Stepmother's Tragedy, The
Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker (1599)
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
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.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
See "For What It's Worth," below.
References to the Play
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). He does not mention the ballad (see below), the sub-title of which is closer to the 1578 play-title than to the 1599 one.
Knutson suggests that, if the ballad called "The Lady Isabella;s Tragedy; or The Step-Mother's Cruelty" was the source (see below EBBA), 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, Banquet of human flesh
Knutson, Roslyn L. “Toe to Toe Across Maid Lane: : Repertorial Competition at the Rose and Globe, 1599-1600,” in June Schlueter and Paul Nelsen (eds) Acts of Criticism: Performance Matters in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Madison & Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005), 21-37.
Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 14 November 2009.