The revenge tragedy was arguably the most popular subgenre of Renaissance theatre, and not one for the faint-hearted. Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences were fascinated by death, mutilation, and gore, which most revenge tragedies shed in abundance. In this course, we will explore such spectacles of punishment in order to probe what the increasingly excessive and often outright absurd use of violence reveals about Renaissance cultures of violence and retribution. Moreover, we will examine the ways in which they reflect tensions between taking revenge in a private capacity and the (seemingly absent) authority of state justice. Our discussions will be based on two rather different texts: Shakespeare’s infamously bloody and allegedly ‘un-Shakespearean’ Titus Andronicus (1594) and John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (1614). As in both plays the onstage mutilation or death of female characters plays a major role, we will equally consider the politics of staging death. Also taking into account filmed productions, we will find out how onstage death and mutilation are experienced by the audience and how far, for instance, male and female deaths are gendered in different ways.
The following textual editions are highly recommended:
- Shakespeare, William. Titus Andronicus. Revised Edition. Ed. Jonathan Bate. London et al: Arden Shakespeare, 2018.
- Webster, John. The Duchess of Malfi. Ed. Leah S. Marcus. London et al: Arden Early Modern Drama, 2009.
Additional texts and topics for presentations will be announced in the first session.