Dramatis Personae: Thomas Arden; Alice Arden; Mosby; Black Will; Shakebag.
Text & Context: Arden of Faversham was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 3 April, 1592, and printed by Edward White later that same year. The authorship is unknown, but the play itself is likely a version of the anonymous play Murderous Michael, performed in 1579 by Sussex's men at Queen Elizabeth's favourite home, Richmond Palace.
The plot of Arden is based on a real-life murder which took place in 1551, still in the living memory of many play-goers. In fact, The Earl of Oxford's close friend, Edward Somerset, was the grandson of the murderess' mother. Whoever the author was, he seems to have derived the details of his play from Holinhed's Chronicles of 1577, themselves derived from the Wardmote Book of Feversham. Usually fastidious, here Holingshed states the name of one of the main malefactors, Loosebag, erroneously as Shakebag. As Shakebag's partner in crime is named Black Will, the two names together discreetly suggest an allusion. Another coincidence of names is that of the murdered Arden himself. And strangely, Arden is killed after a game of backgammon, as was the playwright Christopher Marlowe.
Some, including Swinburne, have seen in Arden the unmistakable hand of Shakespeare, notably the quarrel of scene 8. The combination of Shakespearean language with atypical pacing suggests Arden began life as the Earl of Oxford's early play Murderous Michael, performed by Sussex's Men, circa. 1579, and worked on subsequently by de Vere's disciples, which may have included Christopher Marlowe himself.