Does Beatrice Joanna Have a Subtext?: The Changeling on the London Stage
Nicol, Dave & Barker, Roberta
Early Modern Literary Studies 10.1 (May, 2004)
Middleton and Rowley’s tragedy The Changeling returned to the London stage in 1961 after an absence of almost three hundred years. Over the ensuing forty years, it has received five major London productions in which its heroine, Beatrice Joanna, was played by Mary Ure, Emma Piper, Diana Quick, Miranda Richardson and Cheryl Campbell respectively. In a striking example of the process by which critical reception of one production can lead to the establishment of accepted interpretations for the next, reviewers of these productions developed a Freudian reading of Beatrice Joanna as a spoilt child whose amoral decision to murder her detested fiancé is only a precursor to her slow realization of her repressed, subtextual desire for De Flores. After outlining the roots and growth of this reading, we suggest that it is flawed on two counts: first, that it necessitates many overt misreadings of the play, and second, that it promulgates a dangerous construction of femininity by implying that Middleton and Rowley’s heroine actually desires a rape she pleads against in the lines they wrote for her. Arguing that the dominant theatrical reading of Beatrice Joanna speaks productively neither to her cultural origins nor to our own constructions of gender, this essay offers some notes toward a re-evaluation of her role in stage productions of The Changeling.