Revenge Tragedy Criticism: Overviews - Essay

Fredson Thayer Bowers (essay date 1940)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Bowers, Fredson Thayer. “The Spanish Tragedy and the Ur-Hamlet.” In Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, 1587-1642, pp. 62-100. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1959.

[In the following essay, which was first published in 1940, Bowers examines The Spanish Tragedy and the Ur-Hamlet as examples of the prototypical revenge tragedy, outlining the basic Kydian formula for creating a revenge tragedy, discussing probable sources and influences, and remarking on how the form was widely imitated by other Elizabethan dramatists.]


The tragedy of revenge has been classified as a definite, small subdivision of the Elizabethan...

(The entire section is 14168 words.)

Madeleine Doran (essay date 1954)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Doran, Madeleine. “History and Tragedy: Italianate Tragedy of Intrigue.” In Endeavors of Art: A Study of Form in Elizabethan Drama, pp. 128-42. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1954.

[In the excerpt below, Doran discusses revenge in Elizabethan drama as an overarching “motive” rather than a “class” of tragedy.]

Besides tyranny, Seneca has another repeated theme in his tragedies, revenge incited by jealousy, and this is a theme which leads us into the second great class of English renaissance tragedy, the Italianate tragedies of intrigue centered about crimes of passion. The revenge theme furnished invaluable dramatic motivation to English...

(The entire section is 6290 words.)

Eleanor Prosser (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Prosser, Eleanor. “Revenge on the English Stage, 1562-1607.” In Hamlet and Revenge, pp. 36-73. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1967.

[In the following essay, Prosser examines a vast array of revenge tragedies in an effort to elucidate “the moral response of the Elizabethan audience to revenge itself.”]

Although a study of the Elizabethan revenge play normally restricts itself to plays related to the “Kydian formula” as defined by Fredson Bowers, our concern in this chapter is with the moral response of the Elizabethan audience to revenge itself. If we can determine the audience's reaction to specific revenge motifs in any type of play...

(The entire section is 14967 words.)