The Revenger’s Tragedy


Thomas Middleton

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The Revenger’s Tragedy: Style 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

Befitting its harsh critique of the moral and political climate of the Jacobean era, The Revenger's Tragedy is notable for its scathing satirical style. Perhaps the most notable target of this satirical style is the morally permissive culture often associated in works of the time with the royal courts of Europe. The Italian court depicted in the play is portrayed as morally decadent, sexually licentious, and politically corrupt. Those characters who live and work in this court, who might be held to higher moral standards due to their power and influence, engage in shockingly immoral behavior. This conduct generally goes unpunished, as the lecherous Duke himself is one of the play’s worst offenders. Though The Revenger’s Tragedy is set in a highly fictionalized Italian setting, its satirical portrayal takes aim at the real-life courts of the Jacobean era, highlighting the hypocrisy and moral decay within the aristocracy. 

The play's satirical style also extends to its treatment of revenge. The protagonist, Vindice, whose name literally means “vengeance,” is driven by a relentless desire for revenge, and he goes to great lengths to exact it. His extreme and somewhat narrow characterization leaves little room for any notable character traits other than his hatred for those whom he holds responsible for the death of his fiancée. The extreme, excessive, and highly theatrical measures he undertakes in pursuit of his revenge of an old wrong that he has nursed for nine years become increasingly flamboyant as the story winds toward its bloody finale. The play questions revenge as a legitimate form of “justice” and highlights the destructive consequences that can result from the pursuit of such a myopic and all-consuming goal. Some critics even regard the play as a satire of the revenge-tragedy itself, parodying the violence and bloodshed that characterize the genre.