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Four Revenge Tragedies: The Spanish Tragedy; The Revenger's Tragedy; The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois; And the Atheist's Tragedy

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The Revenge Tragedy flourished in Britain during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The classic ingredients of the genre are a quest for vengeance, mad scenes, a play within a play, and carnage. Each of the four plays here subverts the genre, and deals with fundamental moral questions about justice and the individual, while registering the strains of life The Revenge Tragedy flourished in Britain during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The classic ingredients of the genre are a quest for vengeance, mad scenes, a play within a play, and carnage. Each of the four plays here subverts the genre, and deals with fundamental moral questions about justice and the individual, while registering the strains of life in an increasingly fragile social hierarchy. This edition includes Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, the anonymous The Revenger's Tragedy (variously ascribed to Cyril Tourneur and Thomas Middleton), The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois by George Chapman, and Tourneur's The Atheist's Tragedy.


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The Revenge Tragedy flourished in Britain during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The classic ingredients of the genre are a quest for vengeance, mad scenes, a play within a play, and carnage. Each of the four plays here subverts the genre, and deals with fundamental moral questions about justice and the individual, while registering the strains of life The Revenge Tragedy flourished in Britain during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The classic ingredients of the genre are a quest for vengeance, mad scenes, a play within a play, and carnage. Each of the four plays here subverts the genre, and deals with fundamental moral questions about justice and the individual, while registering the strains of life in an increasingly fragile social hierarchy. This edition includes Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, the anonymous The Revenger's Tragedy (variously ascribed to Cyril Tourneur and Thomas Middleton), The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois by George Chapman, and Tourneur's The Atheist's Tragedy.

