Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino (eds), Thomas Middleton, Vol. 2: Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works

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pg 619THE LADY's TRAGEDYEdited by Julia Briggs

THE TEXT of the play here entitled The Lady's Tragedy is preserved in a single manuscript, bound with two other playscripts and fragments of a third in a volume owned by the British Library (BL MS Lansdowne 807). This manuscript, carefully transcribed on 23 folio sheets for performance by the King's Men, and submitted by them to the Revels Office for approval, also served as the company's promptbook. From it, one can reconstruct different versions of the play—from the earliest, as the scribe originally copied it out from Middleton's working papers, to the latest, as it was performed at Blackfriars, with the cuts imposed by the censor Sir George Buc, six additional passages supplied by the playwright, and a range of further cuts, alterations and stage directions added during rehearsal—the resulting text having been politically damped down and dramatically speeded up. This edition juxtaposes the earliest and latest versions, so that readers may see for themselves the ways in which a Renaissance play was revised during production.

The manuscript is beautifully and clearly written, but has been extensively corrected and revised by at least two further hands; five slips containing additional speeches, copied out by the original scribe, have been attached at different points. The sequence in which the various deletions, alterations and additions were made is difficult to establish with certainty, and neither the hand of the scribe nor that of the most frequent reviser has been positively identified—though neither resembles that of Middleton, as it appears in the Trinity manuscript of Game at Chess, for example (see discussion in 'Early Modern Authorship: Canons and Chronologies', page 371).

The only hand so far identified is that of Sir George BUC, who wrote out the licence, made corrections at A5.2.168/B5.2.143, 3.1.161 and perhaps 4.3.102, and almost certainly a number of other deletions and marginal markings as well. BUC'S task was to remove any words or passages that might be politically dangerous (such as damaging references to royalty or the court, or to recent events), or else might give offence (such as gratuitous oaths—'Heart!' and 'Life!' are regularly deleted, as is 'By the mass!'). A substantial number of such changes have been made to the original text, though it is impossible to tell how many of the words or lines marked for deletion, either by being scored through or indicated by a cross or a vertical line in the margin, were thus marked by BUC himself. Deletions often necessitated the addition of alternative words or phrases and these were probably supplied by the reviser(S) at the playhouse, while the playhouse itself may also have participated in the censorship process, either before the script was sent to BUC or after it returned from him. Jacobean stage censorship has increasingly come to be seen as a collaborative process in which the companies cooperated with the Revels office (see Patterson's account generally, and on The Lady's Tragedy in particular, Clare, 158–9, and Dutton, 194). Howard-Hill has argued that a series of blue-pencil crosses visible in the margins should be associated with BUC, in which case he appears to have made grammatical as well as political corrections (Howard-Hill, 176–7), thus further complicating the attribution of individual interventions.

The main reviser (who may also have been the bookkeeper or prompter) has made a series of alterations on the manuscript, filling in a lacuna in the text (at 4.3.38; the other line containing a lacuna, 5.1.168, has been deleted); substituting words where they have been deleted (e.g. at A5.1.186–7/B5.1.192 and A5.2.141/B5.2.116, and almost certainly at 1.2.165, A2.1.81/B2.1.78 and A5.2.212/B5.2.164), and making a series of minor adjustments to the metre (e.g. at 1.1.21, 1.1.37 and A1.1.137/ B1.1.118) or the phrasing (e.g. at A2.1.158/B2.1.119, 4.3.28 and 4.3.69). While some of these alterations result in greater metrical regularity, as many or more are either apparently pointless or constitute changes for the worse, as Jackson has pointed out (Studies in Attribution, 28).

The most extensive additions to the play are those made on the additional slips: these were written out by the original scribe on a single folio sheet, cut into five pieces and fastened to the manuscript at places marked with a circle in the margin by the bookkeeper. NO corrections have been made on the slips themselves, so they were probably added after the manuscript had returned from the Revels office and been 'reformed', in accordance with BUC'S instructions, but before the play went into production. Further substantial cuts seem to have been made after their insertion, since in the final scene Helvetius's part has been cut altogether, although the addition at B4.2a.1–11 prepares us for his reappearance.

