THE REVENGER'S MADNESS: A STUDY OF REVENGE TRAGEDY MOTIFS

Hallett, Charles A., and Elaine S. Hallett

Published by University of Nebraska Press, 1980
ISBN 10: 0803223099 / ISBN 13: 9780803223097
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Octavo; vg/good; dj, blue spine with white text; dj, moderate flaking, all edges; HB, green cloth spine with gilt lettering; boards, minor shelf wear and bumping; text block, clean; 349pp. Rockville. Bookseller Inventory #

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From the Inside Flap: Did Elizabethan moral codes permit seventeenth-century audiences to sympathize with the revenger?  Critics of revenge tragedy have pondered this question for decades.  Believing questions of this kind off the mark, the authors of The Revenger's Madness shift their emphasis to the revenge experience.
     The Halletts' study concentrates on The Spanish Tragedy, Antonio's Revenge, Hamlet, and The Revenger's Tragedy, four plays which strive to render the experience of a man dominated by the passion of revenge.  These plays have been linked generically through their structural dependence upon certain "revenge-tragedy conventions"--the ghost, the madness, the delay, the play-within-the-play, a series of multiple murders, and the death of the avenger--but the motifs themselves are often ridiculed.  The authors suggest that these motifs, taken together, form a symbolic configuration designed to dramatize the psychological progress of the passion through stages of increasing intensity and dislocation.  Using insights gained from Renaissance (not Freudian) psychological theories, they offer, for the first time, a serious analysis of the meaning behind each motif.  But, they insist, the plays are more than clinical case histories.  The symbolic configuration operates on yet another level--the tragic--where the revenger's dilemma is paradigmatic of the Renaissance man's.  The playwrights were stimulated to examine the passion of revenge by the spiritual crisis of their era; thus, the experience of the prince of Denmark--that in the moment of his greatest need his culture failed to supply him with adequate guidance for action--recounts a dilemma confronting the best minds of the time.
     In part 1 the Halletts examine the genre as a whole to prove that the four playwrights exhibit a surprising unanimity of thought about the nature of revenge.  In part 2 they probe the unique vision of each writer, providing fresh insights that lead in many cases to new interpretations.  The concluding chapter offers perceptive distinctions between plays that belong to the genre and others, such as The Duchess of Malfi and The Changeling
, that do not.
     The implications of this study are far-reaching.  It maintains that readers and critics will find it far more fruitful to ask what experience the playwright is trying to render than to bog down in historical questions about an earlier audience's beliefs, which are essentially irrecoverable.  Such an approach, placing experience at the center of the critical enterprise, has implications that go beyond revenge tragedy to literature in general and the role of literature in man's search for significance.  It challenges not only earlier critics of revenge tragedy but also those critics who would encase the reader within the boundaries of the work of art, when in truth experience should enrich reading as much as reading enriches experience.

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Title: THE REVENGER'S MADNESS: A STUDY OF REVENGE ...
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Publication Date: 1980

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Hallett, Charles A.; Hallett, Elaine S.
Published by University of Nebraska Press (1980)
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