The Revenger’s Tragedy contains instances and mentions of natural phenomena from the sky—e.g. comets, stars, thunder, and lightning—which are a typical feature of the revenge tragedy genre, often as markers of some sort higher power. Middleton, however, playfully disrupts their usual meaning so that such phenomena highlight the lack of any broader presence of justice in the world of his play. Thunderstorms, for example, come from the sky and are therefore often associated with god/the gods and instances of divine intervention (this is true from the Ancient Greeks to Christianity). The sky, then, is usually some kind of external force that humanity can rely on to ensure that a degree of fairness is maintained among those on the earth. But Middleton subverts this typical understanding: Vindice frequently appeals to the heavens for intervention (“Has not heaven an ear? is all the lightning wasted?”) but receives nothing. In fact, on the few occasions when thunder does arrive on cue, it comes across as darkly comic and more representative of the hopelessness of appealing to the heavens for justice than the arrival of divine help. This lack of a reliable religious framework is one of the reasons Vindice feels he has to take matters into his own hands and pursue revenge himself.
In the final scene, a “blazing star” appears; this is a comet, traditionally viewed around the time of the play’s writing as a harbinger of doom. Lussurioso, who near the end of the play becomes the newly-crowned Duke, acknowledges this, and even has the arrogance to accuse the comet of committing “treason” (by suggesting his rule might not go well or, for that matter, last long). But because of Vindice’s earlier futile appeals to the sky for divine justice, the comet feels like a hollow symbol rather than a true prediction of doom and terror. In fact, as the last scene’s bloodbath plays out, the fault of the numerous deaths in the play comes across very much as the responsibility of the people within it—the star acts more as an innocent bystander, a light illuminating the tragic conclusion of the plays’ events.
Natural Phenomena Quotes in The Revenger’s Tragedy
My lords, be all of music;
Strike old griefs into other countries
That flow in too much milk and have faint livers,
Not daring to stab home their discontents.
Let our hid flames break out, as fire, as lightning
To blast this villainous dukedom vexed with sin:
Wind up your souls to their full height again […]
And when they think their pleasures sweet and good,
In midst of all their joys, they shall sigh blood.
ANTONIO: Bear 'em to speedy execution. […]
VINDICE: May not we set as well as the duke's son?
Thou hast no conscience: are we not revenged?
Is there one enemy left alive amongst those?
When murderers shut deeds close this curse does seal 'em:
If none disclose 'em, they themselves reveal 'em!
This murder might have slept in tongueless brass
But for ourselves, and the world died an ass.
Now I remember too; here was Piato
Brought forth a knavish sentence once:
No doubt, said he, but time
Will make the murderer bring forth himself.
'Tis well he died, he was a witch.—
And now my lord, since we are in for ever:
This work was ours, which else might have been slipped;
And if we list we could have nobles clipped
And go for less than beggars. But we hate
To bleed so cowardly: we have enough—
I'faith we're well: our mother turned, our sister true,
We die after a nest of dukes! Adieu.
Exeunt [Vindice and Hippolito, guarded)
ANTONIO: How subtly was that murder closed! Bear up
Those tragic bodies; 'tis a heavy season.
Pray heaven their blood may wash away all treason.