Late Murder of the Son upon the Mother

Drue, Thomas (1624)

(See also: "Late Murder in White Chapel, or Keep the Widow Waking")

Historical Records

Dramatic Records of Sir Henry Herbert

J. O. Halliwell-Phillips transcribed a number of Sir Henry Herbert's licensing records and compiled them in various scrapbooks now held at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Amongst them is the following transcription of plays from September 1624:

HP Herbert Sept 1624.jpg

     A new Trag: call: a Late murther of the sonn upon the mother writt: by Mr

Forde Webster & this              Sept. 1624. 2li.
The same Trag: writt:             Mr. Drew & allowed for the day after theirs because
they had all manner of reason.
(Folger Shakespeare Library, MS W.b.156 ("Fortune"), p149. Reproduce by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library)

(NB. Bentley notes that the fee paid was "double the one usual at this time for licensing a new play. This double fee may be explained by an unusually large number of alterations or by the difficulties suggested by the licence of a second play on the subject by Drew. I take this second licence—which was not copied by Chalmers or Malone—to indicate that two different companies prepared plays on this topical subject at the same time; that Herbert, after hearing arguments, allowed both plays so that they could be acted in competition; that for unspecified reasons he allowed the Dekker, Rowley, Ford, and Webster play a one-day advantage. … [I]t is clear that the subject was thought to have great appeal and that two London companies were competing for the right to exploit it." Bentley 3.253-54).

Theatrical Provenance

Uncertain; perhaps the Palsgrave's company at the Fortune, given Drue's authorship of The Duchess of Suffolk and "Love Me or Love Me Not" (also in 1624) for that company.

Probable Genre(s)

Topical drama; domestic tragedy.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The murder of Joan Tindall by her son, Nathaniel Tindall, is known through the following sources:

Court records

From the records of the Middlesex Sessions, Sisson establishes that “Nathaniel Tindall or Grindall, of Whitechapel, yeoman, murdered Joan Tindall or Grindall on 9 April 1624 in Whitechapel. He came to trial at the Old Bailey at the Gaol Delivery from Newgate, along with Tobias Audley, on Friday, 3 September” (55). The motive was unknown, and there was no record of a Coroner’s Inquest. From the Grand Jury's True Bill, Sisson extrapolates the central features of the crime:

It appears from this that Tindall assaulted a certain Joan Tindall with a knife of iron and steel, striking her in the throat and in the left breast. The second wound was mortal, and she died instantly. The jury returned a Bill of wilful murder. The words above the Bill were written after the trial and record the judgement. Expanded and translated [out of Latin], they run thus, 'having pleaded guilty, he was sentenced to be hanged near the house where he committed the murder'. (Sisson 56)


There were also two ballads written on the subject, which were registered at Stationers' Hall:

2 July 1624
(S.R. I, 4.120)

Richard Hodgkins. The repentance of NATHANAEL TINDALL that kil[le]d his
mother . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vjd

16 September 1624
(S.R. I, 4.123)

John Trundle Entred for their Copie vnder the handes of master DOCTOR WORRALL
Richard Hodgkins. and master Lownes Warden A most bloudy vnnaturall, and vnmatchable
murther Comitted in Whitechappell by NATHANAELL TINDALL
vpon his owne mother written by JOHN. MORGAN . . vjd.

The first of these is extant: The penitent Sonnes Teares, for his murdered Mother (EEBO-TCP, Open-Access), purportedly by “Nathaniel Tyndayle, sicke both in soule and body: a prisoner now in New-gate”.

References to the Play

The only unambiguous reference to Drue's play is the licensing record; other discussions of the subject matter (see The Late Murder in White Chapel, or Keep the Widow Waking) may possibly refer to Drue's also.

Critical Commentary

Critics are reluctant to acknowledge that there appears to have been two plays written on precisely the same subject matter; the more famous of the two is "The Late Murder in White Chapel, or Keep the Widow Waking", because it was the subject of Star Chamber attention. Harbage refers to the Red Bull play by Dekker's fuller title and adds "The Late Murder..." as a parenthetical subtitle, derived from Herbert's licensing, but does not mention Drue's play at all. Sibley maintains separate entries but confuses the details (attributing the current play to Ford and Webster -- to whom she also ascribes the second play -- without recording Drue's contribution to either).

Bentley calls it an "Unknown Play", acknowledging its discrete existence but declining to adopt the name implied by the licensing record. He further notes that:

The second part of the [licensing] entry, concerning Drue's play, was not copied by Malone or Chalmers and is therefore not to be found in Professor Adams's edition of the office-book. Herbert's entry is somewhat cryptic, but I should interpret it to mean that two different London companies, one playing at the Red Bull (where the Dekker-Webster-Ford-Rowley play was acted) and the other probably at the Fortune (the Red Bull's principal rival and the theatre for which Drue had written The Duchess of Suffolk some eight months before), had commissioned plays on the same sensational London murder and had brought them to be licensed at the same time. Because the second company 'had all manner of reason', Herbert allowed both plays but gave the Red Bull troupe a one-day advantage. (3.286)

Bentley also conjectures that the current play might be identified as the lost "The Woman's Mistaken" but doesn't offer evidence and acknowledges that "This, however, is pure speculation".

For What It's Worth

The wording of the licensing note implies that Drue's play, bearing the name "a Late Murther of the sonn upon the mother", might only have dealt with the tragic material (the Tyndale murder) rather than the "comic" plot of the other play: the abuse of the widow. This is of course entirely conjecture, and if the Star Court documents for the Dekker/Ford/Rowley/Webster play did not exist, we would not know about the "Keep the Widow Waking" portion of that play.

Works Cited

Sibley, Gertrude. The Lost Plays and Masques, 1500-1642. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1933.
Sisson, Charles J. “Keep the Widow Waking: A Lost Play by Dekker.” The Library, 4th Ser., 8.1-2 (1927-28): 39-57 & 233-59.
The Penitent sonnes teares for his murdered mother / by Nathaniel Tyndale, sicke both in soule and body, a prisoner now in Newgate. The much-afflicted mothers teares for her drowned daughter / [by?] Anne Musket, the wofull mother for her lost daughter. Printed at London: For Iohn Trundle, [1624] EEBO-TCP (Open Access)

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 31 March 2016.