of Elizabeth I, some of his greatest works appeared in the first decade of the Jacobean age, including the tragedies of Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, and the romances Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. During this decade, Shakespeare's preeminence was challenged by other dramatists, including Ben Jonson (1572–1637), George Chapman (c. 1560–1634), John Marston (c. 1575 or 1576–1634), Middleton, John Webster (c. 1580–c. 1625), and John Fletcher (1579–1625).

The Jacobean theatre enjoyed the rich legacy bequeathed by the Elizabethan age: a public used to attending plays and to paying for the privilege; a number of permanent theatres, both large and small; and a system that enabled those involved in writing and putting on plays to gain some financial reward from doing so. The largest theatres were open-air buildings such as the Globe, which could accommodate an audience of several thousand. The Globe was made famous as the theatre where Shakespeare's plays were first performed. Other large theatres in London were the Fortune, the Curtain, and the Hope. There were also smaller, covered Page 87  |  Top of Article theatres, such as Paul's and Blackfriars. Paul's had room for an audience of only about a hundred; the capacity of Blackfriars was about seven hundred.

The Phoenix, the theatre where The Changeling premiered, was a small private theatre on Drury Lane. Built in 1609 to stage cockfights, and thus originally called the Cockpit, the building was converted to a theatre in 1616. After being badly damaged in a riot in 1617, it was rebuilt and named the Phoenix.

Enclosed theatres were more expensive than open-air theatres like the Globe, and therefore the enclosed theatres attracted wealthier audiences. The open-air theatres attracted a much wider cross-section of London society, from artisans to gentry. The genius of the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists lay in their abilities to write plays that could please both the serious, educated public as well as patrons who merely wanted a robust, easily digested form of entertainment.

Treatment of Madness

In sixteenth and seventeenth century England, there were no effective treatments for mental illness. In London, the insane were confined to Bedlam Hospital, and for a fee, visitors were admitted to the hospital to gawk at the antics of the patients. People regarded such a visit much as a modern person might regard a trip to the zoo. Thomas Dekker's play The Honest Whore (1604) has a scene in which a duke and his companions visit Bedlam for entertainment. This practice is the source of Alibius's fear in The Changeling that aristocratic visitors to his madhouse may catch the eye of his young wife Isabella.

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  • Jacobean Age: In 1623, the first folio edition of Shakespeare is published. It contains thirty-six plays, eighteen of which are published for the first time. Over 1,000 copies are printed.

    Today: There are 228 surviving copies of Shakespeare's first folio, over one-third of which are owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. In 2003, Oxford University's Oriel College sells its copy of the first folio to philanthropist Sir Paul Getty.

  • Jacobean Age: Great Britain in the reign of James I is an emerging European power. Largely Protestant, its great rival is Catholic Spain, and there is mutual suspicion between the two countries.

    Today: Religion is no longer a divisive factor in relations between European nations. Spain and Britain are democratic nations, and both are members of the European Union.

  • Jacobean Age: In 1605, a group of Catholics smuggles thirty-six barrels of gunpowder into the vault of parliament. King James is addressing parliament when a man named Guy Fawkes is apprehended as he is about to ignite the fuse. This attempt to wipe out the entire government of Britain becomes known as the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes is hanged in 1606.

    Today: On November 5 every year, England commemorates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. The event is called Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. Huge bonfires are lit, fireworks are set off, and effigies representing Guy Fawkes are tossed on the bonfire.

Patients in Bedlam were sometimes kept naked and in chains. Discipline appears to have been harsh, as is shown in The Changeling, in which Lollio keeps a whip handy to control the patients. As a Londoner, Middleton may well have observed such practices on a visit to Bedlam. That such treatment of the insane was not unusual can be gleaned from Shakespeare's play As You Like It (1599 or 1600), in which the heroine Rosalind remarks lightheartedly, "Love is merely a madness, and I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do." In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, when Malvolio is falsely declared to be mad, he is bound Page 88  |  Top of Article
Alicante, Spain  Jonathan BlairCorbis Alicante, Spain © Jonathan Blair/Corbis and confined to a dark room, where he is tormented by the fool, Feste. For Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences, insanity appears to have been a topic from which much amusement could be derived.


Middleton was a popular playwright in his own day, but not long after his death, his works were neglected and were largely forgotten. In the nineteenth century, Middleton's work was revived, although his plays were often considered too coarse and vulgar by moralistic Victorian critics. Twentieth century scholars and critics put aside such scruples and established Middleton's best work as superior to any of his contemporaries, barring William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.

The Changeling is usually considered Middleton's greatest tragedy. In the opinion of T. S. Eliot, in his essay on "Thomas Middleton" in Selected Essays, The Changeling stands out as the greatest tragedy of its time, with the exception of Shakespeare's tragedies. For Samuel Schoenbaum in Middleton's Tragedies, "Nowhere else in Middleton are action and dialogue, character and theme blended together into such powerful harmony." Critics have frequently praised the characterization of Beatrice and De Flores. The scene between these characters in act 3 (scene 4) is often singled out for comment. J. R. Mulrayne in Thomas Middleton calls this scene "one of the most powerful encounters between two antagonistic yet similar personalities in the whole range of theatre," a judgment with which others concur.

Critics also note the effectiveness of the playwriting collaboration between Middleton, who wrote the tragic parts of the play, and Rowley, who wrote the comic subplot. George Walton Williams, for example, points out how the two plots are related, "structurally, tonally, thematically, and metaphorically with a subtlety and effectiveness that lets them speak as one on the unifying concept of transformation, or the condition of being a changeling."


Bryan Aubrey

Aubrey holds a Ph.D. in English and has published many articles on English drama. In this essay, Aubrey analyzes Middleton's characterizations of Beatrice and De Flores.

Page 89  |  Top of Article

The principal interest in The Changeling lies in the two central characters, Beatrice and De Flores. De Flores is a study in sexual obsession. He is a ruthless character who is also efficient and knowledgeable about the ways of the world. He was born a gentleman but fell on hard times. Other than his reference to his "hard fate," the details of his past life are never specified, but he surely resents his situation as a servant to Vermandero. The ugliness of his appearance is emphasized, but like another famous villain—Iago in Shakespeare's Othello—he is perceived by others as "honest." He allows his inner life and motivations to be seen by the outside world, which gives him an advantage, since no one suspects him of wrongdoing. Once he has conceived a sexual desire for Beatrice, a woman who, as the daughter of his employer, he can never in the normal course of events expect to have, he allows his lust to completely dominate his thoughts and actions. De Flores is a slave to his obsessive desire, seeking out any moment he can to be in Beatrice's presence, even though she expresses her loathing for him to his face. Masochistically, De Flores will endure any humiliation as long as it allows him to gaze on the object of his obsession. He continues to act in this way, in spite of an awareness that he is making a fool of himself ("Why, am I not an ass to devise ways / Thus to be railed at?"). It seems that with every rejection, his desire grows stronger. Like a stalker, he observes his prey and bides his time.

De Flores holds a great advantage over Beatrice because he is more experienced in the world than she is. When he realizes that she wants to get rid of Alonzo, his mind works fast. He knows this gives him an opportunity to possess her, and he acts with single-minded daring. He is utterly confident of the success of his plan. Unlike Beatrice, he knows who he is dealing with. Her inexperience and naïveté are no match for his cunning and foresight. It is not an equal contest.

One way that De Flores reveals himself is through his language. His speech is awash with sexual puns (he is not the only character in the play to exhibit this quality). For example, when he picks up the glove Beatrice has dropped, his words have an obscene double meaning:

Now I know
She had rather wear my pelt tanned in a pair
Of dancing pumps than I should thrust my fingers
Into her sockets here.

The last line has the connotation of sexual penetration by the man of the woman.

When Beatrice flatters De Flores because she is about to employ him to commit murder, and says his hard face shows "service, resolution, manhood, / If cause were of employment," De Flores responds with words that are full of sexual innuendo, although these double meanings are not recognized by Beatrice.

'Twould be soon seen,
If e'er your ladyship had cause to use it.
I would but wish the honour of a service
So happy that it mounts to.

"Use," "service," and "mounts" all have sexual connotations in De Flores's mind, as Christopher Ricks has pointed out in his essay, "The Moral and Poetic Structure of The Changeling," which appears in Essays in Criticism. Ricks also points out that in this scene, Beatrice misses De Flores's meaning every time; she simply does not understand how his mind works. This cross-talking is also apparent in act 4, scene 3, the powerful scene in which De Flores brings the severed finger, the evidence of the murder, to Beatrice. This is his "service" to her, which must in his mind be rewarded with "service," that is, sexual intercourse.

Like anyone in the grip of a deep obsession, De Flores cares for nothing except the achievement of his desire. This is why he can so truthfully say to Beatrice that unless she allows him to possess her, he will confess everything to the authorities. He will risk everything, even his life, in pursuit of his goal. And unlike Beatrice, De Flores shows no repentance at the end of the play when their joint deeds are unmasked. His words to Alsemero, even when he is wounded by his own hand and about to give himself the fatal blow, are not of contrition but of cruel triumph and defiance: "I coupled with your mate / At barley-break. Now we are left in hell."

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These few moments of sexual conquest represent for De Flores the fulfillment of his entire life; nothing else gave him comparable enjoyment:

I thank life for nothing
But that pleasure; it was so sweet to me
That I have drunk up all, left none behind
For any man to pledge me.