In general, the purpose of the additional passages seems to have been to tighten up the plot. The first three additions (B1.1.198, B1.1.208–15, B2.1.3–10) address the implausibility of the Tyrant allowing Govianus and the Lady to be imprisoned together (it is, of course, essential to the plot that they should be); the fourth (B4.2.38–41) explains why Govianus is free to visit the Cathedral. The fifth addition (B4.2a.1–11) advances the plot and demarcates a break between the Tyrant's exit at the end of 4.2 and his re-entry elsewhere in the following scene, a break insisted upon by contemporary stage convention. pg 620The sixth addition (B5.1.166–79) allows Anselmus to die only after having learned the truth about his wife's adultery.

Finally, extra stage directions have been written in an italic hand in the left margin. These were added after the paste-in slips, since one of them, 'Enter Mr Gough' (B4.2a.0.1), identifies the speaker of the fifth addition which would otherwise remain unattributed. This is one of two points where entrances are marked with the actors' own names, the other being 'Enter Lady | Rich Robinson' (B4.4.42.7)—both are names of King's Men actors (see Critical Introduction). These entries, in an italic hand, are the work of the bookkeeper, and are likely to have been made during rehearsal. It is quite possible that these and the other stage directions entered on the manuscript were written in the italic hand of the main reviser, in which case that reviser was also the bookkeeper. The presence in the text of the hands belonging to the scribe and the bookkeeper, and the absence of that of the author recalls the Induction to Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614) where the bookkeeper, with the 'scrivener' in attendance, draws up a contract with the audience. Playwrights evidently recognized that, at a certain point, their work passed into the control of the scrivener and bookkeeper, before it could reach its audience.

Although it was entered in the Stationers' Register on 9 September 1653 (by Humphrey Moseley, as 'The Maids Tragedie, 2nd Part'), the play was not printed until the nineteenth century, after it had been acquired by the British Museum. In the mid-seventeenth-century it had belonged to the stationer Humphrey Moseley, along with a number of other King's Men play scripts, and in the following century it was owned by the antiquary John Warburton, who had it bound with the other texts that had escaped the general destruction of his collection: 'After I had been many years Collecting these MSS Playes, through my own carlesness and the Ignorace of my Ser, in whose hands I had lodged them they was unluckely burnd or put under Pye bottoms, excepting ye three which followes. J.W.' At his death, it was acquired by the first Marquis of Lansdowne and from him by the British Museum in 1807. As 'The Second Maiden's Tragedy', it was first published in 1824, then twice in 1875 and again in 1892.

Since then, two major editions have appeared: in 1910 W. W. greg published a diplomatic transcript of the manuscript, recording and attributing the various corrections as far as he was able to, and in 1978 Anne lancashire produced an excellent modern-spelling edition with a full scholarly apparatus, including a collation of all previous editions. More recently, it has been implausibly edited by Charles Hamilton as Cardenio, or The Second Maiden's Tragedy (see note on 'Authorship and Date'), and by Martin Wiggins, under the title The Maiden's Tragedy. The latter 'attempts to edit the play "forward" towards a theatrical text' while at the same time restoring Buc's cuts, and criticizing Lancashire for producing 'a version of the text that never existed'. Wiggins's edition is published in a collection of Jacobean Sex Tragedies where it precedes Fletcher's Tragedy of Valentinian—although Valentinian evidently influenced The Lady's Tragedy and is undoubtedly the earlier play. (See commentary notes at A4.2.38 and B5.1.192.)

The textual apparatus to this edition differs from that of any preceding edition, because we have printed two separate versions, with (accordingly) two analytically distinct sets of Textual Notes. The first set records emendations and variants arising from the original version of the text, as represented by the scribe's completed transcript, before it had been altered by buc, any reviser, or the bookkeeper. These notes also record cases where the scribe has made what appear to be running corrections to his own work, resulting in substantive variants to the text. Where the scribe'S self-corrections do not produce variant words, but only variant spellings or variant punctuation, these are recorded in a separate list of 'Incidental Variants'; where they do not affect the words themselves, but only their arrangement as verse, they are incorporated in the Lineation notes. The second set of Textual Notes records emendations and variants relevant to the Performance Text, incorporating changes made by buc, the bookkeeper, by any other unidentified reviser, and on the addition slips transcribed later by the original scribe (identified, when performing that function, as scribe2). It is seldom clear which of these agents was responsible for a particular change; accordingly, the notes record such uncertainties, while making no attempt to discriminate between different revisers.

