Middleton And the Culture of Courtesy

Indira Ghose

in The Oxford Handbook of Thomas Middleton

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Middleton And the Culture of Courtesy

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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This article explores the theme of courtesy in Middleton's plays. The Renaissance culture of courtesy is generally thought to stem from the publication of Castiglione's Book of the Courtier (1528). Its fame spread rapidly all over Europe; numerous editions appeared, both in Italian and in translation. Written for an elite readership, The Book of the Courtier aimed to forge a new role for an aristocracy whose position was increasingly under threat. To this end, Castiglione adumbrated a form of courtly behaviour that decisively distinguished the aristocracy from the rest of society. In Middleton's city comedies, whose plots circulate around social climbers in the metropolis, the culture of courtesy is a game that can be exploited for its comic potential. In his tragedies, refined behaviour represents a veneer of sophistication that hides a deeper decay. Manners, taste, and style are not a demonstration of innate virtue, nor do they have an ennobling effect. They remain a performance, games people play for a range of social stakes.

Keywords: Thomas Middleton; plays; city comedies; courtesy; Renaissance; Castiglione

Article.  7671 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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