Revenge and Storytelling in English Drama, 1580-1640

Open Access
Murray, Heather Janine
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
November 14, 2007
Committee Members:
  • Linda Woodbridge, Committee Chair
  • Laura Lunger Knoppers, Committee Member
  • Garrett Sullivan Jr., Committee Member
  • Marcy Lynne North, Committee Member
  • Christine Clark Evans, Committee Member
  • Storytelling
  • Renaissance Drama
  • Revenge Tragedy
This dissertation proposes that storytelling functions as a catalyst for revenge in early modern English revenge tragedy. Chapters on Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam, and Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore examine the ways in which storytelling perpetuates acts of vengeance by individuals, families, and nations. Two premises shape the central argument. First, revengers come from within an intimate circle of family and friends; second, the desire for revenge is maintained, and the act of revenge later justified, through story-telling within this circle. Crimes ostensibly committed against an individual affect those nearest to the injured party, particularly close friends and family. Consequently, the revenger almost always comes from one of these two groups. While the revenger obviously seeks to punish the wrongdoer, he or she can not stop there, for punishment is not enough; the wrongdoer must understand that he or she is paying the penalty for a previous misdeed. And, in order to redeem the reputation of a wronged friend or family member and restore the family honor, the revenger must justify his or her actions by telling the victim’s story publicly. This account distinguishes the principled revenger from the common criminal.