There has been a great deal of scholarly focus on the children of William Shakespeare’s plays, where violence to their bodies interrogate history, inheritance, and political ascension. Attending to the drama of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, however, reveals that the staging of children also emphasized the stakes of oath breaking, legal renege, and violence to children within non-royal families. This article examines the didactic legal possibilities of early modern English drama outside the Inns of Court tradition and Shakespearean canon. I examine two early seventeenth-century domestic tragedies that dramatize violent child murders: Robert Yarington’s Two Lamentable Tragedies (1601) and Thomas Middleton’s A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608). The domestic space occupied by both sets of caregivers and children illustrates the effects of crime on the community, the difficulties of law enforcement, and the early modern justice system broadly. I suggest the implied executions of the failed caregivers and their pre-death lamentations stage the legal repercussions of oath-breaking and child violence. Through a combination of rhetorical and performance strategies, these texts implicate playgoers as witnesses to child-murder, interrogating assumptions about the extent that the law can protect children.
Stewart, Riley S.
""Then their heirs may prosper while mine bleeds": Legal Renege, Witnessing, and Child Corpses in Two Lamentable Tragedies and A Yorkshire Tragedy,"
ROMARD: Vol. 59, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/romard/vol59/iss1/6