So much for De Flores—man at his worst, a character any audience can love to hate. But what of Beatrice? Why does this catastrophe overtake her? Young and beautiful, with suitors at her feet, she should have been on the threshold of a happy life. Una Ellis-Fermor, in her book, Jacobean Drama: An Interpretation, describes Beatrice as a "spoilt child," and it is easy to see the aptness of the phrase. Beatrice is used to getting what she wants and does not like to be thwarted in her desires. But she is very inexperienced, does not understand the nature of men, and has no developed moral awareness. Part of her problem is her misplaced self-confidence; she does not know her own ignorance. On first meeting with Alsemero, when he declares that he is in love with her, she is bold enough to give him a little piece of advice about how the eyes can deceive, and judgment should be made with the reasoning mind. This is advice that she is singularly unqualified to give, since she is led astray by first impressions just as much as Alsemero is. Beatrice is a young woman with a great capacity for self-delusion. She makes one bad decision after another, and yet thinks she is being very astute. When she first has the idea of getting De Flores to kill Alonzo, for example, she draws on the philosophical idea that even the ugliest thing in creation is good for some purpose. Ellis-Fermor comments that Beatrice is here like a "clever child who has learnt a rule from a book." When De Flores enters, Ellis-Fermor states, Beatrice is

still a child playing with a complicated machine of whose mechanism or capacities she knows nothing, concerned only to release the catch that will start it working and delighted when, in accordance with the text-book's instructions, it begins to move.

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  • Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1611) is often considered Middleton's finest comedy. It is a skillfully plotted, cynical drama about the seamier side of life in London, as unscrupulous characters seek money, marriage, and sex. The title is a joke, since Cheapside was a notorious location in London frequented by prostitutes.
  • William Shakespeare's dark comedy Measure for Measure (1604) has some similarities with The Changeling. Like De Flores, Shakespeare's character Angelo allows his sexual obsession with a woman to lead him into sinful actions. The play also features the plot device known as the "bed trick," in which a man is tricked into making love to a woman who is not the woman he thinks she is. Shakespeare's play, however, ends in forgiveness rather than death.
  • Volpone (first performed 1606) is one of Ben Jonson's great comic plays. It satirizes hypocrisy, greed, and self-deception, which are all unmasked in the end. Some of the characters resemble predatory birds such as the crow, vulture, and raven. Volpone is likened to a fox.
  • The Shakespearean Stage, 1574–1642 (2d ed., 1980), by Andrew Gurr, is a concise guide to the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre world. There are chapters on the companies, the actors, the playhouses, the audience, and how the plays were staged.

The moment of truth for Beatrice arrives in act 3, scene 4, in which De Flores reports that he has done the deed she required of him—Alonzo is dead. Beatrice's first response is one of joy; she is so happy she weeps. But then De Flores shows her the proof—the dead man's finger with the ring on it, and Beatrice recoils in horror. "Bless me! What hast thou done?" she exclaims. It is as if for the first time she realizes what has actually happened, that a real, flesh-and-blood man has been murdered. The sight of the ring, which was a gift her father Page 91  |  Top of Article made her send Alonzo, adds to her distress because it connects the murder with something directly associated with her.

The remainder of the scene constitutes a very rude awakening for Beatrice. At first she thinks it is just a matter of money that will make De Flores, who has now become an extreme inconvenience to her, disappear. When the truth begins to dawn on her, she thinks it impossible that anyone could be so wicked and cruel as to make Alonzo's death "the murderer of my honour!" But De Flores's hard and irrefutable logic holds a mirror up to her own nature and shows her that actions have real consequences that cannot be escaped. She realizes that "Murder… is followed by more sins." However, this does not make her repent. She is determined to brazen it out and pose as Alsemero's virgin bride. Deceit, adultery, and death (that of Diaphanta) soon follow.

Apparently untroubled by conscience, Beatrice only confesses her guilt when she is cornered and defeated. And at first she confesses only to what Alsemero already knows. Even then she tries to minimize her guilt, claiming that the murder was done for Alsemero's sake. She reveals the full truth, including the "bed trick" involving Diaphanta, and begs for forgiveness, only when she knows that her death is upon her. Even at the last, she blames De Flores for her downfall. Several times in the play she likens him to a serpent, and tells Alsemero in the final scene that she "stroked a serpent." This puts in mind the biblical myth of Eve, who was tempted by Satan in the form of a serpent. Beatrice seems to think of herself as the innocent one overcome by a creature with evil intent, whereas in fact she bears at least equal responsibility for what happened. Beatrice pays a high price for her immaturity and lack of moral awareness, but the dramatist leaves the audience in no doubt that she deserves her fate.


Bryan Aubrey, Critical Essay on The Changeling, in Drama for Students, Thomson Gale, 2006.

Full Text: 

Joost Daalder and Antony Telford Moore

In the following essay, Daalder and Moore discuss the dramatic tension inherent in the dual nature of Beatrice's reaction to De Flores and in Alsemero's sexual development.

One of the most striking occurrences in the early scenes of Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling is Beatrice's extraordinarily vehement reaction to her father's servant, De Flores. Let us briefly consider what leads up to her first attack on him.

Alsemero has already fallen in love with Beatrice when the play starts, and he cancels his planned trip to Malta as a result. Beatrice, more unusually, thinks of him as 'the man was meant me' (I.i.84) even though only five days before she had agreed to become betrothed to Alonzo de Piracquo. Alsemero and Beatrice are presented as besotted with each other when we first see them together in I.i, and Alsemero's friend Jasperino decides he might as well forget about further travel and instead try to seduce Beatrice's waiting-woman Diaphanta. It is at this sexually charged moment that De Flores enters.

De Flores addresses Beatrice with 'Lady, your father—', obviously intending to say more, but is immediately interrrupted by Beatrice with the words 'Is in health I hope' (I.i.91). From De Flores's aside a little later (99–106) it seems clear that he tries to get physically close to Beatrice as often as he can, but when we hear Beatrice's 'Is in health I hope' we do not, as an audience, know anything other than that De Flores appears to be offering perfectly reasonable information to Beatrice about her father, Vermandero. Beatrice's interrruption seems rude and quite beside the point. De Flores answers with 'Your eye shall instantly instruct you lady./ He's coming hitherward' (93–4).

This answer does not need to be interpreted as indicating anything negative about. De Flores. He may, in effect, be saying: 'He is indeed in fine condition, as you yourself can verify when he comes here in a moment—in fact, I was trying to tell you of his imminent arrival'. There is no evidence that Vermandero actually instructed De Flores to announce his coming, but the audience may readily Page 92  |  Top of Article see the servant as helpful, both to Vermandero and Beatrice, in doing so. Yet Beatrice reacts with

What need then
Your duteous preface? I had rather
He had come unexpected: you must stall
A good presence with unnecessary blabbing,
And how welcome for your part you are
I'm sure you know. (94–9)

The predominant point of Beatrice's speech appears to be that she wants to make it abundantly plain to De Flores that his presence is not welcome to her; indeed, she implies that he should know as much by now.

What is not clear is just why he is so unwelcome. Later, Beatrice repeatedly blames his face. A theatre audience can see from De Flores's first entrance that his face is marred by a skin condition, something which leads Beatrice to refer to him as a 'standing toad-pool' in II.i.58. When, towards the end of the play, Beatrice admits explicitly, though only to herself, that she loves him, she still expresses distaste for his face: 'His face loathes one, / But look upon his care, who would not love him?' (V.i.70–1). There are indications, however, that it is not just the physical ugliness of De Flores's face which puts her off. De Flores, who often proves himself to be an excellent analyst, says that she 'At no hand can abide the sight of me, / As if danger or ill luck hung in my looks' (II.i.35–6), which Beatrice appears to confirm in an aside a little later: 'This ominous, ill-faced fellow more disturbs me / Than all my other passions' (II.i.53–4).

It is thus tempting to explain Beatrice's revulsion as caused by De Flores's face, and not just by her distaste for the skin condition but, beyond that, by a sense on her part that somehow his loathsome face spells disaster to her. And so, the course of events in the play makes clear, it does. It is not, of course, as though he would have harmed her in any case: we know that she herself sets the tragic events in motion by hiring him as an assassin. But this does not mean that her fear of him is unjustified. As she puts it in one of her last speeches: 'My loathing / Was prophet to the rest, but ne'er believed' (V.iii.156–7). Despite her use of the passive voice, as though someone else should have believed her loathing (a locution which is so expressive of her divided nature), we can for ourselves acknowledge that she should have acted on her misgivings. This remains so even if we see her loathing as partly caused by an unconscious realization on her part that what she reacts to in De Flores is not only his own evil but some sort of representation, or mirror, of her own.

We can be sure that it is not just his face which she hates. If that were the case, De Flores's reaction to her 'how welcome for your part you are / I'm sure you know' (I.i.98–9) would make little sense. He says in an aside:

Will't never mend, this scorn,
One side nor other? Must I be enjoined
To follow still whilst she flies from me? Well,
Fates, do your worst; I'll please myself with sight
Of her, at all opportunities,
If but to spite her anger. I know she had
Rather see me dead than living—and yet
She knows no cause for't but a peevish will.

In line 100, 'One side nor other' is a very interesting phrase. Daalder comments in his edition: 'on the one side or the other (probably: because either she stops scorning me or I stop creating that attitude in her)'. There is more to be said. 'One side nor other' suggests an extraordinarily close connection between De Flores and Beatrice. De Flores goes on to expand on the idea of an inextricable link when he says: 'Must I be enjoined / To follow still whilst she flies from me?' (100–1). Superficially, this looks like a simple description of De Flores's own compulsion, but the phrase implies something more. In 'To follow still whilst she flies', whilst hints that the following and the fleeing are mutually dependent actions; and still gives a picture of the following and fleeing continuing interminably. Perhaps enjoined, too, in the previous line, develops an expectation of some powerful bond between Beatrice and De Flores. Within the bounds of the sentence, then, the future lovers are seen to be joined intrinsically, caught forever in a process of reaction and counter-reaction. As well, De Flores's sense that Beatrice's scorn may never mend 'One side nor other' may imply that her apparent loathing of him has part of its cause on her side, i.e. in her mind or nature. He appears to realize, even if not quite articulately, that her scorn is in part 'internal,' within Beatrice—is something which it is not in his power to remove, no matter what he does.

