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"Follow the money": sex, murder, print, and domestic tragedy.

"FOLLOW the money," said the whistle-blower who helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unravel the Watergate story--or at least he did so in the movie version, All the President's Men. And the nickname the reporters gave to the tipster (eventually revealed as FBI official Mark Felt) displays, no doubt unintentionally, how readily transgressions become sexualized. "Deep Throat" took his code name from a notorious pornographic movie named for the sex act it celebrated.

In this essay I "follow the money" through a cluster of plays about transgressions performed and printed between about 1590 and 1607, plays since the nineteenth century usually called by the name "domestic." All of these plays share a concern with wealth and social mobility, most of them are based on true stories about murder, and most proclaim themselves "tragedy" on their title pages. The earliest, Arden of Faversham (printed in 1592), sexualizes transgressive social mobility. Female sexual avidity becomes a screen narrative that largely effaces what could have been a story of how Thomas Arden rose in the world by gaining new wealth. Arden scarcely speaks of money. A decade later, money becomes more speakable in tragic plays about nonaristocratic life. Female sexual avidity seems less necessary as a substitute threat to obscure anxiety about social mobility. But as money becomes more speakable, women lose their voices. Instead of powerful, murderous Alice Arden, we find versions of Griselda such as the wife in A Yorkshire Tragedy and Anne Frankford in Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness (printed 1607).

Definitions of domestic tragedy have been as fluid as the term has been persistent. (1) Moreover, the meaning of the word "tragedy" on a title page is in flux in the 1590s and the early years of the next century. I accept the judgment of writers since Collier that there are meaningful connections among the group of plays called "domestic." What can we infer from the fact that playwrights and printers present some of these plays as tragedies, and not others? Can this apparent anomaly illuminate changes in the marketing implications of generic categories in the years between Arden (first printed in 1592) at one end of the series and A Woman Killed With Kindness, The Miseries of Enforced Marriage (both printed 1607), and A Yorkshire Tragedy (printed 1608)? That genre matters to these plays is suggested by the way some of them--Two Lamentable Tragedies, A Yorkshire Tragedy--make the promise of a generically defined experience virtually the whole of their titles. A Warning for Fair Women makes an elaborate, extensive debate among Comedy, History, and Tragedy both its prologue and its choruses. A curious foregrounding of the generic as well as the homiletic is part of the way these plays both use morality-play techniques to assert meaning and simultaneously evade closure. The way these plays both deploy and repress issues of wealth, social mobility, and female sexuality is linked to evolving meanings for the word "tragedy" on title pages.


Theatrical tragedies printed in the early 1590s are often plays about heroic social mobility. The two parts of Tamburlaine (1590, reprinted 1592) virtually define glamorous but destructive rising in the world; so do the anonymous The True Tragedy of Richard III (printed 1594) and Shakespeare's play about that monarch (performed earlier, but not printed until 1597). Even The Spanish Tragedy (first printed 1592) represents anxieties about social mobility as Horatio, son of legal official Hieronimo, becomes embroiled in the marital and dynastic ambitions of Spain and Portugal. Unlike these, the story of Arden of Faversham is "but a private matter, and therefore as it were impertinent to this history," as Holinshed says in apparent apology for including the story of Arden's murder in his chronicle. (2) Leah Cowen Orlin's research shows that despite Arden's relatively modest circumstances, his "private" story exemplifies the social mobility, and attendant social disruptions, enabled by the dissolution of the monasteries. For nonaristocratic theatergoers or book buyers, the account in Arden of the murder of Faversham's richest citizen could represent in more familiar terms those anxieties Tamburlaine figured on the grand scale of empire.

Despite cursory references to Thomas Arden's greed, the play offers surprisingly little information about his rise in social status. Admittedly, Greene complains to Alice about Arden that "Desire of wealth is endless in his mind, / And he is greedy-gaping still for gain." (3) Despite Greene's remark, we learn almost nothing of how Arden achieved the favor of his noble patron or marriage with a woman born to a status much higher than his own. Following the money, we can see the subtext of the play as about Arden's grasping mobility. But the play displaces most anxiety about mobility onto the sexual relationship between Mosby and Alice. Though the play begins with Franklin's news that the Duke of Somerset has given Abbey lands to Arden, Arden almost immediately turns the subject to his wavering wife and berates Mosby for being a social climber. Mosby is
A botcher, and no better at the first,
Who, by base brokage getting some small stock,
Crept into service of a nobleman,
And by his servile flattery and fawning
Is now become the steward of his house,
And bravely jets it in his silken gown.

(i. 25-30)

When they meet, Arden rebukes Mosby for wearing a sword instead of a needle or pressing iron, and Mosby replies, "Measure me what I am, not what I was" (i.321). For Mosby, the link between money and social position is clear. He talks with both rue and ambition about climbing to gold and romance:
My golden time was when I had no gold;
Though then I wanted, yet I slept secure;
My daily toil begat me night's repose;
My night's repose made daylight fresh to me.
But, since I climbed the top bough of the tree
And sought to build my nest among the clouds,
Each gentle starry gale doth shake my bed
And makes me dread my downfall to the earth.


Mosby's soliloquy rejects going back; he vows to pursue his way to "Arden's seat" (viii.31) in which he will be "sole ruler of mine own" (viii.36). Mosby's climb, not Arden's remains the focus of the play, and Mosby's climb (unlike Arden's) links desire for gold with desire for Alice. True, Arden himself comes in for further criticism for his greed when Dick Reede complains about how Arden robbed him of his plot of ground--the very plot where Arden's body eventually lies. But by the end of the play, Alice's and Mosby's adulterous behavior gets far more attention than Arden's past misconduct.

