The Revenger's Tragedy

The Revenger's Tragedy Quotes and Analysis

"His violent act has e'en drawn blood of honour / And stained our honours, / Thrown ink upon the forehead of our state / Which envious spirits will dip their pens into / After our death, and blot us in our tombs."

- The Duke, pg. 49

Here, the Duke speaks critically about Junior's rash and selfish actions. He does not seem to have a problem with the fact that Junior has raped Antonio's wife, but he is more concerned that his stepson has dishonored the kingdom. The Duke points out that Junior's rape of Antonio's wife has greater ramifications beyond violating the poor woman and offending her husband. This is because the ruling family was expected to provide moral guidance to the kingdom. Therefore, the effects of scandal become amplified depending on the political position of those involved. A violent, amoral act can mar the Duke's reputation even after he is dead and gone, and he is worried that it will be hanging over the heads of his successors and tainting his name in historical records. The Duke's words prove to be prescient in the long run but the rape also has short-term effects than the Duke is unprepared for: the family's public decline from morality incites revolt from the common people.

"Oh, what a grief 'tis, that a man should live / But once i'th'world, and then to live a bastard, / the curse o'the womb, the thief of Nature"

- Spurio, pg. 55

Middleton makes Spurio, the Duke's illegitimate child, into an embodiment of the corruption plaguing the kingdom. With the above statement, Spurio establishes himself as a figure who will have to die in order for this kingdom to return to a state of purity and puissance. Although modern readers will certainly object to the implication that an illegitimate birth is an permanent mark of shame, bastardy was seen as a violation of the strict, patriarchal values of Jacobean England. The "bastard" character is a common fixture in in literature from this time. The archetypal bastard always possesses an innately sinful nature because of the way he/she was conceived. Spurio certainly fulfills this role. In this particular aside, Spurio laments the fact that a man only has one life but he must spend his as a bastard. His resentment towards his father ultimately drives him to plot revenge against the Duke, and Spurio's inevitable elimination at the end of the play augurs a cleansing and renewal.

"Attend me: I am past my depth in lust / And I must swim or drown."

- Lussurioso, pg. 59

Lussurioso and his father, the Duke, are both filled with lust. Lust motivates their sinful actions and ultimately leads to both of their downfalls. The Bible condemns lust as one of the seven deadly sins, which all Christians know. However, [The Revenger's Tragedy] does not necessarily condemn all lust, but only lust that is obsessive and/or misplaced. Lussurioso lusts after Vindice and Hippolito's sister and even tries to bribe their mother in his determination to win Castiza. The Duke, however, is even more lecherous. Years ago he killed Gloriana because she would not consent to his advances. In the play, the Duke violates the sanctity of matrimony by asking Piato to arrange a secret sexual encounter. Both Lussurioso and the Duke have crossed over the appropriate sexual boundaries and are therefore endangering the moral health of the kingdom. Ultimately, this lack of self-control leads them both to "drown."

"This is my comfort, gentlemen, and I joy / in this one happiness above the rest. / Which will be called a miracle at last, / That, being an old man, I'd a wife so chaste."

- Antonio, pg. 65

The Revenger's Tragedy is a potent reminder of the extremely stringent gender structure that existed in Jacobean times. A woman's worth was determined by the status of her marriage, and her marriageability depended on her virtue (or chastity). After marriage, a woman proved her value through her ability to fulfill her dual role of wife and mother. The majority of female characters in the play rarely have opinions of their own - Middleton depicts them as easily fooled and mentally pliable. On the other hand, some of the female characters take on the role of the (sometimes reluctant) seductress whose innate sensuality has the power to lead men astray, thus implying that female sexuality is inherently evil. In the above quote, Antonio is actually relieved when his wife, a recent victim of violent rape, kills herself. Once her purity and her wifely duties have been violated, she no longer serves any purpose in society. Additionally, the Duke chastises Junior for raping Antonio's wife (who has no first name, by the way), but not because of the effects on the victim but because it shows disrespect for Antonio.

"This very skull, / Whose mistress the Duke poisoned with this drug, / The mortal cure of the earth, shall be revenged / In the like strain, and kiss his lips to death."

- Vindice, pg. 96

Vindice's long obsession with Gloriana's skull finally pays off when he uses it as the instrument for the Duke's murder. In one of the more disturbing scenes in a play hardly lacking in the macabre and the grotesque, the skull represents the intersection between death and eroticism. Despite the fact that Gloriana is long gone, her skull is a lingering symbol of her innate sensuality that was so powerful it led the Duke to kill her when he could not possess her. In this scene, the Duke reaps what he has sown. He poisoned Gloriana for rejecting his advances, and now he dies from the same poison while he is trying to seduce her once more. The fact that the Duke does not even realize that the "girl" is actually a skull speaks to the gender roles of the time.

