Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Vendice (vehn-DEE-chay), a young Italian who broods over the skull of his dead sweetheart while plotting revenge on the duke, her murderer. Well-versed in the corruptions of the court, he disguises himself as Piato, a crafty, lascivious old man, and offers his services to Lussurioso. After his diabolical murder of the duke, who is poisoned when he kisses the lips of the skull that Vendice has dressed as a masked lady, he appears in his own person, assuming a melancholy spirit to deceive his young prince again. Although he successfully dispatches his enemies and places the dukedom into the hands of just men, he is himself executed; he condemns himself out of his own mouth and receives justice from the man to whom he has given the right to dispense it.


Hippolito (ee-POHL-ee-toh), his brother, who supports him in his plots to purge the court of its corruption.

The duke

The duke, a despicable old lecher who governs more by personal desires than by any notion of right and wrong. The few honest men of his court deeply resent his staying of the sentence of his wife’s youngest son, who had raped the virtuous wife of one of his lords. There is a strong element of poetic justice in the manner of his death. Vendice’s lady was executed for refusing to yield to him; her lover traps her murderer by promising to procure a young woman for his pleasure.

The duchess

The duchess, his second wife, a fitting mate for the duke. Enraged by her husband’s refusal to release her youngest son absolutely, she takes her vengeance by having an affair with Spurio, the...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Brucher, Richard T. “Fantasies of Violence: Hamlet and The Revenger’s Tragedy.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 211 (Spring, 1981): 257-270. Argues that as revenge tragedies, The Revenger’s Tragedy and Hamlet are exactly opposite. Likens Vendice to Marlowe’s Barabas or to Harry Callahan of the Dirty Harry films.

Coddon, Karin S. “‘For Show or Useless Property’: Necrophilia and The Revenger’s Tragedy.” English Literary History 61 (Spring, 1994): 71-88. Offers historical information on attitudes toward and practices involving the dead. Argues that the skull of Gloriana functions as a symbol of female perfection and sinful female sexuality.

Finke, Laurie A. “Painting Women: Images of Femininity in Jacobean Tragedy.” Theatre Journal 36 (October, 1984): 357-370. Argues that men idealize women’s beauty to avoid the reality of death. Discusses how the painted woman is viewed with hostility in Tourneur’s play, in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (c. 1613), and in John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1633).

McMillin, Scott. “Acting and Violence: The Revenger’s Tragedy and Its Departures from Hamlet.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 24 (Spring, 1984): 275-291. Argues that Tourneur’s play is about the theater and that the play abounds with double identities.

Ornstein, Robert. The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965. The chapter on Tourneur is basic critical reading. Argues that Vendice cannot save himself from his own cynicism.