Page of Plymouth

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Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker (1599)


Contents

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe’s Diary)

F. 63v (Greg I.110)

Lent vnto wm Borne alles birde the 10 of
aguste 1599 to Lend vnto bengemyne Johnsone
& Thomas deckers in earneste of ther boocke
wch they [are] awrittenge called pagge of p[le]moth the some ... xxxxs


F. 64 (Greg I.111)

Lent vnto wm Birde Thomas downton & Jewbey
the 25 of aguste 1599 to paye in fulle payment
for A Boocke called the lamentable tragedie
of pagge of plemoth the some of ... vjli


Payments for Properties (Henslowe’s Diary)

F. 64 (Greg I.111)

Lent vnto Jewbey & thomas towne the 12 of
Septmb[er] 1599 to bye wemen gownes for page
of plemoth the some of ... xli


Theatrical Provenance

These payments were made by members of the Admiral’s Men for their upcoming season at the Rose playhouse. The company moved to the newly built Fortune sometime in the fall of 1600, but in 1599 they were still at the Rose. They had new neighbors: in the fall of 1599 the Chamberlain's Men moved into their newly built playhouse, the Globe, across the street from the Rose on Maid Lane.


Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Harbage); Domestic tragedy


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Tract


A true discourse of a cruel and inhumaine murder, committed vpon M. Padge of Plymouth the 11. Day of February last, 1591, by the consent of his owne wife, and sundry other. The second of two tracts in “Sundrye strange and inhumaine Murthers, lately committed,” 1591. EEBO

Ballads


Three ballads, two from Mistress Page and one from her lover, serve as scaffold speeches:

“The Lamentation of Master Page’s wife of Plimmouth, who being enforced by her parents to wed him against her will, did most wickedly consent to his murther, for the love of George Strangwidge; for which fact she suffered death at Barstaple in Devonshire. Written with her owne hand, a little before her death." To the tune of “Fortune, my Foe.” Hindley, Roxburghe, II.191) (EBBA)
“The Lamentation of George Strangwidge, who, for consenting to the death of Master Page of Plimmouth, suffered Death at Bar[n]stable." Tto the tune of “Fortune.” (Hindley, Roxburghe, II.196) (EBBA)
“The Sorrowfull Complaint of Mistris Page, for causing her husband to be murdered, for the love of George Strangwidge, who were executed together." (Hindley, Roxburghe, II.199) (EBBA)



References to the Play

There are none known to the play, but several to the event of Page's murder.


In 1621 John Taylor in a tract entitled "The Unnatural Father, or, The Cruel Murder Committed by [one] John Rowse of the Town of Ewell ..." links Arden of Faversham with Page of Plymouth as men notoriously murdered. EEBO

In 1635 Henry Goodcole in a tract entitled "The Adultress's Funeral Day" links the murderess, Alice Clarke, with Mistresses Arden of Faversham and Page of Plymouth as murderers of their husbands. EEBO

In 1642, Thomas Taylor, in The Second Part of the Theatre of God's Judgments, connects instances of lust with stories of murderesses (again, Mistresses Arden and Page), saying also that many of the stories had been made into plays. He doesn't specifically clarify that Page of Plymouth was one of those:

To descend unto these latter times, how many strange and bloudy murders have beene committed through Lust? I will give them but a meere nomination, because most of them have beene Staged, Book'd, and Balleted, and disperst abroad through the Kingdome: As Master Arden of eversham slaine by his wife and her adulterous Companion Cosby; the act it selfe being committed in his owne house, by a barbarous and inhumane villaine, most commonly knowne by the name of Black Will, who after the deed done, and his reward received, fled into the Low-Countries, where he thought himselfe secure: But Gods hand reached him even thither; where for some other deed of the same nature, he was burnt on a Stage in Flushing; and shee her selfe, with Cosby and his Sister, together with a Gentleman Master Green, who had carried Letters betwixt the two Adulterers: (though hee took it upon his death, he knew not the intents of them) were all publikely executed at the Gallowes.

The like murder was committed on the person of one Master Page of Plymouth, by his young wife; and one Master George Strangwidge, who as the common voice went, were privately contracted together before her inforc'd Marriage: But howsoever as they were convicted of the murder, so for the same they were condemn'd, and publikely executed. EEBO


Critical Commentary

Greg identifies the tract and one ballad by title as sources; he says there are two more ballads, without further comment.


Mann reprints the ballad, “The Lamentation of Mr. Page’s Wife” (482) and in a note (599), adds the following:

“Reprinted from Collier’s Blackletter Broadsides. The ballad afterwards passed into the possession of Frederick Ouvry, Esq., and Ebbsworth appears to have seen the original. Neither the Roxburghe nor the Cranford copies are initialled, however. The tragic story of ‘Mistris Page of Plimouth’ illustrates an unpleasant side of Elizabethan social life. The forced marriage of young girls to rich and elderly men is a common subject of reprobation among contemporary writers (see note on p. 21, l. 36), and such murders as that of Page were the natural outcome of such unnatural unions. J. P. Collier, in vol. ii of the Papers of the Shakespeare Society (p. 80), gives a prose account of the crime, which he professes to have ‘transcribed from a copy preserved in an ancient library with which I am acquainted’. I have been unable to trace any such document, and while Collier gives the date of the execution as February 20th, 1591, it must be noted that the parish registers of Barnstaple give the date of burial as March 20th, 1589-90. The full extract (quoted by Clark in the Shirburn Ballads, p. 109) runs as follows: ‘Here ffolloweth the names of them Prysoners which were Buryed in the Church yearde of Barnstaple the Syce (Assizes) week:—
March 1590
George Strongewith, Buryed the xxth daye.
Vlalya Paige, Buryed at Byshope tauton the xxth daye.'"


