Examine how Arden of Faversham can be seen as a tragedy or anti-tragedy.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is much within Arden of Faversham that can be seen as tragedy. If the tragic condition can be defined as one where questions and a lack of resolution persist, this can be seen in Arden of Faversham.  The reality of class differences in the drama is a tragic condition.  The drama's depiction of class is one in which there is a fragmented social order present.  Lower characters such as Bradshaw understand this reality:  "O Will, times are changed. No fellows now."  This ideas of "no fellows" and a shifting time embrace a tragic social condition where individuals are not content with where they are placed and seek to advance.  Tragedy lies in  the collision between what exists in the subjective mind of the characters and the external reality they face.  This tragic condition forged out of class consciousness is evident in the moment that Mosby murders Arden:  "There’s for the pressing iron you told me of."  In the instant of murder, Mosby does not remark about his love for Alice.  Rather, he makes a comment about the class condition that Arden had previously used to insult him.  This reflects how class consciousness indicates a socially tragic condition of being for the characters in the drama.  

Another aspect of tragedy in the drama resides in its ending.  There might be a desire to present a comically unifying aspect of the drama in its anti- tragic didactic subtitle:  "the great malice and dissimulation of a wicked woman, the insatiable desire of filthy lust, and the shameful end of all murderers."  While the title might strive for some type of totality, the ending of the drama is really quite tragic.  There is little in way of redemption. Even if the legal punishment of Alice or Mosby is seen as anti- tragic, the reality is that no one wins. Tragedy is seen in the ending because no resolution or harmonious notion of being is evident.  The Epilogue reveals that little can be taken from the ending as anti- tragic:

But this above the rest is to be noted: 
Arden lay murdered in that plot of ground 
Which he by force and violence held from Reede; 
And in the grass his body's print was seen 
Two years and more after the deed was done. 

Even the natural condition of growth and regeneration was truncated as a result of the murder; the grass did not grow for "two years."  The drama's ending is one in which redemption is absent, and this is where tragedy lies.

Arden of Faversham is primarily seen as a domestic tragedy because it is able to inflict the tragic condition upon all people.  Tragedy is not solely the domain of kings and royalty.  Rather, Arden of Faversham suggests that tragedy exists for all people, regardless of social rank.  While there is a lesson that emerges from the drama that can be seen as anti- tragic in terms of sin and morality, there is a emotional and physical brutality evident that makes it tragic.  Anti- tragedy can exist in the lessons that the audience absorbs. However, in terms of the trajectory of characterization, the tragic element becomes a dominant one in the drama.

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Arden of Faversham

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