FSU scholar’s work on the ‘other Shakespeare’ called monumental

Gary Taylor (photo: Melissa Meschler, FSU)

World-renowned Shakespeare scholar Gary Taylor, a professor at Florida State University, has co-edited the first complete collection of plays, poems and manuscripts by Thomas Middleton, a provocative, once-popular 17th-century playwright whose work was later banned or burned and overshadowed for centuries by the more famous English bard.

Gary Taylor

Now, Taylor is calling Middleton "our other Shakespeare" and critics are calling "Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works" epochal and monumental.

A definitive anthology 20 years in the making and painstakingly assembled from works scattered for nearly 400 years, Taylor’s 2,016-page tour de force is being published in the United States by Oxford University Press.

Accompanying the "Collected Works" is a companion volume, "Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture," for which Taylor also served as one of the two general editors. Contributors to the big books include a total of 75 scholars from 12 countries.

In Britain, where the weighty tomes were released in November, "Collected Works" has been widely heralded by the London Times, Guardian, BBC Radio and others. Taylor’s editing masterwork also was featured in an article in the November 7 European edition of TIME Magazine ("Thomas Middleton: For Adults Only"), which included an essay by Taylor ("The Bawdy Bard").

The TIME essay contains a confession from Taylor. While he is "married to Shakespeare," he’s been "having an affair with Middleton" for 20 years. He characterizes Shakespeare as the Bard Next Door and calls the controversial, "R-rated" Middleton "the madwoman in the attic."

Taylor contends that with "Collected Works" as the guide, Middleton could become a household name as his edgy plays about the gritty side of 17th-century London life return to center stage, and college classes on his work join Shakespeare’s among English course offerings.

"Middleton’s work should resonate with contemporary audiences, given his themes of money, politics and sex, and his dialogue, which is easier than Shakespeare’s on the modern ear," Taylor said. "Middleton’s plays read like they could have been written yesterday."

Unlike Shakespeare, who focused on kings, princes and nobility and a glorious, idealized past, Middleton’s darkly funny, often violent plays revealed the public and private lives of that city’s ordinary people during a period of great social and economic change. His writing was politically contentious and laced with frank sexuality, even among his women, who were far more complex, audacious characters than those created by his contemporaries.

As a result, in subsequent, more prudish centuries Middleton’s work fell out of fashion and was left to languish in relative obscurity as Shakespeare took and held center stage.

Now, with that work assembled for the first time in a single authoritative volume, Middleton is drawing rave reviews from a growing cadre of critics who, like Taylor, consider him Shakespeare’s equal as a wordsmith and storyteller.

Visit thomasmiddleton.org for additional information on "Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works" and its companion guide, "Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture"—including commentary on both volumes from, among others, Gail Kern Paster, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, D.C.) and Kathleen E. McLuskie, director of The Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

Taylor, who earned his doctorate at England’s Cambridge University, is the George Matthew Edgar Professor of English at FSU. An internationally known expert in contemporary literary theory and criticism, he has written widely about the practice and theory of editing in various periods and genres. He is the founding director of FSU’s new History of Text Technologies program. (Visit pathways.fsu.edu/faculty/hott for more information on this interdisciplinary initiative, led by the Department of English and a cluster of faculty hired from around the world.)

Among the host of critically acclaimed editing and "single-author" writing achievements by Taylor, four appear on the Random House/Modern Library list of the world’s best 100 books on Shakespeare: "Reinventing Shakespeare" (written by Taylor; 1989); "William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion" (co-edited by Taylor; 1997); the Oxford editions of Shakespeare’s "Complete Works" (Taylor was joint general editor; 1986, 2005) and "The Divisions of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare’s Two Versions of King Lear" (co-edited by Taylor; 1987).

To learn more about Taylor, visit his faculty page on the FSU Department of English Web site at this link. For online access to the November TIME Magazine article and Taylor’s essay, go to www.time.com/time.