Thomas Merry (Beech's Tragedy)

John Day, William Haughton (1599)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 65v (Greg I.114)

Lent vnto wm Harton the 21 novmbʒ }
in earneste of her boocke called merie }
the some of … xs }

Lent vnto wm harton & John daye the 27 of }
novmbʒ in earneste of a tragedie called } xxs
mereie the some of … }
                as may a pere

Fol. 29 (Greg I.57)

Receiued of mr. Henseslowe in earnest of the tragedie
of merie the some of xxs. The 27th of noueb.
___________________ xxs.
           W Haughton.      J D.

Recd of Mr Hinchloe more in ernest of The
   Tragedy of Thomas Merrye 20s
          Joh. Day.
          W Haughton
Recd more of mr Hinchloe vpon the same booke 10s
          By John Day.

Fol. 66 (Greg I.115)

Lent vnto wm hawton & John day the }
5 of desembʒ 1599 in earneste of ther boocke } xxs
called mereye at the apoyntment of }
Robart shawe the some of … }
as may a pere

Lent vnto John daye the 6 desembʒ }
1599 in earneste [called] of a Boocke called } xs
merye [the] as maye a pere … }

pd vnto wm hawghton & John daye the }
6 of desembʒ 1599 in full payment of ther } xxxxs
boocke called the tragedie of merie the some of … }

Miscellaneous expenses in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 67 (Greg I.117)

NB. The following payment, which is undated, falls between entries dated 10 January 1599 (1600) and 18 January 1599 (1600).

pd vnto the mr of the Revelles man for }
lycen[c]singe of a Boocke called Beches } viijs
tragedie the some of … }

Book Trade Records

Stationers' Register

S. R. I (Arber 2.311b/658 CLIO)

29. Augusti. [1594] :Thomas Gosson. Thomas Millington. Thomas Da[w]son./

Entred for theire Copie vnder th[e h]andes of both the wardens, A booke entytuled, A true discourse of a most cruell and barbarous murther comitted by one THOMAS MERREY, on the persons of ROBERTE BEECHE and THOMAS WINCHESTER his servaunt. on ffridaie night the 23th . of August. beinge Bartholomue Eve. 1594. Together with the order of his array[g]nement and execucon. ... vjd

29. Augusti. [1594] :Thomas Millington. Thomas Gosson. and Thomas Da[w]son.

Entred for theire Copie vnder th[e h]andes of the wardeins a ballad entituled. B[E]ECHE his ghoste. Complayninge on ye wofull murder committed on him and THOMAS WINCHESTER his servaunt. ... vjd

S. R. I (Arber 2.312/659 CLIO)

.3d. Septembris./.[1594] :John Danter./l

Entred for his Copie vnder th[e h]andes of Master WILBRAHAM and Master Binge a ballad entituled a lamentable ballad describing the wofull murder of ROBERT BEECHE &c Master Dawood havinge likewise sett to his hande for further warraunt ... vjd

7d. Septembris./. [1594] :Thomas Gosson/ Thomas Myllington/

Entred for their copie vnder the wardens handes, a ballad intituled/ the pitifull lamentacon of RACHELL MERRYE whoo suffred in Smithfeild with her brother THOMAS MERRYE the vjth of September 1594/ ...vjd

7d. Septembris./. [1594] :Thomas Gosson

Entred for his Copie vnder th[e h]and of bothe the wardens a ballad entituled the lamentable ende of THOMAS MERRYE and RACHELL HIS SISTER ... vjd

9d die Septembris [1594] :Thomas Millington./.

Entred for his Copie vnder th[e h]ande of Master Cawood a ballad intituled the said lamentacon of THOMAS MERRYE &c ... vjd

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's Men performed The Tragedy of Thomas Merry (or, Beech's Tragedy) at the Rose starting in the late winter of 1599-1600.

