Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM
A sailor named Dick Reede tells his sailor friend he needs to intercept Arden since Arden would never speak to him at home. When Arden, Franklin, and Michael do come by, Reede begs forthe parcel of land “wrongfully detain[ed]” (xiii.13) whose rent would help out his wife and children when he returns to sea soon. Arden defends his purchase of the land and threatens Reede, who in turn curses Arden with the hope that the land brings him disaster: that he end up running mad there, or that he “there be butchered by thy dearest friends” (xiii.35).
Reede departs, and Arden anticipates Alice greeting them enthusiastically due to her recent redemption from frowardness to kindness. Franklin advises that they downplay the generosity of Cheiny lest Alice feel cheated. Just as Arden offers some qualified praise for women, Alice and Mosby appear, arm in arm. “Injurious strumpet and thou ribald knave,” Arden calls them (xiii.78). Mosby makes horn references to Arden’s cuckoldry. Weapons are drawn and Alice cries out, whereupon Black Will and Shakebag emerge. In the ensuing fight, Shakebag and Mosby are wounded. Alice distressedly claims it was all a jest that Arden took horribly wrong. She unleashes some Wife of Bath rhetoric on Arden to make him feel like the faulty party (xiii.106-113). It works, and Arden is repentant. Alice thinks Arden should tend to Mosby’s wound by way of apology. Arden is willing and, though Franklin advises against it, he goes off with Alice to find Mosby. Franklin laments how duped his friend is, but realizes he can say little against the man’s own wife.
Greene is ready to give up the enterprise, but Black Will blabs on about what a bad-ass he is. Alice and Michael enter, with news of Arden and Mosby reconciled. Arden is holding a big neighborhood dinner. Alice tells Michael if he fetches Mosby to her, Susan shall be guaranteed his tonight. Black Will invites himself to the dinner and explains in detail Shakebag’s tactical mistake during the fight. Alice says they would have been well rewarded, but Will has not given up.
Mosby enters with his arm bandaged. Alice claims that Mosby’s being wounded made her want to kill Arden in his bed. Mosby asks if Will and Shakebag will carry out his new plot. “Ay, or else think me as a villain” (xiv.100), says Black Will. Greene will keep Franklin busy while Mosby and Arden will play at tables [backgammon] until Mosby gives the signal, at which point the murderers will come forth from the countinghouse to kill Arden. “Come, Black Will, that in mine eyes art fair” (xiv.119), says Alice. Will requests that Arden be given a stool during the backgammon game, the better to grab him from behind, “Then stab him till his flesh be as a sieve” (xiv.129). If they stash his body behind the Abbey, it’ll look like robbery. Alice loves it! Twenty pounds, and forty more when Arden is dead. Alice is inspired to offer impressive classical allusions regarding her replacement of Arden with Mosby.
Michael announces that Arden approaches with only Mosby. Alice instructs Michael to lock the street-door once they’re inside. She indicates to Arden that, although she wanted a reconciliation, bringing Mosby home is going too far considering the louses he associates with, who may murder you. Arden dismisses her “prating” (xiv.186) and sends for wine. Alice, feigning reluctant compliance with Arden’s wishes, drinks to Mosby. She says that supper will be ready by the time they have finished a game of backgammon.
Black Will and Shakebag hold back until Mosby gives the watchword: “Now I can take you” (xiv.240). Will pulls Arden down with a towel, and Arden asks what Mosby, Michael, and Alice are doing. Mosby seems to whack Arden with a pressing-iron. Shakebag stabs him, as does Alice. Black Will worries that Michael will rat them out, but Mosby reassures him. Shakebag plans to hide out in Southwerk with a widow, and he leaves with Black Will after the body is conveyed to the countinghouse.
Susan enters, saying the guests are at the door. Alice sends Mosby to attend to them while Susan is to fetch water to wash away the blood.
The blood cleaveth to the ground and will not out.
But with my nails I’ll scrape away the blood. —
The more I strive the more the blood appears.
Thoughts of Macbeth are unavoidable (Ogburn and Ogburn 792). Mosby recommends strewing rushes on it. Alice already starts claiming regret, but Mosby reassures her. Neighbor Adam Fowle and Bradshaw enter, and Mosby says Alice is weeping out of fear over her husband being out so late and having recently been threatened. Greene says he saw Arden walking behind the Abbey a moment ago. Mosby will take Arden’s seat at dinner. Susan and Michael have a private conversation: she’s worried, and he looks forward to their marriage but will purchase some ratsbane in case he has to poison Alice since she seems to be cracking.
