Sheila Coursey


Many early modern English domestic tragedies dramatize infamous ‘true-crime’ news stories from London and surrounding suburbs, capitalizing on public fascination with these narratives despite possible moral backlash. This article turns to the play Two Lamentable Tragedies (c.1601) to demonstrate how public participation in true crime narratives shaped audience engagement and response in the performance of these domestic tragedies. Two Lamentable Tragedies dramatizes the murder of London chandler Robert Beech by his neighbor Thomas Merry, a crime that was solved by the amateur investigation of Beech’s neighbors and other London citizens. Using the contemporary true-crime podcast Serial as a methodological lens, this article demonstrates how current conversations about the work of ‘true crime publics,’ discursive groups that are driven by epistemological mastery of a crime narrative, can reshape our consideration of domestic tragedy audiences. While critics tend to characterize domestic tragedy audiences as voyeuristic, this article argues that the theater sought to hold its audiences as complicit not only for their curiosity and desire, but also for their past work in writing, reading, performing and sharing ballads, broadsides and hearsay about murder cases.