'French Amulets', Expelling Poisons, and Contagion in The Changeling

Catherine L Reedy


When Beatrice-Joanna decides to use De Flores to murder her fiancé, Alonso de Piracquo, in Middleton’s and Rowley’s The Changeling, she compares herself to “men of art”: medical authorities who use poison to “expel” other poisons.  Both Middleton and Rowley draw upon the powers and properties of this spreading and corrupting substance in their respective scenes, finding either a pharmakon of poison and cure or a totally-pernicious force that must be fully expelled.  Critics have explored these mixed pharmacies and occult attractions within this play of “secrets” that is filled with scientific and magical books, tests, and potions. Yet the medical use of poison and its connection to contagion long fascinated Middleton, from his first collaborative plague satires on through his city comedies and tragedies.  In exploring Middleton’s preoccupation with poison as a protective “amulet” throughout his prolific career, this essay unpacks his satirical and deeply troubled views on corrupted female sexuality and male-executed punishment in The Changeling.  Middleton and Rowley restage the “French amulet” dynamic of feminine venereal poisons and masculine collective plagues, yet subversively reveal the uncanny resemblances between Beatrice-Joanna’s poison and other seemingly pure measures and substances.  The poisonous exchanges of The Changeling finally reveal the limits of language and the hidden motives guiding courtship, attraction, and sex.



Middleton; Rowley; plague; medical practices

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