A Yorkshire Tragedy

A Yorkshire Tragedy

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A Yorkshire Tragedy is an early Jacobean era stage play, a domestic tragedy
Domestic tragedy
In English drama, a domestic tragedy is a play in which the tragic protagonists are ordinary middle-class or lower-class individuals. This subgenre contrasts with classical and Neoclassical tragedy, in which the protagonists are of kingly or aristocratic rank and their downfall is an affair of...

 printed in 1608. The play was originally assigned to William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, though the modern critical consensus rejects this attribution, favouring Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...

.

History of the play


A Yorkshire Tragedy was entered into the Stationers' Register
Stationers' Register
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England...

 on May 2, 1608; the entry assigns the play to "William Shakespere." The play was published soon after, in a quarto
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

 issued by bookseller Thomas Pavier
Thomas Pavier
Thomas Pavier was a London publisher and bookseller of the early seventeenth century. His complex involvement in the publication of early editions of some of Shakespeare's plays, as well as plays of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, has left him with a "dubious reputation."-Life and work:Pavier came to...

, who had published Sir John Oldcastle
Sir John Oldcastle
Sir John Oldcastle is an Elizabethan play about John Oldcastle, a controversial 14th-15th century rebel and Lollard who was seen by some of Shakespeare's contemporaries as a proto-Protestant martyr.-Publication:...

,
another play of the Shakespeare Apocrypha
Shakespeare Apocrypha
The Shakespeare Apocrypha is a group of plays that have sometimes been attributed to William Shakespeare, but whose attribution is questionable for various reasons...

, in 1600. The title page of the quarto repeats the attribution to "W. Shakspeare," and states that the play was acted by the King's Men
King's Men (playing company)
The King's Men was the company of actors to which William Shakespeare belonged through most of his career. Formerly known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it became The King's Men in 1603 when King James ascended the throne and became the company's patron.The...

 (Shakespeare's company) at the Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613...

.

The play was reprinted in 1619, as part of William Jaggard
William Jaggard
William Jaggard was an Elizabethan and Jacobean printer and publisher, best known for his connection with the texts of William Shakespeare, most notably the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays...

's False Folio
False Folio
False Folio is the term that Shakespeare scholars and bibliographers have applied to William Jaggard's printing of ten Shakespearean and pseudo-Shakespearean plays together in 1619, the first attempt to collect Shakespeare's work in a single volume....

. It was next reprinted in 1664, when Philip Chetwinde
Philip Chetwinde
Philip Chetwinde was a seventeenth-century London bookseller and publisher, noted for his publication of the Third Folio of Shakespeare's plays.-A rough start:Chetwinde was originally a clothworker...

 included it among the seven plays he added to the second impression of the Shakespeare Third Folio
Folios and Quartos (Shakespeare)
The earliest texts of William Shakespeare's works were published during the 16th and 17th centuries in quarto or folio format. Folios are large, tall volumes; quartos are smaller, roughly half the size...

.

Form and genre


The play is unusual in consisting of only ten scenes. The original printed text of the play identifies it as "ALL'S ONE. OR, One of the foure Plaies in one, called a York-Shire Tragedy...." This plainly implies that the existing play was one of a quartet of related works that were performed on stage together. In that respect it must have resembled Four Plays, or Moral Representations, in One, from c. 1608–13, a play in the John Fletcher
John Fletcher (playwright)
John Fletcher was a Jacobean playwright. Following William Shakespeare as house playwright for the King's Men, he was among the most prolific and influential dramatists of his day; both during his lifetime and in the early Restoration, his fame rivalled Shakespeare's...

 canon in which Fletcher wrote the last two parts of the quartet, while another playwright, most likely Nathan Field, wrote the others. Other examples of such anthologies of short plays from the English Renaissance can also be given; see, for instance, The Seven Deadly Sins
The Seven Deadly Sins (play)
The Seven Deadly Sins was a two-part play written c. 1585, attributed to Richard Tarlton, and most likely premiered by his company, Queen Elizabeth's Men...

.
The nature and authorship of the three lost pieces that accompanied A Yorkshire Tragedy is unknown.

The play's genre is that of the domestic tragedy
Domestic tragedy
In English drama, a domestic tragedy is a play in which the tragic protagonists are ordinary middle-class or lower-class individuals. This subgenre contrasts with classical and Neoclassical tragedy, in which the protagonists are of kingly or aristocratic rank and their downfall is an affair of...

