Aeschylus Poetics Structure on Tragedy Events Used by Libation Bearers and Eumenides.
As A.E. Haigh notes, Aristotle treats Aeschylus with complete indifference in the Poetics. Throughout his writings, the standards of dramatic writing are supplied by Sophocles and Euripides. He fully recognizes Aeschylus’ role in the introduction of a second actor and in the expansion of dialogue, but that is all. This is because Aristotle mainly focused his attention on plot, as well as his classification of recognition, complication, and revolution, and “for such investigations there was little material to be found in Aeschylus” (124). Nevertheless, it is somewhat possible to analyze The Oresteia in terms of Aristotle’s Poetics.
There is little doubt that at some period what we now call tragedy consisted of a chorus which sang comments in response to a story told by the poet, but whether, as has been claimed, there was a time when there was only the chorus is open to dispute. It was once accepted as a fact, based on something that Aristotle wrote, but now is less accepted. What is more likely – and we can possibly attribute this to Thespis – is that two different poetic traditions fused into the one form. What we do know is that a combination of one actor and a chorus does not give a very wide range of dramatic possibilities, particularly as it is almost certain that the chorus always worked in unison. For the form to grow, the introduction of a second actor was essential and, according to Aristotle, it was Aeschylus who did this. He also, said Aristotle, reduced the importance of the chorus, and thus he is called the “father of tragedy”. Of course, once a major innovation occurs, more tend to follow quite quickly and Sophocles is usually credited with the next advance, the introduction of a third actor, somewhere around 460. It should be noted that we are talking here of actors, not characters. Each actor could, of course, play more than one character, but only three could be on-stage together.
The three tragedies which each poet presented at a competition were not necessarily on a related subject: only Aeschylus is known to have written trilogies on a single theme, like the Oresteia. However, Aristotle does not comment on this, as the trilogy format was more or less discarded after The Oresteia.
The contrasting structures of the two plays are worth noting here. In the Poetics (1452b), Aristotle gives the most concise description of the formal structure of tragedy. There are usually five scenes or episodes separated by choral odes (stasima), the whole preceded by a prologue and followed by an epilogue or exodos. This form is the precursor of the five-act structure familiar in Shakespearean drama. The Libation Bearers (and Agamemnon) follows this structure. By contrast, since the chorus plays a unique role as the Furies in The Eumenides, the structure is fundamentally altered. Consistent with the norms of Greek drama, The Eumenides is not divided into acts or discrete scenes. There is a scene change in the middle of the play, but that can be accomplished with minimal movement of set pieces in almost no time. However, time passes in non-naturalistic fashion: at certain points, from reports of what has happened offstage, it is clear that a great amount of time is meant to have passed even though only a few seconds have passed for the audience. In general, as noted by Aristotle, most Greek tragedies have action confined to a twenty-four hour period. Aeschylus’ decision to break the “unities” of Aristotle’s classic dramatic form to allow his play to range over ten years of time and various geographic locals is significant here.
Aristotle addresses both The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides in relation to plot in Poetics 13. Here he commends the singular focus of plot on one person’s fortune, rather focusing the plot on the type of end that said person meets. The only prescription for the ending is that it should be a single (haplous) plot featuring some sort of major change. Tragedy’s high culture is best achieved through a single change, and not through the popular use of a double plot ending. On the one hand, as Aristotle remarks, the double ending in comedy would have the bad man (Aegisthus) coming to a good end (avoiding the death penalty at Orestes’ hands), and the good man (Orestes) coming to a bad end (failing to exact the necessary vengeance against his enemy, instead making Aegisthus his friend). On the other hand, the double ending in tragedy would be what we actually have in Aeschylus’ plays: Orestes kills Aegisthus in vengeance; hence the bad man comes to a bad end (in The Libation Bearers), and the good man comes to a good end (The Eumenides). Aristotle does not seem to express whether Aeschylus’ treatment of this plot outline is more single than double in its execution in The Oresteia, and thus he is silent on the rank of the trilogy as an achievement in tragedy.