In other words, Arden of Faversham manages to suppress the most interesting story it might have told about money; deep, throaty, erotic passion deflects attention from the story of how new men destabilized relationships of power. Instead of speaking of control of land and wealth, the play emphasizes male control of women's bodies. And the title page of the 1592 edition focuses only on Alice Arden's crime; her husband appears as the victim of a wicked wife who assumes control, not as a high-flying subject whose wings were clipped. The 1592 title page reads, "THE LAMENTABLE AND TRUE TRAGEDIE OF M. ARDEN OF FEVERSHAM IN KENT. Who was most wickedlye murdered, by the meanes of his disloyall and wanton wyfe, who for the love she bare to one Mosbie, hyred two desperate ruffins Blackwill and Shakbag, to kill him. Wherin is shewed the great mallice and discimulation of a wicked woman, the unsatiable desire of filthie lust and the shamefull end of all murderers." (4) The title page offers a clear meaning for the Arden story, a meaning that above all condemns the malicious deceptiveness of a woman driven by "filthie lust." Now, Arden is not a tightly constructed play, and almost any briefly asserted moral would omit some possible implications of the story. But given the importance of money in the play, it seems especially strange that when the title page mentions the "desperate ruffins Blackwill and Shakbag" it makes no mention of their expectation of payment. That is just as strange as the way the title page ignores the epilogue, which by mentioning that Arden's body lay on land that had belonged to Reede, implies a prophetic power to Reede's earlier cursing Arden for his greed. Perhaps most notably, the Arden title page suppresses the name of Alice--a powerful woman appears on the title page only as Arden's wife.

We cannot know what audiences in the theater thought about Arden. (Indeed, we know nothing about who performed the play, or where, or when.) But when the play reaches print, Holinshed's "private matter" becomes even more private. The title page edits out of the story issues of social change that may have made Thomas Arden's life and death seem worth noting to the people of Faversham and to the maker of the chronicle of England. Arden's greedy ambition gets translated into Alice's murderous sexual irregularity. Female sexual avidity functions as a weapon of myth construction; instead of feeling anxious about social change, men in the audience can merely keep control of their women. In a way perhaps painfully familiar, controlling women's sexuality offers an acceptable outlet for expressing a culture's anxiety about the way its economy and structures of power are changing.

Arden appears again in 1599 with a virtually identical title page. (Reissues of plays almost always copy the title page of the previous edition, even when newer plays show that the fashion in title pages is changing.) The re-issue of Arden may be associated with a surge of interest in the late nineties in plays about domestic murder: from Henslowe's diary and other sources we know of lost plays in those years such as Cox of Collumpton and Page of Plymouth. (5) In the year 1599 A Warning for Fair Women appears, and Two Lamentable Tragedies appears in 1601. Like Arden, Warning for Fair Women and Two Lamentable Tragedies are both plays about murder; like Arden, both clearly want to moralize their spectacles. But in comparison to Arden, both plays foreground their own theatricality. Some of the machinery of their prologues, epilogues, and dumb shows is homiletic, and in many ways similar to the personifications of the hybrid moralities popular earlier in the century. Frances Dolan has argued that hybrid moralities such as A Warning and Two Lamentable Tragedies reveal a culture's unease about issues of gender and agency. (6) By the late nineties there are more plays in print, and the allegorical machinery of A Warning and Two Lamentable Tragedies suggests that printed tragedies by the end of the nineties associate themselves more strongly with theater than did Arden. Women remain an absent problem on title pages. A Warning, a play with very important and assertive female characters, acknowledges "women" in its title, but only as members of the audience, not as agents in its action.

The induction to A Warning (acted by the Lord Chamberlain's Men) brings on stage personifications of Tragedy, Comedy, and History to debate who will have charge of today's performance. All are gendered female. The three taunt one another about the stagy props they carry--History has a drum, Tragedy a knife and a whip. (Comedy asks Tragedy if she plans to skin someone's dead mare.) Comedy has some of the best lines, and she defines stage tragedy as though she were a sixteenth-century Italian critic who had read Seneca, Kyd, and the ur-Hamlet:
How some damnd tyrant, to obtaine a crowne,
Stabs, hangs, impoysons, smothers, cutteth throats,
And then a Chorus too comes howling in,
And tells us of the worrying of a cat,
Then of a filthie whining ghost,
Lapt in some fowle sheete, or a leather pelch,
Comes skreaming like a pigge halfe stickt,
And cries Vindicta, revenge, revenge.

(induction, 50-57) (7)

Comedy's speech invites the reader--and perhaps the auditor--to see the play in relationship to stage hits of the nineties, not the texts of other printed books. This is the case even though A Warning includes plentiful examples of the entanglements of sin, the power of Providence, and the importance of deathbed repentances. There is an uneasy disconnect between the earnestness of much of the action in A Warning and the generic jokiness of the induction. It's as though the play were uncertain about whether the term "tragedy" proclaimed affinities with Kyd or with moralizing.

The induction to A Warning reveals one peculiarity; the dumb shows later in the play reveal others. Tragedy is not merely a narrator, but an actor in the first dumb show: she carries a bowl of blood into which either she or Murder dips the hands of the characters embracing wickedness. (8) Tragedy is the name of a genre, not of a moral category or action, yet she interacts with characters on the same footing as more conventional stage personifications. (Revenge, in The Spanish Tragedy, doesn't interact with the revengers whose actions he and the ghost of Don Andrea observe.) And we can't explain away the peculiarity by describing "tragedy" as a synonym for death or murder; Tragedy speaks of murder as distinct from her own person.

