Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Revenger's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton

...in which I take three weeks to get around to reviewing my final book from 2013.

The Revenger's Tragedy is a Shakespeare-era play by Thomas Middleton, and like pretty much all drama from that period--with a few exceptions (Volpone?)--it's a reminder of just how great Shakespeare was.  As a revenge tragedy, I might take it over Titus Andronicus, but it's a far cry from that other Shakespearean revenge play--I'm forgetting the name now...

Anyway, the plot is incredibly convoluted: Vindici is determined to revenge himself on Duke for poisoning his beloved before the play begins.  The Duke's son Lussurioso takes the disguised Vindici on as a pandar who will seduce Vindici's sister (remember, he's in disguise), providing him the perfect opportunity for vengeance.  A side plot involves the Duke's bastard, who is having an affair with his wife, and his stepsons, one of whom is accused of a brutal rape.  They have names like "Spurio" and "Ambitioso" and "Supervacuo" that help you keep them apart.  If you guessed that they all die in the end, you are correct.

The Revenger's Tragedy isn't very profound, but it is gleefully over the top.  I really enjoyed this scene, where Vindici dresses up the skull of his beloved in fine jewels and a fancy dress.  The skull's jaw is laced with poison so that Vindici can present it to Lussurioso as his sister:

HIPPOLITO
Brother, y'ave spoke that right.
Is this the form that living shone so bright?

VINDICI
The very same;
And now methinks I [could] e'en chide myself
For doting on her beauty, tho' her death
Shall be reveng'd after no common action.
Does the silkworm expend her yellow labours
For thee? For thee does she undo herself?
Are lordships sold to maintain ladyships
For the poor benefit of a bewitching minute?
Why does yon fellow falsify highways
And put his life between the judge's lips
To refine such a thing, keeps horse and men
To beat their valours for her?
Surely we're all mad people, and they
Whom we think are, are not; we mistake those:
'Tis we are mad in sense, they but in clothes. 

Hey, man!  That's no way to talk to your girlfriend!  The whole play, in fact, is steeped in pretty stark misogyny.  Vindici makes a lot of really bold pronouncements about the treachery of women that I'm pretty sure we're supposed to take at face value even though this is a story about a bunch of men who murder each other.

Once the play reached its final act (spoiler: a lot of people get stabbed) it became pretty tedious.  However, if you're interested, there's a recent film version starring Eddie Izzard and Christopher Eccleston that's probably a more fun two hours than the ones you'd spend reading the play.

2 comments:

Brent Waggoner said...

I could barely make out what that excerpt was saying. Seems that for all his supposed difficulty for modern readers, Shakespeare is relatively clear.

Christopher said...

I think it's a lack of context. Vindici is complaining about how much effort and work goes into pleasing women, who aren't very loyal in the end.