The Changeling: Blood, Will and Intellectual Eyesight
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The Changeling, collaboratively written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley around 1621, may seem an unlikely candidate for discussion in this book, since its engagements with doubt are less wide-ranging than those in other plays I consider. It conveys a far stronger sense of ethical mooring than, say, Troilus and Cressida, The White Devil or even The Spanish Tragedy; it suggests the existence of a morally responsive universe through its repeated allusions to foreboding, instinct and conscience; it raises the spectre of private vengeance only to intimate that revenge is superfluous in the world inhabited by its characters; and it gives its heroine, Beatrice-Joanna, a final speech of such thorough self-condemnation that the social status quo of Alicante seems absolutely reaffirmed. It is true that the play’s conclusion is so perfunctory and complacent that its moralizing appears tainted by the very artificiality of its presentation. But patriarchal structures and conventional cosmological assumptions are ultimately reinforced by The Changeling’s brilliant double plot and the consequent character-mirroring this plot establishes, particularly that of Isabella and Beatrice-Joanna.1 So if the play strikes us as less ideologically conservative than Tourneur’s Atheist’s Tragedy, or if it astonishes us through the psychological intensity of its interchanges between Beatrice-Joanna and De Flores, it none the less carries with it a sense of diminishment — of capitulation to the existing order — that seems out of keeping with the fictions it powerfully stages.
KeywordsMoral Understanding Human Frailty Female Beauty Progressive Perfection Sexual Innuendo
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