Friday, September 04, 2009


There’s a simple little blog post with a deeper question.  On the subject of “What play would you assign?” the two friends discuss the understanding of revenge – one recommends Hamlet, the other suggests The Tempest.  (The interpretation of how best to handle your revenge, between those two plays alone, could fill quite a few lectures…)

But let me ask the bigger question – how many of Shakespeare’s plays, and to what extent, have revenge at their core?  Is what Edmund does, revenge?  How about Iago to Othello (if we assume, as the text hints at, that Iago does in fact have some previous slights from Othello, and he’s not just a sociopath).   What about Romeo killing Tybalt?  Sure it’s a brief flash of a moment inside the play, but it’s a pretty pivotal moment.  How about Merchant of Venice?

I realize that there are some “revenge plays” where that’s the overall point of the story.  I’m just curious, if you tried, whether you could find some level of revenge in just about all the plays, short of the silliest comedies. 

How about Dream?  Is Oberon’s spell cast over Titania a form of revenge for the way she’s been treating him?


William Hunter said...

Revenge is a matter of human nature, and Shakespeare, as a writer, was devoted to showing that. We also need to remember that the genre of the "revenge tragedy" dates from the early Shakespearean period. I think that is why you will find examples in almost all of Shakespeare's plays, the only difference is the degree of punishment being inflicted. (Midsummer vs. Titus) I do agree that Romeo killing Tybalt is an act of revenge, both for the death of Mecutio, and his slandered reputation, but even though it is a very important moment, I don't think that it makes revenge a central motif in Romeo and Juliet.

JM said...

I agree William, that revenge isn't a central motif in R&J as far as plot line focus. But overall, I think the theme of revenge--after revenge, after revenge, the necessity for it, the acceptance of it, and its pervasiveness, is sort of 'dyed-into' the wool of this play. Because of its omnipresence, tragedy has a home.