Thursday, January 5, 2012

Shakespeare Apocrypha: A Yorkshire Tragedy

Just finished reading ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy,’ another play from the Shakespeare Apocrypha. This one is commonly attributed to Thomas Middleton these days, but apparently there are still some commentators who advocate a Shakespeare authorship. It’s quite a short play and centres around a gambling, wife-beating husband who in an act of desperation tries to murder his wife and children. It’s apparently based on a true story about a man who was executed in 1605 for murdering two of his children and stabbing his wife.

The play is pretty much a morality tale. Personally, I can see why people would choose not to attribute this to Shakespeare as in some ways it’s not in keeping with what we would normally expect from him. However, stylistically speaking, I think it bears some of his hallmarks. Some of the monologues are excellent.

Having read a few of these apocrypha plays I’m now starting to see a pattern emerge. It seems that anything earthy, set in contemporary England and full of social commentary is generally consigned to the non-Shakespeare pile. Maybe this has happened because of political reasons, maybe just out of sheer snobbery. It isn't too hard to imagine scholars purifying the canon by removing anything deemed too base or unworthy. Maybe this is why Shakespeare seems so detached to us. Of course, saying that, it could just be that Shakespeare wasn’t that arsed about the hoi polloi.

On another slightly conspiratorial note I noticed this in the play;

Husband. Are you Gossipping, prating sturdy Quean,
I'll break your Clamour with your Neck,
Down stairs; tumble, tumble, headlong.
[He throws her down.]
So, the surest way to charm a Woman's Tongue,
Is break her Neck, a Politician did it.

This is uttered by the murderous husband as he throws a maid down the stairs. I couldn’t help but see it as a reference to the death of Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley, Earl Of Leicester. She famously died falling down the stairs, although some believe she was pushed. The suspicion being that she was killed so that Robert Dudley would be free to marry his reputed lover, Elizabeth the First, Queen of England. As it transpired Dudley never married Elizabeth of course, but conspiracies still abound. Some pointing the finger at Dudley, some at William Cecil (as a plot to keep her away from Dudley) and some even at the Queen herself.

It would be interesting if this was a reference to that famous incident, even more so if the play was actually written by Shakespeare.

Update; I've just checked the Amy Robsart Wikipedia page. It mentions it, so it was a reference to her.

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