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[ 15 An unsigned review of A Game at Chesse, by Thomas Middleton, ed. R. C. Bald Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1929. Pp. 172.1 The Times Literary Supplement, 1460 (23 Jan 1930) 56 Thomas Middleton is conspicuously an Elizabethan dramatist who has been highly praised, but who has never yet received his due. That is not altogether the fault of the critics. The work of Webster, for instance, even with the perplexingly inferior later plays, is comparatively easy to grasp as a whole; so is that of Ford, or that of Tourneur – if he be Tourneur; even Chapman has received in recent years an amount of scholarly attention which makes him easier for the critic to appraise.2 But the work of Middleton is more various than that of any other Elizabethan except Shakespeare himself; and being so much inferior to Shakespeare with therefore so much the less coherent pattern in his carpet, he is more difficult to place justly than Shakespeare.3 Of Shakespeare superlatives may not always be illuminating, but they can never be quite wrong; but with Middleton we must confine ourselves to the more hazardous vocabulary of comparatives. And with Middleton, more perhaps than with any other Elizabethan dramatist , criticism waits upon scholarship. No one collaborated more freely; and his own variety is complicated by his readiness to work with almost anybody.4 It is all the more remarkable that one of the finest plays of Middleton, one which has never been attributed, even in part, to anyone else, A Game at Chesse, should have remained so long unedited.5 It is, of course, in the edition of Dyce, and in that of Bullen, who, in editing this play, cannot be said to have improved upon Dyce; but until the appearance of this text by Mr. R. C. Bald, it has not received adequate scholarly attention.6 Swinburne, to be sure, speaks highly of it; but among Swinburne’s many encomiums his praise of A Game at Chesse is hardly noticeable. Swinburne called it “complete and exquisite,” and “the only work of English poetry which may properly be called Aristophanic.”7 We must take “Aristophanic,” of course, in a Swinburnian sense; but even so this is high and deserved praise.8 But as most people will have read Swinburne’s eulogy in the introduction to the Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1930 16 ] “Mermaid” Middleton, and as A Game at Chesse is not included in the “Mermaid” collection, Swinburne’s applause will have fallen upon deaf as well as deafened ears.9 Yet one of the few conjectures which we may safely make about this personage named Middleton is that he must have been a chess player, and that he was a poet who was fascinated by the dramatic element in the game; and we feel safe in asserting that the brilliant and ironic chess scene in Women Beware Women is by the same hand as A Game at Chesse.10 And that it was the interest in, and the constraint of, the same game that produced the particularly orderly play by this exceedingly disorderly and even slovenly dramatist. We should be very grateful to Mr. Bald for editing separately a text of this fine play, even though Mr. Bald is not interested primarily in either the poetry or the drama. Mr. Bald’s purpose is first to exhibit a general method of textual criticism of Elizabethan plays, and secondly to make some interesting and plausible conjectures about the political background and allusions . The play has, perhaps, suffered as literature from its notoriety as a daring political satire of the day; nevertheless, this aspect is important.11 Mr. Bald sums up all the agreed interpretation of the political satire, and adds some intelligent guesses of his own. His introduction is the best introduction to the play from the point of view of the historian. He gives full credit to the importance of the Spanish Ambassador Gondomar; and, in a few pages, a succinct description of that curious figure of De Dominis, who is certainly the original of the Fat Bishop in the play.12 Most of the attributions of originals to the pieces in A Game at Chesse have, of course, been settled. We think that Mr. Bald is quite right in agreeing with Fleay, against some other scholars, that the two Queens are not the wives of the two Kings in actual life, but that they represent the Churches of England and Rome.13 Thewholedialogueismuchmorecomprehensibleonthisassumption . An interesting...


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