On Wednesday 16th October, I ran a performance-based workshop on Two Lamentable Tragedies at Exeter’s Centre for Early Modern Studies. Organised by Dr Freyja Cox Jensen, the workshop was a wonderful opportunity to read and discuss the play in an academic setting. A number of staff and graduate students, from backgrounds in English Literature, History and Theatre, joined us to read the play aloud. As at the Huntington, the more macabre and gruesome moments were frequently greeted by shouts of laughter, and the reading prompted many questions concerning the genre of the play in the spirited discussion that followed. A topic much under discussion was the link between Yarrington’s narrative of the murderous shopkeeper and the morality play tradition. We also discussed the extent to which the tragedy focuses on Rachel, Merry’s sister, as a loyal but misguided member of her brother’s household, and a tragic victim, through her complicity, of her brother’s crime.
My suggestion that ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ in Two Lamentable Tragedies might derive from the play with that title performed by the Admiral’s Men at the Rose the previous year, also prompted much discussion. One of the key challenges that arose was the question of length: as there are two intertwined narratives in Two Lamentable Tragedies, the tragedy of Merry only forms half the length of a usual play. If the play was memorially reconstructed, this could explain the reduction in length; the Merry narrative also appears to be missing a couple of key scenes , which could support this theory. However, the length could also be due to the genre of the play. Another domestic tragedy, A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608), is far shorter than most plays, with a running time of about an hour: the same length of ‘The Tragedy of Merry’, when excerpted from Two Lamentable Tragedies. We discussed that perhaps plays such as these were designed to be presented in some sort of double bill. Although there aren’t any easy answers, this was a helpful and thought-provoking discussion.
I hope our upcoming production of the play will help to support my suggestion that the play functions as a standalone narrative: however, it is only through staging the play that we can test if this is in fact the case. I will shortly be posting videos a recent preliminary workshop, where actors, working with actors’ parts, attempted a number of key scenes; a number of similar workshops will be held over the coming months, in order to prepare the actors for working with parts in the full production of the play. The date of the production is currently being finalised; I hope to post the date and venue, with full booking details, very soon!