Yet De Flores's discernment extends beyond even this. He seems to recognize, or at least sense, that Beatrice's problem is that she loathes him without knowing why. He says: 'I know she had / Rather see me dead than living—and yet / She knows no cause for't but a peevish will' (104–6). Daalder's gloss on line 106 is solely concerned with Beatrice's 'peevish' will—as though, if only we can grasp the exact meanings and implications of that difficult adjective, we may also discover just what inspires Beatrice's loathing. Yet, however Page 93  |  Top of Article important the word 'peevish' is here, what is ultimately more interesting and significant is that De Flores says 'She knows no cause for't but a peevish will' (our emphasis). Curiously, De Flores almost speaks as though he is Beatrice's father-confessor or psychiatrist—as though she has told him what, in her conscious mind, motivates her to loathe him, even though what she 'knows' does not provide an adequate explanation. There seems a hint here (present in the language used by the dramatists even if not necessarily intended by De Flores) that there is another reason, which Beatrice does not know. There is, apparently, an obscure—perhaps unconscious—reason, why, at least on the surface, Beatrice detests De Flores. We are not yet made aware what that reason may be, but we are made aware that it exists. 'She knows no cause for't' sounds a small alarm bell, alerts our suspicions about Beatrice, and directs our attention to the evidently important question of what the heroine of this play does and does not know. Beatrice, De Flores asserts, does not know what moves her to hate him (other than a 'peevish will'), but that she does display hatred towards him is beyond doubt, and there is a reason for it, even if she is ignorant of its nature.

The notion that there is a reason for Beatrice's seeming hatred which remains unknown to the woman herself also steers the audience toward the possibility that all is not what it seems: that perhaps Beatrice does not entirely hate De Flores, and that somehow her lack of knowledge of her motivation makes her hatred less than complete. Even Alsemero is obviously surprised by her strange outburst in lines 94–9, saying: 'You seemed displeased, lady, on the sudden' (107).

The evidence so far does not allow an onlooker or reader to come to the firm conclusion that Beatrice's visible, conscious loathing is in some way, or to some extent, a manifestation of unconscious love. Nevertheless, even Beatrice herself is puzzled by her vehement conscious reaction to De Flores, as her next speech to Alsemero makes plain:

Your pardon, sir; 'tis my infirmity
Nor can I other reason render you
Than his or hers, or some particular thing
They must abandon as a deadly poison
Which to a thousand other tastes were wholesome.
Such to mine eyes is that same fellow there,
The same that report speaks of, the basilisk.

Beatrice's explanation that her displeasure is—or is due to—her 'infirmity' (108) points in the direction of something seemingly quite different from what she asserts in her later, oft-repeated claims, viz. that it is just De Flores's face which she hates. Here, she confesses that she cannot give Alsemero any reason for her loathing other than some ill-defined sense that to her De Flores is like a 'deadly poison' (111), even though to others his presence might be 'wholesome' (112). Although there is a reference to the effect of De Flores's face in her mention of 'the basilisk' (l14), the most significant thing in this speech is her conscious admission that De Flores's impact on her is mysterious, and perhaps to be explained as merely evidence of an 'infirmity'.

A complacent spectator or reader might at this point go along with Beatrice's conscious thought process, and conclude that her reaction to De Flores is simply the result of an irrational aversion. A more thoughtful person would, nevertheless, wonder why it is that she is so strongly affected by him even if others are not: later, we find unambiguous proof that her conscious loathing is closely bound up with unconscious desire, although we never discover why Diaphanta, for example, is not fascinated by De Flores. On the surface, Beatrice's unusual dislike of De Flores seems a little like an allergy. That is how it is seen by Arthur L. Little in a recent discussion, and that is how Alsemero sees it too. The rather innocent Alsemero's view is that there is nothing abnormal about Beatrice's reaction:

This is a frequent frailty in our nature.
There's scarce a man amongst a thousand found
But hath his imperfection: one distastes
The scent of roses, which to infinites
Most pleasing is, and odoriferous;
One oil, the enemy of poison;
Another wine, the cheerer of the heart
And lively refresher of the countenance.
Indeed this fault, if so it be, is general:
There's scarce a thing but is both loved and loathed.
Myself, I must confess, have the same frailty.

Beatrice then asks:

And what might be your poison, sir? I am bold with you.

To which Alsemero replies:

What might be your desire perhaps: a cherry. (126–7)

Little takes it that De Flores leaves the scene after line 106 (which does not actually happen: he is still on stage at I.i.223, when Beatrice drops her glove), after which

the conversation between Beatrice and Alsemero changes into the subject of health and illness, and Beatrice speaks of DeFlores as her 'infirmity' and 'deadly poison' [108, 111]. And once Alsemero pontificates on the commonness of man and woman's allergic imperfections [115–25], admitting to his own Page 94  |  Top of Article allergic reactions to cherries [127], he and Beatrice betray their entanglement in physical sexuality. Their dispositions are seemingly the same: both are allergic to sexual things. The sexual nature of Beatrice's allergy to DeFlores is scripted into DeFlores's name which refers either to 'defloration' or more pointedly to 'deflowerer'. Alsemero focuses his sexual infirmity on cherries. His allergy to sexuality is further accentuated by his choosing aphrodisiac objects, when he casually and extemporaneously tries to name some of the allergic imperfections found in the population more generally [117–22]. His sexual subtext is The Song of Songs: 'O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is oil poured out; / therefore the maidens love you' and 'I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. / As a lily among brambles so is my love among maidens' (1.1–2, 2.1–2). The Song (as subtext or intertext) betrays the sexual underpinnings of the conversation here between Beatrice and Alsemero.

Little produces a great deal of value here… but we believe that his material can be put to more effective and precise use than he has yet done. In our view, the dramatists have a far more sophisticated understanding of what Beatrice and Alsemero say than the speakers themselves. Beatrice does seem to have some vague sense that De Flores is like a poison to her, but rather than relating this to anything specific within him or her, she reflects that she is, to use Little's language, merely 'allergic' to De Flores. He is, for some obscure reason, a 'deadly poison' (111) to her, but might well be 'wholesome' (112) to a thousand other tastes. Alsemero elaborates on this idea. There is nothing peculiar about being allergic to something, he assures her: some people are allergic to e.g. roses, which are most pleasing to others, and so on. He himself, it turns out, is allergic to cherries.

Little's reference to The Song of Songs seems to us apposite. We are doubtful that the naive Alsemero himself can be supposed to have that in mind when referring to roses, oil, and wine. Like Little, however, we do think that these objects are not only allergenic to some (though not to others), but are also, at the same time, 'aphrodisiac objects'; the dramatists presumably use the language of The Song of Songs to establish that association in our—the audience's—minds. In hearing Alsemero's speech, a Renaissance audience would have recalled The Song of Songs more readily than a modern one. For that matter, spectators of the period could have thought of roses, oil, and wine as sexual even without any recollection of The Song of Songs. Gordon Williams, in his extensive dictionary of sexual language, shows in great detail that to a Renaissance audience a rose quite commonly signified something sexual, as (1) 'the flower of sexuality', (2) an image for 'maidenhead', and (3) an image for 'whore'. 'Oil', he demonstrates, was often used for 'semen' or 'vaginal emission'. Wine was frequently alluded to as an aphrodisiac. To us, it seems that the dramatists present Alsemero as speaking about allergies, while the audience is meant to become aware of sexual implications in his speech. There is a profound reason for this. The dramatists are less interested in using Alsemero to make unintended sexual jokes than in making us aware of the fact that he is unconsciously speaking about aphrodisiac objects. The ironic discrepancy between what he is consciously thinking about and what he unconsciously reveals reaches its most telling manifestation when he says that what is his poison is exactly what might be Beatrice's desire: 'a cherry' (127). In the note on line 127 in his edition, Daalder designated the cherry as "sexy".… Gordon Williams lists 'cherry' as an image for 'sexual organ'. His examples make plain that it could be thought of as male or female. It could also refer, he says, to a woman's nipple.

But why is an audience entitled to think of words like 'roses', 'oil', 'wine', and 'cherry' as alluding to sexual matters here? We suggest that this is a matter of dramatic context, the scene being so constructed that sex is never far from the audience's mind. At the beginning of the play, in his very first speech (I.i.1–12), Alsemero already thought of Beatrice as Eve, the centuries-old archetypal temptress. Not much later we see him greeting Beatrice with a kiss. Jasperino remarks on the apparent change in his sexually-naive friend:

How now! the laws of the Medes are changed, sure!
Salute a woman? He kisses too. Wonderful! Where learnt
he this? And does it perfectly too; in my
conscience, he
ne'er rehearsed it before. (I.i.57–60)

Such touches make us aware that Alsemero is going through a process of sexual development which involves profound and even baffling change ('the laws of the Medes' were supposedly immutable; cf. Daniel 6:8), in a way which is only partly conscious. He is sexually inexperienced, and afraid of sex, but also drawn to it. At the same time he is powerfully attracted to Beatrice. Jasperino, for his part, is sexually aroused by Diaphanta (I.i.89–91). De Flores, too, soon after he enters, reveals his sense that he is forced to follow Beatrice while she tries to avoid him. We can see the intensity of his sexual feeling for her well before Page 95  |  Top of Article his name is first mentioned in line 224, when Vermandero urges De Flores to pick up the glove which Beatrice has dropped.

