The Changeling (play)

The Changeling (play)

"The Changeling" is a Jacobean tragedy written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Widely regarded as "among the best" tragedies of the English Renaissance, the play has accumulated a significant body of critical commentary. [Logan and Smith, pp. 54-55, 59-60, 263-9.]

The play was licensed for performance by George Buc, the Master of the Revels, on May 7, 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 to two writers was first delineated by Pauline Wiggin in 1897, and is widely accepted. [Logan and Smith, pp. 71-2.] David Lake, in his survey of authorship problems in the Middleton canon, summarizes the standard division of shares this way. [Lake, pp. 204-5.]

: 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 labor that is unsurprising, given the examples of other Middleton/Rowley collaborations.

Dramatis Personae


* "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," his brother, suitor to Beatrice
* "Alsemero," a nobleman, suitor to Beatrice
* "Jasperino," his friend
* "De Flores," servant to Vermandero


* "Alibius," a jealous doctor
* "Lollio," his man
* "Isabella," wife to Alibius
* "Franciscus," the counterfeit madman
* "Antonio," the counterfeit fool
* "Pedro," his friend


There are two parallel plots. The main plot involves Beatrice-Joanna, Alonso, to whom she is betrothed, and Alsemero, whom she loves. To rid herself of Alonso, Beatrice uses De Flores — who loves her — to murder him. This, predictably, has a tragic outcome. The sub-plot involves Alibius and his young wife Isabella. Franciscus and Antonio are in love with her and pretend to be madmen in order to see her. Lollio also wants her. This has a comic outcome.

Act I, scene i

"Courtyard near harbour"
Alsemero enters from church and tells us of his love for a woman he met there. Jasperino enters from the harbour, reminding Alsemero that the ‘wind’s fair’ and that they should leave for Malta. Alsemero tells him that he’s not ready to go yet. Beatrice enters with Diaphanta and she is greeted by Alsemero. Jasperino watches and comments while Beatrice and Alsemero flirt together. Alsemero proposes to Beatrice but, in an aside, she reveals that she was recently engaged. Alsemero waits for an answer. Jasperino resolves to get a girl for himself and sees Diaphanta. De Flores enters to inform Beatrice of her father’s imminent arrival. Beatrice tells him to go away, he backs off but still watches her. Jasperino and Diaphanta have a conversation full of sexual innuendos. Vermandero (who had been talking to the priest) joins Beatrice, causing her to change her behaviour. She introduces him to Alsemero. Vermandero finds that he knew Alsemero’s father well, and they discuss him briefly. Vermandero talks of Beatrice’s fiancé, causing her to say goodbye to Alsemero in preparation for her return home. Vermandero does not allow this, inviting Alsemero back too. As they leave, Beatrice drops her glove. De Flores picks it up and offers it to her but she will not take it. Beatrice exits and De Flores closes the scene with a soliloquy.

Act I, scene ii

"Alibius’ madhouse"
Alibius starts to tell Lollio a secret. He says he cannot satisfy his wife sexually and fears she will be disloyal to him. He asks Lollio to guard her for him and lock her up (Lollio agrees in the knowledge that he could be left alone with her.) Antonio and Pedro enter. Pedro gives Alibius lots of money to take good care of Antonio. Lollio hints that he wants some too and Pedro grants him his wish. Pedro asks for Antonio to be made clever, Lollio says he will "make him as wise as myself." Pedro leaves, Alibius counts money. Lollio threatens to whip Antonio. Lollio questions Antonio with short riddles. Madmen shout, Alibius leaves with the money. Lollio takes Antonio to the cells.

Act II, scene i

"A chamber in the castle"
Beatrice gives Jasperino a note for Alsemero in secret. In her soliloquy, Beatrice talks of how great Alsemero is and then how horrible Alonzo de Piracquo is. De Flores enters (having been hiding) but Beatrice does not see him initially whilst he talks of his love for her and her hatred of him. She sees him and gets angry because he stalls from delivering his message. Eventually he says that Alonzo and Tomazo have arrived. He leaves after delivering another soliloquy. Vermandero, Alonzo and Tomazo enter, Vermandero makes every attempt to be a welcoming host. Tomazo points out to Alonzo that Beatrice seems uninterested. Beatrice suggests that the wedding be put back by three days. Vermandero and Beatrice exit. Tomazo suggests that her "heart is lept into another’s bosom."

