Satiric tragedy
The Revenger’s Tragedy
in The genres of Renaissance tragedy
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In satiric tragedy folly, vice and corruption are exposed and subjected to rhetorical attack. This chapter traces the origins of satiric tragedy in the tradition of English verse satire, itself rooted in Roman satire. This rich and vital tradition ended abruptly on 1 June, 1599 with the Bishops’ Ban, when the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered an end to the production of verse satire and the confiscation and destruction of specific extant works, including works by John Marston and Thomas Middleton, authors who went on to produce some of the most notable examples of satiric drama. Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy testifies to this origin and exemplifies the reflexive nature of the genre, i.e. its condemnation reflects upon the satirist even as it is deployed against its targets. The satirist must possess an intimate knowledge of vice in order to condemn it, and yet he must retain at least the appearance of integrity. This tension is particularly pronounced in The Revenger’s Tragedy, in which Vindice disguises himself as a bawd and works towards the ruin of his own family in the pursuit of his vengeance. The chapter examines satiric tragedy as a locus for social and institutional subversion.

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