Though it is a critical commonplace that English revenge tragedy began with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, there has been little systematic discussion of how revenge fared as a dramatic theme before Kyd’s inaugural work. This essay reexamines the importance of revenge in early Elizabethan drama, by broadly surveying its thematic and rhetorical prominence in the corpus of extant plays that predate Kyd’s tragedy. The prominence of revenge in pre-Kydian drama reveals that The Spanish Tragedy intensifies and systematizes structurally a theme that had for decades already been a well-worn mainstay on the English stage. A study of early dramatic revenge provides the basis for a more contextually sensitive account of revenge tragedy’s origin, and of its larger relationship to contemporary Elizabethan theatre.
Bradley J. Irish is a doctoral student in the English department at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on Tudor literature and history. His dissertation, 'Powerful Feelings: Emotional Structures of the Hereditary Elite in Early Modern Literary Culture', examines Tudor aristocratic culture via contemporary, cross-disciplinary research on affect and emotion. He has work forthcoming in Early Modern Women, and will contribute to The Blackwell Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature and The Encyclopedia of Elizabethan England.
Irish, Bradley J..
'Vengeance, Variously: Revenge Before Kyd in Early Elizabethan Drama'.
12.2 (2009): 117-34 (paper). Article 6.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/earlytheatre/vol12/iss2/6