30 review for Four Revenge Tragedies: The Spanish Tragedy; The Revenger's Tragedy; The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois; And the Atheist's Tragedy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd This play gets mentioned in the Introductions to numerous later plays because it is considered the first Revenge Tragedy of the era's drama - and, let's face it, the Elisabethan-Jacobean era was the Golden Age of English Drama. So when people talk about Titus Andronicus or Hamlet or Webster's Duchess of Malfi or The White Devil, this play tends to get discussed, too. That being so, I desired to read it specifically even more than I just generally want to explore The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd This play gets mentioned in the Introductions to numerous later plays because it is considered the first Revenge Tragedy of the era's drama - and, let's face it, the Elisabethan-Jacobean era was the Golden Age of English Drama. So when people talk about Titus Andronicus or Hamlet or Webster's Duchess of Malfi or The White Devil, this play tends to get discussed, too. That being so, I desired to read it specifically even more than I just generally want to explore the work of Shakespeare's (near) contemporaries. All those scholars are not wrong; this play springs numerous of the themes and tropes of Revenge Tragedy on its audiences, fully formed. It clearly influenced Hamlet and MacBeth directly in terms of plot and character points as well as being the archetype of a new genre. The surprising thing was just how good it is. Particularly early on, the descriptive aspects of the writing are really good (though Shakespeare did it better, later). The depth of character isn't on a par with Shakespeare, either, but still, this play deserves to be read and performed on its own merits. Well done, Oxford Drama, for making it readily available. The Revenger's Tragedy Who wrote this? Nobody knows for sure. Thomas Middleton seems to be supplanting Cyril Turneur as the scholarly consensus for most likely author - but you won't learning anything about that debate from this volume, unfortunately. This was the first non-Shakespearean play of the era that I ever saw performed - it seemed to gain considerable traction in performance in the 1990s , because I saw another performance of it later in the decade. The first was the work of the drama dept. at my undergrad Uni. The second was a touring professional production at the Theatre Royal, Bath. The former was better than the latter, which used the conceit of Prohibition gangsters for its costuming. All the men were dressed in virtually identical suits and hats and it was next to impossible to follow the plot because the characters were not sufficiently visually differentiated. Reading the play makes this easier, the opposite of what I find with Shakespeare's plays. It seems like Shakespeare had more skill at working people's names and relations with each other into speech, a huge advantage when the cast of characters is bigger even than the number of players in the troupe, as was usually the case back then. Just one more reason why the Bard was better than the rest. Anyway, whilst clearly a Revenge Tragedy (see title!), displaying most of the tropes and moral implications of the genre, two are conspicuous by their absence: a ghost and a play-within-a-play. The absence of the former can be understood from the plot. The inciting crime is a rape rather than a murder, so there is no unquiet dead spirit to demand vengence from the living. As for the lack of a play-within-a-play, well, there's no doubt who the perpetrator is and so no need for subterfuge to reveal the guilty party. The editor suggests that this play satirises the genre. I'm not really seeing it except in-so-far as the all the major characters are archetypes rather than individuals (even to the extent of having names that, translated from Latin, tell you exactly what they typify). The moral subtext seems to be the same as other plays of the same ilk: Earthly justice has gone astray and the Revenger must go outside the law to get...revenge. In doing so (and eventually succeeding), the Revenger invariably, directly or indirectly, causes a final act bloodbath that destroys the corrupt ruling regime, allowing a just ruler to take over. Unfortunately the Revenger also pays the price of taking the law into his own hands and is also killed. Hence his Tragedy brings everything back into moral balance. The Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois ...who is, amusingly, dead before the play starts...his death is the one to be revenged. This play only loosely fits the genre and is more a meditation on what defines nobility (actions vs. birth) couched in terms of Classical Roman and Greek models and arguments that the author was no doubt steeped in, being an influential translator of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into English. There is little action by standards of the genre and I just ambled through it waiting for it to stop. An obvious Lady MacBeth-lite and other clear Shakespeare "homages" didn't help. Disappointing. The Atheist's Tragedy There's a lot going on in this play and some good Shakespearean banter and wordplay and yet I didn't think it was all that great. The Introduction to this volume suggested that this and The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois were to some extent subverting or commenting on the standard Revenge Drama formula. I didn't really see that with Bussy D'Ambois but here it's unmistakeable. The motivation for revenge doesn't occur until the end of the second Act and when the inevitable ghost turns up, it tells the hero not to revenge his death - instead observe and leave it to Providence. This sets up the basic hero-villain contrast: God-fearing vs. atheist. Events then proceed to bring the death or downfall of all the morally corrupt characters and the saving of the remaining moral ones. The atheist even appears to undergo a dying breathe conversion. Then the moral - leave revenge to God - is, as if not obvious enough already, openly stated in a last scene speech. This creates serious problems of dramatic construction; the hero is now entirely passive, never driving events forward but instead just being carried like luggage through the play until vindicated by the dying confession of the villain. Hence this being the Atheist's Tragedy - it's not a revenge tragedy at all, since no revenge is taken and the person with the motive for revenge survives the play. Instead the villain dies knowing that his machinations and murders have failed, his children are dead and it was all for nothing. Compare this with the internal conflict of a proper Revenger, knowing that unless he takes (immoral) action the villains win but knowing that his own soul is in peril if he does act. The idea is that God's order is corrupted and the