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An example of the gruesomeness of revenge plays: "Enter the empress' sons with Lavinia, her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out, and ravished." --stage-direction to Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.
The revenge play or revenge tragedy is a form of tragedy extremely popular in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras (c.1550-1650). Probably the best-known of these is William Shakespeare's Hamlet.
In a convention of the genre, the ghost of the person to be avenged appears to spur on his avenger. The revenge is inevitably fatal to both the avenger and his victim.
The hero in these plays is a man aware of a great wrong in society or in his own private life, and who is determined by every means in his power to rectify that wrong and punish evildoers. In the process the hero makes elaborate, secret plans and operates outside the law, and he finally destroys himself as he kills his enemies.
Plays in this genre include:
- Hamlet by Shakespeare (Arguably) Julius Caesar by Shakespeare: Caesar's ghost appears to Caesar's assassin Brutus, who kills himself.
- The Revenger's Tragedy, long attributed to Cyril Tourneur but possibly by Thomas Middleton
- The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd
- Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare
- Shakespeare's Macbeth clearly comes close to falling within this genre, but it is Macbeth himself, not Macduff, who sees Banquo's ghost. That fact is atypical of classic revenge plays: usually the avenger and not the murderer has visions of supernatural phenomena such as ghosts. In this case, it is Macduff who seeks revenge for Macbeth's evil deeds to his family and the former king, so that according to the conventions of the Elizabethan revenge tragedies, he should have been the one to meet the ghost.
Similar forms are found in classical Greek and Roman plays, including those of Seneca, although those have never been intended to be actual plays performed on stage. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revenge_tragedy [Nov 2005]
An incredible series of gruesome plays jostle each other on the stages of England. The first is traditionally Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (1585) followed by Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine (1587), Dr Faustus [1587-1589] and William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (1594). Shakespeare's Hamlet (1600) and Macbeth (1605) are also morbid little pieces of some note. Cyril Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy (1607) and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (1613) are the latter examples, and indeed the last examples of death portrayed in front of an audience in European theatre until Victor Hugo's Hernani in 1730. [1790-1825]. --http://www.tabula-rasa.info/DarkAges/Timeline1.html [Nov 2005]
The Way of the World (1700) - William Congreve
The Way of the World is a play written by British playwright William Congreve. It premiered in 1700 in the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, England. It is widely regarded as being one of the best Restoration comedies written and is still performed sporadically to this day.
The play is renowned for being very complicated and audiences, even at the time, would sometimes find themselves becoming confused with its long discussions of contracts. This is made all the more true in the present day because of its occasional use of what is now archaic language. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_of_the_World [Nov 2005]
Titus Andronicus (1590s)- Shakespeare
Tragedy of blood, revenge tragedy, history play, political play, Roman tragedy, horror comic, parody play, Grand Guignol, daddy of all horror plays...which is it? Break down and analyze the structure and organization of Titus Andronicus to arrive at a classification of the play, if possible. If not, discuss what generic attributes the play holds, and how they help us to understand Shakespeare's intentions in writing it. --http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/titus/study.html [Nov 2005]
Titus Andronicus may be Shakespeare's earliest tragedy. It depicts a fictional Roman general engaged in a cycle of revenge with his enemy, the Queen of the Goths.
Titus Andronicus is perhaps Shakespeare's bloodiest tragedy; some measure of its matter can be gleaned from a single stage-direction: "Enter the empress' sons with Lavinia, her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out, and ravished." (Act II, scene IV). The play is frequently dismissed for its violence, and some Shakespeare lovers consider it childish juvenilia, or believe that it is populist trash written only to make money.
Since the late twentieth century, however, the play has been revived frequently on stage and has been revealed to some as a powerful and moving exploration of violence that pre-empts King Lear in its bleakness, to others as a forerunner of the Hollywood slasher movie. The play can speak to modern audiences, who are used to violence in film, in a way that it could not to Victorian audiences; but the modern intolerance for everyday cruelty makes moderns less responsive than previous generations, who attended public executions for entertainment. The character of Titus has been played by important actors such as Laurence Olivier, Brian Cox, Anthony Sher and Anthony Hopkins, and is increasingly regarded as one of the great Shakespearean roles.
It seems to have been one of the most popular plays of Shakespeare's during his lifetime, as it was published in three quarto editions prior to the First Folio of 1623. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titus_Andronicus [Nov 2005]
--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_adaptations_of_Shakespearean_plays#Titus_Andronicus [Nov 2005]
- The TV movie Titus Andronicus (1985), directed by Jane Howell with Trevor Peacock and Eileen Atkins as Titus and Tamora. Part of the BBC Shakespeare Plays series.
- The film Titus (1999), directed by Julie Taymor with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange as Titus and Tamora.
- The film Titus Andronicus (1999), directed by Christopher Dunne
- The film Titus Andronicus (2000), directed by Richard Griffin
Titus (2000) - Julie Taymor [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Amazon.com essential video
Considered by many to be Shakespeare's worst play, Titus Andronicus is a bloodthirsty tragedy full of villainous heroes and bottomless revenge--hardly the stuff of big-screen directorial debuts, it would seem. Yet Julie Taymor dives headfirst into moviemaking with Titus, a spectacular adaptation that manages to find beauty and humor in the piles of carnage. --Claire Campbell for Amazon.com
Macbeth (1971)- Roman Polanski
Macbeth (1971)- Roman Polanski [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Roman Polanski's adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy remains one of the most infamous for a number of reasons: the copious amounts of bloody gore, its expert use of location settings (filmed in North Wales), and Lady Macbeth's nude sleepwalking scene. Despite its notoriety, though, this does remain one of the more compelling film adaptations of the Scottish tragedy, if one of the more pessimistic takes on the story of Macbeth and his overreaching ambition. If you think the play is normally a bit of a downer, you haven't seen Polanski's bleak version of it, made in reaction to the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson "family." Jon Finch (Hitchcock's Frenzy) is an forceful Macbeth, bringing out the Scot's warrior instincts, and Francesca Annis is a memorable Lady Macbeth, but the main thrust of the film belongs to Polanski's and noted British playwright and critic Kenneth Tynan's take on the play: extremely violent, nihilistic, and visceral; this is down-in-the-dirt, no-holds-barred Shakespeare, not fussy costume drama. Pay close attention to the end, a silent coda that puts a chilling twist on all the action that has come beforehand and foreshadows more tragedy to come. --Mark Englehart, Amazon.com
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