The play itself is a clunky, highly moralized retelling of a celebrated 1573 murder. One source, a narrative of the event written by Arthur Golding, includes elaborate sermonizing about the lessons to be drawn from the murder. (Accounts of the murder in Stow's Annals and Holinshed's Chronicles omit most of the sermonizing.) With the aid of Ann Drury and her servant, "trusty Roger," Captain George Browne wins the love of Ann Sanders and murders her husband, a prosperous merchant. While killing Sanders Browne also fatally wounds a comic servant, John Bean, who remains alive just long enough to incriminate Browne with wounds that bleed afresh in Browne's presence. All the wicked characters repent of their crimes before being hanged. Browne is conscience-stricken immediately after killing Sanders, but he continues nonetheless to reap the fruits of his murder, and goes lying to his death trying to protect Anne Sanders. Anne Drury and Trusty Roger confess their crimes; Anne Sanders denies her guilt until she knows Anne Drury has implicated her, and then launches into a long scene of confession and repentance. (Though such repentances may not be to the taste of modern audiences, they seem to have been part of the pleasure as well as the instruction offered by domestic tragedies.)

A Warning is less explicit than Arden about social mobility. An outsider in the mercantile world of the play, George Brown visits the court at Greenwich after the murder. Richard Helgerson suggests that military figures in Dutch genre paintings represent royal power; perhaps Browne's rank of "captain" and court visit similarly represents the intrusion of court authority or values into the domestic space of the Sanders household. (9) Yet in a play in which motivations and explanations are sometimes obscure, and sometimes rendered only through allegorical machinery, money matters. Anne Drury assures Trusty Roger that she will milk George Browne and Anne Sanders of enough money to provide a handsome dowry for her daughter--enough to marry her "to some rich Atturney, or Gentleman" (1. 466). Browne offers her a hundred pounds. Even more tellingly, George and Anne Sanders quarrel when George refuses to honor his wife's commitment to paying a draper and a milliner. Because George Sanders needs his ready money to discharge bills upon the exchange, he has his man tell Anne she will have to delay paying her creditors. Anne is irate that she must "curtesie to my man: / And he must be purse-bearer, when I neede" (II. 619-20). Though the draper and milliner are perfectly happy to extend credit, Anne Sanders sends them home with both a tip and their merchandise and continues her complaint:
I am a woman, and in that respect
Am well content my husband shal controule me,
But that my man should over-awe me too,
And in the sight of strangers, mistris Drurie,
I tell you true, do's grieve me to the heart.


Anne Sanders's anger at her husband's perceived slight becomes a resource Anne Drury uses to soften up her friend for Browne's advances. Female unruliness about money, like Mistress Drury's self-proclaimed status as a "wise woman," seems to function as a symptom of moral weakness.

A Warning moves down the social scale from Arden. Its London world, with shrewd wives, tricky servants, and a courting captain, could be the world of city comedy--a world very far away from tragedy. Even more "domestic," and less concerned than Arden with power, A Warning does not repress concerns about money. Like Arden, it is quick to shift its explanations of misconduct to female sexual rapacity, even though the play's only overt sexual pursuer, and only murderer, is George Browne. A Warning is more selfconsciously theatrical than Arden, and flamboyantly deploys on stage generic claims that in Arden are largely confined to print. Tragedy's language is frequently theatrical; she speaks, for example, of "scenes." The theatrical can include the homiletic, as when A Warning recounts the story--familiar to modern scholars from Heywood's 1612 Apology for Actors--of the woman at Lynn who confessed to having murdered her husband after seeing murder represented in a stage play. But A Warning doesn't tidy up its own apparent unease about its potential contradictions. In the epilogue, Tragedy addresses the audience directly--she has done so before--and seems to be expressing some concerns about the theatrical representation over which she has been presiding:
Here are the launces that have sluic'd forth sinne,
And ript the venom'd ulcer of foule lust,
Which being by due vengeance qualified,
Here Tragedie of force must needes conclude.
Perhaps it may seeme strange unto you al,
That one hath not revengde anothers death,
After the observation of such course:
The reason is, that now of truth I sing,
And should I adde, or else diminish aught,
Many of these spectators then could say,
I have committed error in my play.
Beare with this true and home-borne Tragedie,
Yeelding so slender argument and scope,
To build a matter of importance on,
And in such forme as happly you expected.
What now hath faild, to morrow you shall see,
Perform'd by Hystorie or Comedie.


Is the claim of "truth" an acknowledgment, or suppression, of the issues of money and gender we have been discussing? Does tragedy, as a theatrical term, harmonize with, or conflict with, the edifying presumptions of tracts and tragicall histories?

Two Lamentable Tragedies differs from A Warning because it pays no attention to sexual relationships, and it differs from Arden because it is much more explicit about money. The English plot of Two Lamentable Tragedies is a tale of greed and murder far down the social scale from any of the other domestic plays. Perhaps pushing greed down the social scale to alehouse keepers and chandlers is itself a way of displacing anxiety about money and social change; even more likely is that Two Lamentable Tragedies displaces social anxieties by making murder, not mobility, its central theme. Like Tragedy in A Warning, Two Lamentable Tragedies could say, "Of truth I sing." Its London plot is based on the true London story of the murder of a chandler, Master Beech, and his boy by an alehouse keeper, Thomas Merry. The other "tragedy" is the tale of a murder for money in Italy. The allegorical figures of Homicide and Avarice (often called Murder and Covetousness) appear, along with Truth, who functions as a presenter. Truth seems sometimes to serve as an earnest of veracity, sometimes (like Tragedy in A Warning) as a commentator on staging.