Aristotle also discusses “recognition” as a formal component of tragedy: we see this in The Libation Bearers: Electra finds the lock of hair on the tomb, and here we see our first “recognition,” or as Aristotle puts it, “recognition by the process of reasoning….someone resembling me [Electra] has come: no one resembles me but Orestes: therefore, Orestes has come.” The second act of recognition comes when Clytemnestra recognizes Orestes: “My son, do you not fear your mother’s curse?” This is another type of recognition, which depends on “memory when the sight of some object awakens a feeling.” Here, Clytemnestra remembers the prophecy of her dream, and thereby deduces that this man is her son, Orestes. Neither of these recognitions are exactly what Aristotle prescribed as the “best” kind of recognition, which is “that which arises from the incidents themselves, where the startling discovery is made by natural means,” as is seen in Oedipus and Iphigenia.
Orestes and Pylades gain entrance to the palace under false pretenses, and here the Chorus plays a vital role in the forthcoming events. (Kitto states that Aeschylus fundamentally alters the role of the Chorus here, because they are traditionally never supposed to take part in the action: “the superiority of this over a purely formal treatment of the incident is clear enough. It does indeed result in the interesting figure of the Nurse” .) The Chorus suggests to the Nurse that things are not what they seem, and they convince her to tell Aegisthus to come without his bodyguard. His killers are waiting for him offstage, and the audience hears him scream as he is stabbed in the climax of the play. Before the killing, the play has developed at a leisurely pace: much is said in monologue, comparatively. As soon as Orestes kills Aegisthus, the dialogue explodes with speed and intensity which indicates what is yet to come in the third play.
This Chorus, I believe, is one of the most important and difficult elements of Greek dramaturgy to understand, and I would like to spend a moment discussing its history and composition. As Simon Goldhill explains, the chorus, like the actors, were made up of citizens, since there was no sub-class of “theatricals,” as there were in Rome. Scholars differ over whether there were twelve or fifteen chorus members in The Oresteia; at any rate, it was a fairly significant number. The chorus was selected for a specific performance and trained by the poet. Like the actors, they were fully masked, but not in the familiar comedy/tragedy masks that we have come to view as representations of ancient theatre. Rather, these masks were intricately painted figural representations. The chorus generally performed in the orchestra, a dancing area below the raised stage which the actors performed on. The separation of acting spaces helped to create “a specific dialectical relation between collective chorus in the orchestra and individual actors on stage” (17). As I mentioned, the role of the Chorus is unique in these two plays: in The Libation Bearers, they specifically alter the action by convincing the Nurse to keep Aegisthus vulnerable to attack; in The Eumenides, further affect the action by actually playing a major role in it; that is, the role of the Furies. (It is interesting to note, however, that in the text, they are still referred to as “Chorus.”)
The staging of the Chorus is notable as well. In The Libation Bearers, the entry of the Chorus takes time, so that Orestes is able to withdraw and observe. Vase-paintings suggest that the tomb was represented by the altar at the centre of the orchestra. So there is a contrast between Agamemnon, in which action is focused on the stage and skene-building (= the palace), and the opening of The Libation Bearers, where the spatial focus shifts to the centre of the orchestra. There is a shift of focus back to the palace from 652, accompanied by change in pace of developments (cf. different structural patterns in first and second parts of Agamemnon). The Eumenides begins with focus on skene-building (= Apollo’s temple in Delphi), but with change of location to Athens comes with shift of focus to orchestra (central altar = shrine of Athens where Orestes takes refuge). Controlled variation in the use of the performance space achieves variety within and between plays, and is another device for shaping the trilogy as a whole.
The Chorus thematically changes functions through the trilogy, as well. The chorus of elders from Argos in the Agamemnon are, with the exception of the mute jury in the Eumenides, the most democratic body presented on stage; they are also weak and ineffective, kowtowing to Clytemnestra when they should be warning Agamemnon about the terrible things his wife has done and planned in his absence.2 The second chorus on stage, the slave girls from the Libation Bearers, is apparently much stronger than the chorus of old men; they encourage Orestes and Electra to commit their “just” crime of matricide/vengeance; they pray to the retinue of gods to give Agamemnon’s children the strength to carry out the deed. And, as representatives of the Apollinian form of justice, they question the validity of chthonic justice; the third verse of their parados implies that Ge, for supporting Clytemnestra’s prayers, has shown herself as an unnatural, evil force. The final chorus, the Furies themselves, are gods on-stage, without a doubt the most formidable chorus of the trilogy. They are chthonic justice incarnate. They appear even stronger because of their weak opposition, the supplicant Orestes and Apollo-as-lawyer. Apollo makes four increasingly ridiculous arguments on Orestes’ behalf-without Athene’s intervention, there appears to be no logical reason for Orestes’ getting off the hook. The trilogy’s choruses, then, serve as an undertow to the general theme of justice progressing to rationality.
