The Phoenix is the most sententious and didactic of all Thomas Middleton's plays. Even his tragedies and tragicomedies are not as pervasively moralistic as this play. The reason for this difference in The Phoenix has never been explored because only the more attractive, realistic parts of the comedy have been singled out for comment.
Like A Fair Quarrel and The Old Law, which are also more didactic than the rest of Middleton's dramatic work, The Phoenix was performed before the King: the quarto edition has the subtitle, ‘as it hath beene sundrye times Acted by the Children of Paules, And presented before his Maiestie’. The sententiousness of The Phoenix derives, I think, from a definite attempt by Middleton to interest the King and in a sense advise him. The Phoenix, I hope to show, is a comedy written for a king.