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Harbage); Contemporary tragedy Wiggins, Catalogue (#1226)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The identity of Day and Haughton's "Thomas Merry" is connected by narrative (if by no other way) to a publication in 1601 entitled Two Lamentable Tragedies, printed for Matthew Law and advertising authorship by Rob. Yarington on the title page. In that publication, the first of the two tragedies is billed as "the murther of Maister Beech a Chaundler in Thames-streete, and his boys, done by Thomas Merry" (see Critical Commentary below). It remains unclear how discrete the script of Day and Haughton's "Thomas Merry" was from Yarington's version of the story (as folded into the tragedy of "a young childe murthered in a Wood by two Ruffins, with the consent of his Vncle" ("The Orphans Tragedy") in Two Lamentable Tragedies (Yarington). If Yarington's play was written first (as Hanabusa argues below), it could have been an analogue for the lost play by Day and Haughton.

The chapbook and ballads in the Stationers' Register (above) are lost. The story in Two Lamentable Tragedies is thus the only known source of the crimes by Thomas Merry against the chandler, Thomas Beech, and his servant, Thomas Winchester. The events are summarized by Knutson as follows:

Thomas Merry, a low-end London seller of food and beer, grows envious of the prosperity of his neighbor, Thomas Beech, a chandler. Luring Beech to his shop, Merry beats him with fifteen hammer-strokes. Merry’s sister, Rachel, and his servant discover the crime but promise to keep quiet. To remove a potential witness, Merry murders Beech’s servant boy in the candle shop. Merry is caught when his servant, overcome with guilt, confesses to the authorities (p. 27).

In a note to the above summary, Knutson provides additional details from the Yarington quarto:

Merry also beats the servant boy, Thomas Winchester, leaving the hammer stuck in the boy’s head; according to the stage directions, the hammer is still there when the comatose boy is brought onstage in a futile effort to identify the murderer: Bringes him forth in a chaire, with a hammer sticking in his head (Yarington, Two Lamentable Tragedies, D3v). Merry chops up Beech’s body, putting the head and legs in one bag and the trunk in another; he dumps the bags in ditches at Paris Garden, where one is found by two watermen and the other by a gentleman walking his dog. Merry’s servant, Harry Williams, gets branded for withholding information on the crime. Merry’s corpse, but not his sister’s, is hung up in chains at Mile End Green (p. 36, n30).

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Who was "Rob. Yarington"?

The name, "Rob. Yarington," appears in the authorial position on the title page of Two Lamentable Tragedies (1601) Yarington.

Fleay believed that "Yarington was a fictitious name" (2.286) BCED.
Greg II called Yarington a scribe (#190, p. 208).
Law, who dated the composition of Two Lamentable Tragedies in 1594, argued that Yarington was the author of the composite plays as printed (JSTOR).
Wagner discovered an entry for the freedom in 1603 of "Robt. Yarrington junr." in An Annuall Catalogue ... of the Company of Scrivenors of the Citty of London (Bodleian MS., Rawl. D. 51) that settled temporarily the identity of the "Rob. Yarington" on the title page of the 1601: namely, that he was a scribe, as Greg had guessed, and still an apprentice when he copied the manuscript that would be printed as Two Lamentable Tragedies (JSTOR).
Hanabusa reconsiders the scholarly tradition on the identity of Yarington and concludes that (for the purposes of Two Lamentable Tragedies) Yarington was a dramatist who "probably wrote the text between late summer 1594 when the murder case actually occurred and c. 1597 when the hangman Bull [who is mentioned in the play] died or retired" (xxvii). Hanabusa further identifies five candidates as the Rob. Yarington on the title page of Two Lamentable Tragedies and choses Candidate #2 among them as the most likely. That Yarington (or "Yarranton") was a draper "freed on 2 August 1592" (xxviii); he was therefore "twenty-three to twenty-seven years old when the play was probably composed (xxix). Hanabusa adds that Matthew Law, who commissioned Two Lamentable Tragedies, was also a draper, implying that he knew of Yarington by way of guild connections; Hanabusa thinks Law might have thought Yarington's book "a promising enterprise" because "Thomas Merry" had recently been successful on stage (xxviii)

Relationship of the first of the two plays in Two Lamentable Tragedies to the play by Haughton and Day