Another note on tragic form: As Aristotle writes in The Poetics, violence between those who are close is a fundamental part in tragedy; as it turns out in this trilogy, all of the violence occurs between family members: Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon, Orestes kills Clytemnestra, and so on. “Let us therefore take up the question what classes of events appear terrible or pitiable. Necessarily, we are concerned with interactions between people who are closely connected with each other, or between enemies, or between neutrals. If enemy acts on enemy, there is nothing pitiable either in the action itself or in its imminence, except in respect of the actual suffering in itself. Likewise with neutrals. What one should look for are situations in which sufferings arise within close relationships, e.g. brother kills brother, son father, mother son, or son mother—or is on the verge of killing them, or does something else of the same kind.” (translated M. Heath, Penguin 1996)
It is well known that The Eumenides depends much more heavily on spectacle than the other plays. A popular story, probably apocryphal, of performances tell of the horrific first appearance of the Furies, which caused boys to faint and pregnant women to miscarry. A device which is more or less specific to the work of Aeschylus is the eventual visualization of images such as the Furies: in Agamemnon, we hear of the Furies, mentioned several times, but rather vaguely in terms of “the hunt” and “the net”; At the beginning of The Eumenides, the priestess describes them in more lifelike and gruesome terms: “they’re black and totally repulsive, with loud rasping snorts,” “disgusting pus comes oozing from their eyes,” etc., but we still don’t see what she’s talking about. And finally, the audience actually witnesses their presence on stage in all of their horrible glory: they are the hunters of Orestes’ blood. Aristotle tends to turn up his nose at this kind of spectacle, saying that it is least connected with the art of poetry, depending more on “the art of the stage machinist” (VI).
The role of music in the Poetics is a topic usually ignored or treated as of little importance. In the definition of tragedy in Poetics 6, the phrase “sweetened language” refers to the musical elements of tragedy. These are not mere “embellishments,” or “non-essential additives.” Instead, Aristotle uses this metaphor from cooking to refer to what corresponds, in tragedy, to “precisely these additives which characterize the art of cooking” (56). Music imitates “character qualities,” such as anger, gentleness, courage and temperance, and thus effects a change in the souls of the audience. In tragedy, the musical elements help “to reveal ethical qualities and emotions that lie beyond the limits and expressive capabilities of ordinary speech” (58-59). Sifakis gives some excellent examples of passages in tragedy that serve this function, arguing, for example, that in Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers, “the function of the kommos is to set the moral tone that will make Orestes’ dreadful task appear just and inevitable” (61).
Finally, we arrive at the concept of catharsis. Aristotle says that in seeing tragedy – for instance, killing one’s husband (Agamemnon) or killing one’s mother (The Libation Bearers) – the spectator experiences “through pity and fear… the proper purgation [i.e. catharsis] of these emotions.” (23) One traditional interpretation of the cathartic ending is that it purges or cleanses spectators’ own pity and fear, relieving them of harmful emotions and making them better people for the experience. Another interpretation, more consistent with Aristotle’s approach, is that catharsis resolves dramatic tension, bringing the plot to a logical conclusion and thereby allowing the audience to feel satisfied despite the unhappy ending. The Oresteia exemplifies this approach, a final example of the echoes of Aristotle’s Poetics in Aeschylus’ work.
