The Revenger’s Tragedy: Post-Participatory Justice

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


By its very title The Revenger’s Tragedy proclaims itself to be the quintessential specimen of the genre known as early modern revenge tragedy. And in many ways the play does represent the culmination of a number of the features argued for in this book. Vindice’s principle target is a duke who interferes with a trial in the first act, and this is then used as justification for the multiple homicides committed in the last. The protagonist is without doubt drawn from outside the ruling elite, and in the course of the play he accrues a band of followers that help to transform his actions from personal revenge to political assassination. On a purely structural level, these components all have antecedents in other revenge tragedies examined thus far. However, having identified an undercurrent of social commentary, dissatisfaction with legal innovation, and even civil unrest within the revenge genre, I want finally to suggest how these features can become fossilised within the narrative arc of a revenge play, after their specific social charge is spent. By this I mean that while many of the socio-legal elements identified in other revenge plays are present in The Revenger’s Tragedy, they do not drive the action in the same way as the multiple trial scenes of The Spanish Tragedy, or Jerome’s abortive insurrection in The Tragedy of Hoffman, elements which prove to be thematically integral as well as narratively expedient.


Death Sentence Social Commentary Legal Term Civil Unrest Final Scene 
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  1. 2.
    Eileen Allman argues for the misogyny of the play as ‘political’ in the sense of being loaded with Elizabethan nostalgia and thus implicitly critical of James’ reign, Jacobean Revenge Tragedy and the Politics of Virtue (London: Associated University Presses, 1999).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Derek Dunne 2016

Authors and Affiliations

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

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