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Thomas Middleton, funeral, wedding, Canticles


The concluding scene of Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside begins as a double funeral procession and turns into a wedding as the lovers rise from their coffins to be married; but what are coffins doing in a wedding scene? The coffins, as an onstage sign of the metamorphosis of funeral into wedding, are the emblematic focus for this paper. This investigation exposes the resonances of Canticles’ erotic betrothal and Revelation’s matrimonial fulfilment as a rhetoric common to both theatrical rituals and to ecclesiastical scriptures. After briefly introducing what I call Canticles’ rhetoric – Canticles itself, its exegesis, and its typological connections with Revelation—I will then examine how this rhetoric informs the wedding ritual in the Book of Common Prayer's “Fourme of Solempnizacion of Matrimonye.” The sense of apocalyptic resurrection and eroticized reunion that are present in the liturgy then go some way toward explaining Middleton’s funeral/wedding scene as an appropriate way to conclude his city comedy: the coffins as stage properties represent a liturgically adopted scriptural allegory of betrothal and marriage. Specifically, the coffins evoke the apocalyptic echoes of marriage rather than simply sin and corruption, and the apocalypse in Middleton’s city comedy is both ironically deferred and satisfyingly present.