Piracy, Insurrection and The Tragedy of Hoffman
The previous chapter saw how Hamlet works to absolve its protagonist from some of the guilt associated with his actions; in Chettle’s The Tragedy of Hoffman, the criminality of the eponymous Hoffman is beyond doubt. The opening scene sees him put to death the innocent son of his enemy by means of a burning crown, and his catalogue of crimes includes stabbing, poisoning, identity theft, and attempted rape. For all this, Chettle creates a revenger whose villainous exploits may be abhorrent, but which ask to be placed within a wider frame of reference. This is achieved by the introduction of discourses of piracy and rebellion that resist simple categorisation and instead act to destabilise even the most basic early modern hierarchies of meaning. Superficially, Chettle’s play seems to deal in straightforward binaries — lawful duke/convicted pirate; virtuous mother/villainous son; pious forgiveness/sinful rebellion — but each of these hierarchies is overturned in due course. The Tragedy of Hoffman may not pitch a heroic avenger against the forces of social injustice; nevertheless, I suggest that Chettle’s play evinces the revenge genre’s skill for acute social commentary. The Tragedy of Hoffman carries forward the work of earlier revenge tragedies by positing the problem of revenge within a network of legal, and even jurisdictional questions, in a way that Shakespeare’s Hamlet never does.
KeywordsCorporal Punishment Previous Chapter Identity Theft Social Protest Attempted Rape
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