A new, authoritative edition of five classic revenge plays
As the Elizabethan era gave way to the reign of James I, England grappled with corruption within the royal court and widespread religious anxiety. Dramatists responded with morally complex plays of dark wit and violent spectacle, exploring the nature of death, the abuse of power, and vigilante justice. This anthology presents five crucial tragedies of the era collected together for the first time, including Shakespeare's 1603 version of "Hamlet" and Middleton's "The Revenger's Tragedy," a ferocious satire that reflects the mounting disillusionment of the age.
The introduction by Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith explores the political and religious climate behind the plays, as well as their dramatic conventions.
About the Author
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English dramatist, poet, and actor, generally regarded as the greatest playwright of all time.
Thomas Middleton (1570-1627) was an English dramatist, who excelled in both comedy and tragedy. Whilst his so-called 'city comedies' provide insight into 17th-century London life and manners, his tragedies are noted for their richly poetic verse, their emphasis on guilt and corruption, and their understanding of feminine psychology. His admirer T. S. Eliot wrote: "Middleton was a great observer of human nature, without fear, without sentiment, without prejudice." Middleton's first plays were acted by boy companies at Blackfriars Theatre and other venues. He often worked in collaboration with other dramatists for the theatre owner Philip Henslowe. With Thomas Dekker (c. 1570-1632) he wrote "The Honest Whore "(1604) and "The Roaring Girl "(1610), and with William Rowley he produced the powerful tragedy "The Changeling "(1622). Some modern scholars also believe that the texts we now have of Shakespeare's "Macbeth "and "Measure for Measure "were substantially altered by Middleton. "The Revenger's Tragedy" (1606) is now generally attributed to Middleton, rather than Cyril Tourneur. Middleton's social comedies include "A Trick to Catch the Old One" (1604-05), which provided the basis for Philip Massinger's "A New Way to Pay Old Debts "(1623), "A Mad World, My Masters "(1605), which introduced Sir Bounteous Progress, a lively country gentleman who is generous to all except his heir Dick Follywit, and" A Chaste Maid in Cheapside" (1619), which satirized ordinary Londoners. Other works include the tragedy "Women Beware Women "(1621) and the political satire "A Game of Chess "(1624), about the futile efforts to unite the royal houses of England (represented by the White Knight) and Spain (the Black Knight). The play drew huge crowds to the Globe Theatre but the Spanish ambassador protested and James I had "A Game of Chess" banned after only nine performances. It proved equally popular in print.
John Marston (c. 1575-1634) was an English playwright who wrote thirteen plays between 1599 and 1609, his two finest being the tragicomedy "The Malcontent" (1604) and the comedy "The Dutch Courtesan" (1605). He is noted for his violent imagery and his preoccupation with mankind's failure to uphold Christian virtues. Other plays include the tragedies "Antonio's Revenge" and "Antonio and Mellida "(both 1599) and the comedy "What You Will "(1601). At the turn of the century Marston became involved in the so-called war of the theatres, a prolonged feud with his rival Ben Jonson. Jonson repeatedly satirized him in such plays as "Every Man Out of His Humour "(1599) and The Poetaster (1601), while Marston replied in "Satiromastix "(with Thomas Dekker; 1601). Their squabble ended in time for the two to collaborate with George Chapman on the ill-fated" Eastward Ho! "(1605), which resulted in all three authors being briefly imprisoned. Marston was later imprisoned for offending James I with his tragedy "The Insatiate Countess" (1610). After his release he took holy orders and wrote no more plays.
“Five Revenge Tragedies makes the core texts of the genre available to students in an affordable, accessible edition. Emma Smith’s introduction is scholarly and at the same time engaging, and will likely prove useful to undergraduate and graduate students a like. This is a volume which is long overdue, and a welcome edition to the Penguin catalog.”
—Gabriel A Rieger, Assistant Professor, Languages and Literature, Concord University