‘Let death make amends for all my sins’: (In)Sincere Confessions in Arden of Faversham

Cheryl Birdseye


This essay explores Alice Arden’s testimony in the anonymous Arden of Faversham (1592), moving on from existing critical attention that prioritises Alice’s character. Recent criticism has interrogated the role of material evidence in the play; however, the significance of Alice’s varying styles of confession remains neglected. Alice employs varying testimonial styles throughout the play, including ‘confessional denials,’ which actively draw attention to her misdemeanours whilst synchronously dismissing suspicion; conventional denials of claims made against her; and, finally, self-deprecating confession. Her confessions bear close comparison to familiar confessional formats found in contemporary trial pamphlets and ballads, such as Raphael Holinshed’s account of the murder in his Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577), and the surviving later ballad of Alice’s confession, ‘The Complaint and Lamentation of Mistresse Arden of Feversham’ (c. 1633). Domestic tragedy offered audiences an increase in onstage female testimony – particularly in plays like Arden of Faversham and A Warning for Fair Women, which featured female protagonists inspired by genuine historical figures. Expanding on popular attribution of domestic tragedy as a primarily homiletic genre, I propose that Alice’s testimonial development should more convincingly be read as her playwright’s use of this experimental genre to engage with female testimonial delivery. Alice moves towards a more stylistically familiar form of confession at the play’s conclusion, demanding attention be paid to the sincerity, or satire, of this act. Necessitating further debate as to the value of confession, especially when presented in a seemingly conventional form, Arden of Faversham posed urgent cultural challenges that domestic tragedy was uniquely equipped to address.


Domestic Tragedy, Arden of Faversham, Testimony, Confession

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