It is at that later point that a spectator or reader is likely to begin entertaining serious intellectual suspicions that Beatrice has an unconscious sexual interest in De Flores. But Beatrice's initial reaction to him and her subsequent conversation with Alsemero already reveal more than has commonly been assumed. When Alsemero pontificates (to use Little's expression) on people's allergies, in response to Beatrice's expressed distaste for De Flores, we know he is doing this as someone attracted to her. Similarly, we know that Beatrice's strong reaction to De Flores does not merely spring from some vague 'infirmity' (108), as she avers. We are aware that De Flores is sexually drawn to her, and even at the most innocuous level it is natural for us to wonder if her loathing for him is connected with that fact. At first most of us probably think of her as finding him physically off-putting, and as not 'welcome' (98), because she does not like his sexually-based attentions. But this also means that we quite readily come to think of the language as sexually charged. It is thus not fanciful to think of Alsemero's images of roses etc. as sexual, so long as we realize that this does not mean that Alsemero himself is drawing attention to their sexual nature. On the contrary, the dramatists are doing this, and by implication calling attention to Alsemero's naivety. When Alsemero says that his 'poison' is a 'cherry' what matters is not so much that we try to identify very precisely just what sexual sense that word has but that we acknowledge that, in addition to its literal sense, it does have sexual connotations, and that Alsemero is not aware of that second, sexual sense.

In short, then, Alsemero thinks he is simply talking about a stone fruit, but in the sexually charged context of this scene, the dramatists imply, we are to see his concern with cherries as an unconscious preoccupation with sex (indeed, it would be not too inaccurate to gloss 'cherry' here as 'sex'). The further implication is that what most people find attractive is something which Alsemero has not yet come to terms with, something he as yet unconsciously resists. His unconscious difficulty with sex seems to be 'translated', so to speak, into a conscious dislike of the stone fruit that he thinks he is talking about. It is not that he is not consciously attracted to Beatrice; we have seen that he is. But the whole process of sexual initiation frightens him—in ways that are not wholly within the compass of his conscious mind.

The same buried anxiety seems to underlie the words with which he opens the play:

'Twas in the temple where I first beheld her,
And now again the same. What omen yet
Follows of that? (I.i.1–3)

Later, when Alsemero discovers Beatrice's evil, he says: ''Twas in my fears at first' (V.iii.76). We might think that he means there that she (i.e. the evil which he intuitively senses in her) frightened him, and that sense is not excluded, but Alsemero himself speaks of the potent impact of 'blood and beauty' which sparked off his mistaken devotion for her (V.iii.74). With hindsight, he feels that he should have listened to the intuitive voice which told him that a sexual liaison with her would harm him.

The most important line in Alsemero's speech about allergies is, we believe, 'There's scarce a thing but is both loved and loathed', which is tellingly followed by 'Myself, I must confess, have the same frailty' (I.i.124–5). From Alsemero's point of view, these lines perhaps mean: 'There is hardly anything which does not have the property of inspiring love in some people, yet, in those who are allergic to it, it may cause the opposite effect, namely loathing. I must confess that I, too, have my allergy to a particular thing'. But 'There's scarce a thing but is both loved and loathed' can have quite a different sense which, unbeknownst to Alsemero, is in fact the more revealing one, viz. 'There's scarce a thing which cannot be loved and loathed by the same person'. The frailty which Alsemero confesses to having is no doubt in that case to be taken, by the audience, as referring to his unconscious 'allergy' to sex, symbolized by the cherry which he loathes. Yet at a conscious level he loves sex: Jasperino has informed us not long before that Alsemero was kissing Beatrice 'perfectly' (I.i.59) by way of greeting, and he does not show himself sexually inhibited on his wedding night.

Alsemero also raises the possibility that a cherry may at the same time be Beatrice's 'desire' (127). This suggests (though he does not intend it to) that what he unconsciously loathes, i.e. sex, is what she unconsciously desires. And that reading of course fits the situation very exactly. Consciously, Alsemero displays sexual love towards Beatrice while unconsciously he is afraid of her, or at least of her sexual impact. With Beatrice's feelings for De Flores matters are the other way round. Again, sex is 'both loved and loathed'. She loathes De Flores at a conscious level, as her speeches in this scene have made very plain. But unconsciously Page 96  |  Top of Article she desires her cherry. Consciously, she says in response to Alsemero:

I am no enemy to any creature
My memory has but yon gentleman. (128–9)

In other words, on the surface De Flores is her 'poison'. She consciously resists his impact, but unconsciously she is drawn to him as though to a 'cherry'. The strength of his appeal is the greater precisely because it is unconscious: in Freudian terms, she 'represses' it, but it cannot go away, and overwhelms her with the more force. As she does not understand its nature, it continues to harm her even after she and De Flores embark on a sexual relationship. Her misunderstanding of her feelings for him is all too pathetically plain quite late in the play when she says of De Flores: 'His face loathes one, / But look upon his care, who would not love him?' (V.i.70–1). The idea that she loves him because of his 'care' seems like a pure rationalization.

'There's scarce a thing but is both loved and loathed'. That ringing, alliterative phrase, 'loved and loathed', touches on the familiar notion that love and hate are intimately related and even interchangeable. Beatrice and Alsemero think, wrongly, of love and loathing as two quite distinct feelings. The dramatists, however, draw attention to the connection between the two, and delineate that connection as something that we moderns would describe in Freudian terms: while the one feeling is in the conscious mind, its connected opposite is in the unconscious. And it is the resulting tension which so much of the play presents and explores with rare power and insight.


Joost Daalder and Antony Telford Moore, "There's Scarce a Thing But Is Both Loved and Loathed': The Changeling," in English Studies, Vol. 80, No. 6, December 1999, pp. 499–508.

Lisa Hopkins

In the following essay, Hopkins explores the "dynamics of gender and power relations" in The Changeling.

When Beatrice-Joanna opens the closet of her new husband, Alsemero, she is appalled to discover that it contains a pregnancy test. She immediately plans her strategy for outwitting him:

None of that water comes into my belly:
I'll know you from a hundred. I could break you now,
Or turn you into milk, and so beguile
The master of the mystery, but I'll look to you.

These lines perform a swift and probing exposure of the dynamics of gender and power relations in The Changeling. Alsemero presumably imagines that his scientific experiments will offer him full access to the hidden secrets of women's bodies. In terms of Renaissance fears about female sexuality, this would surely represent a powerfully attractive fantasy to the audience of the play. All the men in this play seek, as Cristina Malcolmson among others has shown, to exercise a highly repressive control over the actions of women; but while men like Alibius must suffer in a constant state of uncertainty about their wives' chastity, Alsemero believes himself to have to hand the infallible means of prying into the last secret of women and, consequently, exercising over them a control that is utterly unchallengeable. Ironically, he secretes the mechanism of this ostensible tool of control in his "closet," traditionally, as evidenced by the titles of such cookery books as A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen and The Good Huswifes Closet, a space demarcated for the exclusive use of women, and one, moreover, associated with the domestic skill of food preparation, to which Alsemero's own "concoctions" are thus paralleled, his invasion of the feminine space of the closet and his parody of the female-dominated process of cooking tellingly imaging his intended probing of the elusive internal secrets of the female body.

Beatrice's discovery of the closet, however, strikes a fundamental blow at the position of superiority into which Alsemero is confident that he has maneuvered himself. It is one of the scene's most telling structural ironies that before her discovery of the actual means of Alsemero's bid for omniscience, Beatrice was already firmly convinced that he was omniscient:

Never was bride so fearfully distressed.
The more I think upon th'ensuing night,
And whom I am to cope with in embraces—
One who's ennobled both in blood and mind,
So clear in understanding (that's my plague now),
Before whose judgement will my fault appear
Like malefactors' crimes before tribunals
(There is no hiding on't)—the more I dive
Into my own distress.

Beatrice's faith in Alsemero's "understanding" and "judgement" is absolute, leading her to subscribe to the myth that a man can detect the presence or absence of a hymen. But it is not in these physical terms that she envisages the processes of her detection: her language instead clusters round the metaphorical, the nonspecific, and the abstract—"ennobled," "clear in understanding," "judgement," "fault," "malefactors' crimes." Mechanics and specifics have no place here; within the Page 97  |  Top of Article transparency of the soliloquy, where Beatrice-Joanna's own mental processes are laid bare to us, she herself imagines a transparent world, where a phenomenology of "clarity" and "appearance" lays bare all crime to a detached surveillance. There is no personal dynamic encoded within her talk of "whom," "one who's ennobled," and "tribunals"; she figures instead an impersonal authority manifested in an appraising eye. She offers no theory of the mechanism of disclosure; although she is a daughter of the citadel, within which are "secrets" (1.1.164), it seems that she cannot, here, conceive of any process by which secrecy may be maintained.

All this changes when she herself performs precisely the act of laying bare that she imaginatively attributes to others, and when, in so doing, she becomes aware of the particular structures conditioning the epistemotogical power-relations that have been previously mystified for her. The rifling of Alsemero's closet becomes a means whereby she can read, preemptively, his own reading of her. Rather than relying on the innate and impersonal "judgement" with which she had so Foucauldianly credited him, Alsemero's superior knowledge and power need in fact to be maintained by the most artificial of helps. Moreover, the tools of his mastery are not exclusive to him. Much is made in this play of exclusivity of possession, particularly in Alibius's obsessive attitude to Isabella; what we see here is precisely that, as in the case of Alonzo de Piracquo's ringed finger, demarcators perceived as essential to the maintenance of male identity can with the greatest of ease be transferred to others, whom they empower. Once she has understood this, Beatrice-Joanna can indeed proceed to "beguile / The master of the mystery" (4.1.37–38).

The means by which she does so are telling, for she has learned her lesson well. Her words chart a complete transformation from the abstractions that had earlier characterized her figuring of the processes of knowledge acquisition; she begins instead to pay precise attention to detail, having now understood that it is the medium of information transfer that conditions the message. The pregnancy test consists of "two spoonfuls of the white water in glass C." To forestall it, Beatrice-Joanna decides that she has essentially two options: "I could break you now, / Or turn you into milk" (4.1.36–37). The idea of turning the water into milk is presumably suggested to her by the fact that the water is white, but it is, in the context, in its turn suggestive of other aspects of the situation, and in particular the fundamental association of milk with pregnancy. The presence of milk in the breasts is at once often one of the early signs of pregnancy and also provided a standard test to which a woman suspected of having recently given birth could be subjected. Beatrice-Joanna's mention of milk in this connection, then, represents a deliberate subversion of the processes of gynecological inspection designed to ensure male control of female sexuality. She will deprive the master of the mystery by a mystery of her own, the inscrutable processes of pregnancy and lactation, and the female body will successfully mystify the scrutiny of the male eye. Interestingly, Cristina Malcolmson's account of the play links its fear of Spanish infiltration in general with a particular fear of a particular woman, the Spanish Infanta, as a mother, or at least as the mother of the future king of England: relating the play to the Puritan opposition to the proposed marriage of Prince Charles to the Infanta, she points out that "the marriage negotiations largely focused on the number of Catholics that would be associated with the nursery, and the number of years that the prince would be under his mother's influence."