see also

Text: Works, 839

Authorship and date: this volume, 371


Previous Editions

  • baldwyn , Charles, (printed for), The Second Maiden's Tragedy in The Old English Drama (1824), vol. 1

  • tieck , Ludwig, trans., Shakspeare's Vorschule, 'Der Tyrann, oder die zweite Jungfrauen-Tragoedie' (1829), vol. 2

  • hazlitt , W. C, ed., A Select Collection of Old English Plays (1875), vol. 10

  • shepherd , R. H., ed., The Works of George Chapman (1875), vol. 2

  • hopkinson , A. F., ed., The Second Maiden's Tragedy (1892)

  • greg, W. W., ed., The Second Maiden's Tragedy, Malone Society (1910, backdated to 1909)

  • stenger , Harold L., Jr., ed., The Second Maiden's Tragedy (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1954)

  • lancashire , Anne, ed., The Second Maiden's Tragedy, Revels (1978)

  • Hamilton, Charles, ed., The Lost Play of Cardenio, or The Second Maiden's Tragedy (1994)

  • Wiggins, Martin, ed., The Maiden's Tragedy, in Four Jacobean Sex Tragedies (1998)

Other Works Cited

  • Allman, Eileen, Jacobean Revenge Tragedy and the Politics of Virtue (1999)

  • pg 621Bergeron, David M., 'Art within The Second Maiden's Tragedy', Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 1 (1984), 173–86

  • Bushnell, Rebecca W., Tragedies of Tyrants: Political Thought and Theater in the English Renaissance (1990)

  • Clare, Janet, 'Art made tongue-tied by authority': Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship (1990)

  • Dutton, Richard, Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama (1991)

  • Erasmus, Desiderius, The Education of a Christian Prince (1516), trans. Lester K. Born (1936), 190

  • Greenblatt, Stephen, 'Remnants of the Sacred in Early Modern England', Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture, ed. Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan and Peter Stallybrass (1996), 337–45

  • Holdsworth, R. V., 'The Revenger's Tragedy as a Middleton Play', Three Jacobean Revenge Tragedies: a Casebook, ed. R. V. Holdsworth (1990), 79–105

  • Howard-Hill, T. H., 'Marginal Markings: the Censor and the Editing of Four English Promptbooks', Studies in Bibliography 36 (1983), 168–77

  • Jackson, MacDonald P., Studies in Attribution: Middleton and Shakespeare (1979)

  • Lake, David J., The Canon of Thomas Middleton's Plays (1975)

  • Levin, Richard, The Multiple Plot in English Renaissance Drama (1971)

  • Moore, A. Telford, '"Shey"' in Jacobean and Caroline Drama', Notes and Queries 238 (1993), 228–9

  • Patterson, Annabel, Censorship and Interpretation: The Condition of Reading and Writing in Early Modern England (1984)

  • Schoenbaum, Samuel, Middleton's Tragedies: A Critical Study (1955)

  • Stachniewski, John, 'Calvinist Psychology in Middleton's Tragedies', in Three Jacobean Revenge Tragedies: a Casebook, ed. R. V. Holdsworth (1990), 226–47


As explained in the textual introduction, the two versions set out in the present edition coexist as layers of writing in a single manuscript, copied out by a single scribe who wrote out the whole text, here presented as version A, the Original Version.

The record for version B, the Performance Version, derives from changes made to the scribe's text by a series of revisers. It has thus been editorially reconstructed from the scribal base text, taken in combination with the revisers' changes. The revisers also had a retrospective influence on how version A is read, since they have sometimes corrected errors they came across while working through the scribe's text.

