Thomas Middleton’s satires before and after the Bishops’ Ban
in Spenserian satire

Chapter 5 considers two early works of Thomas Middleton with reference to the social and political context of the turn of the seventeenth century, with special attention to how the Bishops’ Ban of 1599, which banned several books and restricted the future publication of satirical works, affected the literary subfield of satire in England. Following the 1591 calling-in of Spenser’s Complaints volume, which included the satirical animal fable Mother Hubberds Tale, authors largely avoided publishing anything like an animal fable. This chapter argues, though, that the young Thomas Middleton wanted to signal his allegiance with the values and ideas espoused by Spenser, and that he does this indirectly in his 1599 Micro-Cynicon through allusions and analogies that render his formal verse satires circuitously Spenserian. Five years later, Middleton published a much more obviously Spenserian work that, with its nostalgia for Queen Elizabeth’s reign and use of talking insects and birds, suggests more fully the ongoing importance of Spenser as an inspiration to the young poet Middleton before he became the dramatist Middleton. The chapter closes by briefly contrasting the pervasive Spenserianism of the young Middleton with John Donne’s perhaps faddish use of animal fable in his Metempsychosis; Poêma Satyricon.

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Spenserian satire

A tradition of indirection

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