•   H O M E  •  W R I T E R 'S  N I B S  •  L I N K S  •  B L O G  •  C O N T A C T  •

 •  S C R I B B L I N G S  •


INTERDISCIPLINARY HUMANITIES
Classroom Comics


GODDESSES IN WORLD CULTURE
The Maiden with a
Thousand Slippers


PRIMITIVE ARCHER MAGAZINE
Hunting Through
Medieval Literature

 
INTERDISCIPLINARY HUMANITIES
Peter Pan


HORSE & RIDER MAGAZINE
A Whisper and a Prayer


CONFERENCE PAPER
The Masculine Mind
of Shakespeare's Women


COURSE CURRICULUM ARTICLE
Christine de Pizan


CONFERENCE PAPER
Hostages in the Rose Garden

"If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's research."  Wilson Mizner, 1876-1933, American Author
(Please use appropriate citations)

MURDER WILL OUT: Or, How a New Middling Class Created Elizabethan Urban Legends From Animated Tongues

by Doré Ripley, ©2004-12

Ham l e t, The Spanifh Tragedy, Titus A n d r o n i c us,

& contemporarie crime pamphlets prefent the animated tongue,

actuall or affumed, confpiring to reveale bloody murther

in order to exacteth G o d ’s vengence on the wycked.

Hum—I have heard,

                         That guilty creatures sitting at a play,

                         Have by the very cunning of the scene

                         Been struck so to the soul that presently

                         They have proclaimed their malefactions;

                         For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak

                         With most miraculous organ.  (Hamlet 2.2.545-51)

          Hamlet voices a closely held belief of early modern English society, that murder, especially cold-blooded murder, cannot remain secret.  In Elizabethan drama, murderous revelation was the catalyst for revenge, a popular, yet politically charged topic of the times.  The church advocated God’s vengeance, while the state demanded justice through God’s chosen representative(s).  This left the up-and-coming middle-class torn between the morality of God’s vengeance, the lack of justice or outright corruption of the state’s system, and private vengeance.  Hamlet, The Spanish Tragedy, Titus Andronicus, and contemporary crime pamphlets present the animated tongue, actual or assumed, conspiring to reveal bloody murder in order to exact God’s vengeance on the wicked.  The English theater’s portrayal of God’s inevitable vengeance reflected the middling sort’s majority view and moral outlook driving them to the playhouses in droves.  This demand for justice and entertainment found another voice in Elizabethan news pamphlets, creating a dramatic catalyst, of sorts, evolving stage tragedy from high-court revenge to middling-type domestic plays because playwrights not only wrote some of these popular news bulletins, they also adopted and adapted their plots for the theater.  One thing all the Queen’s subjects knew, willing or not, murder will reveal itself, and the middle-classes’ choice of reading material and public theater echoed their beliefs.  This sentiment ultimately spawned Elizabethan urban myth within the pages of sixteenth and seventeenth-century tabloids.

          Between the years 1567 and 1642, playgoers spent more than 50,000,000 pennies on entrance to the theaters (Gurr 4) making drama the principal Elizabethan art form (Ford 16-17).  When Thomas Platter traveled through England in 1599, he often visited the theater and his observations offer a fascinating contemporary view of the inner workings of the playhouse:

               [A]t two in the afternoon, London has two, sometimes three plays                running in different places, competing with each other, and those                which play best obtain [the] most spectators.  The playhouses are so                constructed that they play on a raised platform, so that everyone                has a good view.  There are different galleries and places, however,                where the seating is better and more comfortable and therefore                more expensive.  For whoever cares to stand below only pays one                English penny, but if he wishes to sit he enters by another door, and                pays another penny, while if he desires to sit in the most comfortable                seats which are cushioned, where he not only sees everything well,                but can also be seen, then he pays yet another English penny at                another door.                 (qtd. in Gurr 214)

