Arden of Faversham.

I said yesterday that I didn't have time to read Arden of Faversham for the Deal Me In Challenge this week, but, oddly enough having read the essay I drew instead, I found myself drawn to it. It's a play that was first published in 1592 and was thought to be written either by Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, or William Shakespeare, but there's no consensus (I personally have a degree of sympathy for those who believe it's Shakespeare but I couldn't possibly even try to give a serious opinion). So I read it and enjoyed it very much.

It tells the true story of Thomas Arden, the Mayor of Faversham, Kent, who was born in 1508 and who was murdered on 14th February 1551 by his wife Alice and her lover Tom Mosbie, as described in Raphael Holinshed's Holinshed's Chronicles (1577 - 1587), a work that Shakespeare used for his historiesMacbeth, King Lear, and Cymbeline.

The play begins with Arden learning that he has been given the Abbey of Faversham by the Duke of Somerset, however he is unhappy at the rift between he and his wife. Franklin, his friend, suggests trying to win her over, and when she enters some sweet words are eventually exchanged, however it is soon obvious that she is in love with Mosbie and we learn that the two have planned to kill him. As Arden's suspicions grow, Mosbie and Alice employ to ex-soldiers Black Will and Shakebag to do the deed and several botched attempts are made. Mosbie and Alice's relationship becomes increasingly strained with the tension, but eventually they are successful: Arden is brutally murdered. In the final scene, Franklin gives the epilogue:
Thus have you seen the truth of Arden’s death.
As for the ruffians, Shakebag and Black Will,
The one took sanctuary, and, being sent for out,
Was murdered in Southwark as he passed
To Greenwich, where the Lord Protector lay.
Black Will was burned in Flushing on a stage;
Greene was hanged at Osbridge in Kent;
The painter fled and how he died we know not.
But this above the rest is to be noted:
Arden lay murdered in that plot of ground
Which he by force and violence held from Reede;
And in the grass his body’s print was seen
Two years and more after the deed was done.
Gentlemen, we hope you’ll pardon this naked tragedy,
Wherein no filèd points are foisted in
To make it gracious to the ear or eye;
For simple truth is gracious enough,
And needs no other points of glosing stuff.
Much of this is true, but it does not describe how Alice too was convicted and burnt at the stake in Canterbury. It is a bleak story, and whoever wrote this did a fine job in building the tension between the couples; Alice and Mosbie, and Alice and Arden as well as those who knew of the plot. It's a fantastic play, and interesting too as it is one of the very first domestic tragedies that grew in popularity with Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603) and Shakespeare's Othello (1604). I'm so glad I read it after all!

Next week for the Deal Me In Challenge, I'll write about Westminster Hall by Oliver Goldsmith, which was supposed to be today's title. I've already read it, so that would make sense!


  1. i haven't read this, but it sounds rather grim... so most likely won't... the brief excerpt, i must say, doesn't parse very much like Shakspere; or Marlowe, either so maybe Kyd?

    1. It is a bit grim but I wouldn't let it put you off. As for Kyd - barely read any of him so couldn't say. It had a bit of a Shakespeare feel and vibe, but honestly I just don't know. Wonder who it actually was...


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