Faversham residents are no doubt familiar with the Arden Theatre, the town’s source of theatrical delights.
Owned and run by the Arden Theatre Group, it provides drama, music, and entertainment for the town – but where does the theatre’s name come from? As it turns out, even the experts aren’t sure.
The Arden Theatre takes its name from the Elizabethan play Arden of Faversham. The play was first printed anonymously in 1592, and its author remains a hotly contested point. Theories abound about the play’s possible authors and co-authors, with candidates for authorship ranging from William Shakespeare to Thomas Kyd to Christopher Marlowe – all important figures in the Elizabethan dramatic scene.
The play is of the type known as a domestic tragedy, and follows the story of the eponymous Thomas Arden, a man who has recently been trading in local properties to make a profit, consequently making enemies of other local land owners. His main problem, however, is that his wife, Alice, is having an affair with a tailor called Mosby, who is from a much lower social class than the Ardens. Arden knows that Alice is cheating on him, but what he doesn’t know is that Alice and Mosby are co-conspirators as well as lovers, and are hatching a plan to murder him so Alice can escape her loveless marriage. The play unfolds with twists and turns, commenting throughout on social status and class rivalries, making sense of and repackaging a genuine tragedy that occurred in Faversham some forty years earlier.
Thomas Arden was a real person, a businessman of Faversham, who was murdered by his wife and her lover on 14th February 1551. It was a notorious and sensational crime, and Elizabethan audiences would have been familiar with the crime and its outcome. In addition to the play, we also have records of the crime inspiring another retelling, this time with a ballad titled “The complaint and lamentation of Mistresse Arden of Feversham in Kent” – a less pithy offering than the earlier play.