Coins not only allowed spectators to segregate themselves, they also created a social structure within the theater based on disposable income.  The increased level(s) of money required to gain access to the upper galleries directly reflected a person’s higher station within the new hierarchy based on England's mercantile economy.  The perception of patrons, noble or common, observing over the theater’s happenings, like God above, presented a common copy of the noble hierarchy found within London’s courtly culture.  But the theater’s hierarchical ranks were shaky at best.  As long as stair-climbing spectators seemed noble, monied impostors were allowed to act the part creating yet another level of mysterious ambiance.  If intentional, it was a stroke of entrepreneurial genius on the part of the theater owners, giving everyone who could afford it, the place he or she wanted.  Commoners pretended to be nobles, and  nobles could get a vicarious thrill by slumming in close anonymous contact with the masses.  Further, the mysterious upper-class strangers in the galleries, or seated on stage, added an extraordinary dimension to the drama playing out before the spectators.  Due to their acting backgrounds, theater owners may have understood this dynamic and encouraged the social mixing playing out under their roofs.  The artificial world of the actors re-created itself within the audience, something not appreciated by London’s society at large, or the court.  In any case, it appears most Londoner’s possessed enough money to attend performances at the public playhouses, and to quote Hamlet, “there lies the rub” (3.1.65).

          The advent of England’s increasingly monetary value system began influencing position within early modern Elizabethan society[1].  In feudal England, aristocracy’s wealth came from its land holdings.  But when the court became an object of national pride, more and more of those who would benefit the Queen and/or profit from her service began to set up households in London (Briggs 119-20).  This not only kept English nobles close enough for Elizabeth to control them, it also enabled the aristocracy to profit from the Queen’s largesse, limited though it was sometimes reported (Briggs 120).  Nevertheless, the increase in pomp and circumstance surrounding Elizabeth’s court, whether to impress visiting ambassadors or to accommodate state hospitality, placed many nobles in tight fiscal positions (Ford 30), with numerous younger sons mortgaging themselves into bankruptcy.  But money created access to hierarchy, and non-aristocratic individuals who could afford it purchased social position in the form of a noble husband or wife (Briggs 65).  This alleviated some of the aristocracy’s money problems while elevating commoners.  The introduction of disposable income came from the rise of London based entrepreneurship and its development of a merchant middle-class.  This caused the lines between the landed-aristocracy and the monied-commoner to overlap creating social tension.

          The concentration of wealth in London partly accounts for its sharp increase in population.  In 1500, modern estimates of London’s multitude hover around 50,000, but by the beginning of the seventeenth-century, the population reached nearly 200,000 (Briggs 53). Like the nobility who flocked to London's royal court, many of the aristocracy’s former dependents found themselves there chasing high wages (Boulton 269).  Appraisals of London’s early modern urban poor show them lingering around five percent, except in times of crisis, when their numbers could swell to twenty percent, or more (Slack 286).  The current socio-economic view of London’s Elizabethan population has evolved from a society described by Stephen Greenblatt as the rich and powerful few, offset by an impoverished majority (54), to a populace whose largest segment developed into a self-described ‘middling sort’ (Leinwand 285). This middling sort constituted not only those just above the poverty line (Leinwand 286), but the mixed apprentice class.  Apprentices were sons of the poor (though not impoverished), younger sons of the gentry and wealthy merchants (Leinwand 292), and even a few of the lesser nobility (Leinwand 289).  In 1581, the headmaster of the Merchant Taylor’s school, Richard Mulcaster, adroitly portrayed this class when describing the head of his students’ families as “[t]he midle sorte of parentes which neither welter in to much wealth, nor wrastle with to much want” (82).  The rise of London’s wealth led to the rise of an economically mixed population. 

