Wisdom in Reverse

Ewan Fernie

in The Oxford Handbook of Thomas Middleton

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Wisdom in Reverse

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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This article explores Middleton's first known work, the lengthy and elaborate religious poem The Wisdom of Solomon Paraphrased (1597). It suggests that Wisdom is not just a piece of immature hack work in the shrubbery of Scripture. As Debora Shuger notes in her introduction to the poem in the Collected Works, more than 60 per cent of its lines have no biblical source or equivalent, and elsewhere, Middleton ‘tends to be aggressively contrapuntal rather than faithfully paraphrastic’. Moreover, he writes in perfectly uninhibited ignorance of – or indifference towards – the exegetical tradition. Can Wisdom be our first glimpse of the face of Thomas Middleton? If so, it is a strange face indeed, very different from the curled, barbered, rich-complexioned, and self-possessed gallant of the surviving portrait. For this is a face distorted by pain and a self-hatred that eats so deep as to encompass the entire species. And yet, it is also, simultaneously, a face almost obscenely touched with an inexpressible and perhaps perverted ecstasy.

Keywords: Thomas Middleton; religious poem; poetry; Wisdom of Solomon

Article.  8285 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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