The Revenger’s Tragedy


Thomas Middleton

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Natural Phenomena Symbol Analysis

Natural Phenomena Symbol Icon

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

The The Revenger’s Tragedy quotes below all refer to the symbol of Natural Phenomena. 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 4, Scene 2 Quotes

Has not heaven an ear? Is all the lightning wasted?

Related Characters: Vindice (speaker), Lussurioso, The Duchess, Spurio , Gratiana, Castiza
Related Symbols: Natural Phenomena
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Vindice (speaker), The Duke, Lussurioso
Related Symbols: Natural Phenomena
Page Number: 1-22
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Vindice (speaker), Antonio (speaker), Hippolito, The Duke, Lussurioso, Gratiana, Castiza
Related Symbols: Natural Phenomena
Page Number: 106-130
Explanation and Analysis:
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Natural Phenomena Symbol Timeline in The Revenger’s Tragedy

The timeline below shows where the symbol Natural Phenomena appears in The Revenger’s Tragedy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 4, Scene 2
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...the Duke’s son, asks in an aside: “Has not heaven an ear? Is all the lightning wasted?” Vindice and Hippolito agree they had better kill this “Piato”, and Lussurioso says he... (full context)
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
...could be so “impudent and wicked.” He again appeals to the heavens: “Is there no thunder left, or is’t kept up / In stock for heavier vengeance?” At this point, thunder... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...with Ambitioso, Supervacuo, Spurio, and the Duchess. Ambitioso wonders “over what roof hangs this prodigious comet / In deadly fire?” Supervacuo, Ambitioso and (separately from those two) Spurio privately express their... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...celebratory music plays. He and three noblemen sit down to a banquet as a “blazing star” appears in the sky. They exchange niceties. (full context)
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...banished the Duchess, and plans to kill Spurio, Supervacuo, and Ambitioso. Lussurioso looks to the star, thinking it to be a bad omen—though at least he has already been crowned, he... (full context)
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...costumes for the masque. Suddenly they draw their swords and stab Lussurioso and the noblemen. Thunder sounds, leading Vindice to comment: “Dost know thy cue, thou big-voiced crier? / Dukes’ groans... (full context)
Revenge and Justice Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
...put an end to such activity: “Bear up / Those tragic bodies; ‘tis a heavy season. / Pray heaven their blood may wash away all treason.” (full context)