"So so, all’s as it should be, y’are your self."

- Hippolito, pg. 108

Vindice spends much of the play in disguise. First, he dresses up as Piato the pander. He then shirks the disguise and presents himself to Lussurioso as Vindice, but he is still pretending, playing the role of a loyal subject. Finally, he dons the revenger’s mask to carry out the final step in his plan. Hippolito’s comment above hints at his relief upon seeing his brother without any disguises, for once. While other characters also don literal masks or cloak themselves in deceit and duplicity, none of them compare to Vindice, whose masks utterly subsume him. He violates laws and social norms in the name of vengeance, and loses his own identity in the process. Vindice’s disguises ultimately go deeper than his cloaks and wigs; they enable his metamorphosis into entirely different people. From behind a mask, Vindice engages in seduction, murder, and revenge with impunity, but he eventually is uncloaked (by his own hand!) and dies as his true self.

"Is there no thunder left, or is’t kept up / In stock for heavier vengeance?"

- Vindice, pg. 115

After Lussurioso asks Vindice to kill Piato the pander, who is, of course, actually Vindice, Vindice utters the above lament into the heavens. He wonders why the powers that be do not immediately punish the purveyors of blatant corruption in the realm. Characters communicating with God and/or Nature is a common trope in literature from this time - and in many occasions, Nature actually will respond to the sinful actions on Earth. Vindice’s appeal echoes throughout the text. He wonders why Nature and God (Nature is often portrayed as having autonomy and a more serious investment in the affairs of man) do not intervene and hold sinful men accountable for their actions. Later, when Lussurioso assumes the throne, Nature does indeed express Her discontent by presenting a blazing comet, which also foreshadows the coming doom for the malefactors.

"Thou dost usurp that title now by fraud, / For in that shell of mother breeds a bawd."

- Vindice, pg. 118

Vindice claims that Gratiana is usurping the title of “mother” because of her brief willingness to sell Castiza's virginity. He believes that Gratiana's inability to protect her child means that she is only posing as a mother but not actually fulfilling the role. However, Vindice’s anger stems from the fact that while posing as Piato, he engineered his mother's moral lapse by offering her gold in exchange for Castiza. Nevertheless, Vindice refers to his mother as a “bawd,” or madam. In Jacobean society, a married woman's value was directly connected to her ability to bear children and raise them to carry on their father's name honorably. However, Gratiana is a widow with an unwed daughter. The play implies that without a patriarch to guide the family, Gratiana is unable to act as a stable head of household. Furthermore, she is an unmarried woman with sexual experience. It does not matter that she was married when she had those experiences, because now, without a husband, her sinful past purportedly clouds her judgement. She redeems herself repenting earnestly, blaming her lapse in judgement on the inherent weaknesses of her gender.

"Thou much by wit a deep Revenger can, / When murder’s known, to be the clearest man."

- Vindice, pg. 126

In the above quote, Vindice privately expresses his pleasure upon successfully carrying out his plan to take revenge on the Duke while Lussurioso, Vindice's next unsuspecting victim, looks upon his father’s corpse in horror. According to Vindice, the Revenger must also possess mental clarity and the ability to judge situations and individuals accurately. Additionally, Vindice claims that when enacting revenge, masks and disguises are necessary tools in concert with wit because no one should be able to suspect the Revenger's true identity or motive. Vindice uses not just one but three disguises to carry out his revenge. He wears a literal disguise, then later embodies his own physical identity while pretending to be a sycophant, and finally, he wears the Revenger's mask at the revels. By following his own rules, Vindice succeeds in carrying out his vengeful goals. However, his own lapse of wit and his momentary abandonment of any disguise ultimately lead to his undoing.

"The rape of your lady has been ‘quited / With death on death."

- Vindice, pg. 135

Vindice tries to convince Antonio that the deaths of Lussurioso and his corrupt brothers have successfully avenged the death of Antonio's wife. Furthermore, Vindice reveals his belief that these murders have cleansed the kingdom of sin and that Antonio can now rule with the knowledge that justice has prevailed. While Vindice is correct in citing the necessary removal of the corrupt Duke and his family, he simultaneously reveals his own role in enacting vigilante justice. Vindice cannot help but indict himself a few lines hence, boasting that he and Hippolito have freed the realm from treachery. While his reasons for damning himself are vague - did his mask slip? Did he just want to boast? Did he think Antonio would thank him? The fact remains that Antonio cannot leave Vindice and Hippolito alive, because despite the circumstances, they are usurpers and to let them survive would contribute to the moral decline of the realm (and possibly endanger Antonio's throne as well).