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Arden of Faversham


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A: Anon. Pf:c.1592, London Pb: 1592 G: Trag. in 5 acts; blank verse S: Arden's home and various other locations near Faversham, Kent, 1551 C: 15m, 2f, extrasArden, a wealthy landowner, admits his fears about the fidelity of his wife Alice, who has indeed fallen in love with their steward Mosbie (or Mosby). She promises both Michael, a servant, and Clark (or Clarke), a painter, that each can marry Mosbie's sister if either kills Arden. The first attempt at murder fails, when Arden refuses to drink a poisoned broth prepared by Alice. She now engages Greene, who bears a grudge about being dispossessed of land by Arden, to kill him too. Greene hires two villainous but incompetent killers, Black Will and Shakebag, whose three attempts on Arden's life fail hopelessly, in one case because Michael relents and locks all the doors against them. Finally, the conspirators succeed in stabbing Arden to death while he is playing backgammon at home, with Alice delivering the final blow. The body is carried outside, but the Mayor finds blood and the murder weapon in the house and footprints in the snow leading from the house to the body. The murderers of the household are all condemned to death, while the hired killers also meet violent ends.

A: Anon. Pf:c.1592, London Pb: 1592 G: Trag. in 5 acts; blank verse S: Arden's home and various other locations near Faversham, Kent, 1551 C: 15m, 2f, extras

Ascribed to Kyd and, even less probably to Shakespeare, Arden of Faversham was based on the murder of Thomas Ardern [sic] in 1551. It may therefore lay claim to being the first documentary drama of world theatre (although it may be argued that the mystery plays were documentary). It is also notable in that it creates a tragedy from the lives of ordinary people (conventionally the stuff of comedy), and so stands as an early example of a domestic tragedy. In its vigorous use of blank verse, free-ranging locations, disregard for the unity of time, and violent, even grotesque, action on stage, it – like The Spanish Tragedy – anticipates the great tragedies of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, most obviously Macbeth, where guilty murderers are also haunted by images of blood. Lillo wrote a sanitized version, completed by John Hoadley in 1759.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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