The Revenger's Tragedy

The Revenger's Tragedy Summary and Analysis of Act IV


Scene I

Hippolito and Lussurioso enter. Lussurioso is angry with Hippolito for recommending the pander. Lussurioso then changes the subject and begins to rage about the affair between his stepmother and Spurio. Vindice enters, dressed as Piato the pander, but Lussurioso demands that he leave.

After Vindice departs, Lussurioso asks Hippolito if he has a brother. Hippolito confirms that he has a brother, Vindice, who is at home, “full of want and discontent” (106). Lussurioso tells Hippolito to bring his melancholy brother to court because Lussurioso might have a job for him. Amused, Hippolito says to himself, “Whom he cast off e’en now must now succeed” (107). After Hippolito leaves, Lussurioso utters his plan to hire Hippolito's brother to kill the pander.

The nobles enter, and Lussurioso asks them about the whereabouts of his father. One of them says that the Duke rode away. Only Vindice and Hippolito know that the Duke is dead.

Scene II:

Vindice and Hippolito enter. They repeat that the Duke is dead but no one knows it yet, and then discuss their plan to get revenge on Lussurioso. Hippolito tells Vindice that he should meet with the Duke’s son out of costume (as Vindice) but he must disguise his voice so that Lussurioso does not recognize him as the pander.

Lussurioso enters and Hippolito introduces the Duke's son to Vindice, his brother. Lussurioso greets Vindice (whom he does not recognize as the pander) and asks him why he is so melancholy. Vindice replies that it is the law and describes some of his grievances about that profession. Lussurioso thinks to himself that Vindice will be the perfect man to kill the pander.

Lussurioso gives Vindice some gold, and Vindice pretends to be thrilled. Lussurioso then reveals the name of Vindice's intended victim. The Duke's son lies to Vindice, placing all the blame on the pander for trying to corrupt Castiza with jewels, and when that failed, bribing Gratiana instead. Vindice, who knows that Lussurioso is lying, wonders, “Has not heaven an ear? Is all the lightning wasted?” (114).

Vindice agrees to murder Piato the pander, who is, of course, himself. Lussurioso tells Vindice that if he succeeds in completing this task, he will never fall again. After Lussurioso departs, Vindice starts to rage against the Duke’s son for his selfish lies and ceaseless depravity.

Vindice and Hippolito brainstorm about how to make Lussurioso believe that Vindice has been successful in killing the pander. Vindice comes up with a plan to dress the Duke's body in the pander’s clothes and pose the corpse in a drunken sprawl. Vindice points out that Lussurioso will think that the pander killed the Duke and fled, disguising himself in the Duke's clothes and leaving the corpse wearing his clothes. Hippolito is pleased with this plan.

The brothers then decide to visit their mother and hold her accountable for being a bawd, and to “conjure that base devil out” (116).

Scene III:

Vindice and Hippolito are wielding daggers as they drag their mother out of her home. She is confused and hysterical, wondering if they plan to kill her. Vindice sneers that “in that shell of mother breeds a bawd” (118) and informs her that they know about her plan to sell Castiza to Lussurioso. Gratiana tries to deny it, assuring her sons that it is nothing more than a rumor.

Vindice finally reveals that he is the pander. Gratiana is devastated, claiming that only Vindice’s skilled tongue could have convinced her to compromise Castiza's chastity. Gratiana then bursts into tears and begs her sons for forgiveness. Her sobs convince Hippolito and Vindice that she is legitimately ashamed and remorseful. Gratiana cries out, “to weep is to our sex naturally given / But to weep truly, that’s a gift from heaven” (119). Vindice is pleased that his mother appears to have recovered her honesty. He and Hippolito depart, and Gratiana despairs that she ever tried to compromise her daughter’s honor.

Castiza enters and announces that she is prepared to accept Lussurioso’s advances. She assures her mother that she is like marble – immovable from her new purpose; Gratiana's heavy curse has afflicted Castiza permanently. Gratiana implores her daughter to reconsider, apologizing for her lapse in judgment. She cries out that her earlier words have now poisoned her, warning Castiza, “thou’dst wish thyself unborn when thou’rt unchaste” (122). Castiza throws her arms around her mother's neck and confesses that she has only been testing her. She promises to never compromise her purity. Gratiana is immensely relieved.