          The advent of disposable income in early modern England created leisure time and activity, with the public’s favorite recreation being “plays, where anyone at all can go for a few pence” (Rich qtd. in Gurr 201).  Even London’s poorest workers, the day laborers, could afford a play now and then (Briggs 165), while the lowliest servants earned enough money and freedom to enjoy an occasional performance  (Whitney 434).  Robert Gosson, an Elizabethan dramatist turned preacher, was quick to denigrate the “common people which resorte to T[h]eatres being but an assemblie of Tailors, Tinkers, Cordwayners, Saylers, olde Men, yong Men, Women, Boyes and Girles, and such like” (qtd. in Gurr 117).   Nevertheless, due to their sheer numbers, the middling sort’s citizens outnumbered everyone in the public playhouses (Gurr 64).  The 1643 satirical Actor’s Remonstrance, categorizes the middling Elizabethans employed at the theater.  It identifies “Doore-keepers, men and women,” (3), “servants” (2), “House-keepers . . . Hired-men . . . Fooles . . . boyes” (3), “Musike” (musicians) . . . Tire-men . . . Tobacco-men . . . and, others” (4).  The players labeled acting an “art” and “profession” (2) elevating them to citizens.  Stephen Gosson grudgingly agrees when writing, “it is well knowen, that some of them are sober, discrette, properly learned honest householders and Citizens well thought on amonge their neighbours” (40).  In any case, whether apprentice or patron, the coin became the great social leveler of the theater, even leading the Merchant Taylor’s company to stop performances because “every lewd persone thinketh himself (for his penny) worthey of the chiefe and most comodious place withoute respecte of any other either for age or estimation in the comon weale” (qtd. in Gurr 129).  With enough money anyone could buy sumptuous clothes, a blade, and a place on the stage next to genuine gentlemen (Cook 310).  All in all, the public playhouse and its audience covered the spectrum of Elizabethan society from servant to apprentice to yeoman, whore to housewife, student to doctor and lawyer, and gentleman to lady[2].  This socially mixed audience had common dramatic tastes, and what those spectators wanted to see on their stage was blood.

          Revenge tragedy held title as the “most popular dramatic genre” until roughly 1600 (Gurr 140).  The Spanish Tragedy led this gory collection of performances and found itself parodied even more than Hamlet (Gurr 139).  Along with his observations about the audience, Gosson’s diary entries of 1582 relate the contemporary view of tragedy’s “arguments” as, “wrath, crueltie, incest, injurie, murther eyther violent by sworde, or voluntary by poyson” (qtd. in Gurr 206).  Horatio’s speech at the end of Hamlet describes the carnage of early modern revenge tragedies with final stage scenes awash in blood and bodies:

 So shall you hear

  Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts;

 Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters;

 Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause.      (5.2.359-62) 

In 1592, Thomas Nashe recorded the sympathetic reaction of an audience to the actor/revenger, when the “tears of ten thousand spectators at least, (at several times) who, in the tragedian that represents his person, imagine they beh[e]ld him fresh bleeding!” (129).  Nashe further believed “The Use of Plays” (129) was to show “how just God is evermore in punishing of murder” (130). 
          Ten years before Nashe, Sir Philip Sidney described tragedy’s virtue to “maketh kings fear to be tyrants . . . that with stirring the affects of admiration and commiseration teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how weak foundations gilden roofs are builded” (432).  A good tragedy “drew abundance of tears” (433), while few could resist “the sweet violence of a tragedy” (433).  Sidney believed tragedy “doth most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of poesy” (449).  On the other side of the aisle, Sidney’s contemporary, Richard Shilders was skeptical, writing that “the gentlewoman that sware by her trouth, That she was as much edefied at a play as ever she was at any sermon, etc. will, ere she die, be of another minde” (qtd. in Gurr 215).   But while Sidney believed English tragedy fulfills Horace’s requirement of delighting while teaching, he acknowledged English Renaissance plays did not fulfill Aristotelian requirements because they were “faulty in place and time” (449).  During the late sixteenth-century many quills were whittled to nubs over the dilemma regarding the unities and utile y dulce.  Even so, while intellectuals argued over neoclassical models, when it came to revenge tragedy the more middling audience wanted plays that appreciated their reflected moral belief concerning God’s vengeance.

         Some Elizabethan critics thought the edification value of tragedy negligent, even though revenge tragedy intensely echoed Puritan teachings (Briggs 169).  The Actor’s Remonstrace declares that “Comedies and Tragedies are the lively representations of men’s actions, in which, vice is always sharply glanced at, and punished, and vertue rewarded and encouraged” (3).  The Christian ethic about revenge is recorded in Deuteronomy:  “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time” (32.35), and again in Romans:  “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (12.19).  This warning was also God’s pledge (Campbell 282, Ford 335) and the idea that vengeance belongs to God came down through the Middle Ages, arriving as a core tenet in early modern English tragedies (Campbell 282).  Frances Bacon’s essay Of Revenge describes this Renaissance principle:

Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.  For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law; but the revenge of that wrong, putteth the law out of office.  Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a princes’ part to pardon.  (15) 

In spite of Bacon’s warning, “wild justice” was a popular topic for drama, touching on key issues of the day.  The middle-class desire for the rule of law (Ford 41), revenging personal honor, and the perception of political injustice towards society at large, were all tied to God’s inevitable vengeance (Ford 334), something the middling sort sometimes felt lacking in their betters. 