Revenger will restore it to health with his own sacrifice. Is he performing God's will or not? Is he damned as well as dead at the end or not? And the bloody crisis occurs late in the final Act, giving the audience a cathartic denouement. All of this makes for greater drama than, "Leave it to God and do nothing." Turneur's motivations in the play seem to be simply to spell out his own religious convictions; not only is his take on revenge hammered home like a six inch nail, his views on the Puritan movement are made explicit, too, though it's not obvious if Turneur was Catholic or Protestant from the play. One can hardly expect a Renaissance dramatist to be pro-Puritan since they believed just about every form of entertainment was a sin and wanted to close the theatres, so the Puritan here is portrayed as a charleton hypocrite who aids adultery for preferment. About as subtle as the rest of the play...but Turneur is also missing a serious function of drama (and forms of fiction in general) that the Greeks thoroughly understood; that it offers a way for the audience to benefit emotionally from the satisfaction of seeing socially unacceptable actions that they might fantasise about played out so they don't have to do it for real. Renaissance drama looked directly back to the Greeks in this regard and not only offered this type of safe outlet for desires that in reality would have unpredictable but certainly catastrophic consequences, but actually showed those consequences, too. Hence Turneur, I think, failed to deeply understand the true function and moral implications of the form he was clearly critiquing. All of that said, the play is not terrible (there are worse by Shakespeare) and its inclusion here is entirely justified by the light thrown on true Revenge Tragedy by its contrasts with it. It's not a famous play, even excluding the Bard from consideration. This is no doubt partly because it cannot be Bowdlerised - there would be nothing left. One of the characters shows all the hallmarks of syphilis and dies from his disease. The plot revolves heavily around adultery and the sexual innuendoes would pile up to the theatre roof. Hence during the period when that type of censorship was considered necessary, this play would have been dropped entirely. (Middleton suffered the same fate.) Unfortunately, it is only in the last thirty years or so that a strong effort to reconsider the value of these forgotten works has taken place. Hence restoring such a play to ready availability is additionally useful and another good reason for inclusion. Volume as a Whole Between the Introduction and the examples set by the four chosen plays, the book meets its goals admirably, I think. It illustrates the formula, concerns and aims of the genre and makes available high quality material most of which wasn't easily obtainable to a non-scholarly audience prior. The two best are The Spanish Tragedy and The Revenger's Tragedy. The inclusion of the former, as the progenitor of the whole genre, is particularly welcome. Anyone interested in the English Renaissance dramatic output beyond solely Shakespeare would probably benefit from this book if there's even one play in it they aren't already familiar with.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    It took nearly as long as my graduate studies to get to the end of this book, stopping and starting while trying to figure out which ludicrous name goes with which the put-upon hero or outrageous villain. I found it easier to try and fit them into film genres from various decades: Spanish Tragedy reads like a chaotic and especially cruel Marx Brothers talkie, Revenger's like a Hammer horror film that can't take itself too seriously, Bussy D'Ambois a spaghetti western based upon a much better It took nearly as long as my graduate studies to get to the end of this book, stopping and starting while trying to figure out which ludicrous name goes with which the put-upon hero or outrageous villain. I found it easier to try and fit them into film genres from various decades: Spanish Tragedy reads like a chaotic and especially cruel Marx Brothers talkie, Revenger's like a Hammer horror film that can't take itself too seriously, Bussy D'Ambois a spaghetti western based upon a much better Samurai flick, and Atheist's a free-wheeling, 1960's road movie that ends with a messy bar brawl. For an audience culture, in its original context, that was typically so bloodthirsty their alternative entertainment choices were to watch a bear being torn apart by dogs or a horrific public execution, one would think the playwrights wouldn't take so long to deliver the gruesome good, yet each playwright piles on the speeches, perhaps morally wearing down their audience before the shocking coup de théâtre gets revealed.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Not only were these tragedies thoroughly entertaining, they also remind you of why Shakespeare is great.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    I've only read two out of the four so far and will definitely go back to reading the other two at some point in my literary life.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael P.

    Terrific edition of four of the best early modern English tragedies not written by Shakespeare. Do not skip the editor's introduction. It is very good and will enrich the reading of these plays.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Although none of these are up with Shakespeare in terms of language they are still great fun and this is a superb edition.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Susanne Gruss

    rating for /The Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois/

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tree

    Love this book. The Revenger's Tragedy is my favourite Renaissance plays, and this book has a very good copy. This book gives good notes and a good translations on all these plays.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mossdaniel

  10. 5 out of 5

    Abigail R

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mychael

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mel

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Hill

  16. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Whited

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Neve

  19. 5 out of 5

    The_Tuck

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anatole David

  21. 5 out of 5

    Molly

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sallie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Patrícia César

  25. 4 out of 5

    Crystl

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marissabooks

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  29. 4 out of 5

    skyswept

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ben Gregson

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