The Use of Chorus in The Plays by Aeschylus
In most Greek tragedies, the writer uses the chorus as a tool to comment on action in the play. The chorus does not play an active role in the story, such that if they were removed from the work, the plot would not be affected. However, in Oresteia, Aeschylus does not keep to this traditional pattern. Aeschylus utilizes a different form of chorus to put emphasis on certain themes and develop the plot more effectively. Throughout the work, the choruses do comment on the action of main characters, but as the trilogy progresses, the chorus goes through a metamorphosis from the traditional chorus of Agamemnon into a chief character in The Eumenides.
Though the chorus in Agamemnon is traditional, it serves a purpose not to be overlooked. To begin with, because the chorus is composed of Argive elders it can provide significant background information. For example, the chorus informs the audience of the sacrifice of Iphegenia, “Her supplications and her cries of father were nothing, nor the child’s lamentation to kings passioned for battle…Pouring then to the ground her saffron mantle she struck the sacrificers with the eyes’ arrows of pity” (ll. 227-241). This passage depicts Agamemnon as cold-hearted toward his daughter, paving the way for Clytaemestra’s arguments later. Also, while awaiting news of Agamemnon’s return, the chorus hints that there is trouble at home and gives the audience an uneasy feeling when they speak of “the pitiless pondering of sorrow that eats [their] heart” (ll. 102-103). What the chorus fails to do, however, is just as important. Though they recognize that “Ruin is near, and swift” (l. 1124) while listening to Cassandra’s prophecies, the elders do nothing. Furthermore, after Agamemnon has been murdered, the elders are indecisive and inhibit themselves (ll. 1348-1371). Although they don’t contribute to Agamemnon’s demise, they stand by without attempting to save him.
On the whole, this chorus represents the sentiment of Greek society. When Agamemnon returns, the chorus says to him “But I: when you marshalled this armament …in ugly style you were written in my heart for steering aslant the mind’s course to bring home by blood sacrifice and dead men that wild spirit” (ll. 799-804). This shows that the people felt some contempt for Agamemnon’s actions. However, in the following lines, the chorus displays loyalty, an important societal value: “But now, love drawn up from the deep heart, not skimmed at the edge we hail you” (ll. 805-806). In the case of Agamemnon’s murder, the chorus merely analyzes the situation in an attempt to pass judgment because they cannot act directly. Even this fails, because the societal morals are conflicting with each other – though Clytaemestra murdered her husband, the chorus questions whether it was justified: “Between them who shall judge lightly? … [Agamemnon] killed, he has paid” (ll. 1560-1562).
In The Libation Bearers, the chorus, a group of foreign serving-women, influences the plot more than the chorus does in Agamemnon. Mainly, the chorus provides guidance to Electra and Orestes. Being sent by her mother to pour libations, Electra consults the chorus saying, “Attendant women, who order our house…be also my advisers in this rite” (ll. 84-86). Being older and wiser, the chorus “advises” Electra to pray for “one to kill [Clytaemestra and Aegisthus], for the life they took” (l. 121). Orestes, after being urged by the chorus, takes action against his father’s murderers. After the libations have been poured, the chorus says, “The rest is action. Since your heart is set that way, now you must strike and prove your destiny” (ll. 512-513). Furthermore, the chorus suggests a way of carrying out the deed, referring to the part that Orestes “must not play” (l. 553), meaning that he must disguise his identity upon entering the house. After the murders of Aegisthus and Clytaemestra, the chorus advises Orestes again, telling him, “There is one way to make you clean: let Loxias touch you, and set you free from these disturbances” (ll. 1059-1060). Here the chorus offers him the one chance he has to be absolved of his sin. As well as providing guidance, the chorus also plays a key role in the murder of Aegisthus. Intercepting Cilissa, the chorus instructs her to “not tell [Aegisthus to bring his followers], but simply bid him come as quickly as he can and cheerfully” (ll. 770-772). This leaves Aegisthus unable to defend himself when Orestes attacks him.
Again, in this play, the chorus does more than just development of plot – it also demonstrates important themes. The theme of justice continues for one. When praying to Zeus the chorus says, “Let the old murder in the house breed no more” (ll. 805-806). As serving-women in the house, loyal to Agamemnon, the chorus believes that Orestes’ actions are justified by Agamemnon’s death, meaning that his vengeance is the rightful end to the line of deaths. Also, the chorus displays the theme of women’s vulnerability and dependence. Unlike Clytaemestra, the chorus cannot take charge. Instead, along with Electra, they must pray that the gods “Let one come, in strength of spear, some man at arms who will set free the house” (ll. 159-160). Without Orestes, Electra and the chorus are helpless.
