Introduction: Staging Justice

  • Derek Dunne
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


In the opening moments of The Spanish Tragedy, Kyd presents his audience with an image of judicial uncertainty that is almost emblematic in its starkness. As the ghost of Don Andrea wanders in the underworld, he is faced with three judges: Minos, Aeacus and Rhadamanth. After discussing the matter among themselves, the judges fail to decide on an appropriate fate for Don Andrea, and resolve to pass the matter on to ‘our infernal king’, Pluto (1.1.52).2 The image of three judges unable to reach a verdict sets a worrying trend for what is to come: from the inaugural moment of early modern revenge tragedy, the law is in crisis. Yet the possibility that revenge tragedy as a genre is capable of serious legal engagement has hitherto been given no systematic attention. Bearing in mind Lambarde’s suggestion that in order to learn about the law it can be illuminating to seek out law’s ‘contraries and differents’, this book reveals the ways in which early modern revenge tragedy evinces an ongoing and thorough interrogation of the legal system of its time. This significantly alters our perception of both revenge tragedy and early modern legal history, by overturning critical commonplaces such as the lone stage revenger, while challenging the dominant narrative of early modern English law as inclusive and participatory.


Legal System Legal Discourse Legal Critique Early Modern Period Dominant Narrative 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Derek Dunne 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Derek Dunne
    • 1
  1. 1.University of FribourgSwitzerland

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