The Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois is a portrait of George Chapman’s ideal tragic hero. All other elements of the play are subordinated to the revelation of the character and philosophy of Clermont d’Ambois. Clermont, with his stoic idealism, is an interesting and compelling figure.
The title of Chapman’s sequel to his tragedy Bussy d’Ambois (pr. 1604) might suggest that the play is but another of the many revenge tragedies or tragedies of blood that were popular in the last decades of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign and the first years of her successor, James I. The Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois does contain elements of the traditional revenge tragedy: A good man has been murdered, his kinsman is sworn to avenge the murder, a scheming villain is guilty of the crime, and a ghost appears to encourage the revenge. Here, however, similarities end. Chapman has changed some key elements of the typical revenge tragedy: The delay in carrying out the act of revenge is not motivated by uncertainty, since the guilt of the villain is known by all; the stage remains remarkably free of bloodshed; and—most significant—the protagonist who must be the “scourge” to avenge the wrongful death of his brother seems too philosophical to take on the task. As a result, The Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois has often been compared unfavorably with such revenge tragedies as William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (pr. c. 1600-1601, pb. 1603) or Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (pr. c. 1585-1589), or with the more sensational tragedies of blood such as John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore (pr. 1629[?]-1633), plays that contain virtually all elements of their respective genres and bring the action to a final climax in which much blood is shed onstage as villain and hero meet their deaths.
Unquestionably, the play has structural and dramaturgical shortcomings. Most noticeable is Chapman’s focus on rhetoric rather than action. Much of the dialogue of The Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois is little more than extended soliloquizing about the nature of humankind and the need for stoic acceptance of one’s fate. The general knowledge that Montsurry has murdered Bussy lends little suspense to the drama; there is none of the tension created by Shakespeare in Hamlet over the guilt of the king and the complicity of the queen in...
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