Textual notes to the Original Version (version A) have been provided when and where a doubt arises over what the scribe has written, or when the process of modernizing the text has altered the original reading significantly. The scribe's idiosyncrasies or errors can obscure the text he was copying in one of two ways: (a) he corrected himself in mid-flow of his writing (currente calamo), rewriting initial mistakes or misreadings or altering his own earlier (mis?)readings (sometimes the editor must decide whether the scribe has corrected himself rightly or wrongly); or, (b) the scribe's manuscript gives readings that the editor considers need emending, or correcting (in the second case, it is sometimes a reviser who has suggested a necessary amendment).

Textual notes to the Performance Version (version B) are of a somewhat different nature, since they are seldom directed towards establishing the text in terms of individual readings; instead, they record how the censor (Buc) and the reviser(s) modified the scribe's manuscript text. These notes are mainly concerned to record later alterations and additions, or the precise extent of the cuts marked in the manuscript's margins.

A. Notes on the Original Version

Title The Lady's Tragedy] this edition (conj. Taylor); This second Maydens tragedy buc. Buc's provisional title has no authority; for a justification of the new title, see the Critical Introduction.

Persons not in scribe

A1.1.8 on] scribe, o altered from i

A1.1.29 care] scribe, written over charge (erased)

A1.1.34.1 Exit] scribe (Exit Mempho:)

A1.1.37 her her] scribe, second her interlined

A1.1.52 one] reviser (?), altered from ones scribe (final letter uncertain)

A1.1.54 Exit] scribe (Exit Sophonirus)

A1.1.72 too] scribe (to), second o added by reviser (?)

A1.1.80 first noble] lancashire; 3. Noblem⁞; scribe. Memphonius and Sophonirus are the first two noblemen; '3 Noble.' also speaks at ll. 96, 99 and '4 Nobl.' at l. 99.

A1.1.86 cònstrue] scribe (conster)

A1.1.87 wife's] scribe (wyues)

A1.1.87 women] scribe, e altered from a

A1.1.117 too] scribe (to), second o added by reviser

A1.1.127 hither] scribe (hether, th altered from re and er added)

A1.1.138 any] scribe, y altered from n

A1.1.146 affection] scribe, a final s erased

A1.1.179 Has] scribe, S altered from v

A1.1.180 Like … way] scribe, originally omitted, then interlined. See also textual note on B1.1.161.

A1. 1.206 thy] scribe, altered from our

A1.2.0.1 Lord] scribe (L). The title is often thus abbreviated (e.g. at 1.2.132, 1.2.155, etc.).

A1.2.34 rest] scribe (Rest), R altered from br (correction in dark ink, possibly made by reviser)

A1.2.48 that] scribe, at altered from e

A1.2.61 upon] scribe (vpon), v altered from o

A1.2.91 to] scribe, interlined

A1.2.120 he] scribe, interlined

A1.2.161 part] scribe, preceding word port (?) written, then crossed out

A1.2.212 O, you … heart,] scribe, first written between 1.2.209–10, then crossed out

A1.2.257.1 Exit] scribe (Exit Votaris)

A1.2.282 but in] scribe, n probably altered, perhaps from s

A1.2.285 ill… I‸ thank] stenger; ~, I, ~ scribe

A1.2.288 a] scribe, altered, perhaps from beginning of h

A1.2.290 Exit] scribe (—/Exit lady.)

A2.1.31 my] scribe, y altered from e

A2.1.39 left'st] scribe (left's)

A2.1.48 through] scribe (thoroughe)

A2.1.56 mind] scribe, m altered from k

A2.1.59 beholden] scribe (beholding)

A2.1.75 What] scribe (what), h altered from th

A2.1.76 on't] scribe (an't)

A2.1.80 thee] scribe, second e added (?)

A2.1.82 the] scribe, interlined

A2.1.166 ascent] scribe (asscent), c inserted

pg 622A2.2.18 Delights] baldwyn; delight scribe

A2.2.31 leonella] scribe (Leo.), speech heading altered from Wife (erased)

A2.2.55 the] this edition (conj. T. W. Craik); omitted scribe

A2.2.83.1 Exit; manet Votarius] scribe (Exit Leonela | manet Votarius)

A2.2.139 Exit] scribe (Exit Anselms.)

A2.2.151 And … pardon.] scribe, crossing out Exit in right margin

A2.3.19 ha't] scribe (ha'ate)