The Jew of Malta

Sympathy and Objectification in the Revenge Tragedy Genre

The genre of revenge tragedy has been both popular and unique in its ability to simultaneously arouse feelings that appear to be unrelated in its audience: vengeance and sympathy. What makes this genre vary from play to play, however, is the author’s ability to either gain the audiences’ identification with the “revenger,” and his actions, or isolate him from readers in doing so. In addition, by keeping an audience either aligned with the protagonist-revenger or by objectifying him, the overall effectiveness of the play is also affected. In analyzing this trend, one can examine two revenge tragedies in which the protagonist’s actions have opposite effects on the audience. In Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, for example, readers see the protagonist immediately wronged and actively seek revenge throughout the play; however in doing so he goes too far and ultimately commits heinous acts that lead to his overall isolation from readers, as by they can no longer sympathize or identify with him as the character he originally was. However, in Thomas Middleton’s Revenger’s Tragedy, the protagonist, also wronged at the onset, actively seeks revenge throughout the play; yet in staying his personal course of revenge readers are able...

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