The Changeling (play)

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The Changeling is a Jacobean tragedy written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Widely regarded as being among the best tragedies of the English Renaissance, the play has accumulated a large amount of critical commentary.[1]

The play was licensed for performance by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels, on 7 May 1622, and was first published in 1653 by the bookseller Humphrey Moseley.


The title page of the first edition of The Changeling attributes the play to Middleton and Rowley. The division of authorship between the two writers was first delineated by Pauline Wiggin in 1897, and is widely accepted.[2] David Lake, in his survey of authorship problems in the Middleton canon, summarises the standard division of shares this way:[3]

Middleton – Act II; Act III, scenes i, ii, and iv; Act IV, scenes i and ii; Act V, scenes i and ii;
Rowley – Act I; Act III, scene iii; Act IV, scene iii; Act V, scene iii.

Lake differs from previous commentators only in assigning the first seventeen lines of IV,ii to Rowley. The essential point of the dichotomy is that Rowley wrote the subplot and the opening and closing scenes, while Middleton was primarily responsible for the main plot—a division of labour that is unsurprising, given the examples of other Middleton–Rowley collaborations. The main plot itself derives from a 1621 story collection by John Reynolds.[4]

Themes and Motifs[edit]

The theme is the treachery that comes as a consequence of sinful human nature. The play expresses this theme through the reference of "original sin" and its consequential "fall". [5] Subsequently, moral purity is restored after the motives of the main character are revealed.[6] The motif of faulty eyesight is used to express the theme "blindness shuts out the consequences of impulsive acts, and with, what amounts to an idée fixe, the chief characters then seek to impose their wills on an unbending and indifferent world, victimizing those equally as blind".[7]



  • Vermandero, governor of the castle of Alicante, father to Beatrice
  • Beatrice-Joanna, daughter to Vermandero
  • Diaphanta, her waiting-woman
  • Tomazo de Piracquo, a noble lord
  • Alonzo de Piracquo, Tomazo's brother, suitor to Beatrice
  • Alsemero, a nobleman, suitor to Beatrice
  • Jasperino, Alsemero's friend
  • De Flores, servant to Vermandero


  • Alibius, a jealous doctor
  • Lollio, Alibius' waiting man
  • Isabella, wife to Alibius
  • Franciscus, the counterfeit madman
  • Antonio, the counterfeit fool
  • Pedro, Antonio's friend


There are two parallel plots. The main plot in Alicante focuses on Beatrice-Joanna; Alonzo, to whom she is betrothed; and Alsemero, whom she loves. To rid herself of Alonzo, Beatrice makes De Flores (who secretly loves her) murder him. This, predictably, has a tragic outcome. The sub-plot in the madhouse involves Alibius and his young wife Isabella. Franciscus and Antonio are in love with her and pretend to be a madman and a fool, respectively, to see her. Lollio also wants her. This ends comically.

Film, television and stage adaptations[edit]

In 1974, as part of Play of the Month, the BBC broadcast a production directed by Anthony Page and starring Stanley Baker as De Flores, Helen Mirren as Beatrice-Joanna, Brian Cox as Alsemero, Tony Selby as Jasperino and Susan Penhaligon as Isabella. This is available on DVD in the Helen Mirren at the BBC box set.

In 1994, a version directed by Simon Curtis removed the madhouse subplot and was broadcast by the BBC starring Elizabeth McGovern as Beatrice-Joanna, Bob Hoskins as De Flores, Hugh Grant as Alsemero and Sean Pertwee as Tomazo. It was broadcast in the United States on the BRAVO cable television network.

A 1998 film version directed by Marcus Thompson starred Guy Williams as Alonso, Amanda Ray-King as Beatrice-Joanna, Ian Dury as De Flores and Colm O'Maonlai as Alsemero.

Notable stage performances have included the 1988 National Theatre production starring Miranda Richardson as Beatrice-Joanna and George Harris as De Flores.

A 2009 ITV television drama, Compulsion, is loosely based on The Changeling.

In 2012 the play returned for a new version at London's Young Vic theatre. The actors doubled up roles for the main and sub plot, such as Diaphanta and Isabella, questioning, "Which is the real madhouse?"

The 2013 short film "Bed Trick", a collaboration between The Guardian and Young Vic, is based on Act I scene ii of The Changeling.


  1. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 54–55, 59–60, 263–9.
  2. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 71–2.
  3. ^ Lake, pp. 204–5.
  4. ^ N. W. Bawcutt, The Changeling (1998), p. 3.
  5. ^ Levay, John. "Middletown And Rowley's THE CHANGELING." Explicator 45.3 (1987)
  6. ^ Stockton, Sharon. "The `Broken Rib Of Mankind': The Sociopolitical Function Of The Scapegoat In The Changeling." Papers On Language & Literature 26.4 (1990)
  7. ^ Engelberg, Edward. "Tragic Blindness In The Changeling And Women Beware Women." Modern Language Quarterly 23.1 (1962)


  • Lake, David J. The Canon of Thomas Middleton's Plays. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1975.
  • Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Popular School: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1975.

External links[edit]