‘Old Dad Dead?’

Courtney Lehmann

in The Oxford Handbook of Thomas Middleton

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199559886
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

‘Old Dad Dead?’

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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This article considers whether film adaptations of Middleton's plays are really that much different from their Shakespearian counterparts. Is there something genuinely new occurring in these adaptations? The answer is an unqualified ‘yes’. It is shown that while Middleton adaptations tend to reinforce the reductive equation of the Jacobean period with ‘decadence’, brought about by ‘material comfort, political stability and undue deference to the monarch’, the adaptations examined do not misread the present. These films venture into critiques of the neo-noir universe of late capitalism where Shakespeare films fear to tread. Generating provocative, if not highly disturbing, variations on the noir themes of the obscene father and the femme fatale, film adaptations of Middleton linger on the cusp – or, indeed, in the middle – of an uncertain heritage, caught somewhere between the historical reflex of misogyny and a more radical critique of the collective, totemic paternalism of our own ‘contemporary Jacobean’ culture.

Keywords: Thomas Middleton; plays; film adaptations; Jacobean period; capitalism; Shakespeare films; noir themes

Article.  8613 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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