, a subgenre of the English Renaissance theatre
English Renaissance theatre
English Renaissance theatre, also known as early modern English theatre, refers to the theatre of England, largely based in London, which occurred between the Reformation and the closure of the theatres in 1642...

 focusing on the downfalls of ordinary middle-class people. One of the earliest examples is Arden of Faversham
Arden of Faversham
Arden of Faversham is an Elizabethan play, entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 3 April 1592, and printed later that same year by Edward White. It depicts the murder of one Thomas Arden by his wife Alice Arden and her lover, and their subsequent discovery and punishment...

, which also belongs in the Shakespeare Apocrypha.

Sources


The plot of the play is based on the biographical account of Walter Calverley
Walter Calverley
Walter Calverley was an English squire and murderer. His story became the basis of more than one literary work of the early 17th century.-Early life:...

 of Calverley Hall
Calverley Old Hall
Calverley Old Hall is a medieval manor house with Grade I listed building status situated at Calverley, West Yorkshire, England.-Architectural features:...

, Yorkshire
Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

, who was executed on August 5, 1605 for murdering two of his children and stabbing his wife. The crimes were a well-known scandal of the day; a pamphlet on the case was issued in June 1605, with a ballad following in July. The chronicler John Stow
John Stow
John Stow was an English historian and antiquarian.-Early life:The son of Thomas Stow, a tallow-chandler, he was born about 1525 in London, in the parish of St Michael, Cornhill. His father's whole rent for his house and garden was only 6s. 6d. a year, and Stow in his youth fetched milk every...

 reported the case in his Annals. The murders were also dramatized in a play titled The Miseries of Enforced Marriage (1607), by George Wilkins
George Wilkins
George Wilkins was an English dramatist and pamphleteer best known for his probable collaboration with Shakespeare on the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre. By profession he was an inn-keeper, but he was also apparently involved in criminal activities.-Life:Wilkins was an inn-keeper in Cow-Cross,...

. Scholars have disagreed on the relationship between Wilkins's play and A Yorkshire Tragedy; some of have seen one play as a source for the other, or even the work of the same author, while others regard the two dramas as essentially separate works.

Authorship


While some early critics allowed the possibility of Shakespeare's authorship, most, over the past two centuries, have doubted the attribution. The modern critical consensus favours the view that the play was written by Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...

, citing internal evidence from the text of the play. Cases for the authorship of Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood was a prominent English playwright, actor, and author whose peak period of activity falls between late Elizabethan and early Jacobean theatre.-Early years:...

 or George Wilkins
George Wilkins
George Wilkins was an English dramatist and pamphleteer best known for his probable collaboration with Shakespeare on the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre. By profession he was an inn-keeper, but he was also apparently involved in criminal activities.-Life:Wilkins was an inn-keeper in Cow-Cross,...

 have been made, but have convinced few commentators.

Characters

  • OLIVER, RALPH and SAM, serving-men of a house in Yorkshire
  • A Boy
  • The WIFE
  • The HUSBAND
  • Four MEN
  • A SERVANT
  • The MASTER of a College
  • The SON
  • A MAID
  • A LUSTY SERVANT
  • KNIGHT, a magistrate
  • Officers

Synopsis


Note: This synopsis follows the scene divisions from Stanley Wells' edition of the play in Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works (eds John Lavagnino and Gary Taylor, Oxford, 2007). Other editions divide the play into ten scenes, rather than eight, by splitting Scene Five into three separate scenes.

Scene 1: A house in Yorkshire


The play opens with a conversation among three servants of an anonymous Yorkshire
Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

 gentleman, who is returning to his country house after a long sojourn in London. Sam, who has returned with his master, explains to Ralph and Oliver that their master has abandoned his local fiancé to marry another young woman: "he's married, beats his wife, and has two or three children by her." Sam also details his master's fondness for drunkenness, and sets the mood for what follows.

Scene 2: Outside the Husband's house, near Yorkshire


The Wife has an opening soliloquy, "What will become of us?," which fills out the picture of the Husband's devotion to drink and gambling and riotous behavior. The Husband enters. He provides quick justification for the Wife's worry with his cruel words and general bad behavior. The Wife begs him to modify his behavior for the sake of his children. He replies by saying his sons are bastards, begot from his wife's adulterous affairs. The Wife continues to beg him to reform. He kicks her and demands that she go to London to see her uncle so that the lands from her dowry
Dowry
A dowry is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings forth to the marriage. It contrasts with bride price, which is paid to the bride's parents, and dower, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage. The same culture may simultaneously practice both...

 can be sold for cash. The Wife agrees to leave right away. She exits. Three local Gentlemen (otherwise unnamed) enter. They reprove the Husband and urge his reform. One of the Gentlemen is so persistent that the Husband loses his temper and draws his sword. The two fight, and the Husband is left wounded on the floor—but he retains his unrepentant attitude.