Unlike the helpless choruses of the other plays, the chorus of The Eumenides takes on a very active role. Throughout the play, the Furies’ actions are motivated by the ancient laws. Justice, according to these laws, is accomplished only by vengeance; a murdered man must be avenged by his blood relatives. In the case of killing one’s family, the Furies constitute the only source of justice. Because of this, the chorus hunts Orestes – to fulfill their duty. Though Clytaemestra was killed to avenge Agamemnon, the chorus believes that nothing can justify the murder of one’s own blood relative (l. 427). When the Furies are defeated in trial, they again turn to vengeance, threatening “vindictive poison…[that] shall breed cancer, the leafless, the barren to strike” (ll. 782-786) to punish the Athenians. This shows the extent of their dependence on vengeance for settling conflicts.
On a broader perspective, the Furies’ struggle in The Eumenides reflect the change in societal views of justice – from the older idea of revenge to the new method of trial. Early in the play, the chorus says to Apollo “A young god, you have ridden down powers gray with age” (l. 150). This introduces the theme of new versus old. When Athene tries Orestes for the murder of Clytaemestra, though it seems that the furies act as prosecutor, they are actually defending themselves and the old ways of justice. They argue “if…his crime be sustained…every man will find a way to act at his own caprice” (ll. 491-495). Without the threat of the Furies, there is nothing to keep men from killing their families. After the trial, the chorus says, “I, the mind of the past, to be driven under the ground out cast, like dirt!” (ll. 838-839). With the verdict in favor of Orestes, it seems to the chorus that the new gods have no respect for the old ways. However, when Athene persuades the Furies to give up their rage by offering a share in the worship of the Athenians (ll. 848-900), a peaceful marriage is formed between the old ways and the new.
In Agamemnon, Aeschylus funnels the morals of society through the comments of the Argive elders, focusing them on the house of Atreus and, more importantly, the conflicts that are tearing it apart. The chorus in The Libation Bearers, more active than the elders, is able to aid Orestes in resolving Agamemnon’s death, but their inactivity helps to demonstrate an important theme. Once the metamorphosis is complete in The Eumenides, the furies act as a chief character, making them a force to be reckoned with. This shows that, similar to the conditions of Greek society at the time, the past cannot be disregarded – a reconciliation is needed between the ancient laws and the new system. By giving the chorus an active role, Aeschylus widens the perspective of his work, applying its themes to the outside world.
Miss Julie’s Battle Between Apollonian and Dionysian Duality
In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzche discusses at length the duality inherent in the development of art. This duality is caused by two opposing principles termed Apollinian and Dionysian. These two principles are employed in August Strindberg’s Miss Julie through the main character of Miss Julie.
Societal class is a major theme of the play and its relation to the Apollinian and Dionysian duality is apparent when observing Miss Julie. Throughout the play, Miss Julie is caught between staying within her class and breaking from it. This is her struggle between Apollinian reason and Dionysian want, respectively. The whole idea of class is Apollinian – based on rationality and division of individuals – while the idea of no class system is Dionysian – based on community. Miss Julie goes back and forth between these two ideas constantly, and her inner struggle can clearly be seen through the symbolism apparent in her recurring dream: “I’ve climbed to the top of a pillar, and am sitting there, and I can see no way to descend. When I look down, I become dizzy, but I must come down- but I haven’t the courage to jump. I can’t stay up there, and I long to fall, but I don’t fall” (Strindberg 127). She is obviously tremendously conflicted, desiring on the one hand to break from her class, while reasoning on the other that her social constraints make that impossible. In Nietzchean terms, Miss Julie’s Dionysian want can be looked at as an “intoxicated reality” because, in terms of class, she “seeks to destroy the individual and redeem him by a mystic feeling of oneness” (Nietzche 38).
