Revenge tragedy
Henry Chettle’s The Tragedy of Hoffman
in The genres of Renaissance tragedy
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This chapter focuses on the enduring popularity of revenge tragedy on the early modern stage, examining the social, political and theatrical conditions that led to the genre’s development. Rather than seeing the representation of revenge onstage as indicative of a vengeful population, the chapter argues that these tragedies offer subtle and sophisticated commentaries on their historical moment.

Revenge tragedies are most often studied in terms of metatheatricality and intertextuality, but this fails to appreciate the genre as politically charged and socially inflected. The chapter demonstrates that far from being an isolated figure, the revenger is a radical agent of communal political action in the works of Kyd, Marston, Chettle and Middleton. The chapter’s case study focuses on the critically neglected Tragedy of Hoffman, which sees the intersection of discourses of piracy, insurrection and legitimacy on the early modern stage. Characters systematically subvert traditional binaries: lawful duke/convicted pirate; virtuous mother/villainous son; pious forgiveness/sinful rebellion. The text also playfully negotiates its relationship with Shakespeare’s Hamlet through the figure of Prince Jerome. By combining intertextual critique with radical politics, Chettle’s play offers a useful model for the re-examination of the revenge genre more widely.


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