Internet Shakespeare Editions


Jacobean tragedians

Thomas Middleton.
From Chris Cleary's Middleton site.

The Jacobean period--from the accession of James I in 1603-- was rich in satire and tragedy, perhaps partly because of the change of mood that came with the death of Elizabeth.

This page offers brief (and inevitably inadequate) comments on some of the major figures.

Click to read more about each writer:


  1. John Webster (c. 1580-1638)

    Webster is in many ways the most Shakespearean of the later tragedians, though in one way he was utterly unlike him--he worked very slowly on his plays, compiling useful sayings from his reading, keeping them in a "commonplace book," and using them in his plays as he found occasion.

    His two great tragedies, The White Devil, and The Duchess of Malfi, are based on sensational events in recent Italian history; they are notable for their striking, and sympathetic, portrayal of their tragic heroines.

    Selected works are available on line.

  2. Thomas Middleton (1580-1627)

    Psychological realism, with a satirical edge, characterises both the tragedies and comedies of Middleton. His most striking tragedy is The Changeling, which was written in collaboration with Thomas Rowley (other fine plays he wrote with others include the comedy about an early feminist, The Roaring Girl, written with Dekker and the sympathetic The Witch of Edmonton, written with both Dekker and Ford.

    Others from his substantial output include the comedies A Trick to Catch the Old One, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, and the tragedy Women Beware Women.

    Extensive resources on Middleton are available from this fine site.

  3. Cyril Tourneur (c. 1580-1626)

    Tourneur's main claim to fame--a substantial one--is his macabre satiric tragedy, The Revenger's Tragedy (1607, the year of Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra), the plot of which might be summed up in this line from the play: "When the bad bleeds, then is the tragedy good."

    Like so many other plays in the period, it was published anonymously, and there are some critics who believe that it was written by Middleton. Tourneur certainly wrote The Atheist's Tragedy, a less impressive play published four years later.

  4. John Ford (1586-c. 1655)

    Ford was only 30 when Shakespeare died, and his major plays were written later. He is included here as the greatest of the later generation of dramatists carrying on the traditions of the stage until the closing of the theatres.

    If Middleton's plays are almost clinically psychological, Ford's are almost clinical analyses of abnormal behaviour. His most intense and moving play is 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, which examines passionate and romantic incest; The Broken Heart combines stoicism and the eroticism of frustration; while Perkin Warbeck is a fascinating late history play which portrays a sympathetic pretender to the throne.