Arden of Faversham is a domestic tragedy play but it has some elements of anti-tragedy, can you explain where in the play can we see anti-tragedy elements? Thank you

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the literary criticism book Tragedy and After Faas (1984) cites the main differences and similarities between tragedy and anti-tragedy. From such description you will be able to see where exactly the Elizabethan play Arden of Faversham (1592) displays the most salient traits of anti-tragedy.

Faas describes tragedy as the accumulation of events that lead to actions of unsavory, unfair, and sad nature. It is a combination of inevitability, providence, life, death, and emotion. The main component of tragedy is suffering, however, this suffering has a place and a moment in the greater scheme of things: to save someone, to gain someone's love, or to endure some other form of pain. This is the essence of tragedy: suffering for a clear goal whether immediate, or with a vision of eternal influence. Tragedy also denotes that the causative factors that lead to it are also valid. In a typical tragedy, the fate of the hero is decided by valid factors such as the wrath of the gods, or a pivotal event that turns the hero into a “tragic” hero.

Contrastingly, anti-tragedy sends a different message to the audience: suffering is without a cause; it is endurance of pain devoid of any meaningful or redeeming purpose. Anti-tragedy does not provide a valid reason to explain the origin of the tragedy either. It merely happens because people are wicked, or because bad things can occur to good people. There is no redemption. This makes anti-tragedy even all the more morbid. 

In the play Arden of Faversham, the anti-tragic elements are immediately found in the description of the play's title, which also serves to summarize the plot:

The lamentable and true tragedy of master Arden of Feversham in Kent. Who was Most wickedly murdered by the means of his disloyal and wanton wife who for the love she bore to one Mosbie, hired two desperate ruffians Black Will and Shakebag to kill him. Wherein is showed the great malice and dissimulation of a Wicked woman, the unsatiable desire of filthy lust and the shameful end of all Murderers

This “lamentation” evokes an emotion of inevitability that limits the audience to just accept this cruel event as-is: for no worthy reason, and merely to satisfy the lust of a mean woman. Alice, Arden's husband, runs behind his back despite of claiming her love for him and is clearly a hypocrite who hides behind sweet talk and lies. Throughout the play she is cruel and scheming while the Arden suffers continuously of being a cuckold.

Sweet Mosbie is the man that hath my heart:
And he usurps it, having nought but this,
That I am tied to him by marriage....
Tush! Whether it be or no, he shall be mine,
In spite of him, of hymen, and of rites.

These words by Alice evidence her cruelty: she actually blames Arden for being her husband, claiming that he has “usurped” her heart. She is ruthless in her want of Mosbie for a lover. Aden cannot control these events. This is anti-tragic. After Alice claims these words, Arden’s fate is officially sealed: there will be no ending to his unhappy situation; it will only get worse. The anti-tragedy traits are  evident in the relationship between Alice and Arden. Her cruelty has no basis, rationale, nor good reason. There is nothing fair about Arden’s situation, and it only grows worse. His death will ultimately serve no worthy purpose, and the story of his tragedy will merely be a “lamentable” tale, and not a major, influential event.

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Arden of Faversham

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