Ironically, of course, this particular plan of evasion is never put into action, for Beatrice-Joanna herself does not yet know whether or not she is pregnant, and so whether or not this is necessary; moreover, the rapidity of the play's narrative momentum means that even at the time of her death, the state of her womb will remain a mystery to herself and the audience alike. But what she discovers next makes the pregnancy test redundant:

Ha! That which is next is ten times worse;
"How to know whether a woman be a maid or not."
If that should be applied, what would become of me?

Here at least Beatrice-Joanna is sure of the truth, and she knows that Alsemero must not know Page 98  |  Top of Article it. This test, unlike the pregnancy one, comes equipped with a full scientific pedigree—"the author Antonius Mizaldus" (4.1.44–45)—but, as Middleton surely knew and as Shakespeare certainly indicated in Hamlet's warnings to the players, the intentions of the author are always vulnerable to those of the actor. Beatrice-Joanna can frustrate Alsemero's processes of inquisition here too, but this time it will be through performance.

The notion of performance is one that often figures prominently in Middleton's tragic dramaturgy. The Revenger's Tragedy and Women Beware Women both culminate in elaborately ironic masques of death that, in the latter case at least, are pointedly at odds with the representational aesthetics prevalent in the bulk of the play: the "realist" setting of the widow's house forms an unlikely preparation for the spectacular court finale, with its mesh of tightly interlocking plot and counterplot, while in The Revenger's Tragedy the theatricalization of the closing scene stylizes and attenuates the force of the moral point. In The Changeling, performance becomes openly equated with the immoral mendacity castigated by Puritan opposition to theater when Beatrice-Joanna first vicariously rehearses and then personally enacts a staging of virginity—in itself, ironically, a state guaranteed precisely by an absence of performance—which completely deceives her audience, Alsemero.

The performance of virginity here would, to a Jacobean audience, undoubtedly have been strongly reminiscent of the allegedly similar method employed in the divorce case of Frances Howard, daughter of the earl of Suffolk, and her first husband, Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex (son of Queen Elizabeth's favorite). Middleton's reworking of the story of Frances Howard both here and in his play The Witch has often been remarked; I want to focus particularly, though, on his use not only of specific motifs and actions but on the processes of dramatization that he both employs and represents in relation to the Howard divorce case. (As the later trial of Frances and her second husband had revealed, the events surrounding the divorce had themselves been conceived of by those involved as highly theatrical in character, with correspondence using code names for the principal participants and with the Lieutenant of the Tower referring to Frances's lover as "so great an actor in this sta[g]e.") Frances Howard's campaign to have her marriage annulled had in itself involved careful presenting and indeed staging of the evidence. Her initial petition was very anxious to represent her as frustrated by the impotence of her husband only because she wished to "be made a mother," rather than because of any specifically sexual desires; when it came to establishing her virginity, she set up an elaborate scene in which a heavily veiled woman who was widely believed to be a substitute was examined, as Diaphanta fears to be, by a female jury. Performing the self continued to feature strongly in Frances Howard's behavior when two years after her annulment had been granted and she had been married for a second time to Robert Carr, earl of Somerset, she was tried for the murder of Carr's friend, Sir Thomas Overbury. Decoratively dressed and weeping prettily, she succeeded in winning hearts at her trial in the most unpromising of circumstances: Lady Anne Clifford commented in her diary that "my Lady Somerset was arraigned & condemned at Westminster hall where she confessed her fault and asked the King's Mercy, & was much pitied by all beholders." The king spared her life and indeed released her from the Tower shortly before Middleton and Rowley wrote their play.

That Diaphanta's reference to a female jury and the staging of the virginity test clearly allude to the Frances Howard story has, then, been established. There are, however, two other references to the history of Frances Howard in the play that both relate closely to the performative element of Beatrice-Joanna's response to the discovery of the virginity test. The first time that we see Beatrice-Joanna and De Flores together, she drops a glove, which De Flores retrieves for her. She rejects the returned glove angrily:

Mischief on your officious forwardness!
Who bade you stoop? They touch my hand no more:
There, for t'other's sake I part with this—
(Takes off and throws down the other glove)
Take 'em and draw off thine own skin with 'em.

The episode, apparently Middleton's invention, seems to rework an occasion when Frances Howard, who may well have been angling to catch the attention of Prince Henry, is said to have dropped a glove, which the prince declined to take up on the crudely pointed grounds that it had been "stretcht by another." The prince's use of sexual symbolism here is certainly similar to De Flores's suggestive delight at the thought that he "should thrust my fingers / Into her sockets here" (1.1.231–32); moreover, there is, arguably, a possible parallel with the celebrated episode of the countess of Salisbury's garter, and a telling contrast between the lubricity of the Jacobean interpretations and the pure-mindedness of Edward Page 99  |  Top of Article III's famous dictum "Honi soit qui mal y pense." In Middleton's retelling, though, the roles of the participants are dramatically reversed to make the Frances Howard figure not the recipient but the inflicter of the insult. If we see this as an allusion to Prince Henry, in short, we must recognize that Beatrice-Joanna has here too beguiled the master of the mystery by using his own weapons against him.

The other occasion in which the past of the real Frances Howard becomes reworked in that of the fictional Beatrice-Joanna seems not to have been previously noticed, but is even more pointedly, and literally, dramatic. Immediately before his defloration of Beatrice-Joanna, De Flores comments:

'Las, how the turtle pants! Thou'lt love anon
What thou so fear'st and faint'st to venture on.

Here he echoes very closely the Epithalamion of Hymenaei, the masque written by Jonson for Frances Howard's first marriage, to the earl of Essex:

Shrink not, soft virgin, you will love
Anon what you so fear to prove.

Middleton is very likely to have been aware of Jonson's wedding poetry for Frances Howard, because he himself had been the author of the now lost Masque of Cupid, performed as part of the celebrations of Frances Howard's second marriage, to the earl of Somerset. Jonson too was involved once more: his A Challenge at Tilt and The Irish Masque formed part of the entertainment. Since A Challenge at Tilt was spoken by two Cupids, there may well have been enough thematic overlap between this and Middleton's Cupid-based masque to necessitate at least some degree of cooperation in ensuring programmatic continuity. Moreover, the passage in Hymenaei in which Truth and Opinion debate the relative merits of marriage and virginity may be seen as ironically paralleled in the exchange between the wife and supposed virgin, Beatrice-Joanna, and the maid, Diaphanta, who is so anxious to be rid of her virginity.

David Lindley has recently speculated at some length on the poets' feelings at discovering that they had, in effect, been inveigled into composing epithalamia for a wedding based on a web of deceit and murder. In Jonson's case, his situation may well have been particularly uncomfortable, since he had provided offerings for both the Countess's marriages; he would therefore surely have been struck even at the time of the second wedding by some element at least of incongruity in this second feting of a ritual that had proved so ill-fated the first time round. Nevertheless, Lindley has argued strongly that the writers of praise poems for the second marriage need not necessarily have had to grit their teeth quite so much as we, with the benefit of hindsight, might imagine:

a lack of scrupulousness about the precise awareness that poets like Donne might be supposed to have had can fatally colour everything that follows. Since almost all critics also assume that an adulterous relationship between the couple was public knowledge in 1613, they are compelled to the position that the poets must have chosen to shut their ears and avert their moral gaze in order to praise Frances Howard. Since most critics have an investment in the defence of their authors' integrity they then search for the criticism that must, somehow, be present in the texts.

He argues that the wedding was arranged in such haste that practical considerations would probably have been more pressing than ideological ones, particularly in the case of Middleton himself, "if Chamberlain's assertion that they only had 'fowre dayes warning' be credited. It must have been an 'off-the-peg' piece, and can scarcely have had much verbal material—one reason perhaps, why it has not survived." Nevertheless, when the poets later came to hear all the sordid details of the Overbury murder, and to see that the Countess's demeanor in the witness stand apparently excused her from the penalties applied to her subordinates and assistants, they may well have felt that their services had been procured under false pretences, and that Frances Howard had, indeed, beguiled the masters of their mystery.

Middleton's rewriting of her story certainly seems to take a revenge on her, and, moreover, a peculiarly literary one. When Alsemero finally perceives her falsehood, he offers, at the same time, an ironic recognition of the cleverness with which she has deceived him: "You read me well enough. I am not well" (5.3.16). Beatrice at first attempts to face it out, and discovering that Alsermero suspects that Diaphanta was implicated, demands "Is your witness dead then?" (5.3.57) (interestingly, the Countess of Somerset's sorcerer, Simon Forman, had died before her case came to trial, but his name was nevertheless much used in the evidence against her, after searches of his house and interrogations of his widow). Finally, she attempts to clear herself by admitting what she clearly sees as the less damaging part of the truth: she confesses the murder of Piracquo, but continues to deny adultery, revealing the extent to which she has internalized her society's ideological fetishization of female chastity at the apparent expense of all else. In reply, Alsemero imprisons her, fittingly enough, Page 100  |  Top of Article in the very closet that she has violated; by the time she emerges from it, she is mortally wounded, and makes, finally, a full and free confession.

In this, she differs strikingly from the attitudes of many other Jacobean stage villains. Iago refuses explanation to the last:

Demand me nothing; what you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word.

Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy, despite having been already quite forthcoming, goes to the lengths of biting out his own tongue rather than provide further information, though what else remains him for him to tell is unclear; Vittoria in The White Devil offers splendid defiance to the tribunal of her accusers. Beatrice-Joanna, however, adopts a position of unmitigated repentance and self-abnegation, and, in what was presumably a pointed contrast with the behavior of the Countess of Someset, regards herself as unworthy of any mercy. Just as the outset of her closet scene soliloquy saw her fully interpellated into a position of ideological subjugation in which her image of herself was as a helpless and transparent prey of a culture of ceaseless surveillance, so she has now come again to internalize her husband's, her father's, and ever her lover's assumptions about her own status as whore and villainess. The brief moment of freedom in which her preemptive reading of him had rendered her opaque has been lost; she has resumed her designated position as the objectified other of demonization. Middleton, in short, has, by his staging of Beatrice-Joanna, returned the mystery to the master, reversing the perceived injustice of the Countess of Somerset's pardon by insisting on the full exaction of the processes of the law on her dramatic representative. Beatrice-Joanna and Frances Howard may each have been able to produce a substitute to beguile the master of the mystery of their own virginity tests, but Middleton regains the upper hand by his own dramatic substitution of the publicly chastised Beatrice-Joanna for the recently released Countess.

In doing so, the weapons he deploys against the figure of Frances Howard are derived precisely from the same species of theatricality as animated her own performances of herself (whether vicarious or personal) as virgin and as penitent. Had his Masque of Cupid survived, it would be fascinating to see whether he drew on its motifs, but the close parallel with the Jonson Epithalamion certainly suggests a reappropriation of dramatic material that had been previously "misused" in the service of the Howard/Somerset wedding. In many ways, The Changeling is in fact careful to present itself as a reworking of other plays. Cristina Malcolmson has remarked on its many affiliations with Twelfth Night (itself perhaps staged as a part of the celebration of a wedding), and Joost Daalder points to Vermandero's echoing of Doctor Faustus when he says of Hell, "We are all there; it circumscribes [us] here." Even more pointedly, The Changeling recasts many motifs and moments found in Middleton's own Hengist, King of Kent, written two or three years earlier. Both plays are lavish in the use of the dumb show; both revolve round a licentious woman (Beatrice-Joanna, Roxena) believed to be virtuous, and a chaste one (Isabella, Castiza) mistreated by an unworthy husband; the role taken by Horsus, secret lover of Roxena, in planning villainies is not dissimilar to that of De Flores. Moreover, Hengist too has an overriding concern with chastity. The play opens in the reign of a king, Constantius, who has (most unusually for a male character in Jacobean drama) vowed perpetual chastity because of his strongly Catholic religious beliefs, and who persuades Castiza, the woman he is forced to marry, to take a similar resolve. Much is made of the religious angle—at one point Constantius wishes to fast because it is the eve of St. Agatha (1.2.216–20), and Vortiger resists the incoming Saxons on the grounds that "y'are strangers in religion Cheifly" (2.3.34). At one point, chastity is associated both with Catholicism and with the image of the closet:

Hers. Faire is shee and most fortunate may shee bee
But in maide lost for ever, my desire
Hath beene ye Close Confusion of that name
A treasure tis, able to make more theeues
Then Cabinetts set open to entice…

Heng. Mary pray help my memory if I should

To prevent the detection of this loss of her chastity, Roxena spontaneously offers herself for an onstage virginity test: when Horsus falls down with grief at hearing that Vortiger desires her, she declares:

Oh tis his Epilepsie, I know it well,
I holp him once in Germany, Comst agen?
A virgins right hand stroakt upon his heart
Giues him ease streight But tmust be a pure virgin
Or ells it brings no Comforth

At first Horsus threatens to shame her by refusing to cooperate; eventually, however, she persuades him that she has a plan, and he is duly "cured." Throughout this scene, it is Roxena who Page 101  |  Top of Article takes the lead, as is emphasized in the parodic visual image of the man, instead of the woman, "falling backwards." (There is also further ironic play on this motif when Castiza, who has been raped by her husband in disguise, refuses to swear onstage that she is chaste.) When Middleton reworks this scene in The Changeling, the comparison with Hengist works to ensure that although Beatrice too may seem, as Roxena was, in control, our awareness of the metatheatrical ancestry of the episode serves to stress that, however much greater her knowledge may be than that of Alsemero, she is merely a puppet of the omniscient author.

In making this play so pointedly and consistently a re-presentation of events and speeches already alternatively presented, then, Middleton is doubly able to offer a reformation of homosocial bonding after disruption by threatening women, not only in the father-son and brother-brother relationship sealed between Alsemero and Vermandero and Alsemero and Tomazo over the dead body of Beatrice-Joanna, but also in the links that bind Middleton and Rowley themselves with Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson in a controlled demonstration of mastery over the mysteries of performance that women's efforts at fallacious self-staging had attempted to beguile. Metatheatricality is thus made the crucial tool for the undermining of Beatrice-Joanna's own too-potent theatricality.

For the puritan in Middleton, the idea of performance securing and enacting its own punishment must have been an appealingly ironic one. His characteristic tragic strategy is indeed to involve his characters in fantastically complex self-staging situations in which their deaths are ironically brought about in ways that frustrate their performance intentions, as with the double masque of revengers at the end of The Revenger's Tragedy or the plotting and counterplotting of the closing scene of Women Beware Women. In each of these instances, those who attempt to wrest control of the script are brutally punished by the workings of a deeper plot of whose existence they have no inkling: the revenger's tragedy is in one sense at least precisely the revenge of the dramatist, and of metatheatrical conventions invisible to the intratheatrical character. The falsity that in Puritan ideology inheres in all acting is aptly countered by an aesthetic that punishes precisely the performative nature of the theatrical self, while at the same time ironically heightening the theatrical pleasure of the audience by its sophisticated self-referentiality. The Changeling, with its extravagantly theatrical deployment of a Webster-like antimasque of madmen and of the consciously archaic form of the dumb show, partakes here of the same aesthetic of self-reflexivity as characterizes Middleton's habitual use of tragic form, and makes his reinscription of Beatrice-Joanna into the cultural norms she has challenged so much the more overt an act of deployment of the most privileged forms of that culture. Ultimately, then, it is the mastery who retains the mystery.


Lisa Hopkins, "Beguiling the Master of the Mystery: Form and Power in The Changeling," in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, Vol. 9, edited by John Pitcher, Associated University Presses, 1997, pp. 149–61.

Norman A. Brittin

In the following essay excerpt, Brittin comments on sources for The Changeling and Middleton's collaboration with Rowley and places the play within the context of Middleton's tragedies.

The greatest dramatic achievement of Middleton and Rowley, The Changeling, a tragedy licensed for acting on May 7, 1622, has its sources in new works that the authors had read not long before composing their play. The most important source is The Triumphs of Gods Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sinne of Willful and Premeditated Murther by John Reynolds, a collection of exceedingly moralistic stories published after June 7, 1621. Reynolds tells his stories clumsily, for he is intent only on communicating the moral that murder cannot be hidden but that it will always be revealed and God's justice eventually accomplished. The authors recognized possibilities for a tragedy in History IV of Reynolds's Book I, a heavy-handed account of love, murder, and adultery in Spain which provides the framework for the main plot. To this story was welded material from Leonard Digges's Gerardo the Unfortunate Spaniard, a translation of a Spanish romance licensed for printing March 11, 1622. The Changeling also has a subplot, for which no exact source has been identified although a part resembles the pursuit of Rebecca Purge by two gallants in Middleton's early The Family of Love.

One imagines that Middleton and Rowley planned carefully in the spring of 1622 how to put dramatic life into their tragedy and that they then composed it in a fever of inspiration that finally resulted in this brilliant climax of their collaboration. The play was first acted by the Lady Elizabeth's Men at the Phoenix; and it received the honor on January 4, 1624, of a court performance. It was popular until the closing of the theaters in 1642, and it was revived after the Restoration. Audiences Page 102  |  Top of Article especially enjoyed the comic figure of the Changeling (Antonio) in the subplot.

The Changeling is a product of close collaboration; whichever author was holding the pen, the effects in all parts were carefully devised. Nevertheless, the study of the internal evidence in the text reveals a clear division of the shares of the two authors. Rowley wrote acts I; III.iii; IV.iii; and V.iii. Middleton wrote acts II; III.i,ii,iv; IV.i,ii; and V.i,ii. Middleton handled most of the main plot; Rowley, practically all of the subplot. But Rowley opened the play with the main plot and brought both plots to a close in the last scene. This division of the writing is evidenced by differences of verbal habits, of versification, and of characterization. Middleton's fancy for the interjection "Push," for certain abstract terms, and for potent irony; his interest in such character types as the heroine and villain of the main plot; and his flexible blank verse with many feminine endings—all stand in contrast to Rowley's liking for puns, his use of a latinized vocabulary, his clumsy blank verse, and his interest in creating humorous clown characters such as Lollio and Antonio of the subplot.

As the play opens, Alsemero, a young Valencian, delays his departure from Alicant for Malta because he has fallen in love for the first time in his life. He is infatuated with a beautiful girl he has seen in the church—a meeting place he regards as a good omen. She is Beatrice-Joanna, daughter of Vermandero, commander of the castle. After a kiss or two, a little gallantry, and some love talk, she regrets that Alsemero has appeared too late—only five days after her father has contracted her to Alonzo de Piracquo. Alsemero is invited to visit Vermandero's castle. Brushing aside his daughter's demurrer over marrying within a week, her father relishes the thought of having Piracquo for son-in-law: "I'll want/My will else." Her aside reveals her willful nature: "I shall want mine if you do it" (I.i.222–23).

