Places: The Revenger’s Tragedy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1607

First produced: 1606-1607

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Renaissance

Places DiscussedItalian dukedom

Italian Revenger’s Tragedy, Thedukedom. Unspecified Italian principality in which the play unfolds. Although the location is clearly Italian, the play provides not a single place name. By depicting a court in Italy as a hotbed of vice, the playwright follows the English Renaissance tradition of demonizing the unethical Niccolò Machiavelli’s birthplace. Simultaneously, the play’s geographical vagueness invites audiences to identify “this villainous dukedom vexed with sin” as a distorted mirror of the intrigue in King James I’s English court.

Ducal palace

Ducal palace. Setting for almost half of the play’s twenty scenes. As seen through the revenger Vindice’s eyes, this site of the ducal family’s routine indulgence in rape, incest, adultery, betrayal, and murder is a living hell of damned souls. The drama’s centerpiece is Vindice’s revenge in the “unsunned lodge/ Wherein ’tis night at noon”–a palace locale symbolizing the moral darkness of both the duke’s sins and Vindice’s brutal punishment.

Court of law

Court of law. The setting of the second scene, in which the royal court undermines the legal one by extenuating rape and delaying the rapist’s punishment. Such failure of the law provides context for Vindice’s blood revenge, although the heaven that Vindice himself invokes so often as the source of true justice seems to hover just above the stage.


Prison. Scene of two sons’ incarceration for sexual crimes, where worldly corruption, rather than justice, again dictates villains’ fates.


Countryside. Although no scenes are explicitly set outside the ducal capital, the play’s dialogue opposes Christian values beyond the town against those in the “accursed palace.” Vindice, living with his family “not far from Court,” comments, “Let blushes dwell i’ the country,” and equates chastity with a “foolish country girl.” Nevertheless, the court’s poisonous evil spreads to the country to contaminate Vindice’s mother, Gratiana (Grace), if not his sister, Castiza (Chastity).

BibliographyBrucher, Richard T. “Fantasies of Violence: Hamlet and The Revenger’s Tragedy.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 211 (Spring, 1981): 257-270. Argues that as revenge tragedies, The Revenger’s Tragedy and Hamlet are exactly opposite. Likens Vendice to Marlowe’s Barabas or to Harry Callahan of the Dirty Harry films.Coddon, Karin S. “‘For Show or Useless Property’: Necrophilia and The Revenger’s Tragedy.” English Literary History 61 (Spring, 1994): 71-88. Offers historical information on attitudes toward and practices involving the dead. Argues that the skull of Gloriana functions as a symbol of female perfection and sinful female sexuality.Finke, Laurie A. “Painting Women: Images of Femininity in Jacobean Tragedy.” Theatre Journal 36 (October, 1984): 357-370. Argues that men idealize women’s beauty to avoid the reality of death. Discusses how the painted woman is viewed with hostility in Tourneur’s play, in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (c. 1613), and in John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1633).McMillin, Scott. “Acting and Violence: The Revenger’s Tragedy and Its Departures from Hamlet.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 24 (Spring, 1984): 275-291. Argues that Tourneur’s play is about the theater and that the play abounds with double identities.Ornstein, Robert. The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965. The chapter on Tourneur is basic critical reading. Argues that Vendice cannot save himself from his own cynicism.
Categories: Places