Mann follows this citation with reference to the two other ballads (by title), and a brief identification of the Henslowe entries with the observation that the Jonson-Dekker play is lost.


In Appendix III, Mann reprints “The Lamentation of George Strangwidge….” In a headnote above (503-4) he says that this ballad is not signed but its printing “side by side on the same broadside with the Lamentation of Mr Pages Wife … seems to favour the supposition that [Thomas] Deloney wrote both of the ballads" (504, item 8).


Collington discusses Page of Plymouth as one of two plays parodied through its genre of domestic tragedy by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor, the other being A Warning for Fair Women (187-8). He claims that the story of Page's murder in Plymouth in 1591, renewed as it was through the Jonson-Dekker play, would have produced recognizable allusions in the name of one of Shakespeare's husbands, George Page, conflating the family name of the murdered man (Page) with the Christian name of the man who cuckolded him and conspired in his murder (George Strangwidge)(187). He details a number of motifs in Page of Plymouth that he finds mocked by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor.


Knutson points out a connection of Page of Plymouth with "three middle-class crime plays" in the repertory of the Admiral's Men, with possible commercial connections with A Warning for Fair Women (Q1599) in the repertory of the Chamberlain's Men (26). She summarizes the story told in the tract, "Sundry strange and inhumaine Murthers," (1591) as follows:

"Ulalia Glandfield was married by her father against her will to a wealthy widower named Page. Previously, her father had encouraged a match with a young colleague, George Strangwidge. Ulalia and George carried on their romance after the marriage, but when her attempts to poison Page failed, the lovers hired Robert Priddis and Tom Stone to do the deed. The murderers slipped into Page’s bedroom one night, strangled him with his own kerchief, then broke his neck against the bed. Priddis, being Page’s servant, was soon suspected; he gave up Stone, and soon both Ulalia and George were implicated. The four were tried by Sir Francis Drake, found guilty, and executed" (27).

In a note to the summary, Knutson adds the following comments: "The tract ... provides additional details of the crime: for example, Priddis was promised £140 for the murder, and Ulalia was sleeping apart from her husband on the night of the murder because of the 'untimely birth of a child … dead borne' (B3)" (36).


Knutson also addresses the purchase of gowns in Henslowe's Diary, querying the possibility of a shopping scene for Ulalia evoking the one in A Warning for Fair Women that dramatized Anne Sanders’s irritation with her husband (27).


For What It's Worth

Morris provides a retelling of the murder in “A Deadly Affair,” one of several tales in Tales of Old Devon (pp. 82-85). She provides details not in documentary sources specified above, yet provides no additional sources for her information. These details are summarized as follows.

Page was a goldsmith who lived in a tall, gabled house on Woolster Street in Plymouth; he was “a mean obnoxious fellow” [82] who wanted to cheat his relatives of an inheritance; consequently, he married a young girl, Eulalia, the daughter of “a Tavistock merchant, Nicolas Glanville” (82). George Strangewidge was “a handsome lieutenant on a man-of-war” (82). Eulalia sent him a “tear-drenched letter” (83), begging a way out of the match; but, after hearing nothing for a long time, she began to believe herself abandoned and so married Page, who made his wife “do the work of a maidservant” (83). George then turned up, said that he had written but his letters were “intercepted by her parents.” A manservant, Robert Prideaux, agreed to the killing for the money; his helper, Tom Stone, was a friend of George. On a freezing night in February 1591, Eulalia led the murderers to her husband’s bedchamber. George, growing remorseful, attempted to prevent the murder by throwing stones at the window; the exchange is overheard by a neighbor, who, on hearing Page had died in the night, reported the conversaton to the mayor. The murderers were too slow getting Page into his coffin, and they made additional errors: there were “livid fingermarks around the corpse’s throat, plus multiple bruises and scratches on the body” (84). The four were arrested “on the spot” (84). The trial was held at Barnstaple, not Exeter Gaol, because of plague in Exeter. The three men were hanged together on a gibbet “erected on the castle green” (84). Eulalia, who showed no remorse, was burned alive (85) because killing a husband was deemed petty treason. Her uncle and lawyer, John Glanville, witnessed her death.



Works Cited

Collington, Philip D. "'I Would Thy Husband Were Dead': The Merry Wives of Windsor as Mock Domestic Tragedy." English Literary Renaissance 30.2 (2000): 184-212.
Hindley, Charles, ed. Roxburghe Ballads, Vol. II. London: Reeves and Turner, 1874.
Knutson, Roslyn L. “Toe to Toe Across Maid Lane: Repertorial Competition at the Rose and Globe, 1599-1600,” in June Schlueter and Paul Nelsen (eds) Acts of Criticism: Performance Matters in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Madison & Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005), 21-37.
Mann, Francis Oscar. The Works of Thomas Deloney. Oxford: Clarendon, 1912. Internet Archive
Morris, Sally. Tales of Old Devon. Newberry, Berkshire: Countryside Books, 1991.



Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 25 June 2010.

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