In addition to the sudden, blazing love which has caused Beatrice to change her mind, the first scene reveals that she loathes "as a deadly poison" (I.i.114) an ugly gentleman who serves her father, De Flores. De Flores, who cannot keep away from Beatrice, is possessed by the thought of possessing her. When she drops a glove, she throws the other one down rather than take the first from De Flores. The authors stress greatly her antipathy to De Flores, who in the source is simply a young gallant. With the gloves in his hand—a lady's favor given with bitter disdain—De Flores muses:

Here's a favour come with a mischief now! I know
She had rather wear my pelt tann'd in a pair
Of dancing pumps, than I should thrust my fingers
Into her sockets here: I know she hates me,
Yet cannot choose but love her: no matter:
If but to vex her, I will haunt her still;
Though I get nothing else, I'll have my will.

So Vermandero's will is for Beatrice to marry Piracquo, whereas her will is set on having Alsemero, and De Flores wills to have her himself. Also during the scene (in preparation for later plot needs) Alsemero's traveling companion Jasperino courts Beatrice's woman Diaphanta.

Alonzo de Piracquo willfully ignores the warning or his brother Tomazo that Beatrice appears not to love him. Ironically, under the circumstances, Alonzo feels a complacent "security": he cannot think that Beatrice even knows the meaning of in-constancy, "much less the use and practice" (II.i.148). He would like to marry her at once, but he agrees to a three-day postponement of the wedding.

Middleton retains from the source Beatrice's secret meeting with Alsemero and the kissing and embracing of the lovers. According to Reynolds, Beatrice tells Alsemero that "before Piracquo be in another world, there is no hope for Alsemero to injoy her for his wife in this" one. "Passion and affection blinding his judgment, and beautie triumphing and giving a law to his Conscience," Alsemero says that "hee will shortly send him a Challenge, and fight with him…" But the girl does not want Alsemero to hazard his life. The situation is the same in the play: Beatrice fears to lose Page 103  |  Top of Article Alsemero by the sword or by the law; but "Blood-guiltiness becomes a fouler visage…" (II.ii.40).

At this point in the play (the incident is not in the source), she thinks of the sinister ugliness of De Flores. De Flores himself has said that she treats him "as if danger or ill luck hung in my looks" (II.i.36). She feels harm and danger coming toward her every time she sees him. His presence exasperates her, infuriates her—until she suddenly changes her manner, having decided to buy at "so good a market" (II.ii.42). This change is the more ironic because, not long before, she had abased him and thought of wheedling her father into dismissing him.

Middleton greatly speeds up Reynolds' leisurely narrative, for De Flores appears immediately after Alsemero's departure. He has spied on their meeting, hoping that, if Beatrice should prove false with Alsemero, her defection with himself will be more likely. (He has much the spirit of Horsus in The Mayor of Queenborough.) When Beatrice, making a show of interest in him, promises to treat his loathsome pimples and even touches his face with her own hand, he is enraptured. He soon learns that she needs the service of a resolute man to kill Alonzo. All the while he is thinking of her body: Middleton has him parody her words with coarse innuendos on "creation," "makes me man," "service," "mounts," and "act" (II.ii.92–133). When De Flores understands that she desires Alonzo's death, he knows at once that he will gain his reward, his desire: "it will be precious; the thought ravishes!" (II.ii.133)

Middleton's irony is pervasive. Beatrice, willing to pay well and assuming that De Flores will leave the country, blinds herself to realities; her complacency produces strong dramatic irony as she congratulates herself that she will be rid "Of two inveterate loathings at one time…" (II.ii.147). Middleton condenses the action by having Alonzo request De Flores to show him the fortifications of the castle. As they traverse the passages and vaults, they talk of the wonders of the fort; and De Flores' speeches drip of irony: "All this is nothing; you shall see anon/A place you little dream on" (III.ii.1–2). Then De Flores treacherously kills him and cuts off a finger to get a diamond ring that will prove he has done the job.

Beatrice, meanwhile, commends herself for judgment and wisdom: "I've got him [Alsemero] now the liberty of the house;/So wisdom, by degrees, works out her freedom…" (III.iv.12–13). Dramatic irony soon reveals how fatuous the girl is; she is not working out her freedom but her bondage; and her "wisdom" is truly folly. She perceives her true situation during her conversation with De Flores, who immediately enters to report. Their interview is one of the greatest scenes in all drama.

Tears of joy spring to her eyes when she hears the favorable news, but she recoils when she sees Alonzo's finger: "Bless me, what hast thou done?" (III.iv.29). In one respect, Beatrice resembles Lady Macbeth: she has not visualized the act of murder. Murder was a way out of trouble that a clever person could arrange; she did not see it with eyes of realization. To De Flores her qualm seems absurd—to shudder at a finger when she has effected a murder. Scoffingly, he places the two acts in a more reasonable perspective: "I cut his heart-strings:/A greedy hand thrust in a dish at court,/In a mistake hath had as much as this" (III.iv.31–33 [italics added in this paragraph]).

The callousness of De Flores gives her the first hint that she is in a dirty business. The diamond on Alonzo's finger is now a token of successful murder; but it had been a love token: "'Tis the first token my father made me send him" (III.iv.34). She presents it to her agent in murder as a tip; with some pride, she assures him it is worth nearly three hundred ducats. Yet she does not intend it as the payment for his services. What began as polite fencing over his recompense quickly turns into a doubly baffling debate that disillusions each of them. Beatrice believes she is being generous in offering "three thousand golden florens;/I have not meanly thought upon thy merit" (III.iv.62–63). He has hinted that his merit is such that he scorns wages; now he is angered as he realizes that she has seen him only as a servant; and her use of "merit," contrasted to his, can be only an insult. De Flores reminds her that money cannot buy a clean conscience. He has told himself that the murder is "but light and cheap/For the sweet recompense…" (III.iv.19–20). Nevertheless, though he stresses conscience as overshadowing any fee and thus impresses Beatrice, he cannot escape feeling guilty; for he is stung by conscience several times in the play.

Beatrice has simply not understood what line his hints have taken; she is puzzled, alarmed, fearful: "I'd fain be rid of him. [Aside]/I'll double the sum, sir" (III.iv.74–75). Since the offer doubles his displeasure, she urges him to take flight—"And if thou be'st so modest not to name/The sum that will content thee, paper blushes not,/Send thy demand in writing, it shall follow thee…" (III.iv.79–81). It is dreadfully ironic for her to use the word "modest." He argues that he will not go without her, that as partners in guilt they belong together, and that she should kiss him "with a zeal"—grant him the Page 104  |  Top of Article intimacy that her seductive behavior in the hiring scene had hinted at. There is additional irony in the term "forgetful" when she warns him that he is forgetting not only his place but also the risk that familiarity will expose them to. He insists that she is being forgetful, reminding her of her indebtedness: "I have eas'd you/Of your trouble, think on it; I am in pain,/And must be eas'd of you…" (III.iv.99–100). This statement brings her to half-realization of what her accomplice desires but she attempts to thrust the recognition away, feeling his desire too great an affront to be borne: "I would not hear so much offence again/For such another deed"—upon which, he reminds her that "the last is not yet paid for…" (III.iv.106–7).

Then he tells her exactly what he expects. Her horror is such that still she does not fully understand her situation:

Why, 'tis impossible thou canst be so wicked,
Or shelter such a cunning cruelty,
To make his death the murderer of my honour!
Thy language is so bold and vicious,
I cannot see which way I can forgive it
With any modesty. (III.iv.121–126)

"'Tis impossible… I cannot see…" Her lack of realization, her blindness, produces the most cutting irony. For De Flores gives her the wonderful retort: "Push, you forget yourself;/A woman dipp'd in blood, and talk of modesty!" With this repetition of "forget" and "modesty" Middleton achieves a tremendous irony of anticlimax.

Beatrice now regrets the hasty decision that led her to conspire with De Flores, and her feeling is expressed in one of Middleton's most telling metaphors: "O misery of sin! would I had been bound/Perpetually unto my living hate/In that Piracquo, than to hear these words!" She seeks refuge, however, in the conventions of the social system: "Think but upon the distance that creation/Set 'twixt thy blood and mine, and keep thee there" (III.iv.131–32). Her "there" means away, at a distance, apart; but De Flores finds a new position for "there": "Look but into your conscience, read me there." They are equals in conscience, for she is no more than what murder has made her: "settle you/In what the act has made you; you're no more now… /You are the deed's creature…" (III.iv.132–37).

His next statement brings home to her the new truth of her condition: "peace and innocency has turn'd you out/And made you one with me." So she has been turned morally out of doors, to be an outlaw, a criminal—for she is basically a wild creature, an outlaw—and one dependent on others' favors; in fact, she is dependent on his favors and his will. He had earlier asserted that he would have his will.

Her "foul villain!" is echoed mockingly by his "fair murderess" (III.iv.141–42). He taunts her with changing her affection—"a kind of whoredom in the heart; and he's chang'd now/To bring thy second on.…" Here is more irony; for Alonzo is certainly changed. De Flores issues his ultimatum: unless she surrenders to him, she will never enjoy Alsemero: "I'll confess all; my life I rate at nothing" (III.iv.150). Her reply "De Flores!" is a fine touch revealing her deflation! It prepares for her counterproposal, which she states while kneeling and weeping: all the wealth she possesses. Now she has been stripped of all pretension, she voices her thrilling appeal: "Let me go poor unto my bed with honour,/And I am rich in all things!" De Flores puts her to silence; he values his pleasure above "the wealth of all Valencia." Then comes the ultimate blow that forces surrender: "Can you weep Fate from its determin'd purpose?/So soon may you weep me" (III.iv.162–63).

De Flores had knelt to her earlier, begging her to let him be of service, and now she has knelt to him, imploring mercy. Her fate she sees as vengeance for the murder, and she fears she has been cursed from conception to "engender with a viper first" (III.iv.166). As they leave, De Flores voices their epithalamium: "thou'lt love anon/What thou so fear'st and faint'st to venture on" (III.iv.170–71). This scene, with its magnificent dramatic poetry, some of which T. S. Eliot placed on a par with that of Shakespeare or Sophocles, is the highest point of Middleton's tragic dramas.