          The Spanish Tragedy offers a good example of what the Renaissance audience wanted; a representation of “earthly justice in a corrupt world” (Gurr 136).  Hieronimo and Hamlet display this appealing model because they find themselves heroes and casualties in the same moment.  Hieronimo exacts his revenge and pays “God’s price for his pleasure” (Gurr 139).  The unmitigated violence of The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet supports Elizabethan popular culture’s subversive desire for private vengeance in opposition to the authorities.  The establishment mandated that vengeance belonged in the hands of God’s representative on earth, the King and his government.  In his work, Revenge and Revenge Tragedy in Renaissance England, Ronald Broude points out the three-fold division of vengeance; “‘divine vengeance,’ ‘public vengeance,’ ‘and private vengeance’” (42).  These divisions left many Elizabethans in want of justice.  But nevertheless, early modern Englishmen knew murder would not remain secret.  So, if God reveals murder, the need for private vengeance becomes nullified, or so one hoped. 

          In the fourteenth century Canterbury Tales, Chaucer declared, “Mordre wol out” (3057), reinforcing a long-held Christian belief.  As he explained:

 God, that is so just and resonable     

 That he ne wol nat suffre it heled be,

  Though it abyde a yeer, or two, or three.

  Mordre wol out, this my conclusioun.  (3054-57) 

In The Spanish Tragedy, Isabella reminds the audience, “The heavens are just, murder cannot be hid” (Kyd 2.4.120).  Hamlet’s declaration rings a bell with listeners:  “For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak / With most miraculous organ” (2.2.550-51).  Hamlet will reveal his father’s secret murder by presenting a drama, telling the audience “[t]he play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (2.2.561-62).  The spectators look forward to the pricklings of conscience to make secret murder public, while the Elizabethan audience knew the moral order would prevail thereby providing while proving the didactic purpose of revenge plays. 

          Thomas Heywood’s Apology for actors defends the notion that plays uncover secret crimes:  “[W]e [actors] prove these exercises to have beene the discoverers of many notorious murders, long concealed from the eyes of the world” (Heywood G).  His Apology records two such murderous exposures.  The first involves a woman attending a play where the plot reflects a husband “mischievously and secretly murdered” (Heywood G).  During the drama, the felonious wife claims to see the ghost of her dead husband, revealing that “seven yeares ago, she . . . had poysoned her husband . . . whereupon the murdresse was apprehended” (Heywood G2).  The second confession occurs at a play about murder by a nail, where a woman in the audience declares that “by driving that nayle into that skull, being the head of her husband, she had trecherously slaine him” (Heywood G2).  But, in Hamlet’s play, Claudius displays more nerve.  While his conscience is pricked, Claudius seems more suspicious than guilty, fearing Hamlet has discovered his crime.

          King Claudius cannot avoid earthly vengeance even if  “the wicked prize itself / Buys out the law” (3.3.58-59).  Claudius will not escape heaven’s wrath:  “’tis not so above” (3.3.60).  The suggestion that the nobility routinely flouted the law found popular appeal in Elizabethan revenge tragedies.  Hamlet finds himself in the role of state minister and private revenger wreaking justice when killing Claudius.  But Hamlet too must die.  No matter how Polonius is perceived--spy, intruder or fool--Hamlet killed an innocent man, thereby damning himself (Bowers 741).  In Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, the Duke’s son, Lorenzo, murders Hieronimo’s son, placing Hieronimo in the untenable position of seeking justice against God’s minister on earth.  Nevertheless, Hieronimo claims he will “cry aloud for justice through the court” (Spanish 3.7.70), only to find the noble Lorenzo blocking his attempts to exact justice from the King (Spanish 3.13).  Thwarted at every turn, the final scene finds Hieronimo taking justice into his own hands and murdering Lorenzo.  He declares, “My guiltless son was by Lorenzo slain, / And by Lorenzo and that Balthazar / Am I at last revenged thoroughly” (Spanish 4.4.171-73).  In Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, the state’s powerful representatives murder Titus’ sons and rape and mutilate his daughter.  But by the end of the play, Titus revenges himself on the miscreants, murdering them all.  Even though a state minister, Titus, the private revenger, ends up killed in the process.  When his motivation is revealed, “Now judge what [cause] had Titus to revenge / These wrongs unspeakable, past patience, / Or more than any living man could bear” (5.3.125-27), his remaining son is made “Rome’s gracious governor” (5.3.146).  Murder will out and subsequently be revenged, but the private revenger, even if state minister, must die in order to validate the tenet that vengeance rests only in God’s hands. These ideals, reflected by the middling sort, were mirrored in another form of public entertainment. 