Not only is this class struggle within Miss Julie illustrative of Nietzche’s duality, but so is the entire makeup of her character as laid out by Strindberg. In the preface, Strindberg suggests motivations for Miss Julie’s fate at the end of the play, listing “the festive atmosphere of Midsummer Night; her father’s absence; her menstruation; her association with animals; the intoxicating effect of the dance…the powerfully aphrodisiac influence of the flowers…” (Strindberg 102). These motivations can be looked at as Dionysian forces, which Miss Julie must counter with rationality and avoid letting them make her hysterical. In Nietzchean terms she must “keep in mind that measured restraint, that freedom from the wilder emotions, that calm of the sculptor god” (Nietzche 35). Again, her motivations are Dionysian wants, which she must keep in check with Apollinian reason.
Finally, what happens to Miss Julie at the end of the play is illustrative of the Apollinian/Dionysian duality on many levels. Firstly, in the preface, Strindberg claims that Miss Julie is the half-woman type and he goes on to explain that this type gives rise to an “indeterminate sex to whom life is a torture, but fortunately they go under…because their repressed instinct breaks out uncontrollably…” (Strindberg 104). This sounds remarkably similar to Nietzche’s descriptions of the relation between Apollinian and Dionysian cultures. Nietzche claims that Apollinian consciousness, the “mere appearance” of everyday life through the eyes of the individual, is but a veil, used to hide the Dionysian world of suffering. It seems as if Miss Julie was hidden safely behind this veil until the end where she asks Jean to order her to kill herself. She claims it’s as easy as being hypnotized, to which Jean responds that “the subject has to be asleep” (Strindberg 160). Miss Julie answers that she is already asleep and that she seems to be in a cloud of smoke. Strindberg’s stage direction for that line is “in an ecstasy” (Ibid). Suddenly, in these final lines, all becomes clear to Miss Julie through her hysterical, intoxicated state. A few lines later Jean responds to a comment Miss Julie makes with “Don’t think, don’t think!” (Strindberg 161) Clearly Jean is making sure to suppress the Apollinian reason within Miss Julie which is keeping her safe from her Dionysian fate of killing herself. Also, Nietzche claims, in discussing Apollo: “And so…there occur the demands ‘know thyself’ and ‘nothing in excess’; consequently overweening pride and excess are regarded as the truly hostile demons of the non-Apollinian sphere…” (Nietzche 46). He goes on to give examples, such as: “because of his excessive wisdom, which could solve the riddle of the Sphinx, Oedipus must be plunged into a bewildering vortex of crime” (Ibid). This can easily be applied to the character of Miss Julie; her Dionysian tendencies, influences, excesses, and motivations (most of which have already been discussed including, for example, the Midsummer Eve revelry occurring right outside) throughout the play lead directly to her fate at the end of the play.
Hippolytus: Analyzing Phaedra
In the play Hippolytus, Euripides depicts characters in a realistic fashion by displaying their warring emotions in the wake of dramatic events, as well as their deceit in achieving their objectives. A prime example of such tactics is the character Phaedra, who is content to suffer until death due to the shame of her forbidden desires for her stepson. However, when the nurse unveils her secret, Phaedra devises a scheme to ruin his reputation to save her own. Up to the creation of the letter for the stepson’s downfall, Euripides has the audience sympathize with Phaedra, leading us to understand her grieving over her love-stricken heart. At first, Phaedra yearns for the same nature and hunt that she knows Hippolytus is partaking in, largely because of the common desire to be near the person that one loves. Phaedra then becomes more conscious of her rapture and is consumed by shame for wanting Hippolytus. Afterward, the audience is allowed to watch her go back and forth regarding the question of whether her sinful desires are results of the sins of the women in her family or are prompted by the Goddess Cypris. Lastly, Phaedra uses deceit to protect her reputation from being tarnished after she dies. Therefore, Euripides uses natural characteristics of humans — uncontrollable desire, shame, the need to find explanations, and the survival of one’s good reputation — to make Phaedra a dynamic character and to invoke sympathy in the audience for Phaedra.
