English Revenge Drama: Money, Resistance, Equality

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Vengeance permeates English Renaissance drama - for example, it crops up in all but two of Shakespeare's plays. This book explores why a supposedly forgiving Christian culture should have relished such bloodthirsty, vengeful plays. A clue lies in the plays' passion for fairness, a preoccupation suggesting widespread resentment of systemic unfairness - legal, economic, political, and social. Revengers' precise equivalents - the father of two beheaded sons obliges his enemy to eat her two sons' heads - are vigilante versions of Elizabethan law, where penalties suit the crimes: thieves' hands were cut off, scolds' tongues bridled. The revengers' language of "paying" hints at the operation of revenge in the service of economic redress. Revenge makes contact with resistance theory, justifying the overthrow of tyrants, and some revengers challenge the fundamental inequity of social class. Woodbridge demonstrates how, for all their sensationalism, their macabre comedy and outlandish gore, Renaissance revenge plays do some serious cultural work.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a brilliant and convincing way to account for early modern England's obsession with leveling the score."
-David Hawkes, Arizona State Univercity, TLS
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521884594
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2010
  • Pages: 348
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Linda Woodbridge is Weiss Chair in the Humanities and Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. She has published widely on the subjects of English Renaissance literature, women in literature, folklore and revenge. Her books include Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (1984), Shakespeare: A Selective Bibliography of Criticism (1988), The Scythe of Saturn: Shakespeare and Magical Thinking (1994), and Vagrancy, Homelessness, and English Renaissance Literature (2001).

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Table of Contents

List of figures ix

Acknowledgments x

English revenge plays discussed in this book xi

Standard MLA abbreviations for Shakespeare's plays xiv

Note on the text xvi

Part I Rampant Revenge 1

1 Getting what one deserves 3

2 Can two wrongs ever make a right? Some theory 22

Part II Economic Unfairness: Revenge and Money 59

3 Balancing the books: revenge, commercial mathematics, and the balance of trade 61

4 Payback time: reward, retaliation, and the deluge of debt 84

5 The goddess with the scales - and the blindfold 106

Part III Political Unfairness: Revenge and Resistance 127

6 "A special inward commandment": the mid sixteenth century 129

7 Resistance in the golden age of revenge plays 167

8 Revenge and regicide: the Civil War era 189

Part IV Social Unfairness: Vengeance and Equality 223

9 Revenge and class warfare 225

10 Quantification revisited: revenge and social equality 254

Conclusion 271

Bibliography 277

Index 311

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