The use of thematic concepts such as women and justice within the play The Revenger’s Tragedy represents the social and literary context of England in the early 1600’s. In this way, it also ‘holds the mirror up to nature’ (Hamlet, Act III, Scene ii). The playwright, Tourneur , has used features and devices within the text to aid the representation of these themes, and apply them to its social and literary context.
The Revenger’s Tragedy was written during the Elizabethan Era, specifically the Jacobean Period. This was the time of the revenge tragedy, and many other plays such as Hamlet by Shakespeare have evidently influenced Tourneur’s work. Hamlet was written in 1601, five years before The Revenger’s Tragedy was first performed. Both were written according to the idea of a Senecan tragedy, so many links can be drawn between these two texts.
One of the most prominent and clear themes Tourneur uses is the role of women. The audience is able to gain a view of Tourneur’s thoughts of women within the context of the early 1600’s in England, through the use of strong statements that would be considered sexist in our contemporary society. Certain stereotypical traits are evident, such as the idea that women are gullible - ‘their sex is easy in belief’ (Act I, Scene i, l. 107); untrustworthy – ‘Tell but some woman a secret over night, Your doctor may find it in the urinal i’th’morning’ (I iii ll. 84-85); and sinful – ‘there’s no pleasure sweet, but it is sinful’ (Act III, Scene v, l. 203). The use of sexual innuendo in these lines adds to the entertainment value of the performance and makes it appropriate for the English audience, while the oxymoronic phrase from Act III Scene v represents the two paths the Duchess can take, and is symbolic of options individuals in every day situations are presented with. These derogatory phrases refer to the nature of women in general, however they can not to be applied to all women.
A dichotomy exists within the play of the corrupt, which represents the majority of women in society, and the virtuous, reflecting a minority of women. Gratiana is considered corrupt after she gave ‘aim to her own daughter!’ (Act IV, Scene iv, l. 41), while the Duchess’s advances on Spurio her step son, give her an ‘incestuous’ and ‘sinful’ (Act III, Scene v) name. In comparison, Gloriana and Antonio’s wife both died to protect their family honour, while Castiza by her own admission, sees the power women possess: ‘If maidens would, men’s words could have no power; A virgin honour is a crystal tower’ (Act IV, Scene iv, ll. 151-152). This rhyming couplet highlights the didactic function of the play for the audience in creating a moral society. By definition, those virtuous characters are ‘chaste’ and ‘morally upright’. In this play, the audience gains a representation of Tourneur’s thoughts on society; that the majority of women are corrupt, however a minority of individuals exist that are virtuous. This dichotomy does not...