Thomas Merry, serving in his alehouse, hears a customer, Thomas Beech, talking cheerfully about how fortunate he is to have a score of pounds in savings. Merry vows to invent some "stratagem, / To bring his coyne to my possession" (sig. A4v). Aided in a variety of ways by his sister, Rachel, and his servant, Harry Williams, Merry kills Beech and his boy and steals Beech's money. The Italian plot moves up the social scale, but is equally about money and murder. A dying couple, Pandino and Armenia, bequeath four hundred pounds a year, plus two thousand in "money, Jewels, Plate and houshold stuffe" (sig. Blr) to their little son Pertillo, asking Pandino's brother Falleria to hold the estate in trust until their son comes of age. Once he has control of the money, Falleria hires murderers to slay Pertillo so the money can come to his own son, Allenso. Despite the fact that Allenso loves Pertillo and struggles to protect him, Falleria urges Allenso to "advance thyselfe / Above the height of all thine Auncestours" (sig. C2r). But Allenso replies, "I would not have him dye, / Might I enjoy the Soldans Emperie" (sig. C2r). In this Italian murder story, Allenso describes seeking social mobility by wealth in the heroic rhetoric of plays of the early 1590s. But instead of figuring anxiety about wealth and social mobility by tales of foreign conquest or domestic royal usurpation, now such concerns are domesticated into stories of greed and murder.

Truth reminds the audience at the end of the play of the commonalities among the Merry and Fallerio stories: "See here the end of lucre and desire / Of riches, gotten by unlawfull meanes" (sig. K2v). Murder and Covetousness can never prevail "Where faire Eliza Prince of pietie, / Doth weare the peace adorned Diadem" (sig. K3r). Truth, rather than Tragedy, has the last word in Two Lamentable Tragedies. But this play, like A Warning, is more self-aware about its status as a work of theater than Arden of Faversham. The Fallerio plot resolves itself in a game of disguises, which like any scene of disguise foregrounds the play's theatricality. Even more so, in mid-play, after Merry dismembers Beech's body on stage, Truth directly addresses the audience as "the sad spectators of this Acte" and asks, "Why shed you teares, this deede is but a playe" (sig. E2v). Whereas Arden in 1592 implied its links to printed tracts and tragicall histories, Two Lamentable Tragedies is very much a printed book of a play.

Most intriguingly, while Two Lamentable Tragedies is forthright about money and adumbrates some concern for mobility, it raises no issues--or deploys no screen stories--of sexuality or gender. Are issues that seemed too anxiety-producing for explicit acknowledgment in the early nineties now visible on stage? Yes, in a sense. But in a world where relationships among rank, wealth, and power--to say nothing of gender--are in flux, Two Lamen-table Tragedies defines the social problem as murder and greed. The play, like A Warning, domesticates social change into a "private matter." And it besmirches the idea of change with vivid stage images of butchered bodies and axes in living skulls. The politics of our own time often project anxiety about change onto a racialized "other," or drugs, or street crime, or youthful sexual promiscuity, or homosexuality. Like murder, these objects of projection are real and important. But like murder, they can be "weapons of myth construction" that displace more central matters with ones on the periphery, causes with symptoms, real problems with ideological distractions. Affirming one's hostility to murder in 1600 can momentarily efface an audience's anxiety about new men, new wealth, urbanization, economic change, religious change. And calling a story that serves these purposes a "tragedy" lends dignity to the strategy of obscuring an anxiety by pushing it downward on the social scale.

The three surviving domestic tragedies of the 1590s use the tension between the connotations of the generic term and the actuality of each play's setting to both dramatize and contain anxieties about social mobility. The three plays don't all work in the same way. Arden takes a potentially vivid story of rising in society and instead of following the money deflects the story's energies toward claims about sexual avidity, especially female. Doing so, the printed play stays within the frame of the "tragicall history." A Warning uses the putative dignity of stage tragedy to elevate the importance of anxieties about domestic instability and clever manipulative women. The money matters in large part because women want to have some control of it. That the wrong people seize control of the money (in some ways, not a bad metaphor for social mobility) is the theme of Two Lamentable Tragedies, but the "wrong people" are so far down the scale of rank, or so safely Italian, that anxiety about economic and social change can be effaced by the moral, "thou shalt not kill." All three plays take true stories of murder and make them more like other models of artful narrative, whether in print or on stage. And all three make important use of the word "tragedy" on their title pages. Doing so, they make the stories simultaneously mirror and deflect important concerns of late Elizabethan society.


But something changes in the uses of the domestic after 1600. Money, murder, women, and tragedy seem to figure in different ways in A Yorkshire Tragedy) The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, and A Woman Killed with Kindness. To start with, only one of these plays is called a tragedy on its title page. Like A Warning, A Yorkshire Tragedy is a Chamberlain's Men-King's Men play, and like Two Lamentable Tragedies it appears to have been part of a play with multiple narratives. The head title of the 1608 quarto reads "ALL'S ONE; OR, One of the foure Plaies in one, called a York-shire Tragedy: as it was plaid by the Kings Majesties Players." We cannot know what the other plays were like, but Yorkshire is very much about the intersection of power, money, and marriage, and (unlike Miseries) very much about murder.

Both Yorkshire and Miseries are based on the same story of extravagance and murder. The story, whose veracity is confirmed by legal records, first appears in print in a 1605 pamphlet, Two most unnaturall and bloodie Murthers: The one by Maister Caverley, a Yorkshire Gentleman, practised upon his wife, and committed uppon his two Children, the three and twentie of April 1605. The other, by Mistris Browne, and her servant Peter, upon her husband, who were executed in Lent last past in at Bury in Suffolke. 1605. (10) Forced by his guardian, the Yorkshire gentleman abandons the woman to whom he is betrothed and marries the guardian's niece instead. Once married, he spends his money on gambling, drink, and bad companions, impoverishes his family, traduces his wife as a whore and his children as bastards, and wounds his wife while stabbing his children to death. Unlike the pamphlet, A Yorkshire Tragedy makes no mention of the guardian's interference in the betrothal, though its first scene reports the protagonist's betrayal of his first betrothed. The murder of the children is vividly present on stage. Miseries retains the pamphlet story of the first betrothal and intrusive guardian, but omits the murders. Though both plays are about marriage, neither represents sexual desire. Both plays treat money as a key signifier of family status and stability. But (unlike the plays of the 1590s), now money figures anxiety about downward mobility among the gentry, not upward mobility among the middling or lower sorts.