          The rise of printed pamphlets connected directly to the growth of a reading middle-class (Marshburn 12).  In 1776, Adam Smith explained this phenomenal surge in literacy, saying it came about because of “the qualifications which [the tradesman] requires.  Besides possessing a little capital, he must be able to read, write, and account” (125).  Few examples of pamphlets survive, but the topics covered reinforce the notion of a society-wide expansion of the reading community “to include classes, who living closer to the soil, evinced tastes which demanded sensationalism and gory detail” (Collins xv).  Like popular drama, these literary leaflets reflect the inherent early modern belief that murder will out, while, at the same time, evolving the tragedy genre from revenge to domestic.  In fact, in her work on Elizabethan drama, Madeleine Doran believes the great majority of domestic tragedies found their basis in pamphlets, chap books, or ballads (143).  The pamphlet’s shift to familiar English surroundings, where the morality mirrors the “homiletic scheme of temptation, sin, repentance, and punishment” (Doran 143), is reflective of the moral attitudes of the predominately middle-class audience. The 1608 pamphlet, “The Arraignment and burning of Margaret Ferneseede” proclaims

                the grossest part of folly (and the most repugnant even unto our                own natural reason) is to think that our hidden abominations can be                concealed from the eye of the Almighty or that he, seeing our bloody                and crying sins, will not either reveal them before his Ministers of                public  justice or in his best pleased time pour down sharp                vengeance.      (qtd. in Henderson 352)

Even though most pamphlets were written anonymously, playwrights were sometimes forced “to get a living by contemptible penny-pamphlets” (4).  In 1592, The Spanish Tragedy’s Kyd wrote a pamphlet entitled, “The trueth of the most wicked & secret murthering of John Brewen,” who was killed by his wife and her lover.  In this pamphlet, the lovers/murderers are overheard arguing about the husband’s slaying.  The lover accuses, “Thou wouldst marrry me to the end thou mightest poyson me, as thou didst thy husband” (Kyd Trueth 14).  To which the murdering wife protests, “Thou gavest me the poyson, and after thy direction I did minister it unto him” (Kyd Trueth 14).  Kyd’s pamphlet voices the middle-class belief of murder ultimately revealed, concluding “shunne the hatefull sinne of murder, for be it kept never so close, and done never so secret, yet at length the Lord will bring it out” (Trueth 15).  More than just a reinforcement of middling belief, dramatists used pamphlets for sources of Elizabethan popular theater. 

          The 1605 pamphlet entitled “Two most unnaturall and bloodie murthers” was the basis for two plays, The Miseries of Inforst Marriage, dated 1607, and A Yorkshire Tragedy, dated 1608 (Collins 70).   Henry Goodcole’s 1621 document entitled The wonderful discovery of Elizabeth Sawyer, a Witch, records how “God did wonderfully overtake her in her own wickedness to make her tongue to be the means of her own destruction which had destroyed many before” (135).  The accused “revenged herself” (138) on her neighbors because they “would not buy brooms of her” (138).  William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford’s The Witch of Edmonton dramatizes this penny-pamphlet.  In the play the audience sees the devil in action, when, disguised as a dog, he helps the witch gain vengeance against a neighbor who beat her:  “Revenge to me is sweeter far than life” (Witch 5.1.7).  When finally discovered, the witch swears, “I’ll muzzle up my tongue from telling tales” (Witch 5.1.72), but the audience knows eventually the witch will “repent all former evil” (Witch 5.3.51).  But if the conscience can be overcome by the devil, the tongue will become the instrument of justice, even against the will of its owner and reveal secret murder.