Scene 3: The Husband's house, a room above


The wife has just returned from her uncle in London. She tells a servant that, rather than selling the lands from her dowry, she has convinced her uncle to get her husband a place at court. She hopes that this measure will save her husband's reputation and keep him out of bankruptcy. The Husband enters. He demands to see the money from the sale of the dowry lands. The Wife tells him that she has gotten him a place at court instead. The Husband flies into a vicious rage. He calls his wife "whore" and "slut" and threatens her with a dagger. Further violence is interrupted when a servant enters and tells the Husband that he has a visitor: the Master of his college from university. The husband exits to greet his visitor. The Wife is relieved to have escaped her husband's wrath. She worries about her family's future.

Scene 4: The Husband's house


The Master has bad news for the Husband: the Husband's brother—a student whom the university had great hopes for—has been thrown in prison as a result of the Husband's unpaid debts. The Husband is shocked to hear this news. The Master goes on to scold the Husband for his scandalous misbehavior. The Husband seems genuinely repentant. He promises to do whatever he can to secure his brother's release. The Master exits. Left alone, the Husband plunges into a deep despondency over his moral decline. He laments his wretched state in a soliloquy that begins with the line "Oh thou confused man, thy pleasant sins have undone thee, thy damnation has beggared thee!" (Commentators who allow a possibility of a Shakespearean contribution to the play tend to center their attention on this fourth scene and this soliloquy). The Husband's eldest son enters and tells his father to move so he can play with his toys. In a fit of passion, the Husband decides to kill his children in order to save them from the poverty that he sees in his future. He picks his eldest son up with one hand and draws his dagger with the other. Frightened, the boy begs him to stop. The Husband strikes his son and stabs him with the dagger.

Scene 5: The Husband's house, the bedroom above


A maid holds the Husband's second-youngest son while the Wife sleeps. The Husband enters carrying his elder son, who is bleeding, but still alive. He tells the maid to hand the baby over. The maid struggles with him. The Husband throws the maid down the stairs. The baby falls on the floor and is hurt. The Wife awakens and scoops the baby up. The Husband stabs at the baby in his wife's arms. Injured, the Wife falls to the floor. A strong ("lusty") servant enters and tries to restrain the Husband. They wrestle. The Husband overpowers the servant and kicks him with his spurs. The servant is seriously injured. The Husband flees, planning to murder the third and youngest of his children, who is living with its wet nurse nearby. (Some editors insert a scene break at this point). The action is transferred outside. The Master meets the Husband as he leaves the house. He asks the cause of the Husband's excited demeanor. The Husband waves off the Master's concerns. He repeats his promise to secure his brother's release from prison and exits hastily. (Some editors insert a scene break at this point as well). The action now returns to the bedroom above, where the servant, the Wife, and the children are lying on the floor, all seriously injured. The Master enters with his two servants. They are shocked by the bloody spectacle. The Master calls for a doctor. The injured servant tells the Master that the Husband is on his way to kill his third child. The Master and his two servants exit in hot pursuit. The Wife regains consciousness and laments the fate of her two children, who have apparently died. Two servants enter and tell the Wife that a doctor is waiting for her downstairs.

Scene 6: A road just outside Yorkshire


The Husband is thrown off his horse. The Master and his servants enter. They apprehend the Husband and make plans to take him to the Knight, who serves as the local Justice of the Peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

.

Scene 7: The Knight's house


The Husband is brought as a prisoner to the Knight's house. The Knight asks the cause of the Husband's "monstrous cruelty." The Husband tells him that he killed his children so they would not become beggars. His only regret is that he was unable to kill his third child. The Knight is shocked by the Husband's stoicism. He sends him off to jail to await his trial, which will take place on the following day.

Scene 8: Outside the Husband's house


In the final scene, the Husband is brought in custody past his ancestral home. His Wife is recovering from her wounds, and the bodies of the murdered children are laid out for burial. The Husband is finally repentant and contrite over his actions... too late for any restoration. Escorted by officers, he departs for his trial. The Wife makes plans to beg for her Husband's pardon. The Master expresses his grief at the family tragedy.

Adaptation


"A Yorkshire Tragedy" adapted at Wikiversity
Wikiversity
Wikiversity is a Wikimedia Foundation project, which supports learning communities, their learning materials, and resulting activities. It differs from more structured projects such as Wikipedia in that it instead offers a series of tutorials, or courses, for the fostering of learning, rather than...


External links