Domestic Tragedy and Change in Early Modern Theatre (Public lecture, 30th August)

Photograph of the globe theatre and audienceYou may not have heard of the anonymous play The Tragedy of Master Arden of Faversham, but when it was produced in 1592 it changed the face of theatre forever. In this Late Summer Lecture, Iman Sheeha will reveal how, suddenly, playwrights turned their attention away from tragedies about kings and nobles, towards tragedies involving ordinary men and women. Hear more on 30th August at 17.30 in Alington House, Durham

The group of plays usually described in criticism, since the nineteenth century, as domestic tragedies appeared between the 1590s and 1620s, distinguishing themselves by placing characters not belonging to the royal and noble classes centre stage and celebrating them as fit subjects of tragedy. The combination of a protagonist’s humble social origins, the home-based setting of events, the personal, intimate and domestic subject matter and the tragic mode of theatrical representation that these plays share was something of a novelty at the end of the sixteenth century. Conventional theory of drama, with its origins in Aristotle, relegated the domestic, the personal and the socially humble to the medium of comedy, reserving the medium of tragedy to the depiction of socially elevated characters and to the representation of affairs of state and political rule. Examples of more traditional tragedies include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth. Domestic tragedies shifted the balance, featuring English settings, English men and women, and subject matter that catered to the interests of ordinary men and women in their domestic and intimate lives.

This lecture offers insights into the change that domestic tragedies constituted, drawing on examples from five plays representatives of the genre, the anonymous Arden of Faversham (1592) and A Warning for Fair Women (1599), Thomas Middleton’s A Yorkshire Tragedy (1605), Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603) and Thomas Dekker, John Ford and William Rowley’s The Witch of Edmonton (1621). Key themes discussed are the genre’s departure from convention, representations of the domestic, of gender, and the use these plays make of the contemporary commonplace analogy between household and state to reflect on topics of a political nature.

Late Summer Lectures runs every Wednesday until 4th October. Come and find out about topics ranging from Victorian magic lanterns, to British poetry of the coast. Join the conversation on Twitter via #LateSummerLectures.

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