Vindice in The Revenger's Tragedy holding the skull of his dead wife.
October 22, 2008

Three jacobean Tragedies

The man with the fetching girlfriend is Vindice from Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy. The production was put on in London in June of 2008. For a review see here.

This is the first play in Three Jacobean Tragedies. The others are The White Devil, and The Changeling.

The Revenger’s Tragedy is traditionally ascribed to Cyril Tourneur, who also gets credit for The Atheist’s Tragedy, but it seems to be the fashion nowadays to push a lot onto Thomas Middleton. I’m rather agnostic on this issue, but because I tend to favor tradition, and have been known to burst into the song from Fiddler on the Roof on more than one occasion, I’ll stick with Tourneur as the author.

This and the other two plays are generally known as revenge tragedies, and center on acts of revenge that eventually destroy not only the intended victims, but the perpetrators of the deeds as well. In The Revenger’s Tragedy Vindice seeks revenge upon the Duke for the attempted seduction of his lover Gloriana. The play opens with Vindice carrying the skull of Gloriana. The skull will ultimately become an instrument of murder, when Vindice leads the Duke to believe that he has procured a partner for him. The Duke caresses and kisses the skull, which is disguised, and receives poison from its lips. The third act contains the murder of the Duke, and the execution of Junior, the youngest son of the Duchess.

Some of Vindice’s lines are fiercely biting, and have a sharp, satirical edge to them:

“Thou dost usurp that title now by fraud, For in that shell of mother breeds a bawd.” (IV, iv, 10-11)

“No power is angry when the lustful die; When thunder claps, heaven likes the tragedy.” (V, iii, 49-50)

November 11, 2008

I had a cold last week, and spent more time sleeping than reading, so my recollection of the next play is not terribly current.

The White Devil is by John Webster. His Duchess of Malfi ranks as one of my favorite plays, and the lines when the Duchess dies live in the imagination long after the play is over. The White Devil has a complex plot, and the play was not well received. There are, however, moments of intensity that convince one that Eliot was right, and that Webster really did see the skull beneath the skin.

November 23, 2008

The Changeling—This one is by Middleton with an assist from Rowley. Rowley is credited with the comic subplot involving Alibius, Lollio, and Antonio, while Middleton is credited with the main plot. If you want a summary of the plot see this article at Wikipedia.

It should be noted that much of the play is sexually suggestive, and that it is centered around lust.

Next up is Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. This is a sequel of sorts to Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato. Unfortunately, outside of a rather expensive paperback, there is not a current translation of Boiardo’s work around. After I finish Ariosto, I’ll resume the St. John’s list with Don Quixote, unless Christmas books intervene.