A Satire against Mankind: Middleton’s A Mad World, My Masters

  • David Farley-Hills


Jonson’s disparaging remark that Middleton was ‘not of the number of the faithful … poets’1 is surprising when we consider what the two playwrights have in common. The comedies of both mirror their society in order to deride it. To both, the world of appearances is a world of deception and true worth resides in moral values that the comedies imply rather than exhibit. For both Jonson and Middleton the ‘reality’ of men is in fact a world of shadows, in which men absurdly strive for illusory gains at the peril of their eternal souls; to both, the world is Vanity fair’, ‘a mad world, my masters’. It is the achievement of both playwrights that they bring the long tradition of the morality play to perfection by reconciling moral import with naturalistic medium. In both the source of the comedy is in the contrast between the actual and the ideal. Both are, in short, dramatic satirists.


Evil Nature Comic Tension District Magistrate Actual Depravity Title Deed 
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© David Farley-Hills 1981

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  • David Farley-Hills

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