Staging The Tragedy of Merry

In our July reading group we discussed Emma Whipday’s and Freyja Cox Jensen’s article: “‘Original Practices’, Lost Plays, and Historical Imagination: Staging The Tragedy of Merry” chosen by Evey Reidy. Evey provided the following prompts and summaries to guide our reading:

Article summary: Two Lamentable Tragedies […] presents unique opportunities for scholars interested in marginal genres, the possibilities for engaging with ‘lost’ plays, and the role of performance practice as – and as a complement to – research, in the study of early modern drama, culture, and society. This article charts our explorations of these possibilities, a process that shared many of the concerns of Oliver Jones’s work in Stratford discussed elsewhere in this special issue, but from a different perspective: Jones seeks to explore and reimagine a space, we, a text. We excerpted The Tragedy of Merry from the surviving text of Two Lamentable Tragedies, and, working with a company of professional actors and academics, staged our historical imagining of the play at University College London in March 2014. A second production, using a new cast of amateur actors with almost no prior experience of early modern drama, was staged at The Walronds in Cullompton, Devon, in June 2015. 

Building on the research of Tiffany Stern, who shared her research with the London audience in an introductory talk prior to the performance, we used an “Original Practices” model of rehearsal and performance – including actors’ parts, a limited rehearsal period, shared lighting, costume contemporary to the performance, and a ‘book-keeper’ (see Stern, Rehearsal 52–122) – to interrogate how these methods illuminate genre, spatial dynamics and character development for both actors and audience. Using our historical imagining of this ‘lost’ play as a case study, this article asks what staging a neglected play can teach us about the relationships between history and literature, tragedy and comedy, the domestic and the communal; charts how early modern rehearsal practices can assist and challenge actors in performing early modern texts; and explores the role of theatrical practice-as-research within, and beyond, the academy” (290-291).


  • Whipday and Jensen quote Richard Allen Cave’s assertion that “the art of theatre” is “a living process” with “a vibrant existence beyond texts, documents, sketches, long views, building contracts and the like” (quoted on 291). Do you engage with the “living process” of theatre in your research; if yes, how so? How can we explore the “living process” of plays so removed from us historically?
  • To what extent (as far as you can gauge from the article) do you agree that the theatrical experiment with The Tragedy of Merry effectively worked to “illuminate the spatial and generic features of the play” (292)? Can you think of other texts that might benefit from this type of exploration?
  • This experiment greatly featured – and possibly relied on – audience response to gauge the effectiveness of the performance. What possible benefits and downsides can you see to this approach? What can scholars learn from modern audiences’ reactions to early modern work?
  • What is the role of interdisciplinarity in the future of early modern theatrical scholarship?

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