Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Richard Morton




The purpose of this thesis is to examine power relations in four Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge tragedies: Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy, Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, and Shirley's The Cardinal. Beginning with Kyd's prototype, each writer afterwards expresses his own particular view of the proper function of power through his treatment of the figure of the revenger and the role of abstract justice.

My method is to examine recurring elements in these plays, such as: madness, as a reflection of the creation of an alternate form of reality; the ritualistic quality of the enactment of revenge, usually expressed in dumbshow or a masque; the revenger's apprehension of himself as the instrument of divine vengeance; and the position of women in these plays, and the imagery used to describe them. These elements are, typically, stock components of the subgenre which, interpreted in combination, present paraI leI commentaries to the surface narratives of these plays, commentaries that often are contrary to the overt meanings of the plays. My approach to the material is conditioned, in part, by the writings of the historian Michel Foucault and the work of the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut on the subject of narcissisrn and narcissistic rage. In this thesis l hope to show how each playwright addresses the issues of power and abstract justice, a subject that links these major writers across a span of more than fifty years.

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