The Revenger's Tragedy

by Thomas Middleton
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Write an essay on the revenger in Jacobean revenge tragedies, with reference to any two revenge tragedies.

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Your first step in writing an essay about the "revenger," the person bent on revenge, in Jacobean revenge tragedies is to develop a thesis about this character type. To do this, you should study several plays from this genre, focusing on the revenger's motivations and the actions he takes to carry out his revenge. See if you can identify patterns in the revenger's behavior. Let's look at a couple plays to get you started.

In Thomas Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy, Vindice is bent on revenge against the Duke for the death of Vindice's beloved, Gloriana. Gloriana died trying to defend herself against the Duke's advances. That was almost ten years ago, but Vindice is persistent in his resentment and has been biding his time for the perfect moment. He has now found it, and his revenge involves disguise, deception, intricate planning, and a great deal of violence. He ends up killing both the Duke and the Duke's son, but in the end, Vindice himself is sentenced to death.

Now let's turn our attention to another revenge tragedy, John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. In this case, the Duchess's two brothers are the ones bent on revenge, mostly against their sister but also against anyone who stands in their way of inheriting their sister's wealth and title. The Duchess is a widow, and her brothers, the Cardinal and Duke Ferdinand, do not want her to remarry. She does anyway, and she marries a man of lower social status, Antonio, in secret. The Duchess has three children, and by the end of the play, the Duchess, Antonio, and two of their children are dead due to the brothers' schemes of vengeance. But the two brothers also end up dead for their troubles, and the Duchess's remaining son assumes his mother's reign.

We can already see a pattern emerging here. The revenger in these plays may get his revenge, and perhaps it is even sweet; but it backfires on him in the end, and he often ends up just as dead as the object of his vengeance.

If you agree with this claim, you might use something like it (rewritten in your own words) as the thesis for your essay. Then gather evidence from your chosen plays to support your thesis and show how the revengers in each play come to a bad end through their focus on revenge to the exclusion of life.

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