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Theatre / The Revenger's Tragedy

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The Revenger's Tragedy is a Jacobean Revenge play written in 1606 by (scholars now believe) Thomas Middleton. It is far more widely attributed to Cyril Tourneur and some scholars (Frank Kermode) still list Tourneur as the main author to this day.

Disaffected Anti-Hero Vindice returns home to get revenge on the lustful Duke who poisoned Vindice's beloved, Gloriana, when she refused to sleep with him. It's convoluted, disgusting and full of over-the-top gory acts of vengeance. Some people think that it was intended as a parody of the revenge-tragedy genre so popular at the time. And of Hamlet in particular (see Take That!, below).


There is a 2002 film adaptation which sets the play in post-apocalyptic Liverpool (or just Liverpool), and stars Christopher Eccleston as Vindice.

This film provides examples of:

  • Cruel to Be Kind: Vindice does this to Castiza when he sees her again for the first time in nine years.
  • Curtain Camouflage: Lussurioso leaps out from behind an arras to confront his mother having sex with her step-son Spurio. Turns out she's with his father, the Duke. Oops.
  • Karma Houdini: Vindice and Hippolito would have got away clean, if Vindice didn't have to go and brag about it on his way out the door.
  • Karmic Death: The Duke poisoned Vindice's wife because she wouldn't sleep with him. So Vindice uses her skull, with poison on the lips (the more you think about how this has to be staged, the weirder it gets. And seeing it is stranger still...), as the instrument to poison the Duke.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Vindice does both, a few times. Most obviously in the line:
    Is there no thunder left, or is't kept up
    In stock for heavier vengeance?
    [thunder rolls]
  • Meaningful Name: Nearly all of the characters are named for their most prominent attribute:
    • Vindice = Vengeance
    • Piato = Hidden
    • Lussurioso = Lecherous
    • Spurio = Bastard
    • Ambitioso = Ambitious
    • Dondolo = Idiot
    • Nencio = Dolt
    • Sordido = Corrupt
    • Gratiana = Grace
    • Castiza = Chastity
    • Gloriana = Glorious
  • Revenge Before Reason: Very much so. In fact, when Vindice brags to Antonio about how they killed the Duke, and everyone else in his family, and Antonio sentences them to death, Vindice seems happy to accept his fate.

The 2002 film version provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The 2002 version cuts some of the subplots, to streamline the story. And, you know, updates it a lot.
  • Darker and Edgier: You wouldn't think that was possible, with this source material. But in the original play, the Duke and Duchess have no children together (Lussurioso is the Duke's son by a previous wife, Spurio by his mistress, while Ambitioso, Supervacuo, and Junior are the Duchess' children by a previous husband). The film makes them all one biological family, which means that: the Duke sentences HIS SON Junior to death; Spurio has an affair with HIS MOTHER; Ambitioso and Supervacuo try to murder THEIR BROTHER Lussurioso. Pretty screwed up in a step-family, but even worse when they're blood relations.
  • Setting Update: The movie adaptation updates it to Post Apocalyptic Liverpool. Or just Liverpool.


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