Women matter in both Yorkshire plays only as an occasion for male behavior, whether good or ill. The wife in A Yorkshire Tragedy, astonishingly passive, bears all her trials with patience, including the butchery of her children. Her patience and forgiveness ultimately bring the husband to his senses and enable him to die repentant. Miseries, a full-length play, gives more attention to the story of the betrothal, and gives the protagonist the family name of Scarborrow. Unlike Yorkshire, Miseries also includes a comic Butler, a longtime servant of Scarborrow's family, whose role has much in common with Adam's in As You Like It Butler represents the stability and respect for rank Scarborrow has abandoned. This loyal servant and Scarborrow's loyal wife bring about the happy resolution. At the play's penultimate moment Scarborrow rebukes the Doctor who married him to his wife for letting the Doctor's desire for promotion motivate a bigamous marriage he should have scorned. With his wife and children on stage, Scarborrow threatens them and the Doctor with death. But tragical vengeance is not to be. The audience knows that the death of Clare, Scarborrow's first betrothed, made legitimate this marriage and its children. Furthermore, the devoted Butler arrives with Scarborrow's brothers, sister, and uncle. They bring the news that his guardian is dead and has left the family enough money to remedy all Scarborrow's profligacy and (apparently) all the family's suffering. The tragical gives way to a happy comic reconciliation.

Tragic Yorkshire ends with the Husband and his children dead; Miseries sacrifices Clare, but leaves the Scarborrow family alive and happy. Though "enforced marriage" is the ostensible theme of both plays, their real focus is how want of money can drag a gentry family down from its previous status. Both plays could have pursued the linkages among women's behavior, money, and social status that Arden of Faversham partly initiates and partially suppresses, but instead they focus on the money and turn women into unthreatening representations of obedience. Male agents work out financial and family relationships for good or for ill; women have the power only to efface their desires and by doing so to promote male happiness. And perhaps most centrally: social mobility exists largely as a threat of decline. No one--except perhaps the doctor of divinity--desires advancement; happiness is restoring the status quo. No longer the prize of climbing, women are counters pushed around by men in men's conflicts. Their only power is the reassuring power to obey and suffer patiently. By 1605 or 1606, domestic tragedy has rid itself of unruly women like Alice Arden, Anne Saunders, and Anne Drury; in the plays about the Yorkshire murders, women are as safely obedient as men could wish. Domestic unrest is created not by sexual desire, but by money, and not so much by desire for money as by its profligate display and expense. And while taming its women, these domestic tales begin to shed the term "tragedy" in their titles.


Neither title page, head title, not running title describes Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness (1607) as a tragedy, nor is it listed as a tragedy in the Stationer's Register. Unlike the other works I have been discussing, this play makes no fuss about genre. If A Woman Killed belongs in a discussion of domestic tragedy--as I think it does--it is because Heywood's play deploys materials we find in other domestic plays. But Heywood's play decouples sexual and financial transgressions, and offers little challenge to established social order. Though Anne Frankford dies "killed with kindness," other deaths are unpremeditated. The play neither explores the aspirations of stage tragedy of the early nineties, nor insists in its title materials on generic classification. (11) Perhaps the status of printed plays is secure enough not to need decking out in generic emblems of merit. As the reading of playbooks becomes more established as a phenomenon in its own right, perhaps printers feel less need to link plays to the old tradition of tragical histories.

Like Arden and A Warning, A Woman Killed is a play about adultery punished. And like the Yorkshire plays, A Woman Killed displays and condemns profligacy with money. But female sexual unruliness occupies the main plot, and money the subplot. They coexist, but barely intersect. Multiple plots function in a new way. In Two Lamentable Tragedies, the two plots are the matically identical: both emphasize the destructive impact of desire for money. But in A Woman Killed, the Frankford plot poses and claims to resolve a problem in male friendship and female fidelity, while the subplot story of Sir Francis Acton (Anne's brother) and Sir Charles Mountford is about competition for status based on hawks, money, swordplay, and litigation about land--all accoutrements of rank. The penalty for Sir Charles's murderous transgression is loss of wealth and social position. (12) While Anne Frankford is, to be sure, a sexually unruly woman, her unruliness has nothing to do with money and barely shakes the stable fabric of her husband's gentry household. Found out, Anne becomes passive and repentant. But self-abnegation, sexual virtue, and obedience--an obvious foil to Anne's yielding to her own desires--Susan Mountford revives her family's fortunes. Recklessness with money can tear the gentry down; female virtue and obedience heals the community. As she starves herself to death, Anne, "killed with kindness," restores honor to her family and (Frankford asserts) to herself. Rebecca Ann Bach asks what domestic tragedy imagines about the sex-gender system in early modern England, and answers, "In that system, as represented in the play, women function to bind men to one another, to cement kinship alliances in a teetering world where such alliances are threatened by a love of money dissociated from rank." (13) I agree with Bach about A Woman Killed, but in this respect, contrary to what Bach argues, the play is unlike most domestic tragedies. Emphasizing homosocial bonds is one of the ways in which Heywood diminishes the female agency we saw in Arden and A Warning.