          The Spanish Tragedy graphically portrays the notion of the animated tongue, when Hieronimo bites out his own after declaring,

                But never shalt thou force me to reveal

                The thing which I have vowed inviolate:

                And therefore, in despite of all thy threats,

                Pleased with their deaths, and eased with their revenge,

                First take my tongue, and afterwards my heart.                                                      (Spanish 4.4.187-91) 

Even though Hieronimo has already revealed the entire plot of his revenge, coupled with his allusion to torture, his speech still reinforce the idea of the talking tongue of murder to expose sin.  In order to cover slaughter in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the miscreant princes “lopp’d and hew’d and made thy body bare / Of her two branches” (2.4.17-18), so the witness, Lavinia, cannot write out a statement against them.  To make sure she tells no one, they “cut thy tongue” (Titus 2.4.27), leaving “a crimson river of warm blood, / Like to a bubbling fountain stirr’d with wind” (Titus 2.4.23-24).  To add insult to injury, they “hath deflow’red thee” (Titus 4.2.26).  But, in spite of all their grisly efforts, murder will out, as Lavinia “takes the staff in her mouth, and guides it with her stumps, and writes. / . . . Chiron—Demetrius” (Titus 4.1.77-78), thereby revealing the felons.  The animated tongue of murder cannot be stopped and this notion finds itself ultimately reflected in Elizabethan urban legend. 

          Two pamphlets dated 1606 record the “true story” of the same secret murder.  In the first, entitled “The Horrible murther of a young boy of three yeres of age(Collins 79), a youngster is slain while his “sister had her tongue cut out; and how it pleased God to reueale the offendors, by giuing speech to the tongueless Childe” (qtd. in Collins 79).  The second pamphlet records the incident under the title, “The Most Cruell and Bloody Murther”.  It describes the murder of a seven-year-old (he’s aged a bit), as witnessed by his sister “who at the time of the murther had her tongue cut out” (qtd. in Marshburn 21).  This pamphlet describes a happy, hard working, successful suburban family, who, being kind masters, send their servants off to the local fair (qtd. in Marshburn 24).  When the servants leave, the villains show up, steal everything, kill the husband and murder the pregnant wife.  The criminals share out the booty equally, and make off with the children (qtd. in Marshburn 26).  When arriving at their lair (the local inn), they slit the boy’s “throat from one ear to another” (qtd. in Marshburn 28) and throw his body in the “Bottomless Pond” (qtd. in Marshburn 28).  After disposing of the boy’s body, the murderess grabs the girl’s tongue “by the end, and with her thumbs wresting open the child’s jaws to the widest she could stretch them, she cut it out by the root” (qtd. in Marshburn 30).  The murderess than sells the girl to a passing beggar who promptly loses her.  The pamphlet details medical attention the girl receives from a “barber surgeon” who “found the tongue to be cut out, and the wound unhealed” (qtd. in Marshburn 31).  The young girl wanders the countryside for four years, when suddenly, the tongueless witness of her brother’s murder, regains her speech “and forthwith began in order to reveal the former murderers” (qtd. in Marshburn 36).  Finally, she “gave evidence against them [murderers], saying, that since God had lent her a speech by miracle, she would have their bloods lawfully” (qtd. in Marshburn 38).  The pamphlet concludes, “[t]he dumb shall speak ere they [murderers] shall escape undiscovered” (qtd. in Marshburn 34).  The truly monstrous and bloody events of this pamphlet reflect early modern English society’s delight in the gruesome, and their belief in God’s vengeance, while providing a classic example of the creation of urban legend.

