Gemma Leggott


Download 1.08 Mb.
Date conversion27.11.2016
Size1.08 Mb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   17
Two Lamentable Tragedies

Edited with an Introduction and Notes by

Gemma Leggott



Plot Summary 3
Authorship 4
Sources 14
Genre 19

Major Dramatic Themes

“Cease we to wonder at God’s wondrous works”: The Absence

of Divine Intervention and the Advance of Communal Responsibility. 31
Staging 39
Echoes 45
Publishing Date and Performances 48
Critical Reception 53
Editorial Procedures
Language, Style and Pronunciation 55
Stage directions 57
Act III, Scene i: The Possibility of an Additional Scene 57
“What’s in a name?”: Characterization 59
Two Lamentable Tragedies 61

Bibliography 176
Plot Summary

Two Lamentable Tragedies has two main plots rather than a main plot and subplot, which is more common. The play’s two plots are linked together by a series of choruses that feature the allegorical characters, Truth, Avarice and Homicide. In the play’s first plot, which is set in London, Thomas Merry, a lowly shopkeeper, murders his friend and neighbour, Robert Beech, a chandler, for his “score of pounds” (I.ii.70).1 Merry invites Beech to his home, which is located above his shop, and strikes him with a hammer fifteen times in the head. Merry’s sister, Rachel, and his servant, Harry Williams, both discover Beech’s corpse. Williams, fearing for his life, moves out of the accommodation he shares with Merry; Rachel, on the other hand, stays and helps Merry dispose of Beech’s body. Merry also murders Thomas Winchester, Beech’s servant, because he thinks that he is a potential witness to his master’s murder. Merry murders Winchester in Beech’s candle shop by striking him in the head with the same hammer that murdered his master; rather comically, Merry leaves the hammer sticking out of Winchester’s head. Williams, after many scenes of deliberation, exposes Merry and Rachel to the authorities and they are arrested and hanged.

In the play’s second plot, which is set in Italy, Fallerio, a landowner, hires two ruffians to murder his nephew, Pertillo, so that he can receive the large inheritance that was left to Pertillo by his father, Pandino, Fallerio’s brother. The Duke of Padua, who is hunting in the woods with his courtiers, finds Pertillo’s murdered corpse and one of the ruffians fatally wounded; he tells the Duke that it was Fallerio who hired him and the other ruffian to murder Pertillo. Allenso, Fallerio’s son, tries to help his father escape the authorities by pretending to be him; he wears his father’s clothes and wears a false beard, Fallerio, meanwhile, disguises himself as a shepherd. However, this fails and the Duke sentences them both to death.


