One of the great Renaissance playwrights, Middleton wrote tragediesessentially different from either Marlowes or Shakespeares, beingwittier than the former and more grittily ironic than the latter. Thegenre of 'citizen tragedy came into its own in the eighteenth century,but Middleton can claim to have created it: Bianca, wife of a middlingcommercial agent, arouses the lust of the Duke of Florence and becomeshis mistress, first secretly, then openly and finally, after herhusband has been seduced by the scheming Lady Livia and stabbed byLivias brother, the Dukes wife. Livia plots her revenge, and the playends with a banquet and a masque that are a triumph of black farce.Middletons powerful, psychologically complex female characters and hisclear-sighted analysis of misogyny are bound to impress todaysaudiences, but it is the pervasive irony - cynicism, even - with whichhe dissects the motivations of both oppressor and victim that makes himso eerily modern.

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