Stepmother's Tragedy, The

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Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker (1599)

Historical Records

F. 63v (Greg, I.109)

Lent vnto Thomas Deckyers the 24th
[pd] of July 1599 at the Requeste of Samvell
Rowly & Thomas downton in earnest of
a Boocke called stepmothers tragedy ... xs

F. 64 (Greg I.111)

Lent vnto harey Chettell & Thd the 23
of aguste 1599 in earneste of his playe called
the stepmothers tragedie the some of ... xxs

Lent vnto wm Birde Thomas downton & Jewbey
the 25 of aguste 1599 to paye harye Chettell for
his Boocke called the stepmothers tragedie some ... xxs

F. 65 (Greg I.113)

                    this 14 October 1599
Receaued by me Robt shaa of phillip Henslowe
to pay H. Chettle [f] in full paiment of a booke
Called the stepmothers tragedy for the vse
of the Company iiijli J say Receaved ... 4li

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's Men paid Thomas Dekker and Henry Chettle £6 in the fall of 1599 for The Stepmother's Tragedy. At the time they were still at the Rose, though they would move to the Fortune by the following fall. Across Maid Lane from the Rose, the Chamberlain's Men were in their opening season at the newly-built Globe.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

See "For What It's Worth," below.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Greg notes that "[a] play called the Cruelty of a Stepmother was acted at Richmond on 28 Dec. 1578 by the then Chamberlain's men," but he sees "no reason to suppose any connection with the present piece" (II.204, Item #178).

Knutson suggests that, if the ballad called "The Lady Isabella;s Tragedy; or The Step-Mother's Cruelty" was the source (see below), this play featured an "evil matron" and "ghoulish meal" (29, 26). In a note, she cites Andrew Clark as having connected the ballad to Dekker and Chettle's play but without much enthusiasm (35n; Domestic Drama: A Survey of the origins, Antecedents and Nature of the Domestic Play in England, 1500-1540, 2 vols. [Salzburgh: Institut fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1975], 2:419).

For What It's Worth

In the ballad, "The Lady Isabella's Tragedy; or, The Step-Mother's Cruelty," the gruesome story is presented as though an historical fact. Following the title, the ballad has the following heading: "Being a Relation of a most lamentable and cruel Murder, committed on the Body of the Lady Isabella, the only Daughter of a Novle Duke, occasioned by the means of a Step-Mother and [acted by] the Master-Cook, who were both adjudged to suffer a cruel death for committing the said Horrid Act."

The story is as follows.


Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker

Works Cited

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Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 31 October 2009.