The authorship of Two Lamentable Tragedies has been a subject of great debate for over a century. However, more recent critics who refer to the play seem satisfied to attribute its authorship to Robert Yarington; a man whom we know hardly anything about other than that his name appears on the title page of the Quarto that was published in 1601. There are no other recorded works by Robert Yarington; most critics have attributed this to the somewhat poor ability with which Two Lamentable Tragedies is written. Two of the twentieth century’s greatest scholars, Walter Wilson Greg and Frederick Gard Fleay, argue that Two Lamentable Tragedies is the amalgamation of Henry Chettle’s The Orphan’s Tragedy and William Haughton and John Day’s Thomas Merry. 2 Greg also suggests that Day’s Italian Tragedy was somehow involved in the creation of the play but asserts that his contribution was dropped from the final copy. There is plenty of evidence to support this theory, for instance, there is evidence in Phillip Henslowe’s diary that Haughton and Day were paid from the 21st of November to the 6th December 1599 for a play entitled Thomas Merry or Beech’s Tragedy, which Henslowe licensed on the 7th January 1600 for the sum of seven shillings.3 Henslowe at the same time paid Chettle ten shillings on the 27th November 1599 on promise of a play entitled The Orphan’s Tragedy.4 Henslowe also paid Day forty shillings on the 10th January 1600 for a play entitled Italian Tragedy. Fleay and Greg both assert that the second payment made to Chettle on the 24th September 1601 is evidence that he was paid to amalgamate these plays and that this was when Day’s contribution was dropped from the final product and it was printed under the title Two Lamentable Tragedies. R.A Law disagrees with Greg and asserts that the entry into Henslowe’s diary of Day’s Italian Tragedy does not mean that it is the Italian plot of Two Lamentable Tragedies. Law makes a very good point when he asserts that the title Italian Tragedy is very ambiguous and could be the premise of any number of Elizabethan tragedies. For instance, he draws attention to the fact that “Romeo and Juliet or Othello, to go no further, might have been so described by Henslowe”.5 Law also suggests that Greg is too eager to explain a series of payments evident in Henslowe’s Diary. Law argues that the play was written shortly after the execution of Merry and his sister in the latter part of 1594. This theory is based on the fact that in the opening scene of the play Truth asserts that Beech’s murder “was done in famous London late”(I.i.72). From this, Law asserts that the play must have been written shortly after Merry was executed for his crimes because the events seem to be “fresh in the minds of London citizens”.6 As he asserts, “[c]onsidering frequency of murders and executions in London at that time, I cannot believe that the language quoted alludes to events more than six years past.”7 However, Law fails to look at the entire passage that he quotes from, for instance, a few lines later Truth asserts, “But yet that silver stream can never wash / The sad remembrance of the cursèd deed”(I.i.75-76); this suggests a lapse in time from when the murders occurred because Truth suggests that the “deed” is still remembered by the audience. I find it rather hard to believe that Truth would call upon the audience to remember “the cursèd deed” if it had happened recently. Many domestic tragedies are based on real life crimes that were committed many years before they were dramatized. For instance, A Warning for Fair Women, which was entered in the Stationers’ Register in 1599, is based on the real life murder of George Sanders in 1573. However, in the first scene of the play Tragedy asserts, “My Scene is London, native and your own, / I sigh to think my subject too well known”; here, Tragedy asserts her “subject” is “too well known” amongst the audience members despite Sanders’ murder being committed almost thirty years previously. 8 This can also be said of Arden of Faversham as Arden was murdered in 1551 and was not dramatized until 1592.
Unlike Fleay who suggests that Robert Yarington is a fictitious name, Greg suggests that Robert Yarington was the scribe who edited the play and wrote his name at the end of the completed manuscript and it was only by chance that his name ended up on the title page of the published Quarto.9 Law disagrees with Greg and argues that Robert Yarington is the real author of Two Lamentable Tragedies, which was written, he asserts, in the latter part of 1594 and was printed later, which is common in Elizabethan Quartos’.10 Yarington, Law asserts, was “some obscure hanger-on at the theatres, perhaps an actor, or even a ballad writer, if we judge from the style of his verse. The Two Tragedies may have been his first and last attempt at playwriting”.11 He suggests that the play Haughton and Day were paid for in 1599 was another play based on the same subject matter which is now lost; he even goes as far as to suggest that their play could have possibly been a “revamp” of Yarington’s earlier work.12 However, there is no record of this and Law provides no evidence to support this theory. Law, like many other critics, has been led by the fact that the name Robert Yarington appears on the title page of the published Quarto. However, there is another reason that would explain why his name appears on the Quarto. As Greg suggests it is more likely that Robert Yarington was the play’s scribe who placed his name at the end of the completed manuscript and it was only through chance and error that his name inadvertently ended up on the title page of the published Quarto. There is sufficient evidence to support this theory. For instance, Bernard M. Wagner has discovered that in the “An Annuall Catalogue . . . of the Company of Scrivenors I of the Citty of London, preserved in the Bodleian MS., Rawl. D. 51, a ‘Robt. Yarrington junr.’ is recorded as having obtained in 1603 his freedom of the Company by apprenticeship served in the shop of John Partridge.”13 Wagner also draws attention to the fact that it was quite common for scribes to place their name at the bottom of a completed manuscript. For instance, in a transcript of Daborne’s The Poore Mans Comfort, the scribe placed his name at the bottom of the completed manuscript, “By P.Massam / FINIS” ; this is very much in the style of Robert Yarington which appears as “FINIS. / Rob. Yarington.”14

One of the reasons why Greg believes that Two Lamentable Tragedies is the product of several writers is because he sees stylistic differences in the language of the play’s two plots, as Greg asserts,
in the extant play it is evident that the two plots are the work

of different writers […] The Merry part is written in an

extraordinary wooden bombast of grotesque commonplace,

which it would be difficult to parallel except from some

broadside ballads […] The ‘Orphan’s’ part, though feeble

enough, is much better written, the author having feeling

and some notion of poetry.15
Law, on the other hand, sees consistencies in both of the play’s plots and therefore believes that only one playwright wrote the play. Law does admit that parts of the Italian plot do “strike a higher note”, however, he asserts that this is not because it was written by a different playwright but rather that it is
somewhat easier to treat imaginatively, even poetically, the

