Thomas Middleton: For Adults Only

Illustration for TIME by Olaf Hajek

Thomas Middleton was the rebel of English Renaissance drama. Audiences adored how his plays went right to the limits — his sex was dirty, his violence grisly, his politics risky. His work was so popular in his time that it broke box-office records at London's Globe theater. But over the centuries, thanks to censorship and Victorian prudery, he fell out of fashion. By the time the world was ready again for Middleton's R-rated brand of theater, Shakespeare reigned as the undisputed heavyweight champion of English literature, knocking everyone else to the margins of the curriculum and away from center...

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