Upward mobility--rising in the world--barely exists as a possibility in A Woman Killed. Only Wendoll, fleeing overseas at the end of the play, imagines a future when "My worth and parts being by some great man prais'd,/ At my return I may in court be raised" (sc. xvi, 135-36). Downward mobility is the punishment of the profligate and the careless; upward mobility beyond the status of one's birth is the lure of the lure of the wicked and sexually avid man. But money is the theme of the second plot. At the wedding of Anne and Frankford, Sir Francis and Sir Charles wager hundreds of pounds on their dogs and hawks. When the two knights quarrel about whose hawks have triumphed, Sir Charles kills two of Sir Francis's followers. Money, in this play, has little to do with either greed or aspiration to power; rather, money tempts the rich man to ostentatious display and profligate behavior. Immediately repentant about the killings, Charles refuses to preserve himself by flying from "my country and my father's patrimony" (sc. iii, 91) and his sister Susan watches him carried off to prison. "Patrimony"--family name and family lands--figures the stability Heywood's play celebrates. But, unlike Arden, the play makes little effort to recast its anxieties about stability into anxieties about women's sexuality. Though Susan and Charles are reduced to a status far below their gentle birth, Susan remains loyal and obedient in Charles's efforts to restore their patrimony. Even when her obedience makes her into sexual bait to end the Mountfords' vengeful persecution by Sir Francis Acton, Susan assures the audience she will die rather than sexually transgress.

The play's most unequivocally wicked character, Shafton, puts "in suit" (sc. vii, 33) the bond Mountford gave on the meager remnant of his family lands. Not unlike the historical Thomas Arden, Shafton wants Mountford's property to fill out the boundaries of an estate he has newly acquired. He jails Sir Charles because he cannot pay the debt. Smitten by love of Susan, Sir Francis pays her brother's debts and releases him from prison. Feeling doubly dishonored because he now owes an unpayable debt of money and gratitude to his enemy Acton, Mountford plots to restore his honor by giving Susan to Acton, even though both he and his sister will die upon the consummation of the transaction. Susan is being treated as a medium of exchange between men, but not (as Bach argued about Frankford and Wendoll) within the framework of homosocial desire. Susan, as a chaste and obedient woman, can repair a world made worse by money. And Acton, taking Susan as wife and Charles as brother, repays kindness with kindness and completes the healing. Money, the sign of modernity and threatener of social stability, gets put in its place by honor and by love.

This sentimental turn in the plot brings the domestic full circle. Arden of Faversham initiates domestic tragedy by using female sexual avidity as a screen story for what could have been a narrative about men rising in wealth and rising in status. To the extent that Arden acknowledges ambition to rise, the play locates that ambition in the lower-status Mosby. By 1607, money is no longer unmentionable and is an acknowledged threat to a stable society. But as in the Yorkshire plays, the chief threat is that gentry will decline, not because of meaningful economic activity, but because of profligacy. Women matter in the Acton-Mountford plot, not as a screen for money, but as an ultimate reassurance that an honor culture can survive in a world of money so long as women are chaste. Chastity, not sexual avidity, is the screen story. Now, it may seem peculiar to treat a notorious play about adultery punished as a celebration of female chastity. Frankford's "kindness" kills unfaithful Anne; the wronged husband achieves vengeance on the woman who defiles household and marriage bed. But the play gives much more attention to Anne as submissive than to Anne as transgressive. Yes, Anne yields to Wendoll, but the play makes it hard to figure out why. Even at the moment of yielding, Anne says, "This maze I am in/I fear will prove the labyrinth of sin" (sc. vi, 160-61). Her repentance is immediate; her death self-inflicted and serene; Frankford himself testifies that she dies "honest in heart" (sc. xvii, 120). The play seems eager to hold harmless those who fail in conduct, as indeed is usually the case in comedy.

I am not suggesting that A Woman Killed is "really" a comedy--as I said above, the play's traditional grouping among domestic tragedies makes as much sense as the category "domestic tragedy" itself. But A Woman Killed creates a different kind of relationship among social mobility, wealth, and sexual conduct than Arden. Through the late 1590s and the early years of the next century, wealth--"the money"--becomes more speakable in "tragic" plays about nonaristocratic life. Female sexual avidity seems less necessary as a screen, a substitute threat for the threat of social mobility. But as though to enable a new forthrightness about Elizabethan social change, women lose their voices, or at least their power to assert themselves and survive. What most clearly unites A Woman Killed with the two Yorkshire plays is female suffering. It is as though the suffering and often the death of a woman helps preserve an ideal of stable rank and hierarchy in society, even as the actualities of received hierarchies grow more tenuous. By enduring suffering caused by a man, a woman teaches all observers the value of obedience in a hierarchical world. Curiously, A Woman Killed is the first of these domestic plays to identify a female character in its title. But the title safely presents the woman as both harmless and dead.


A Woman Killed and the Yorkshire plays embrace the theme of the social power of self-effacing women. One recognizes, of course, the topos of Griselda, as old as Petrarch and Boccaccio. This troubling story of noble Walter's wedding and then tormenting a poor but virtuous wife over the centuries serves multiple parabolic or allegorical functions, but always invites our questions about why a culture chooses a patiently suffering woman to figure values the culture ostensibly admires. The two early modern Griselda plays use the old story in very different ways; a brief look at what these plays do with female suffering can sharpen our understanding of domestic tragedy. Though the two plays are different from one another, both name Griselda in their titles.