Collier] noted the coincidence of the plays commissioned in November 1599 as "The Tragedy of Thomas Merry" (or, "Beech's Tragedy") and "The Orphans Tragedy" and the two stories in Two Lamentable Tragedies by Robert Yarington, but he made no further conjecture about the lost plays ([1]Diary).
Fleay, having decided that Yarington was fictitious, explained Two Lamentable Tragedies as a publication put together by Chettle "consolidating the two plays" of "Thomas Merry" and "The Orphans Tragedy". (BCED, 2.286).
Greg II argued that the combined printing of two plays means "much matter must have been omitted" (#190, p. 208). He could find no trace of Day's hand in the printed scenes and characterizes the "Merry" parts as "written in an extraordinary wooden bombast of grotesque commonplace" (p. 209). On the whole, his opinion seems to be that the Haughton-Day play was significantly different from that published under Yarington's name. Clark summarizes the arguments by scholars on Yarington's 1601 quarto and the entries in Henslowe's Diary (pp. 35-6).
Knutson considers Haughton and Day's play to be lost, yet telling "much the same story as one of the narratives woven into Robert Yarington's Two Lamentable Tragedies" (p. 27). She points out a feature of the "Merry" scenes in the quarto, namely that both Merry and his sister are hanged onstage; as a rule, women were taken offstage to be executed, as in A Warning for Fair Women (p. 27).
Gurr, by entering the "Thomas Merry" play in Appendix I under the title Two Lamentable Tragedies, appears to be supporting the argument that Haughton and Day's play is not lost but printed in the composite text copied by Yarington (#139, p. 248). He refers to Two Lamentable Tragedies as a "London horror story" (p. 71). He offers alternative titles for the 1601 printing: The Double Tragedy (p. 114) and Two Tragedies in One (p. 144), the latter the running title in the Yarington publication. Further, Gurr considers Yarington a "transcriber for the press," not the dramatist (p. 101). He suggests that Yarington "copied the play ["Thomas Merry"] for the press on the company's behalf, not Henslowe's" (p. 101).
Hanabusa conjectures that the "payments to Day, Haughton, and Chettle in 1599 probably show Henslowe's attempt to recycle an old dramatic manuscript" (i.e., Yarington's) to join other true crime dramas at the turn of the century (xxvii-xxviii [the inclusion here of Chettle spreads that recycling to the second of Yarington's narratives, conjecturally "The Orphans Tragedy"). Hanabusa thereby implies a closer relationship of the lost play with its alleged predecessor than Greg appears to support.

See "The Orphans Tragedy" for which Henry Chettle was paid 10s. on 27 November 1599 and 10s. on 24 September 1601 for further details on the play described as the story of “a young childe murthered in a Wood by two Ruffins, with the consent of his Vnckle” on the title page of Two Lamentable Tragedies (1601). See also "The Italian Tragedy", for which John Day was paid 40s. on 10 January 1600, for commentary on how Fleay and Greg mix it in with the identity of "The Orphans Tragedy."

For What It's Worth

Hanabusa credits A. C. Baugh with the information that the hangman, Bull, had retired by 1597 (Baugh, ed. 'Englishmen for My Money', doctoral thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1917, p. 58).

Works Cited

Clark, Andrew. “An Annotated List of Lost Domestic Plays, 1578—1624,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 18 (1975): 29-44.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare’s Opposites: The Admiral’s Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Hanabusa, Chiaki, ed. Two Lamentable Tragedies; Robert Yarington. The Malone Society Reprints, 2013.
Knutson, Roslyn L. “Toe to Toe Across Maid Lane: Repertorial Competition at the Rose and Globe, 1599-1600.” Acts of Criticism: Performance Matters in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Ed. June Schlueter and Paul Nelsen. Madison & Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005. 21-37.
Law, R. A. “Yarington’s ‘Two Lamentable Tragedies’, Modern Language Review 5 (1910): 167-77. JSTOR
Wagner, Bernard M. "Robert Yarrington," Modern Language Notes 45.3 (1930): 147-8. JSTOR
Yarington, Robert. Two Lamentable Tragedies. 1601 Internet Archive

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 10 September 2014.