Act IV opens with a dumb show (one is reminded again of The Mayor of Queenborough) which quickly pantomimes concern over Piracquo's disappearance, Vermandero's choosing of Alsemero as husband for his daughter, and the wedding of Beatrice and Alsemero. As De Flores smiles at the way events have developed, Alonzo's ghost appears to him, showing the hand which lacks one finger. The appearance of the ghost is a reminder to De Flores' conscience and a projection of his secret thoughts; for De Flores cannot get away from the deed of murder. When he is greeted as a friend of Alonzo's by Tomazo de Piracquo, he says in an aside: "Methinks I'm now again a-killing on him,/He brings it so fresh to me"; and "His company even overlays my conscience" (IV.ii.45–46, 57). Tomazo ironically thinks him honest and helpful: "He'll bring it out in time, I'm assured on't" (IV.ii.59), but he later feels infected by the presence Page 105  |  Top of Article of De Flores and strikes him. De Flores cannot strike back, being inhibited by his sense of guilt; and he also acknowledges the rightness of Tomazo's subtle instinct. Just before De Flores and Beatrice perpetrate their second murder, the ghost again appears, causing alarm and fear in Beatrice and making De Flores speak of "a mist of conscience" (V.i.60). Middleton thus enforces upon his audience the moral order of the world.

Beatrice is now married to the man she desires; but, confronting her wedding night, she fears that Alsemero may discover the truth about her, because her husband, she says, is "So clear in understanding,… /Before whose judgment will my fault appear/Like malefactors' crimes before tribunals…" (IV.i.6–8). She is right to fear; for, as Miss Bradbrook indicates, Alsemero's "will does not overpower his judgment." Finding that Alsemero has a book with a description of a virginity test and suspecting that he will give it to her, she memorizes certain responses to ensure her passing it. But to make doubly sure, she bribes her woman Diaphanta, who passes the test satisfactorily, to take her place in the bridal bed. When Jasperino tells Alsemero that he and Diaphanta have heard Beatrice and De Flores talking intimately, suspicion leads him to give his bride the virginity test, which, of course, Beatrice passes.

Diaphanta has agreed to leave Alsemero's bed by midnight, but pleasure keeps her there. Her unreliability is fatal; Beatrice quickly resolves upon her death, and forty lines later De Flores has independently decided to kill her (V.i.5–7, 45–47). The action thus bears out Beatrice's statement: "Murder, I see, is followed by more sins" (III.iv.164). To carry out his plan, De Flores sets fire to the house. There is some element of spectacle here though not so considerable as in Mayor. More important for the theme of the play, Beatrice says: "I'm forc'd to love thee now,/'Cause thou provid'st so carefully for my honour" (V.i.47–48). All during the fire episode, in fact, she is emphasizing her love for the ugly De Flores. The irony of De Flores's remark about Diaphanta, "O poor virginity,/Thou has paid dearly for't" (V.i.103–4) is outdone by Beatrice's brazen insistence that her lover be rewarded for his service.

One must suppose that some time elapses between the wedding night and the final scene; but the authors hurry straight on to have Jasperino place Alsemero where he can observe that his wife and De Flores have had a meeting. In the source, Alsemero, having inexplicably become intensely jealous, taxes Beatrice with infidelity, whereupon she tells him that De Flores committed murder at her request so she could be married to Alsemero. Alsemero raises no issue regarding the murder. After her confession, Beatrice no longer troubles to conceal her scandalous behavior with De Flores, and her jealous husband surprises them together.

In The Changeling, Alsemero thinks that Beatrice's loathing of De Flores only masks her true feeling and that her modesty only masks her sensuality. When he throws in her face her "tender reconcilement" (V.iii.50) with De Flores and accuses her of adultery, she declares that she is no adultress but a "cruel murderess" (V. iii.66). She explains the circumstances and bids him: "Forget not, sir,/It for your sake was done" (V.iii.78–79).

Beatrice remains blind; she does not know her husband. Although Alsemero volunteered to challenge Piracquo, he is not the man to connive at her greater crime even though it was done for his sake. He is appalled at the situation he is in. De Flores corroborates Beatrice's confession and her husband's suspicion of her infidelity. "O cunning devils!" cries Alsemero. "How should blind men know you from fair-fac'd saints?" (V.iii.109–10) But the eyes of the blind are opened, and infamous truths lie visible. When her father calls to her, Beatrice responds:

O, come not near me, sir, I shall defile you!
I am that of your blood was taken from you
For your better health; look no more upon't,
But cast it to the ground regardlessly,
Let the common sewer take it from distinction.

Upon De Flores, she says, hung her fate. She realizes now her fatal likeness to him which for so long had made her repel him: "She instinctively feared in him that which was latent in her." She sees herself as that De Flores-evil, that defilement to others which Tomazo has sensed in De Flores as a poison and infection.

The subplot of The Changeling involves a January-and-May couple, old Doctor Alibius and his young wife Isabella. He is proprietor of a sanatorium for fools and madmen, where, being very jealous of his wife, he has her locked up during his absences by his man Lollio. She resents this treatment, and one might expect her to retaliate upon her husband by having her "will" and cuckolding him. She is given this opportunity by two men of the household of Vermandero, who wear disguises—Antonio as a tool and Franciscus as a madman—to gain entry to Alibius' establishment Page 106  |  Top of Article to seduce his wife. Besides this pair, Lollio also insists upon having a share of her favors should she slip. But she does not.

Isabella's situation is roughly similar to Beatrice's; the authors of the tragedy evidently desired to parallel the main plot with their subplot. Miss Bradbrook developed the idea that the subplot "acts as a kind of parallel or reflection in a different mode: their relationship is precisely that of masque and antimasque.…" "Antimasque" is an appropriate term to use for the grotesque comedy of Rowley's subplot; for, set on lower social level, it involves characters pretending idiocy and madness yet suffering from the madness of love which induces crime in the main plot. Although Isabella is surrounded by real and pretending madmen, she keeps sane.

The theme of appearance and reality is touched on when she disguises as a madwoman and is not recognized by her would-be lover. Various links of imagery between the two plots have been noted by commentators. The title, too, is meant to link both plots. As Holzknecht has pointed out, there is more than one changeling in the play: Antonio pretends to be a changeling, in the sense of halfwit; Beatrice is also a changeling, in the sense of a fickle person; and Diaphanta is a changeling, in the sense of a person secretly exchanged for another.

The two plots are drawn together in the last two scenes. In the rapid dénouement, the deaths of the guilty pair produce the automatic satisfaction of Tomazo's vengeance. There remain an explicit commentary on the theme of changes—Alsemero's statement (V.iii.199–206) being paralleled by those of Antonio, Franciscus, and Isabella—and, with Alsemero's resolve to be a son to Vermandero, the assurance of a return to the moral order.

In both of Middleton's great tragedies, the blindness of the protagonists is the salient theme. The good characters are blind to evil; the bad characters, blind to good; and all of them stumble into fatal situations. Both Bianca and Beatrice make discoveries about themselves, but their insight amounts to supersophistication; they become hardened and boldened, not softened and abashed; depraved, not penitent. Middleton has no illusions about sin and no help for those who embrace it. He watches their dreadful, inevitable decline and fail with merciless eyes.


Norman A. Brittin, "Tragedies," in Thomas Middleton, Twayne Publishers, 1972, pp. 132–42.


Eliot, T. S., "Thomas Middleton," in Selected Essays, Faber, 1958, pp. 161–70.

Ellis-Fermor, Una, Jacobean Drama: An Interpretation, 4th ed., Vintage Books, 1961, pp. 144–49.

Farley-Hills, David, Jacobean Drama: A Critical Study of the Professional Drama, 1600–1625, Macmillan Press, 1988, p. 1.

Middleton, Thomas, and William Rowley, The Changeling, edited by Joost Daalder, A. C. Black/W. W. Norton, 1990.

Mulrayne, J. R., Thomas Middleton, Longman, 1979, pp. 36–45.

Ricks, Christopher, "The Moral and Poetic Structure of The Changeling," in Essays in Criticism, Vol. X, No. 3, July 1960, pp. 290–306.

Schoenbaum, Samuel, Middleton's Tragedies: A Critical Study, Columbia University Press, 1955, pp. 132–49.

Shakespeare, William, As You Like It, edited by Agnes Latham, Methuen, 1975, p. 78.

Williams, George Walton, "Introduction," in The Changeling, University of Nebraska Press, 1966, pp. ix–xxiv.


Bromham, A. A., and Zara Bruzzi, "The Changeling" and the Years of Crisis, 1619–1624: A Hieroglyph of Britain, Pinter Publishers, 1990.

This work examines the relationship between The Changeling and the politics of the early seventeenth century. The play's authors see it as a warning to England against marital and political alliance with Spain.

Chakravorty, Swapan, Society and Politics in the Plays of Thomas Middleton, Clarendon Press, 1996, pp. 145–65.

This chapter discusses sex, desire, power, and politics in The Changeling. De Flores has learned how to turn the rules of chivalry and courtly love against the rulers.

Farr, Dorothy M., Thomas Middleton and the Drama of Realism: A Study of Some Representative Plays, Oliver & Boyd, 1973, pp. 50–71.

Farr analyzes the acuteness of Middleton's psychological insight, seeing the characters as victims of their capacity for evasion and self-delusion. She also discusses imagery, irony, and the relationship between the main plot and the subplot.

Holmes, David M., The Art of Thomas Middleton: A Critical Study, Clarendon Press, 1970, pp. 172–84.

Holmes discusses the characterizations and relationships in the play. Beatrice and Alsemero are infatuated with each other. Beatrice is tragically ignorant of the nature of real love, and her ignorance makes her vulnerable.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3420600015