John Phillip's The Commodye of Pacient and Meeke Grissell appears in print without a date, but a Stationer's Register entry suggests 1565. (14) Appearing during the decade in which tragicall histories were much in vogue, in its emphasis on obedience of children to parents, as well as of wives to husbands, Patient Grissell seems a comic counterpoise to Arthur Brooke's Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562). (When Grissell agrees to marry Marquis Gautier, they sing a duet in which Gautier compares himself to Romeo in fidelity.) But the play is above all an intervention in debate about royal marriage--clearly an important topic in the early years of Elizabeth's reign. (15) Grissell and her father, Janicle, figure by their obedience a subject's appropriate relationship to a prince. But the vice, Politic Persuasion, tries to stir up trouble by telling Gautier the common people disapprove of his choice of wife. To preserve his rule, Gautier has to make unpalatable choices, such as killing or banishing his own child. Despite believing she has lost her children, by her patience and constancy (both allegorically represented on stage) Grissell preserves the Marquis's rule and earns acceptance from Nobilitie (also a character) of her elevation in social status, and of her father's elevation as well. A woman's suffering, patience, and constancy demonstrate the rightness of letting a ruler make his own choice of spouse. Or, to underscore this play's somewhat paradoxical implications, the suffering of an implausibly self-effacing and submissive woman, Grissell, serves to ratify the legitimate authority of the Queen whom her husband figures.

One could argue that Patient Grissell wittingly or unwittingly represents a conflicted attitude toward female rule as well as toward social mobility. Perhaps audiences took a certain delight in hearing Politic Persuasion deride the upward mobility of Grissell's family as well as the willful choice of a ruler. However, the Patient Grissil of Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton (probably performed in 1600, and printed in 1603) seems hardly concerned at all with matters of rule; its sphere is more domestic. The play acknowledges the possibility of social mobility; Grissil's brother Laureo returns home after nine years at university, complaining that a scholar can't earn a living. But his father, Janicola, and his sister urge him to be content with the family's traditional trade of basket making. Though the Grissil-Gwalter story unfolds in more or less its usual way, additions to the story, including Janiculo's clownish servant Babulo, emphasize the virtues of both obedience and contentment with one's lot. Moreover, Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton add a subplot about a comic Welsh knight, Sir Owen Ap Meredith, who is married to a Welsh widow, Gwenthyan, cousin to Gwalter by her first marriage. Feisty Gwenthyan tries to rule her husband; she is recognizably kin to Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew. Like Katherine, Gwenthyan is tamed by the end of the play, but instead of the violence of Petruchio, Patient Grissil gives us the patience of Sir Owen. Indeed, the subplot reinforces a theme of the main plot: as Grissil teaches Gwalter patience by her obedience, so Sir Owen does the same to Gwenthyan.

Whereas Phillip's play used the Griselda story to make a point about the ruler's freedom to make his own match as well as the subject's obligation to obey, Dekker and his colleagues use a story of Grissil's patient suffering to praise contentment with the station in life to which one is born. Instead of the tragic quest for gold and power, Patient Grissil gives us the golden slumber of the contented laboring poor (see I.ii.92ff.). But in the overtly comic mode of this play, the suffering Grissil can be doubled by the henpecked Sir Owen. With no money at stake, Patient Grissil seems not to need a permanently afflicted woman; no children die in this play. Nor does the play need to blame marital discontent on one sex or the other, as Arden and A Warning blame women and the Yorkshire plays blame men. When we follow the money, we see gender and rank collide painfully, even tragically, with social mobility. When one of these elements is removed, comedy becomes possible.

I am not trying to claim that money never matters in comedies about marriage. Petruchio, after all, comes to wive it wealthily in Padua; Orlando regains his inheritance as well as gaining Rosalind. City comedy, in some ways the successor to domestic tragedy, plays many games with greed as well as with marriage among those not of gentle birth. What, then, happens to domestic tragedy in the years around 1600, and how does whatever happens relate to the evolving uses of the word "tragedy" on title pages? In its initial world of performance, Arden takes the story of Thomas Arden's successful gentry rapacity and makes it into a homily about a social climbing tailor and an adulterous, sexually avid and murderous wife. For the anxiety about social change visible in other stage tragedies of the 1590s, Arden substitutes an apparently less threatening anxiety about female sexuality. In doing so Arden makes the tale of Thomas Arden's death less like other stage tragedies and more like novelle transformed to "tragical histories." And in its printed form, the term "tragedy" on Arden's 1592 title page signals to the book buyer a potential affinity with the translated novelle of Brooke, Painter, and their successors. A racy tale of transgression will be turned into a moral homily.

A Warning for Fair Women and Two Lamentable Tragedies thrust the linkages between domestic murder and social mobility even further down the scale of rank at the end of the 1590s. But veils come off money, that medium by which men can rise and fall. A Warning acknowledges more than Arden links between sexual transgression and the desire for money and power. Two Lamentable Tragedies dispenses with sexuality entirely as it sermonizes against murder and greed. Both plays domesticate more than Arden issues of social change. And much more than Arden, both plays foreground their theatricality. Though A Warning and Two Lamentable Tragedies incorporate elements every bit as homiletic as those of 'tragicall histories," the plays, both on stage and in print, market themselves as theatrical events. Or, to put the same point differently, printed plays seem now to be fulfilling the desires of book buyers who once bought prose narratives.

Though derived from a pamphlet about a murder, and though just as "true" as their domestic precursors, the two Yorkshire plays make money a vehicle for gentry profligacy, not social climbing by the lower or middle sorts. A Yorkshire Tragedy and Miseries of Enforced Marriage are concerned with status, as most early modern plays are concerned with status. But they are anxious about falling, not rising. And women in these plays could scarcely be more different from Alice Arden, Anne Sanders, or Anne Drury. The wives in the Yorkshire plays are loyal and obedient; their sexuality is apparently purely reproductive. Passive, obedient women figure the stability that evades Yorkshire but that Miseries achieves. The title-page marketing of the Yorkshire plays seems to have little connection to the world of prose novelle; plays stand on their own as commodities in the world of print. And generic terms such as "tragedy" seem to have lost their utility as a reassurance of a moralized spectacle: Miseries, with no generic marking, is at least as homiletic as Yorkshire.