Act II, scene ii

"Another chamber in the castle"
Diaphanta leads Alsemero into a chamber secretly, whilst flirting with him. Diaphanta leaves, Beatrice enters; they talk and embrace. They talk about how they could ‘remove the cause’ by killing Alonzo. Alsemero declares he will challenge Piraquo (meaning Alsemero would end up dead or in jail.) Beatrice protests. Beatrice (aside) realises that she can get De Flores to kill Alonzo. Beatrice shoves Alsemero back to Diaphanta (who’s overjoyed). De Flores enters, having been hidden. De Flores suggests that since she has two lovers, why not him too. Beatrice decides to flirt with him. De Flores agrees readily to commit the murder, thinking he'll be able to sleep with her afterwards. Beatrice exits, Alonzo enters. Alonzo asks for a tour of the castle. They exit and enter through various doors.

Act III, scene i, ii

"A narrow passage / A vault"
As they descend, De Flores advises that they leave their swords behind. Alonzo is instructed to stare out of the window, while De Flores stabs him three times. De Flores, seeing a diamond, removes his ring by cutting off his finger. De Flores clears away the body.

Act III, scene iii

"A room in Alibius’ house"
Isabella asks Lollio why she has been locked up. Lollio claims it’s his masters’ wish. Lollio makes some moves towards her. Isabella requests to meet a madman she’s seen. Lollio shows in Franciscus. Franciscus moves towards Isabella but Lollio threatens him. Isabella sees beyond his mad exterior. Franciscus has an outburst of anger, beating Lollio. Lollio puts Franciscus back in his cell. Lollio brings Antonio to meet Isabella. The madmen make noises, Lollio goes to beat them. As he leaves, Antonio reveals to Isabella that he is only a fake madman. Antonio cannot convince her to love him but she agrees not to turn him in. Lollio returns to ask Antonio some questions, then leaves again. Antonio kisses Isabella, Lollio spies on them. Madmen dressed as birds interrupt their encounter, Lollio re-enters. Lollio challenges Isabella about Antonio but agrees to keep it secret. Alibius enters, oblivious. Alibius tells them that their madmen will be performing at Beatrice’s wedding.

Act III, scene iv

"A chamber in the castle"
Vermandero, Beatrice, Jasperino and Alsemero enter; only Vermandero does not know about Beatrice and Alsemero. They all leave to look around the castle, except Beatrice. Beatrice says that she’s starting to convince her father to like Alsemero. De Flores enters with the intention of having sex with Beatrice, thinking this is what she wants too. He tells Beatrice that "Piraquo is no more" and then shows her the finger. Beatrice pays him with the ring, then on seeing his confusion, raises the amount. De Flores is disgusted at the idea of murdering for money, he murdered for the reward of Beatrice's virginity. Beatrice, confused about why De Flores will not leave contented with money assumes that the amount he wants is much too high to actually announce out loud and suggests that he go away as planned and send her the amount he wants on paper. De Flores demands she elope with him. De Flores kisses her in a last ditch attempt to seal their love, but Beatrice reacts with disgust. De Flores explains in meticulous detail exactly why she has to submit to him, mainly that he can now effectively blackmail her. He says that his life is worth nothing if he can not have her, and therefore is willing to incriminate himself if she does not sleep with him. She eventually gives in.

"Dumb Show"
Vermandero learns of the disappearance of Alonso. Beatrice, the bride, enters with Diaphanta and Isabella. De Flores enters and he sees the ghost of Alonso showing him the hand which De Flores cut a finger from.

Act IV, scene i

Beatrice talks about her night with De Flores and wonders how she’ll do on her wedding night. Beatrice examines Alsemero’s closet and finds a book about pregnancy and virginity tests. Diaphanta enters, looking for Alsemero. Beatrice offers Diaphanta 1000 ducats to replace her on her wedding night. They both drink the virginity test, and Beatrice observes her symptoms.

