Two Lamentable Tragedies is unique in pairing a conventional tragedy, set in an elite household in Padua, with a crime in contemporary London. In staging a sordid murder in a non-elite sphere, the second narrative would seem to belong to the generic category usually termed ‘domestic tragedy’, an early modern English genre which portrays domestic crime and sexual transgression in non-aristocratic homes.
Domestic tragedy flourished in the 1590s and early 1600s; in staging non-elite domestic discord, it opened up the private home to the public gaze, and elevated the concerns of the ‘middling sort’ to the tragic stature more usually afforded to kings and noblemen. Other plays belonging to the genre include Arden of Faversham, printed in 1592, which is based on the true murder of Master Arden by his wife and various accomplices; A Warning for Fair Women, printed in 1599, which portrays the true murder of George Sanders by his wife’s lover; and Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness, printed in 1607, which stages the adultery and death of a fictional erring wife, Anne Frankford.
Domestic tragedies are often printed anonymously; in this case, the name of the author, Robert Yarrington, is known, but no further information can be found, and the name is widely believed to be a pseudonym, or perhaps the name of a compiler who simply amalgamated two very different plays.
Indeed, some scholars have suggested that the domestic tragedy in Two Lamentable Tragedies is in fact the lost play The Tragedy of Thomas Merry, otherwise known as Beech’s Tragedy, which was performed by the Admiral’s Men at the Rose Theatre in the late winter of 1599/1600. For more information, see the Lost Plays Database: http://www.lostplays.org/index.php/Thomas_Merry_(Beech%E2%80%99s_Tragedy)
Two Lamentable Tragedies, then, offers the reader a unique opportunity to experience two very different dramatic genres in one play. However, there is little evidence to suggest that it was ever staged in this form. It is equally likely that Robert Yarrington simply combined a version of an existing play, The Tragedy of Merry, with the second narrative, which was later printed in ballad form, and may have already existed as a ballad at this time.
In staging only the “Merry” narrative of Two Lamentable Tragedies, I will test whether it can indeed be performed as a standalone play. The success of the recent reading of the play at the Huntington Library suggests that it is possible to attempt a full performance; I will document my preparations for such an attempt, and the performance itself, on this blog over the coming months.