Middleton, who wrote in a wide variety of genres and styles, was a thoroughly professional dramatist. His comedies are generally based on London life but are seen through the perspective of Roman comedy, especially those of Plautus. Middleton is a masterful constructor of plots. "A Chaste Maid in Cheapside" (1630) is typical of Middleton's interests. It is biting and satirical in tone: the crassness of the willing cuckold Allwit is almost frightening. Middleton was very preoccupied with sexual themes, especially in his tragedies, "The Changeling" (1622), written with William Rowley, and "Women Beware Women" (1621). The portraits of women in these plays are remarkable. Both Beatrice-Joanna in "The Changeling" and Bianca in "Women Beware Women" move swiftly from innocence to corruption, and Livia in "Women Beware Women" is noteworthy as a feminine Machiavelli and manipulator. In his psychological realism and his powerful vision of evil, Middleton is close to Shakespeare.
Michael Neill is professor of English at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He is the author of Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedyand editor of the Oxford Shakespeare edition of Antony and Cleopatra.