          The rise of early modern entrepreneurs and the middle-class created a monetary socio-economic system where pennies and leisure time, coupled with a growing London population, made drama the most popular art form of the Elizabethan age.  The theater’s social melting pot relished tragedies like The Spanish Tragedy, Hamlet, and Titus Andronicus, where blood and horror reflects the Christian belief of murder’s ultimate discovery, followed by God’s just punishment of the wicked.  This sometimes meant the destruction of the protagonists for their roles as private revengers.  Plays offered didactic plots that could prick the conscience of the audience, even revealing secret murder outside the theater.  Besides playgoing, the predominant middling sort enjoyed reading gruesome news pamphlets where “murder will out” was often the message.  Over time, these criminal leaflets may be credited with the evolution of dramatic tragedy from revenge to domestic.  Dramatists not only wrote some of these felonious tracts, they utilized their familiar domestic settings and plot lines.  Two macabre twists found in pamphlets and plays is the animated tongue revealing murder against the will of its homicidal owner, and/or ineffectual attempts to hide murder with the bloody felon ripping speech from the innocent.  A popular Elizabethan urban myth recorded in not one, but two criminal penny-tracts, tells the story of a young girl regaining her speech despite the theft of her tongue, thereby revealing secret murder and bringing killers to justice.  In any case, after the turn of the seventeenth century, revenge tragedies lost favor while domestic tragedy began filling the vacant niche offering the audience blood through a more self-reflective middling drama.  By 1613, revenge tragedies were considered old-fashioned, with Ben Jonson in Bartholomew Fair, charging that those

                that will swear Jeronimo or Andronicus are the best play

                yet, shall pass unexpected at here as a man whose judge-

                ment shows it is constant and hath stood still these five-

                and-twenty or thirty years.  Though it be an ignorance, it

                is a virtuous and staid ignorance, and next to truth a con-

                firmed error does well.  (Induction 109-14).     

 

Endnotes              

[1] The rise of a money based economy and its effect on English society, specifically London’s urban society, is far too complex a topic to deal with adequately in this paper.  For more in depth information, see Jeremy Boulton, “Wage Labour in seventeenth-century London,” Economic History Review 49.2 (1996):  268-90.  Julia Briggs,  “Living in Society,” This Stage-Play World.  English Literature and its Background 1580-1625 (New York:  Oxford UP, 1983) 50-65.  Andrew Gurr, “Social Composition,” Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London (New York:  Cambridge UP, 1987) 49-58.  Theodore B. Leinwald, “Shakespeare and the Middling Sort,” Shakespeare Quarterly 44.3 (1993):  284-303.  L.G. Salingar, “The Social Setting,” The Age of Shakespeare, ed. Boris Ford (Baltimore:  Penguin, 1955) 15-50.  Gamini Salgado, “London—Flower of Cities All,” The Elizabethan Underworld (Totowa, NJ:  Rowan and Littlefield, 1977) 15-25.  Charles Whitney, “‘Usually in the werking Daies’:  Playgoing Journeymen, Apprentices, and Servants in Guild Records, 1582-1592,” Shakespeare Quarterly 50.4 (1999):  433-58.

[2] For a more complete picture of the social make-up of Elizabethan theater, see Julia Briggs, “The Theatre,” This Stage-Play World.  English Literature and its Background 1580-1625 (New York:  Oxford UP, 1983) 160-94.  Ann Jenalee Cook, “Audiences:  Investigation, Interpretation, Invention,” A New History of Early English Drama. ed. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan (New York:  Columbia UP, 1997) 305-20.  Andrew Gurr, “Social Composition,” Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London (New York:  Cambridge UP, 1987) 49-79.  Charles Whitney, “‘Usually in the werking Daies’:  Playgoing Journeymen, Apprentices, and Servants in Guild Records, 1582-1592,”  Shakespeare Quarterly 50.4 (1999):  433-58.

Works Cited

Anonymous.  “The Actors Remonstrance.”  1643.  Renascence Editions. 27 Sept. 2004 <http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/%7Erbear/actors1.html>.

Bacon, Francis.  “Of Revenge.”  1625.  Selected Writings of Francis Bacon.  New York: Modern Library, 1955.  15-16.

Boulton, Jeremy.  “Wage labour in seventeenth-century London.” Economic History Review 49.2 (1996):  268-90.

Bowers, Fredson.  “Hamlet as Minister and Scourge.”  Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 70.4 (1955):  740-49.

Briggs, Julia.  This Stage-Play World.  English Literature and its Background 1580-1625.  New York:  Oxford UP, 1983. 

Broude, Ronald.  “Revenge and Revenge Tragedy in Renaissance England.”  Renaissance Quarterly 28.1 (1975):  38-58.

Collins, D. C.  A Handlist of New Pamphlets, 1590-1610.  London:  Guardian, 1943.

Campbell, Lily B.  “Theories of Revenge in Renaissance England.”  Modern Philology 28.3 (1931):  281-96. 

