Last modified on 3 November 2014, at 18:17

Thomas Middleton

Thomas Middleton (15801627) was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He stands with William Shakespeare as one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in comedy and tragedy. Also a prolific writer of masques and pageants, he remains one of the most noteworthy and characteristic of Jacobean dramatists.

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  • Hold their noses to the grindstone.
    • Blurt, Master-Constable (c.1601), Act iii. Sc. 3. Attributed to Middleton, but possibly written or edited by Thomas Dekker.[1]. Compare: "Hold their noses to grinstone", John Heywood, Proverbes. Part i. Chap. v.
  • I smell a rat.
    • Blurt, Master-Constable (c. 1601), Act iii. Sc. 3. Compare: "I smell a rat", Ben Jonson, Tale of a Tub, act iv. Sc. 3; Samuel Butler, Hudibras, part i. canto i. line 281; "I begin to smell a rat", Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, book iv. chap. x.
  • ’Tis slight, not strength, that gives the greatest lift.
    • Michaelmas Term (1602), Act iv. Sc. 1. Compare: "It is not strength, but art, obtains the prize", Alexander Pope, The Iliad, book xxiii. line 383.
  • In spite of my teeth.
    • A Trick to catch the Old One (1605), act i, sc. 2.
  • From thousands of our undone widows
    One may derive some wit.
    • A Trick to catch the Old One (1605), Act i. Sc. 2. Compare: "Some undone widow sits upon mine arm", Philip Massinger, A New Way to pay Old Debts, act v. sc. 1.
  • Wilt make haste to give up thy verdict because thou wilt not lose thy dinner.
    • A Trick to catch the Old One (1605).
  • From the crown of our head to the sole of our foot.
    • A Mad World, my Masters (1605), Compare: "From the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, 1 he is all mirth", William Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing, Act iii. Sc. 2.
  • That disease
    Of which all old men sicken,—avarice.
    • The Roaring Girl (co-written with Thomas Dekker, 1611), Act i. Sc. 1. Compare: "So for a good old gentlemanly vice,/I think I must take up with avarice", Lord Byron, Don Juan, canto i. stanza 216.
  • Beat all your feathers as flat down as pancakes.
    • The Roaring Girl (co-written with Thomas Dekker, 1611), Act i. Sc. 1.
  • How many honest words have suffered corruption since Chaucer’s days!
    • No Wit, no Help, like a Woman's (1611), Act ii. Sc. 1.
  • By many a happy accident.
    • No Wit, no Help, like a Woman's (1611), Act ii. Sc. 2. Compare: "A happy accident", Madame de Staël, L'Allemagne, chap. xvi. Cervantes, Don Quixote, book iv. part ii. chap. lvii.
  • As old Chaucer was wont to say, that broad famous English poet.
    • More Dissemblers besides Women (1614), Act i. Sc. 4.
  • ’T is a stinger.
    • More Dissemblers besides Women (1614), Act iii. Sc. 2. Compare: "He ’as had a stinger", Beaumont and Fletcher, Wit without Money, act iv. sc. 1.
  • There is no hate lost between us.
    • The Witch (1616), Act iv. Sc. 3. Compare: "There is no love lost between us", Cervantes, Don Quixote, book iv. chap. xxiii.; Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer (1771), Act iv.; David Garrick, Correspondence, 1759; Henry Fielding, The Grub Street Opera, act i. sc. 4.
  • Let the air strike our tune,
    Whilst we show reverence to yond peeping moon.
    • The Witch (1616), Act v. Sc. 2. "I ’ll charm the air to give a sound, While you perform your antic round", Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act iv. Sc. 1.
  • Black spirits and white, red spirits and gray,
    Mingle, mingle, mingle, you that mingle may.
    • The Witch (1616), Act v. Sc. 2. Compare: Macbeth, act iv. sc. 1. According to Steevens, "the song was, in all probability, a traditional one"; Collier says, "Doubtless it does not belong to Middleton more than to Shakespeare"; Dyce says, "There seems to be little doubt that ‘Macbeth’ is of an earlier date than ‘The Witch’".
  • All is not gold that glisteneth.
    • A Fair Quarrel (1616), Act v. Sc. 1. Compare: "But all thing which that shineth as the gold, Ne is no gold, as I have herd it told", Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, "The Chanones Yemannes Tale", Line 16430.
  • On his last legs.
    • The Old Law (1618-19), Act v. Sc. 1.
  • How a good meaning
    May be corrupted by a misconstruction.
    • The Old Law (1618-19).
  • Turn over a new leaf.
    • Anything for a Quiet Life (1621), Act iii. Sc. 3. Compare: "Turn over a new leaf", Thomas Dekker, The Honest Whore, part ii, Act i. sc. 2.
  • My nearest
    And dearest enemy.
    • Anything for a Quiet Life (1621), Act v. Sc. 1. Compare: "Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven, Or ever I had seen that day", Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act i. Sc. 2.
  • This was a good week’s labour.
    • Anything for a Quiet Life (1621), Act v. Sc. 3.
  • The world's a stage on which all parts are played.
    • A Game of Chess (1624), Act v. Sc. 1. Compare: "All the world ’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players", Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act ii. Sc. 7.; "The world ’s a theatre, the earth a stage, Which God and Nature do with actors fill", Thomas Heywood, Apology for Actors (1612).
  • Like pearl
    Dropt from the opening eyelids of the morn
    Upon the bashful rose.
    • A Game of Chess (1624).

The Family of Love (co-written with Thomas Dekker, 1602-7)Edit

  • Ground not upon dreams; you know they are ever contrary.
    • Act iv. Sc. 3. Compare: "For drames always go by contraries", Samuel Lover, The Angel’s Whisper.
  • Spick and span new.
    • Act iv. Sc. 3. Compare: "Spick and span new", Ford, The Lover’s Melancholy, act i. sc. 1. George Farquhar, Preface to his Works.
  • A flat case as plain as a pack-staff.
    • Act v. Sc. 3. Compare: "Plain as a pike-staff", Terence in English (1641); Buckingham, Speech in the House of Lords, 1675; Gil Blas (Smollett’s translation), book xii. chap. viii. John Byrom, Epistle to a Friend.
  • Have you summoned your wits from wool-gathering?
    • Act v. Sc. 3.
  • As true as I live.
    • Act v. Sc. 3.

The Phœnix (1603-4)Edit

  • A little too wise, they say, do ne’er live long.
    • Act i. Sc. 1. Compare: "So wise so young, they say, do never live long", William Shakespeare, King Richard III, Act iii. Sc. 1.
  • The better day, the better deed.
    • Act iii. Sc. 1. Compare: "The better day, the worse deed", Mathew Henry, Commentaries, Genesis iii.
  • He who loves the law dies either mad or poor.
  • The worst comes to the worst.
    • Act iii. Sc. 1. Compare: "Worst comes to the worst", Cervantes, Don Quixote, part i. book iii. chap. v.; Marston, The Dutch Courtezan, act iii. sc. 1.