Caroline tragedy
James Shirley’s The Traitor
in The genres of Renaissance tragedy
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This chapter examines James Shirley’s Caroline tragedy The Traitor and its engagement with its political, social and theatrical contexts. It discusses the ways in which the corruption and uncontrolled cupidity of the tyrannous Duke, and the desire for power of his court favourite Lorenzo, disrupt such stabilising social and political bonds as marriage, friendship, family, hospitality and allegiance, and raise uncontrolled passions and conflicts of allegiance in his subjects. This disruption and its dangers are read in the light of Caroline political arguments over prerogative power, law, liberties of the subject and Catholic allegiance. Reading the play intertextually, the chapter shows how Shirley’s revisioning of earlier revenge drama and his engagement with the tropes of Caroline tragicomedy emphasise the tragic futility of Amidea’s death, and highlight the dangers to social structures, subjects and monarchs themselves of failing to acknowledge and contain passions and take opportunities for reasoned reform.

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