The Revenger's Tragedy

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A gem from November's NaJoPoMo, by pebblederook.

The Revenger's Tragedy 2003 Film with Chris Eccleston (The Ninth Doctor)

A play written about 1606 assigned first to Cyril Tourneur and then to Thomas Middleton. Thomas Kyd's 'The Spanish Tragedy' helped establish the popularity of the revenge genre in 1587. Nothing has diminished the public's attraction to these plots since. Virtually every cowboy or vigilante movie ever made relies to some extent on the idea of an injustice committed that the authorities cannot or will not deal with, and it is left to the 'hero' to do what a man has got to do.

The level of violence portrayed in these plots may also explain their popularity. Which is why I thought it best to compare this play to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' by reference to the body counts.

First the teams. Hamlet's team is fairly well known. There is his father, old Hamlet, a somewhat ghostly presence, his Uncle Claudius the new King and his mother Gertrude now remarried. The other major family group on this team is Polonius and his son Laertes and daughter Ophelia. Making up the numbers are a couple of old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Or should that be Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?

The Revengers team are far less well known, but a lot nastier, more like the back four of the Argentinian national football team. The leader is Vindice and his brother Hippolito. They are backed up by the Duke, his legitimate son Lussurioso, his bastard son Spurio, his second wife the Duchess and her three sons, Supervacuo, Ambitioso, and Junior Brother. Also on the squad are Antonio, a noble lord, and his virtuous wife.

Revenge tragedy wouldn't last long if it weren't complicated. “You killed my father/wife/son” “Yes I did” “Take that” Curtain.

Often the complication is simply that the revenger does not know who he should be revenged on and has to spend time finding out. With Hamlet, he has the problem of whether or not he believes the ghost is a true ghost or a fiend from hell sent to trick him.

For Vindice in 'The Revengers Tragedy' he knows his enemy and he might immediately exact revenge except that virtually everyone else in the play has a beef against someone else and they are all seeking vengeance.

It resembles nothing so much as the scene in 'Monty Python's Life of Brian' when the two different resistance groups, both on a mission to kidnap Pilate's wife, meet in the tunnel under the palace and proceed to wipe each other out.

Well, that's the preliminaries out of the way, on to the game.

Vindice makes a fast start. We see him in the first line of the first scene sitting and chatting to his betrothed. She isn't talking much as she is a disembodied skull. Gloriana was her name but she was poisoned by the Duke when she resisted his lustful advances.


Hamlet comes straight back with the first visitation of the ghost of old King Hamlet.


The off stage drama continues when Antonio's virtuous (but unnamed) wife is raped by Junior Brother and kills herself in shame.


Hamlet fights back with two quick deaths. The revengers team protest to the referee that the Player King's two deaths, one in mime and one in action, are not real but the official decision is that as none of the deaths are strictly 'real' these can stand.


Junior Brother is executed for the rape, not because the Duke wishes it but because his two brothers, in attempting to have the Dukes natural son killed, mess up their plot and the wrong prisoner is beheaded.


Moments later Hamlet finally gets his game together and runs through Polonius.


Now Vindice and his brother Hippolito poison the Duke and then kick and stab him to death for good measure. And a gentleman attending on the Duke is taken to execution for failing to protect his master.


Ophelia learns of her fathers death, runs mad, and drowns herself.


Laertes gets angry, yes his sister was mad, but he is fuming. He challenges Hamlet to a fencing bout but dirty work is afoot. In a flurry of action Gertrude is poisoned, Claudius stabbed and poisoned (still only counts as one), Laertes dies from his own poisoned sword which also does for Hamlet. A triumph of slaughter.


Is there any way the Revengers can come back now? Lussurioso is stabbed at dinner by Vindice and his brother, disguised as masquers. They exit stage left as the step brothers arrive stage right, also dressed as masquers. With the Old Duke dead and his legitimate son murdered, Supervacuo is now Duke. Just long enough to say 'Ha, now I am Duke' before his brother Ambitioso stabs him in the back. 'Ha, now I am Duke' cries Ambitioso.'No, I am Duke' cries Spurio, bastard son of the Old Duke as he stabs Ambitioso just before he himself is stabbed by a servant who is immediately executed. Wow, what a game we have here.


But wait, here's the ambassador from England to announce to the Danish court that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (or should that be Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?) are dead.


Some people (mostly Norwegian) are on the stage. They think it's all over. Is there a final twist? As they begin to exit, Antonio says to Vindice, 'so who killed the old Duke then.' 'I cannot tell a lie,' says Vindice smugly, 'it was me and my bro'. 'Off with their heads,' cries Antonio.


What a finish!

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