For Thursday: Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Acts Three and Four

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Despite all the parody and gore, a revenge tragedy also serves as a wake-up call to its audiences, many of whom were guilty of the same sins portrayed on-stage. One way the play does this is through the common Renaissance conceit of the memento mori (see Hackett in Chapter 6). Discuss a scene that seems to employ this literary device: how might it affect the audience, given the context of the scene itself?

Q2: Hackett talks throughout Chapter 6 of the “aesthetics of death,” which basically means how death becomes an art form in revenge tragedies. Whether or not death is ever “beautiful,” it can still be used for artistic effect—creating what Hackett calls “death by art.” What kind of artful deaths appear in these acts, and what makes them satisfying, aesthetically pleasing, or luridly grotesque?

Q3: Reflecting upon Lussurioso’s villany, Vindice exclaims, “O thou almighty Patience! ‘Tis my wonder/That such a fellow, impudent and wicked,/Should not be cloven as he stood,/Or with a secret wind burst open!/Is there no thunder left, or is’t kept up/In stock for heavier vengeance?” (140). Does Vindice truly seem to believe in this kind of justice, where good is rewarded and evil punished? Or does he—like many other characters in the play—seem to operate in a moral vacuum, where there are no punishments or reward for anything except those you make yourself? Is there any true sense of morality or religion in the play (and if not, is that why people enjoyed it?).

Q4: Like Hamlet, this play constantly subjects women to tests (and threats) of faith and virtue: Castiza is tested by Vindice, Gratiana is tested by Vindice, Gratiana is assaulted by Vindice and Hippolito, and Castiza tests her own mother. Is this part of the game of masks and disguises of the play...or does this suggest a concern of Middleton’s with women’s virtue—or lack thereof? Does Middleton assume that most women are complicit with the corruption and lusts of an evil court (or are even the cause of it)?


  1. Elyse Marquardt

    Q3) It doesn’t seem like there is any real sense of morality in this play. Each character operates from their own agendas, with no sense of the greater good. They only want what will benefit or satisfy themselves, and it is this selfish desire that drives each person through the storyline. When Vindice wonders why his enemies are not punished on the spot, he in not questioning the slowness of divine Justice; rather, I read it as him whining angrily about the lack of satisfaction that he is receiving. The characters beg for justice and fairness only when something is going wrong for them. When something is going right for other people, they are all too happy to call down the powers of evil and malicious cruelty to their personal service.

    Q4) Middleton seems to deeply understand the double standards of his time, and he is making them painfully obvious in this play. He throws impossible situations and expectations at every character in his play until they (and the audience) are unable to tell which way is up. It is frustrating, but I feel that Middleton did it on purpose to expose the mortifying hypocrisy of the upper and middle classes of his day—some of the very people who would be watching his finished product.

    Elyse Marquardt

  2. Q2: The entirety of act 3 scene 5 is a gruesome attempt at art. There was so much planning that went into the killing of the Duke. By no means did they plan on simply speaking their peace to the Duke and quickly taking his life-getting it over with, with little mess involved. This was a torturous, drawn-out, grotesque plan. That being said, I think what makes it aesthetically pleasing is how much thought was put into it. It wasn’t spur of the moment, it was premeditated and deliberate.

    While, it is obvious that plays are fictional and often dramatized, in those times, to some degree, the awful things portrayed in the plays did sometimes happen-to some extent. So, I believe that people enjoyed watching something that made them feel like the world they lived in wasn’t so bad. There was always something and somewhere worse. I think that there is not any true instances of morality or religion in this play, and Vindice acted always to please himself.

  3. 3. I think Vindice believes in the justification for his actions. That, when he gets his way, all is just and well, that's just what happens to wicked people. Karma and all that. When, in reality, it's his own hand covered in blood, and not a drop of divine retribution on the stage. I'm not saying some of the characters don't deserve to at least suffer (quite a few have issues, plain and simple) but punishment is hardly raining down from the heavens when Vindice is involved. But if it is all about karma, then hey, he's not spotted with sin even a little bit.

    4. I can hardly speak for Middleton, but it almost seems like he's pointing out a flaw to his audience. That it's frankly ridiculous to hold anyone, let alone an entire gender, to a strict standard covered in double-sided tape. Damned if you do, damned if you don't fits a woman's position in this play well. Refuse to sleep with this creeper? Well, you're either murdered or raped. Your own fault. Sleep with him? What a whore. The standard, while choking at the best of times, wouldn't be so terrible if the men didn't exemplify the 'I'm just in any action because at least I'm not a lying harlot' behavior we see over and over in the play. It's like calling a ruler weak and flimsy and then acting surprised and reassured when it breaks after you drive over it with a truck. Cause, hey, I was right all along, wasn't I? Middleton very much seems to recognize the unreliable and harsh double standard.

  4. Q2: Hackett discusses the art of death and even the aesthetics of it, which readers can see time and time again throughout the “Revenge Tragedy.” However, perhaps the most astatically pleasing death is the duke’s. Not only is it completely romanticized, it is planned and thought over. Each and every step gets more gruesome and more appealing to the audience. While it is absolutely terrifying and repulsive, it is beautiful that every inch seems to be thought of.

    Q3: I don’t think that there is a real sense of morality in this play, rather that it is a large satire about the distance of audiences at this time. It is interesting that we don’t really get a sense of punishment, when Christians are supposed to believe that their wrong doings will be punished. However, maybe that is the drawl, giving people the excuse they need to be okay with doing horrid things in their lives. It seems as though there is no sense of greater good, or even of justice. No one in the play does anything to help or support anyone but themselves, just proving that their actions are selfish. And the only time we see the characters have real emotion is when something is not going the way they want it to.

  5. Q2: Death, when performed properly, can be very artistic in a sort of poetic way. The scene in which the Duke is killed by kissing the skull would be horrible in real life, but in a strange twist, it feels poetic and “artful” (?). It is grotesque, yet intriguing to the point that one cannot look away, much in the same way that car wrecks always catch the attention of bystanders. This form of revenge is beautifully absurd in the exact same way that the method of revenge in “Titus Andronicus” is absurd. It is not a method anyone would employ in the real world simply because it is too farfetched, but in a play, it makes perfect sense.

    Q3: In a nutshell, the style of justice mentioned in the question sounds like what we would call karma. At a glance, it would only make sense for Vindice to not believe in this style of justice; if he did, then he would believe that he would get punished for his deeds. If he thought that he would inevitably punished, it is likely that he would have second thoughts. I think that Vindice only believes in self-created reward or punishment. Belief in karma/justice is highly subjective, and varies from person to person depending on several factors.


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