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Jacobean Revenge Tragedy
A young man uses the poisoned skull of his fiancée as a murder weapon in an elaborate ploy of revenge. A son turns the skeleton of his father into a macabre stage decoration. The ghost of his dead brother urges another young man to take bloody revenge, but the young man stubbornly believes in the power of the law. Ghosts, skeletons, an insane murderer, and a loving couple meet on a graveyard, but the bloody deeds an audience might expect in this situation are displaced to the margins of the play. This lecture is not for the faint of heart: Via Thomas Middleton’s Revenger’s Tragedy, Henry Chettle’s Tragedy of Hoffman, George Chapman’s The Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois, and Cyril Tourneur’s Atheist’s Tragedy,I will guide you through the development of the Jacobean revenge play, arguably the most popular genre on the early modern stage from the 1580s through the early 1600s, when interest in the gory revengers and their imaginative killings fizzled out. In discussing these tragedies, I will look into early modern depictions of violence and their dependence on generic developments as well as on the development of English law. With Chapman’s and Tourneur’s rarely discussed tragedies I will then proceed to analyse ‘late’ examples of the revenge mode and explore what happens to a popular genre when it seems to have run out of steam.
PD Dr Susanne Gruß teaches English literature and culture at Goethe-University Frankfurt/Main. She has published a monograph on contemporary feminist writing, co-edited a collection of essays on neo-Victorianism and written articles on film adaptation, canonisation, contemporary literature, and the ‘Jacobean Gothic’. Her research interests include gender studies, film and media studies, contemporary literature, revenge tragedy, and law and literature. She is currently working on piracy in the early modern age and has just finished her second book project, entitled The Laws of Excess: Law, Literature, and the Laws of Genre in Early Modern Drama.
If you would like to listen to this guest lecture, please contact Prof. Ina Habermann to obtain the necessary Zoom link.
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