Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 61 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Ineke Murakami

Committee Members

Helene Scheck


Arden of Faversham, early modern drama, early modern theater, Edward II, Richard III, English drama, Literature and history

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


In the last fifty years, changes in the study of history have necessitated a questioning of the way we think about historiography and all genres of literature connected to our understanding of history. While the early modern history play genre has not been immune to shifts toward a focus on “social history” (defined as the history of the general population rather than the history of rulers), examining the history play genre in terms of plays that have been excluded from the genre canon shows that there is still a bias toward monarchical history when we study historiography. The anonymous Arden of Faversham (c. 1592), about a gentleman who is murdered by his own wife and a servant with whom she is having an affair, is not generally considered a history play despite its engagement with sixteenth-century social history. Yet, I argue that the socioeconomic circumstances of the lower and middling people of early modern England, portrayed in Arden of Faversham, are the same circumstances that gave rise to the first commercial playhouses in sixteenth-century England. Analyzing three plays using a blend of historiography and stage history, and considering the sociopolitical contexts in which Elizabethan plays were written and performed, this paper illuminates the importance of social history in reading early modern history plays. By reading Arden of Faversham in relation to two plays traditionally recognized as history plays, Edward II by Christopher Marlowe (c. 1593) and Richard III by William Shakespeare (c. 1593) I show that “domestic” affairs have as much place in “historiography” as matters of state.