Chaucer, Geoffrey.  “The Nun’s Priest Tale.”  The Canterbury Tales Complete.  Ed. Larry D.Benson.  3rd ed.  The Riverside Chaucer.  New York:  Houghton, 2000.  235-43.

Cook, Ann Jenalee.  “Audiences:  Investigation, Interpretation, Invention.”  A New History of Early English Drama.  Ed. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan.  New York:  Columbia UP, 1997.  305-20.

Doran, Madeleine.  “Domestic Tragedy.”  Endeavors of Art:  A study of form in Elizabethan drama.  Madison:  U of Wisconsin, 1954.  142-47.

Ford, Boris, ed.  The Age of Shakespeare.  Baltimore:  Penguin, 1955. 

Goodcole, Henry.  “The wonderful discovery of Elizabeth Sawyer, A Witch.”  1621.  William Rowley, Thomas Dekker & John Ford.  The Witch of Edmonton.  Ed. Peter Corbin & Douglas Sedge.  New York: Manchester UP, 1999.  135-49.

Gosson, Stephen.  “The School of Abuse.”  1579.  English Reprints.  Ed. Edward Arber. London:  Alex, 1869.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Shakespearean Negotiations: The circulation of Social  Energy in Renaissance England. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of CA P, 1988. 54. Qtd. in Leinwand, 285.

Gurr, Andrew.  Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London.  New York:  Cambridge UP, 1987.

Henderson, Katherine Usher and Barbara F. McManus.  Half Humankind.  Contexts and Texts of the Controversy about Women in England, 1540-1640.  Chicago:  U of Illinois P, 1985. 

Heywood, Thomas.  An apology for actors.  1612.  New York:  Johnson, 1972.

Jonson, Ben.  Bartholomew Fair.  1613.  Ed. Suzanne Gosset.  New York:  Manchester UP, 2000. Kyd, Thomas.  The Spanish Tragedy.  1590.  Six Renaissance Tragedies.  Ed. Colin Gibson. New York:  St. Martin’s, 1997.  1-92.

---.  “The trueth of the most wicked & secret murthering of John Brewen.” 1592. Illustrations of Early English Popular Literature.  Ed. John Payne Collier.  New York:  Blom, 1966.  1-15.

Leinwand, Theodore B.  “Shakespeare and the Middling Sort.”  Shakespeare Quarterly 44.3 (1993):  284-303. 

Marshburn, Joseph H. and Alan R. Velie.  Blood and Knavery.  A Collection of English Renaissance Pamphlets and Ballads of Crime and Sin. Madison:  Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1973.

Mulcaster, Richard.  “Positions Concerning the Training Up of Children (1581).” Text of Mulcaster’s Positions (1581).  29 Oct. 2004 <http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~wbarker/positions-txt.html>.

Nashe, Thomas.  “Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Devil.”  1592.  Life, Literature, and Thought Library.  Three Elizabethan Pamphlets.  Ed. George Richard Hibbard.  London:  Harrap, 1951. 

Rowley, William, Thomas Dekker and John Ford.  The Witch of Edmonton.  1621.  Ed. Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge.  New York:  Manchester UP, 1999.

Shakespeare, William.  Hamlet.  1602.  Ed. Cyrus Hoy.  2nd ed.  Norton Critical Edition.  New York:  Norton, 1992.

<---.  Titus Andronicus.  1594.  The Riverside Shakespeare.  Ed.  G. Blakemore Evans.  Boston: Houghton, 1974.  1019-54.     

Sidney, Sir Philip.  “The Defense of Poesie.”  1583.  Literary Criticism:  Plato to Dryden.  Ed. Allan H. Gilbert.  Detroit:  Wayne UP, 1962.  403-61.

Slack, Paul. Poverty and Policy in Tudor and Stuart England. New York and London: Longman, 1988. 72. Qtd. in Leinwand, 286n.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations.  1776.  Ed. Edwin Cannan.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1976.

Whitney, Charles.  “‘Usually in the werking Daies’:  Playgoing Journeymen, Apprentices, and Servants in Guild Records, 1582-1592.”  Shakespeare Quarterly 50.4 (1999):  433-58.

Illustration:  The crying Murther:” (Marshburn 41).