Alice bursts into tears at a toast to her husband and sends Franklin to search for him. Franklin has a bad feeling, but leaves, with Mosby and Greene. At Alice’s instigation, Michael gets the remaining guests to leave. Alice and Susan look at Arden’s corpse in the countinghouse and bring it out. Mosby and Greene return, reporting Franklin’s suspicion that they murdered Arden. Michael returns with news that the Mayor and the watch are approaching the house, armed. Alice tells Mosby and Greene to escape out the back, over the wood-pile, and to the Flower-de-Luce for the night. Mosby, Greene, Michael, and Susan take the body to the field, and, though Susan especially worries, Alice says that their footprints in the snow will be covered by more snow.
The Mayor and watch arrive. Alice asks if they have brought Arden with them. The Mayor saw him enter his own home earlier, and Alice says he’s wrong. The Mayor has a warrant for Black Will’s arrest but Alice denies knowing any Black Will. Nevertheless, they will search the premises.
Franklin enters; he has found the body of Arden behind the Abbey. The hand-towel and knife are produced. Michael whispers to Susan that he thought he had thrown them into the well. Alice says it’s the blood of the pig they had for dinner. The Mayor suspects Alice is one of the murderers. Franklin points out the sets of footprints, the blood in the house, and the rushes found in Arden’s slipper. Blood on Arden’s seat Alice claims is wine. Franklin accuses her and curses her accomplices. Alice asks to see the body of her husband. Franklin commands that she be brought along with Susan. Someone should go to the Flower-de-Luce to arrest Mosby.
Shakebag has tried to hide out with a former mistress, since widowed. But she tried to kick him out, so he “spurned her down the stairs / And broke her neck, and cut her tapster’s throat” (xv.8-9). Now he’ll throw them in the Thames. He intends to seek sanctuary across the water.
The Mayor brings Alice into the presence of Arden’s corpse, which bleeds (cp. Richard III I.ii). “This blood condemns me, and in gushing forth / Speaks as it falls and asks me why I did it” (xvi.5-6). She confesses. The Mayor asks Mosby why he murdered Arden, and Franklin mentions Arden’s purse found by Mosby’s bed. Mosby says only that he hired Black Will and Shakebag who helped him murder Arden. Franklin says he will go to London for a warrant to apprehend those two.
Black Will has heard that Shakebag has taken sanctuary. He won’t have the same good fortune since he is being pursued and is wanted for other crimes everywhere. He’s had a close call with capture where “the constable had twenty warrants to apprehend me; / Besides that, I robbed him and his man once at Gadshill” (xvii.12-13). [Gadshill is where Prince Hal and Poins pretended to rob Falstaff (1 Henry IV II.iv).] Will will leave England and go to Flushing.
The Mayor has the prisoners brought away. Bradshaw is condemned to die with the rest, even though he only carried a letter from Greene. Alice admits his innocence of the letter’s contents and wants to be left alone to make her peace with Christ. Mosby wants to be separated from the “strumpet” Alice. Susan is condemned as well, and she asks her brother Mosby the reason — after all, she knew nothing of this until after the murder — but Mosby can do nothing for her. Michael regrets his involvement because of his hopes for marrying Susan.
The Mayor tells them all to shut up and stop accusing each other. He commands that Mosby and Susan will be executed at Smithfield. Alice will be burnt to death at Canterbury. Michael and Bradshaw will be executed in Faversham. Alice is repentant but accepting. Mosby curses women. Susan puts her hope in heaven. Michael is glad to die seeing Susan. Bradshaw curses the Mayor. They are all taken away.
Franklin tells us about the aftermath: Shakebag was murdered in Southwerk on his way to Greenwich; “Black Will was burnt in Flushing on a stage [scaffold]” (6); Greene was hanged at Osbridge; Clarke disappeared.
But this above the rest is to be noted:
Arden lay murdered in that plot of ground
Which he by force and violence held from Reede;
And in the grass his body’s print was seen
Two years and more after the deed was done.
Franklin hopes we’ll pardon this crude tragedy.
The play was published in 1592. Holingshead’s Chronicles is the principle source.