Middleton uses the conceit of disguise to explore the theme of identity in The Revenger's Tragedy. Some of his characters don masks to conceal their identities, while others weave webs of lies around themselves to hide their true feelings and motivations. In most instances, these disguises and fallacies allow the characters to achieve their goals. Vindice uses a disguise to trick Lussurioso and find out the truth about his mother. The Duchess hides her incestuous relationship behind the pretense of fidelity, while Spurio pretends to be motivated by familial obligation. Lussurioso lies to Hippolito and Vindice and makes himself out to be humble and righteous for the purpose of eliminating the pander. Even the virtuous Castiza lies to her mother about accepting Lussurioso's bribe; she does this because she wants to test her mother's morality.

It is Vindice, however, who concocts the most elaborate disguises - both for himself and for others (like Gloriana's skull and the Duke's body). He spends most of the first three acts disguised as the pander, Piato. Even when Vindice presents himself to Lussurioso as Hippolito's brother, he is still playing a part, disguising his voice and pretending to be a sycophant so as not to give away the pander's true identity. While many of the other characters in the play discard their disguises after having achieved their goals (like Castiza, for example), Vindice's real identity becomes irretrievably intertwined with his fictional ones.

Scholar Lillian Welds points out that Vindice does not speak about his shifting identities as disguises. Rather, he uses language that indicates an actual metamorphosis. This shows that to Vindice, each transformation is more than just a costume - it is a facet of his identity, whether he realizes it or not. Though Vindice purports to be acting judiciously, he slips easily into the identity of an immoral pander in his interview with Lussurioso. At first, Vindice seems to be agitated by having to test his mother and sister's virtue, but he ultimately announces that he will "forget my nature, / As if no part of me were kin to 'em" (63).

Vindice does not even have to test Castiza; she emphatically refuses to compromise her virtue from the moment she realizes what the pander wants. However, Vindice goes to uncomfortable lengths during his meeting with Gratiana. As the pander, Vindice seduces her, beguiles her, and violates the appropriate boundaries for a mother-son relationship to the point where he wants heaven to "turn the precious side / Of mine eyeballs inward, not to see myself" (70). In this scene, Vindice allows the role of Piato to consume him completely, although he claims to be playing a part. This indicates that Vindice has more in common with the pander than he would like to think. Later, when Vindice reconvenes with Lussurioso, his two identities come together. He cannot help but cry out, "O, the mother, the mother!"(76). This could be a mark of Vindice's horror at Gratiana's behavior, but also, he could be momentarily disgusted by the realization that his seduction brought about his mother's fall from grace. Nevertheless, Vindice keeps up his charade.

Vindice's next disguise is a version of himself. Lussurioso hires Vindice to kill Piato, who is actually Vindice. Although Lussurioso's ironic appointment has a comedic undertone, it also demonstrates the instability of Vindice's actual identity. He has worn so many different disguises that he has started to lose track of who he really is. At the beginning of the play, Vindice is out for vengeance against the man who killed his beloved and had a hand in his father's death. By the end of Act IV, Vindice is obsessed with power - he has lost track of his original goal to the point that he does feel any remorse when Lussurioso sentences the Duke's innocent companions to death. Vindice revels in his disguises, which seem to be a way for him to justify expressing his basest desires. He tells Gratiana, "I think man's happiest when he forgets himself." Gratiana replies, "I'll give you this: that one I never knew/Plead better for and 'gainst the devil, than you" (120). Hippolito even says to Vindice after hearing about his brother's obsession with taking revenge on Lussurioso, "Brother, we lose ourselves" (115). At this point, Hippolito does not yet realize that his brother has more in common with Piato than he lets on.

As Vindice's disguises and plots become more complicated, Welds notes, "Vindice seems compelled to explain his artistry." Ultimately, he is unable to keep his true nature under wraps and his pride is his undoing. In Act V, Vindice wears his final disguise: he becomes the masked Revenger. He devises an elaborate plan to kill Lussurioso (the new Duke) and is thrilled when it succeeds. After Lussurioso dies, Vindice has achieved his goals - and this should be enough for him. However, Vindice has conducted his elaborate plan underneath a flurry of disguises, meaning that he will never get credit for it. At the end of the play, Vindice strips off his final "mask" to reveal his true colors: he is just as immoral and desperate for power as the men he has punished for their corrupt and selfish actions. As a result, he meets the same fate as the Duke and Lussurioso: death.