Act IV, scene ii

Vermandero finds that Antonio and Franciscus have left the castle, causing him to assume that they murdered Alonso. Tomazo enters, accusing Vermandero of taking his brother. Vermandero says that Alonso left, and asks Tomazo to leave too. Vermandero exits. De Flores enters, Tomazo greeting him warmly, but he is reminded of the murder. De Flores exits. Alsemero enters; Tomazo is hostile towards him. Tomazo challenges Alsemero to a duel after the wedding. Tomazo exits, Jasperino runs in. Jasperino tells Alsemero that he heard Beatrice and De Flores having sex. Alsemero instructs Jasperino to go and get the virginity test. Beatrice enters just before Jasperino returns. Alsemero gives Beatrice the potion, she drinks, then acts out the symptoms.

Act IV, scene iii

Lollio and Isabella read a letter which declares Franciscus’ love for her. Lollio says that if Franciscus is getting her, he wants her too. Isabella decides to dress as a madwoman and goes to do so. Alibius arrives and asks about the wedding. Alibius then asks how Isabella is getting on, then exits. Antonio enters, and Lollio forces him to dance. Lollio exits, and Isabella enters in her new clothes. Isabella attempts to kiss him but Antonio resists. Isabella exits, Lollio comes back to talk to Antonio. Franciscus enters, Lollio reads the letter he wrote to Isabella. Alibius enters, and Lollio goes to fetch the madmen. All the madmen dance for the wedding.

Act V, scene i

Diaphanta and Alsemero are heard having sex offstage, Beatrice listens in anger. De Flores enters, and comes up with a plan to set the castle on fire, and then to kill Diaphanta. Beatrice agrees, even suggesting that she now loves De Flores. Alonso’s ghost appears and haunts De Flores and Beatrice. De Flores lights the fire, offstage, then leads the group of resisdents who attempt to douse it. Diaphanta appears, Beatrice tells her to return to her chamber. Vermandero enters, followed by Alsemero and Jasperino. The gunshot is heard, signifying Diaphanta’s murder. De Flores returns to the stage, heroicially carrying Diaphanta’s burnt body from the fire. De Flores is promised financial reward for his bravery.

Act V, scene ii

Tomazo, in a sudden fit of misanthropy, elects to blame the next person he sees for the death of his brother (since he holds everyone potentially accountable). De Flores enters. Tomazo becomes enraged and strikes him. De Flores draws his sword as though to retaliate, but is forcibly reminded of Alonzo's murder, and cannot bring himself to strike. De Flores is unnerved by Tomazo's sudden, intuitive hostility, and leaves hastily. Alibius and Isabella enter with Vermandero. Tomazo tells them to go away. They inform Tomazo about Antonio and Franciscus’ disguise and their time of departure from the castle.

Act V, scene iii

Jasperino and Alsemero have seen Beatrice and De Flores together in a garden and are discussing it. Beatrice enters, Jasperino hides. Alsemero accuses Beatrice of being a liar and a whore, and suggests she’s been cheating on him with De Flores. In an effort to show her devotion to Alsemero, Beatrice admits to having had Alonzo murdered. Alsemero says he must think about what to do, and locks Beatrice in a closet to wait. De Flores enters, Alsemero gets him to admit murder. De Flores, under the impression that Beatrice is attempting to betray and out-maneuver him, exposes her infidelity. Alsemero confines him in the closet with Beatrice. Vermandero, Alibius, Isabella, Tomazo and Franciscus enter, thinking the case is solved. As Alsemero begins to reveal the truth, screams of pleasure and of pain are heard within the room, and the pair comes out, Beatrice stabbed by De Flores. After De Flores explains his motive, he stabs himself before Tomazo can seek revenge. With his last words, De Flores instructs Beatrice to follow him in death, and as she dies, Beatrice asks Alsemero for forgiveness.


A mere 8 lines in which Alsemero explains that it is impossible to comfort someone after they have lost a person close to them. The only solution is for that person to be replaced.

Film and Television Adaptations

In 1974 as part of "Play of the Month", the BBC broadcast a production directed by Anthony Page and starring Helen Mirren as Beatrice-Joanna, Brian Cox as Alsemero, Stanley Baker as De Flores, Tony Selby as Jasperino and Susan Penhaligon as Isabella.

In 1994, a version directed by Simon Curtis removing the madhouse subplot 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.



* 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

* [ Full modern-spelling edited text from Chris Cleary's Middleton page]
* [ Article on the play's stage history from Early Modern Literary Studies]



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