Thomas Merry (Beech's Tragedy)

John Day, William Haughton (1599)

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 65v (Greg I.114)

Lent vnto wm Harton the 21 novmb[er]
in earneste of her boocke called merie
the some of … xs

Lent vnto wm harton & John daye the 27 of
novmb[er] in earneste of a tragedie called
mereie the some of … xxs
                as may a pere

F. 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.

F. 66 (Greg I.115)

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

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

pd vnto wm hawghton & John daye the
6 of desemb[er] 1599 in full payment of ther
boocke called the tragedie of merie the some of … xxxxs

Payments, Miscellaneous (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 67 (Greg I.117)

[10-18 January 1600]

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

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. It was one of several "true crime" plays acquired in response to the arrival of the Chamberlain's Men across the street at the Globe and anticipation of the move northward to the Fortune playhouse.

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

If "The Tragedy of Thomas Merry" was a discrete text from the play 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 the 1601 publication under the name of Robert Yarington called Two Lamentable Tragedies [1], the play in that publication called "the murder of Maister Beech a Chaundler in Thames street, and his boye, done by Thomas Merry" is a dramatic analogue.

The chapbook and ballads in the Stationers' Record (above) are lost. The story in Two Lamentable Tragedies is thus the only 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. (27)

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

Merry also beats the servant boy, Thomas Winchester with the hammer, leaving it stuck in the boy’s head; the hammer is still there, according to the stage directions, 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 (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 gentleman walking his dog. Merry’s servant, Harry Williams, gets branded for withholding information on the crime. Merry’s body, but not his sister’s, is hung up in chains at Mile End Green. (36, n30)

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Two issues drive the commentary on "The Tragedy of Thomas Merry":

One is the identity of Rob. Yarington, whose name appears in the authorial position on the title page of Two Lamentable Tragedies (1601) Internet Archive. Fleay believed that "Yarington was a fictitious name" (2.286) Internet Archive. Greg called Yarington a scribe (II.209, Item 190). 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 conjectures further 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 (ssvii-ssviii). For Hanabusa, the printing of Two Lamentable Tragedies reflects the stage success of "Thomas Merry." 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,

The other is the relationship of the first of the two plays in Two Lamentable Tragedies to the play for which the Admiral’s Men paid Haughton and Day £5 in 1599. 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" (2.286) Internet Archive. Greg argued that the combined printing of two plays means "much matter must have been omitted" (II.209, Item 190). 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" (II.209, Item 190). 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 (35-6).

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 (248). He refers to Two Lamentable Tragedies as a "London horror story" (71). He offers alternative titles for the 1601 printing: The Double Tragedy (114) and Two Tragedies in One (144), the latter the running title in the Yarington publication.

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" (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 (27).

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

Works Cited

Clark, Andrew. “An Annotated List of Lost Domestic Plays, 1578—1624,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 18 (1975): 29-44.
Fleay, F. G. A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559—1642. 2 vols. 1891; rpt New York: Burt Franklin, 1962. Gutenburg
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare’s Opposites: The Admiral’s Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
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.
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 21 January 2010.