Public revenge and political chaos: the blood fued motif in renaissance historical writings



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Texas Tech University


Revenge tragedy has been the subject of considerable critical attention within English Renaissance studies. Fredson Bowers, in Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, first suggested the existence of a revenge tragedy genre within the larger category of the tragedy of blood. Akhough this 1940 study has received considerable challenge, it has also virtually defîned critical approaches to the revenge motif in English Renaissance drama. Because Bowers's revenge tragedy was founded upon borrowings from Senecan drama, critics generaily assume that revenge must be Senecan. Dramatic uses of revenge that do not fít this Senecan mold are therefore generally regarded as failed attempts at revenge tragedy and excluded from any serious study of dramatic representations of revenge.

While Bowers and others have acknowledged the potential influence of a native revenge tradition in England's Germanic, Anglo-Saxon roots, this dissertation is the first study to argue a clear distinction between Anglo-Saxon blood feud and Senecan revenge. The latter is the exertion of individual will against any vestiges of societal order, but the former is, for the Anglo-Saxons, the system whereby they maintam that order. Senecan revenge is, by its very defínition, an anti-social act. Revenge within the blood feud system, however, is a necessary act to maintain the balance of power within the society.

The distinction between these two cultural concepts of revenge illuminates a dramatic use of the revenge motif which has previously lain unexplored. Ahhough a Senecan influence dominates the tragic depiction of revenge, Renaissance dramatists clearly tumed to the blood feud revenge motif when addressing the subject of English history. Revenge is a consistent motif throughout historical drama of the period, yet it has received little attention because it fails to fit the Senecan mold. This study demonstraíes the inapplicability of the Senecan revenge motif to matters of English history and explores the unique dramatic use of blood feud to convey the political meaning of historical events.