The Avenger and the Satirist: John Marston’s Malevole

  • William Babula


At the end of Antonio’s Revenge, after what has been called “probably the most painful revenge — certainly … the most horrible onstage murder — in Elizabethan drama”,1 the Venetian senators quite incredibly offer to the avengers the “chiefest fortunes of the Venice state” (v.iii.141).2 Antonio in particular is apparently offered the dukedom of Venice. This is indeed a rare attitude; Antonio comments on the offer: “We are amaz’d at your benignity” (v.iii.145). So too have many critics been amazed. Fredson Bowers argues that Antonio’s actions “should have stamped [him] as a villain who must suffer death at the end, ”3 and Anthony Caputi writes that “Although [Antonio] claims rational control, the revenge action forces upon him acts of violence that make inescapable the inference that he suffers brutalization in the process of exercising it.”4 This is the avenger’s most persistent problem: Hieronimo, Titus, and Hamlet are all virtuous men pushed into evil. But they are also dead by the end of their plays. While “the moral cost of immersion in the destructive element” was to become a crucial theme for Marston, the price did not include Antonio’s death.5


Moral Cost Attempted Murder Crucial Theme Modern Language Association Venice State 
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  1. 1.
    Philip J. Finkelpearl, John Marston of the Middle Temple: An Elizabethan Dramatist in His Social Setting ( Cambridge, Mass., 1969 ), p. 158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    My text is G. K. Hunter (ed.), Antonio’s Revenge, Regents Renaissance Drama Series (Lincoln, Nebr., 1965 ).Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    My text is Bernard Harris (ed.), The Malcontent (New York, 1967).Google Scholar
  4. reprinted in Ralph J. Kaufmann (ed.), Elizabethan Drama: Modern Essays in Criticism (New York, 1961), p. 33.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1978

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  • William Babula

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