The Revenger’s Tragedy

Gloriana’s Skull Symbol Analysis

Gloriana’s Skull Symbol Icon

Vindice carries the skull of his murdered beloved, Gloriana, who was killed by the Duke for refusing his sexual advances almost ten years before the action of the play. Vindice addresses the skull in the opening scene, an early appearance that suggests the strong presence of death throughout the play; it also gives the audience a sense of Vindice’s obsession with revenge, given that he’s held on to the skull for the best part of a decade. Later, Vindice employs the skull as the murder weapon when he tricks the Duke into kissing its poison-laden mouth. The use of the skull as the murder weapon accomplishes two significant things: first, it gruesomely allows Gloriana herself to have her revenge on the Duke (as much is possible); second, the skull’s role as a “memento mori”—an object reminder of death—means that the Duke is killed by a symbol of death itself. With these two points in mind, then, the skull allows Vindice not just to kill the Duke, but to make sure he achieves the perfect revenge—the Duke is killed by the exact physical object that best represents his own earlier crime.

Gloriana’s Skull Quotes in The Revenger’s Tragedy

The The Revenger’s Tragedy quotes below all refer to the symbol of Gloriana’s Skull. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bloomsbury edition of The Revenger’s Tragedy published in 2009.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

[To the skull] Thou sallow picture of my poisoned love,
My study’s ornament, thou shell of death,
Once the bright face my betrothed lady,
When life and beauty naturally filled out these
These ragged imperfections,
When two heaven-pointed diamonds were set
In those unsightly rings […]
Thee when thou wert appareled in thy flesh
The old duke poisoned,
Because thy purer part would not consent
Unto his palsy-lust

Related Characters: Vindice (speaker), The Duke
Related Symbols: Gloriana’s Skull
Page Number: 14-34
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

VINDICE: Look you brother,
I have not fashioned this only for show
And useless property, no — it shall bear a part
E'en in it own revenge. This very skull,
Whose mistress the duke poisoned with this drug,
The mortal curse of the earth, shall be revenged
In the like strain and kiss his lips to death.

Related Characters: Vindice (speaker), Hippolito, The Duke
Related Symbols: Gloriana’s Skull
Page Number: 98-104
Explanation and Analysis:
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Gloriana’s Skull Symbol Timeline in The Revenger’s Tragedy

The timeline below shows where the symbol Gloriana’s Skull appears in The Revenger’s Tragedy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...opens (and remains throughout) in a non-specified Italian court. Vindice appears on stage, holding the skull of his deceased fiancée, Gloriana. He watches from afar as the Duke, the Duchess, Lussurioso... (full context)
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Lust Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Vindice addresses the skull of Gloriana, which he has carried around with him since her death. He laments how... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 5
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Lust Theme Icon
Women and Misogyny Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...Vindice tells him that this is the best part of the plan—the “lady” is Gloriana’s skull, dressed up. Vindice gleefully explains he will place poison on her lips—or where her lips... (full context)
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Lust Theme Icon
...and Hippolito hear the Duke approaching, and Vindice instructs his brother to hide with the skull. The Duke arrives with an entourage that he duly dismisses, instructing its members not to... (full context)
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Lust Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Vindice tells Hippolito to back away with the torch and give him the skull. Vindice moves the skull towards the Duke, who plants it with a kiss. The Duke... (full context)
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Vindice gleefully reveals to the Duke the identity of the skull (that is, Gloriana). Hippolito stamps on the Duke as the poison kicks in. Vindice then... (full context)