43. In 1592, North Underlined and Wrote Out the Subtitle to “Arden of Faversham” (1592)

North’s note-writing begins early in this copy of Dial of Princes, even in the prologue and table of contents. Importantly, out of 13 pages of table of contents listing 177 chapters, North only adds notes to three of those listed chapter-titles. All three chapters and their titles are relevant to his plays –and two of them, which focus on malicious or unruly women, are chapters especially significant to The Taming of the Shrew and Arden of Feversham.

As shown in the picture below, in one of these examples, North has underlined a subtitle and repeated it in the margin. This subtitle was necessarily the inspiration for the subtitle he used for Arden of Faversham.

North’s words in the margin are: “The great malice & little patience of an evil woman.” He has underlined it too, and the word-string follows “wherein is expressed.” Thus, it reads “wherein is expressed the great malice and little patience of an evil woman.”  (As shown, there is another marginal comment on this page—“Livia”—but that is merely correcting a mistake: “of Libia.”)

First, it should be clear, North obviously did not underline and then write out this subtitle verbatim in the margin for the sake of some future reader. He was not trying to summarize or draw attention to an adjoining passage. There is no adjoining passage. Indeed, this is why books never have marginalia next to their tables of contents. It would be pointless. North only writes such comments next to three of the 177 chapters in the tables of contents. So it is clear that North wrote this out in the margin for his own edification. His attention for some reason was drawn to this particular chapter, and he especially like the wording of its subtitle. Why?

One clue is the year in which he wrote it—1591-2. North would also publish Arden of Feversham in 1592. The tragedy was about the murder of Thomas Arden by his wife, Alice, and her lover, Thomas Mosby. Alice Arden was actually Thomas’s half-sister; her husband was his brother-in-law, and her accomplice, Mosby, a North family servant. North knew all the people involved in the murder, and evidence suggests he actually first wrote it in the late 1550s. But it seems he also reedited the work for publication in 1592, including reusing the subtitle he noted in the margin. As shown here, he didn’t change it much: 

Dial Chapter Subtitle: Wherein is expressed the great malice and little patience of an evil woman

Arden Subtitle:            Wherein is shewed the great malice and dissimulation of a wicked woman

This can not be a coincidence. It is essentially the same 13-word line, maintaining the same rhythm throughout, and includes a mere three substituted terms.

If you were to search Google and its more than 130 trillion webpages for all known books, essays, blogs, articles, etc., that include something like these two lines, you will only find The Dial and Arden of Feversham. Indeed, the wording is so peculiar that even if you just search for the shared opening of the subtitle — “wherein is” AROUND “the great malice” –which searches for all pages and texts that place “wherein is” within 10 words of “the great malice,” you still only get these two results. The figure on the left shows a screen-capture of the third page of Google search results, with a column of text boxes added for clarity. All the rest of the pages likewise only show these two results. The same is true for a search of Early English Books Online (EEBO).

In other words, as far as it is possible to tell, no one else has ever put those words together—not in the sixteenth century, not in the seventeenth century, and not since—no one, that is, except for Thomas North and the author of the tragedy about his half-sister.

Leave a Reply