The Revenger's Tragedy

Analysis and criticism: “subversive black camp”

Ignored for many years, and viewed by some critics as the product of a cynical, embittered mind,[4] The Revenger's Tragedy was rediscovered, and often performed as a black comedy, during the 20th century. The approach of these recent revivals mirrors shifting views of the play on the part of literary critics. One of the most influential 20th century readings of the play, by the critic Jonathan Dollimore, claims that the play is essentially a form of radical parody that challenges orthodox Jacobean beliefs about Providence and patriarchy.[5] Dollimore asserts the play is best understood as “subversive black camp” insofar as it “celebrates the artificial and the delinquent; it delights in a play full of innuendo, perversity and subversion ... through parody it declares itself radically skeptical of ideological policing though not independent of the social reality which such skepticism simultaneously discloses”[6] In Dollimore’s view, earlier critical approaches, which either emphasise the play’s absolute decadence or find an ultimate affirmation of traditional morality in the play, are insufficient because they fail to take into account this vital strain of social and ideological critique running throughout the tragedy.

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