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Plenary Interview: Dr. Will Green, Dr. Anna L. Hegland and Dr. Sam Jermy on The Theatrical Legacy of Thomas Middleton

Updated: May 21

By Saraya Haddad (Co-Chair 2024)

We can't wait for Dr. Will Green, Dr. Anna L. Hegland and Dr. Sam Jermy’s plenary talk next month at BritGrad. They will be presenting on their recent publication The Theatrical Legacy of Thomas Middleton: 1624-2024. The collection is comprised of 14 original essays celebrating the enduring legacy of Middleton’s drama. Our 2024 Co-Chair, Saraya Haddad, had a chat with each of the three editors to find out more.

Saraya: Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your recent published collection, The Theatrical Legacy of Thomas Middleton, 1624-2024?

Will: The book is intended as the celebration of Middletown's legacy following the end of his career, following the closing down of A Game At Chess in 1624. After that, Middleton’s career sort of stopped… the book looks at what we can celebrate about Middleton in 2024. The book also looks at how Middleton has been appropriated, so it's one of the few books where you'll be able to look in the index and see “Thomas Middleton, Harry Styles, Batman” all appearing. 

Anna: The collection is a volume of essays celebrating Middleton's legacy as a dramatist and marking the 400th anniversary of Middleton's final work for the public theatres. Like Middleton's own canon of work, the collection features a range of voices from early career, independent, and seasoned academics to performers and practitioners. 

Sam explains why this collection is so important: Following the publishing of the 2007 collected works, there has been surprisingly little sustained academic research into the wide-ranging scope of Middleton’s multi-faceted and often contradictory body of work.

Saraya: You have already given us an insight into this, but can you tell us more about why you think we should all know more about Thomas Middleton and his works?

Will: Differently to a lot of early modern dramatists, Middleton is very grounded. He is also quite grubby in his writing. A lot of the people we know from this period (like Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger), they love dealing with over the top, emotional events. Middleton is someone who is very willing to deal with reality. I don't think you will meet a King Lear in your life, but you may very well meet a Sir Walter Whorehound… Middleton’s plays are about normal people. 

As Anna put it: From the weird to the wild to the wonderful, Middleton isn't afraid to uncover the messiness of humanity.

Sam explained that the tensions in Middleton’s works lead to: fascinating interrogations of class, gender, race and sexuality that provide fascinating interrogations of how life was lived in early modern England. 

Saraya: Building on from this then, in what ways is Middleton and his legacy relevant today and/or how can we use his legacy to tackle current societal/global issues?

Will: I'm a bit wary of the universality we apply to certain dramatists. I'm not sure we can apply Middleton today without appropriating him. However, we can find so much in Middleton that shows he was interested in issues that we are concerned with today. I think his body of work can be appropriated much more effectively than Shakespeare's.

Anna: Middleton is really concerned with corruption, as well as moral and ethical dilemmas and the gray area we encounter when grappling with such questions. This feels particularly relevant today, politically and socially… [studying Middleton can] challenge the assumption that weird or difficult plays were somehow unperformable or disliked in performance. 

Sam: Middleton's particular depictions of gender and the body seem incredibly relevant to the gendered backlash we are currently experiencing today. The strong presence of gender non-conforming characters, deployments of gendered disguise, and fascinating opportunities for trans readings across Middleton’s plays offer some fascinating and complicated readings of gender that resist the reactionary urge to return to a gendered binary. 

Saraya: How do your personal interests and/or hobbies inspire, or tie in to, your area of research?

Will: My interest in video games has really led to me becoming an academic… I have a real interest in anything that involves puzzles… I like solving things.

Anna: I really came to Middleton during my MA at the Shakespeare Institute. Middleton’s work became an integral part of my doctoral thesis, on the intertwining of violence and rhetoric on the early modern stage, as I'm drawn to how he uses the human body as both character and prop! 

Sam has: taken part in many improvised performances of early modern plays at the Playhouse Lab while at the University of Leeds…. [and found that] Middleton really stuck out. His plays have such a theatrical energy that is extremely fun to perform. 

Saraya: What advice would you give to those hoping to pursue a career in academia, the creative arts and/or a similar sector?

Will: Staying in power is an important one… you have to be prepared to do other things and try and remain an active scholar for your portfolio… don't be afraid to ask for help. Join groups like The British Academy Early Career Research Network,  there's so many secrets that you don't know and I guarantee that having that mentoring taught me what people are looking for…. look at what people are looking for today, funders want to see things like impact, outreach. 

Anna: Build your “non-academic” skills (working with data, thinking about how to market your work to a non-specialist audience and the ability to do high-level research on a wide-range of topics) are valuable outside of academia and can help you think differently about your academic work. Not having an academic career after your graduate work is not a moral failing on your part (it is a radical act of care for yourself in many cases), but diversifying your skills and being able to think about your existing skills from a different perspective will help you to pivot to related work. 

Sam: This collection was really born out of the connections we made and have fostered throughout our own academic lives… so my advice would be to keep talking about what you are passionate about as you will find the right people and places to support you. 

Saraya: I'm aware this may be a tricky question, but… if you had to pick:  what is your favourite Middleton play and why?

Will: When we did the Beyond Shakespeare podcast I think I said Revenger’s Tragedy, but I'm now rethinking this… I think it might be A Game At Chess. It's certainly the play I've been living with for the longest period; I've been trying to write an article on it for two years… The play is like a labyrinth on paper to understand what's going on, and you know if that play was performed it would be such a different experience… it is textually fascinating too, existing in more different versions than any play from the period- that's captivating to me. 

Anna: I love The Lady’s Tragedy and A Mad World, My Master’s. I won't say that I love a gross tomb-raiding tyrant character, but The Lady’s Tragedy played a big role in my thesis, and Mad World was one of my first encounters with Middleton’s comedies. 

Side note to readers: Will told me that without a doubt Sam’s would be The Nice Valour, so you can imagine my shock when Sam shared that their’s is… 

Sam: The Nice Valour, always. A topsy-turbo world of chivalry and masochism where submission and bruises become marks of honour that culminates in a dance with positions like the “kicksy buttock”. It has an incredibly funny set up of courtly masculinity! I only wish I could see this performed in person someday. 

Saraya: Lastly, what can we look forward to in your plenary and/or can you treat us to a “teaser trailer”?

All: The plenary will give an overview of each of our sections of the collection, as well as our thoughts on the state of Middleton studies. But, as with our work on the collection itself, we’ll take a fairly conversational approach to the plenary together! 

It's safe to say, this is going to be a fabulous plenary! In the meantime, you can read more about their recent publication here.

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