The Revenger’s Tragedy, by Thomas Middleton (1607), has many themes and ideas which, through thematic and structural value, effectively “hold a mirror up to nature”. Through the representation of women and the ideas of morality presented, The Revengers Tragedy presents a significant commentary on society. There are many layers to Middleton’s work, and the deeper one looks, the more complex and subversive ideas begin to develop, particularly based around the associated social context.
In The Revenger’s Tragedy, women are represented in a number of different ways, but they are all interlinked. Most of the readily observed depictions bear negative social and moral connotations, whereas if one looks deeper, they may find that there are potentially some sympathetic-feminist views represented in the text. Firstly, there are few women characters in the play, and most of them play very minor dramatic roles (as opposed to their larger thematic roles). This, on the surface may appear to say that they do not contribute to the storyline and thus are insignificant. Neither of these are true. The women do, in fact, drive the plot, and are the motive for almost every action. Vindice is largely driven by Gloriana’s death, the Duchess is behind many of the nobles’ endeavours, Castiza motivates Lussurioso and Hippolito to their various actions. Thus, the women hold some significant power. It is important to note that none of the women try to actively create conflict, but they may (intentionally or otherwise) inspire the male characters into doing so, placing more emphasis on the manner in which they are mistaken as unimportant.
Many or all the male characters in the play hold strong anti-feminist views. Women are largely seen by them as “made to go to bed and feed,” (A1, S1, L131) so with a limited and demeaning role in society. This is a reflection of the strongly patriarchal society of the time. The men are, due to their prejudice, unable to see the powerful effect of women on driving their actions, and when it becomes evident that the women do have a power of sorts, it is labelled as some form of sin or vice, Vindice says, “Were’t not for gold and women, there would be no damnation” (A2, S2, L257).
This links in to the belief that women are morally inferior to their male counterparts. Although it is true that some of the female characters, such as the Duchess, are somewhat morally corrupt, (it is said that she “would do with the devil” [A1, S1, L4]), this is applied to the rest of women in society, unjustly. In the play, there are more virtuous women than non-virtuous women, and indeed, more virtuous women than men, yet this belief is still upheld. Antonio is the only man who can be said to be innocent of crime, whereas there are a number of women who have significant moral boundaries. Antonio’s wife, for instance, commits suicide after the shame of being raped, Castiza refuses to be sold off to Lussurioso, Gloriana similarly, is put up on a...