incidents connected with the slaying of an innocent child in

Italy at some indefinite time, than the widely discussed events

of a certain notorious, brutal murder of a shop-keeper which

has recently taken place in the very city where the drama is

to be acted, and the subsequent events of the hanging, witnessed

by many spectators of the play.16

I disagree; the murder of an orphan provides no more opportunity for euphuism than the murder of a friend or neighbour. For instance, a large number of domestic tragedies are based on a real life “brutal murder” like A Warning for Fair Women or Arden of Faversham and their authors manage to treat their subject matter, in Law’s words, “imaginatively, even poetically”. The author of the Merry plot is not limited by his subject matter, as Law suggests, but by his ability as a writer. Law also asserts that both of the play’s plots display the following similarities: “[a]ll four culprits in long laments, precisely in keeping with the style of the broadside ballad, acknowledge their sins, pray God for forgiveness, and announce their readiness for death.”17 Law provides this as further evidence to support his claim that Two Lamentable tragedies is the work of one author. However, Law fails to recognize that this could be said of almost any domestic tragedy, not to mention the morality plays of the early sixteenth century. The fact that both of the play’s plots follow the same pattern is not proof that they were written by the same playwright but rather that the play follows a pattern which was popular with Elizabethan audiences: it is a sign of the times not the man. For instance, A Warning for Fair Women, A Woman Killed with Kindness and Arden of Faversham, to mention just a few, follow this pattern.

There are so many inconsistencies in language and style in the play’s two plots that it must have been written by at least two playwrights. The Italian part of the play is filled with classical allusions from Pegasus, Proserpina and Acteon to minotaurs and the Fates. The other part of the play concerning the murder of Beech and his servant does not make even one classical allusion. The stage directions alone suggest two authors. For instance, the writer of the Italian plot follows a distinctive pattern in his stage directions; he prefers to name a character of the play followed by a descriptive adjective that directs the actor to act a certain way. This can be seen throughout the Italian plot, here are a few examples: “[e]nter Allenso bored”, “[e]nter Allenso sad”, “[e]nter Sostrato weeping”, “he dieth”, “she dieth” ,“two ruffians booted” and “Fallerio disguised”. The stage directions in the Merry plot are considerably more detailed and in-depth. Also, unlike the Italian plot of the play, the Merry plot makes full use of the stage as, most unusually, both the upper and lower stage are used. Actors are required to run up and downstairs, shout out of windows and knock on stage doors; the stage is used to maximum capacity. In contrast the author of the Italian plot makes no use of the upper stage and very little use of the discovery space. Dialogue in the Italian plot requires the actors to engage with the audience and talk aside considerably more so than the Merry plot does: almost six times as much. The writer of the Italian plot favours compound adjectives; almost seven times as much as the writer of the Merry plot. The writer of the Merry plot has a limited knowledge of language and vocabulary and characters often repeat what they have just heard. For instance, Williams asks Rachel why she is so distressed and she exclaims, “ I must not tell you but we are undone”, (I.iv.95) to which Williams replies, “You must not tell me but we are undone?” / I’ll know the cause wherefore we are undone” (I.iv.96-67). Also later on in the play, the Gentleman who finds part of Beech’s body describes his discovery, “My spaniel ’gan to scent, to bark, to plunge” (IV. ii. 81) and later on in the same passage he repeats the same words only in past tense, as he asserts, “he plunged, he dived, he barked” (IV.ii. 93). Repetition can be seen again when one of the neighbour’s says, “That sinks and gutters, privies, crevices” (II.v.12) must be searched for Beech’s blood and later on another neighbour asserts, “All houses, gutters, sinks and crevices” (IV.ii.49) have been checked; no such repetition can be seen in the Italian plot of the play. Such language almost jars with the Italian plot, whose writer displays some degree, albeit small, of poetic capability. For instance, the Italian part of the play is filled with metaphors and similes and shows a fondness for punning and alliteration. Here are a few examples:

Sostrato Come, pretty cousin, cozened by grim death (I.iii.121)
Fallerio He living; there's the burthen of the song.

Call it a burthen for it seems so great

And heavy burthen that the boy should live (I.v.20-22)
1. Ruffian For if you do, I’ll lop you limb by limb (III.ii.114)
The author of the Italian plot also appears to be more widely read and generally more learned than the author of the Merry plot. For instance, the playwright refers to the movement of the planets and is extremely fond of using the sun as a metaphor. Here are a few examples:
Fallerio There is a little boy, an urchin lad,

That stands between me and the glorious rays

Of my soul-wishing sun of happiness. ( II.iii.50-52)
Allenso Would the clear rays of thy two glorious suns

Could penetrate the corners of my heart

That thou might see how much I tender thee. (
Fallerio And all I did was to advance thy state

To sun-bright beams of shining happiness. (IV.iv.162-163)

He also displays knowledge of the almanac18 and even attempts blazon and pastoral romanticism. He also shows a penchant for listing as a means of filling up his lines. For instance, here are a few examples:
Fallerio I’d rather lose mine eye, my hand, my foot,

Be blind, want senses and be ever lame (I.v.127-128)

Allenso Come hither then, my joy, my chiefest hopes,

My second self, my earthly happiness. (

1. Ruffian Thou eunuch, capon, dastard, fast and loose,

Thou weathercock of mutability,

White-livered peasant! […] (III.ii.54-56)
Sostrato From wolves, from panthers, leopards, and she-bears (

  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   17

The database is protected by copyright © 2017
send message

    Main page