One can speculate--I will speculate--that in the early and middle 1590s domestic plays in print and on stage played a role in containing social anxiety about new wealth and men rising in the world by participating in a screen narrative in which the pressing issues were women's sexual desires and their links to murder. For a brief time in the theater, and in print, assertive women worked their will on stage. Profligacy with money and concern for status survive as issues, but A Woman Killed with Kindness returns to the old model of the Griselda tale. Like the play by Dekker, Chettle, and Haughton, Heywood's play doubles its plot to reinforce its message about the saving powers of patience and obedience. Anne Frankford dies, but needs no tragic genre to teach her lessons.


(1.) J. Payne Collier appears to have invented the category "domestic tragedy" in the nineteenth century in discussions of the apocryphal Arden of Faversham and A Yorkshire Tragedy. The middling social class of characters in Arden and Yorkshire, and the plays' sordid accounts of marital murders, puzzled scholars who admired 'tragedia cothurnata, fitting kings," and no doubt contributed to skepticism about crediting Shakespeare's name on the Yorkshire title page and both plays' appearance in the 1664 folio. In 1943, Henry Hitch Adams rescued one version of importance for these plays by arguing for their homiletic power and dependence on Elizabethan religious morality (English Domestic or Homiletic Tragedy, 1575 to 1642 [New York: Columbia University Press, 1943]). The Elizabethan World Picture nicely framed domestic tragedy. Less concerned than Adams with celebrating Elizabethan orthodoxies or a nineteenth century version of theatrical realism, more recent critics such as Orlin, Dolan, Comensoli and Helgerson rightly see in these plays exciting possibilities for tracing Early Modern ideas about gender, class and an emerging concept of private life. See Lena Cowen Orlin, Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994); Frances E. Dolan, Dangerous Familiars: Representations of Domestic Crime in England, 1550-1700 (Ithaca: Cornell University Pres, 1994); Viviana Comensoli, "Household Business": Domestic Plays of Early Modern England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), and Richard Helgerson, Adulterous Alliances: Home, State and History in Early Modern European Drama and Painting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). Orlin's book in particular extends the analysis of Arden's sources into a study of matters unexpressed in the play that are rich in their revelations about the intersections of patronage, class, wealth and marriage in the years immediately after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. For useful lists of plays and sources, see Andrew Clark, "An Annotated List of Sources and Related Material for Elizabethan Domestic Tragedy, 1591--1625," RORD 17 (1974): 25-33, and Clark, 'An Annotated List of Lost Domestic Plays, 1578-1624," RORD 18 (1975): 29-44.

(2.) Orlin, Private Matters, 16.

(3.) The Tragedy of Master Arden of Faversham, ed. M. L. Wine, The Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1973), scene 1, lines 474-75. Future references will appear in the text.

(4.) Scolar Press facsimile, Menston, Yorkshire, 1971. I retain capitalization but otherwise normalize fonts and lineation.

(5.) See Adams, appendix A, 195-199.

(6.) Frances E. Dolan, "Gender, Moral Agency and Dramatic Form in A Warning for Fair Women," SEE 29 (1989): 201-18.

(7.) A Warning for Fair Women: A Critical Edition, ed. Charles Dale Cannon (The Hague: Mouton, 1975).

(8.) The 1599 quarto says "Murder" dips their hands; editor Charles Cannon emends to "Tragedy," arguing that Murder doesn't otherwise appear as a character. Dolan disagrees with the emendation, and may well be correct.

(9.) See Helgerson, Adulterous Alliances, 29-31 and 79-119.

(10.) A Yorkshire Tragedy, ed. A. C. Cawley and Barry Gaines, The Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), 95. The family name, "Caverly," is completely suppressed in Yorkshire, where the protagonist is simply called "Husband," and is changed to "Scarborrow" in Miseries.

(11.) A Woman Killed uses a tale from Painter as source for its subplot, and may also rely on Painter for the main plot. See A Woman Killed with Kindness, ed. R. W. Van Fossen, The Revels Plays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), xvii-xxvii. Future citations are to this edition. David Atkinson explains that the stories in Painter show a very different attitude to adultery than A Woman Killed. See David Atkinson, "An Approach to the Main Plot of Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness." English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 70, no. 1 (February 1989): 15-27.

(12.) For a useful summary of the debate about the unity of the two plots, see Laura G. Bromley, "Domestic Conduct in A Woman Killed with Kindness, SEL 26 (1986): 259-76. Citing early modern manuals of conduct, Bromley argues that lack of moderation causes the crises in both plots.

(13.) Rebecca Ann Bach, "The Homosocial Imaginary of A Woman Killed with Kindness," Textual Practice 12, no. 3 (1998): 516-17.

(14.) All citations refer to John Phillip, The Play of Patient Grissell, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow and W. W. Greg (Chiswick: The Malone Society, 1909). The play is also reprinted in Faith Gildenhuys, ed., A Gathering of Griseldas: Three Sixteenth Century Texts (Ottowa: Dovehouse Editions, 1996). Gildenhuys also reprints a ballad and a prose narrative that are not pertinent to my argument.

(15.) See Louis B. Wright, "A Political Reflection in Phillip's Patient Grissell," Review of English Studies 4, no. 16 (October 1928): 424-28.
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Author:Berek, Peter
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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