In the opening act of Hippolytus, Hippolytus is hunting “wild beasts with his fleet hounds” (31) and honoring the Goddess Artemis with a “…woven wreath, culled from a virgin meadow…” (32). Immediately following this scene, the audience observes Phaedra pining for a similar meadow, place among pine trees “…where hounds pursue the prey, hard on the scent of dappled fawns…”, and to also “…hark them on, to grasp the barbed dart, to poise Thessalian hunting-spears close to [her] golden hair, then let them fly…” (34). Phaedra’s eagerness to be at such a place and partake in the same hunt that Hippolytus does is an indication that she wants to be near and interact with Hippolytus due to her desire for him. Euripides introduces this natural yearning as her first depiction of love for him most likely because it is the easiest symptom of love that many can identify with themselves. In turn, this causes the audience to see themselves in Phaedra and feel as if this could have easily been one of them struck by Aphrodite’s power and uncontrollably in love with someone they shouldn’t.
As Phaedra comes to her senses and realizes her infatuation has been dictating her thoughts, she is filled with shame multiple times; she says, “…the tire on my head is too heavy to wear…” (34) and “Shame fills me for the words I have spoken. Hide me then; from my eyes the tear-drops stream, and for very shame I turn them away” (35). Due to her disgust with her desires, Phaedra becomes a figure of pity; she knows her love for her stepson is wrong and would rather suffer and shame herself than act upon it. This strong quality of choosing death over forbidden love makes Phaedra admirable to the audience.
In response to her unjust fate in the universe, Phaedra begins to imagine why she may have possibly deserved such an end. She explores different angles of her reasoning, and the audience sympathizes with trying to understand why something bad might happen to someone, accessing the thoroughly human instinct to find an origin for unexplained tragedies. Phaedra contemplates that it is because of her mother’s “love for the bull” (37) which cursed her sister and made her become “the third to suffer” (37). This “curse from time long past” (37) is not the only reason she thinks may have caused her fate. Phaedra also blames Goddess Cypris when she says that she has gone “Mad! Mad! Stricken by some demon’s curse!” (35) and asks Aphrodite, “How can these [sinners]…e’er look their husbands in the face? do they never feel one guilty thrill that their accomplice, night, or the chambers of their house will find a voice and speak?” (38). With these lines, Euripides gives the audience the dilemma of choosing whether it is truly due to Aphrodite or the sins of Phaedra’s mother.
After Phaedra mentions the possible chance of the chambers of a woman’s home finding a voice and speaking of sinful affairs, the worst possible alternative befalls Phaedra when the nurse tells Hippolytus of his stepmother’s desires. After hearing Hippolytus’ harsh reply, the audience feels pity for Phaedra because she has not acted on her passion and had resigned herself to death before being unfaithful; however, she will soon endure a tarnished reputation because of her servant’s lack of honesty. Therefore, when Phaedra commits suicide and ruins her stepson’s reputation with a letter that “loudly tells a hideous tale” (46) to save her own, the audience does not condemn her for her desperate actions though they are not excusable either.
In demonstrating the natural characteristics of humans, especially when it comes to love and the survival of their reputation, Euripides creates a character who is changes in reaction to her fate. Though Phaedra performs a harrowing deed, the audience still sympathizes with her uncontrollable desire, shame, and quest to find reason between man or the Gods for her fate. We can understand, at least, her desperate need to protect her reputation.
Euripides. The Trojan Women and Hippolytus. Trans. Edward P. Coleridge. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2002. Print.
Contrasting Virgil’s Aeneid and Early History of Rome by Livy
Virgil and Livy were the authors of two substantially different works; one a propagandist epic in the style of Homer, the other an informed account of Rome’s history. This said, it is interesting to note Virgil’s inclusion of short historical narratives within the fictional tale, a fact which allows a historiographical comparison to be made between him and Livy: namely what effect they intended their accounts to have on the Roman reader. Moreover, The Aeneid and the Early History of Rome both provide a view on the subject of Rome’s founding. That Virgil’s historical passages differ drastically from Livy’s is not in doubt, and the view could even be taken that they are not history at all. However, this essay will seek to demonstrate, by using the view of Sempronius Asellio, that history could be used to ‘make men more eager to defend their country, or more reluctant to do wrong’.
Virgil’s accounts were more than just a list of events that may or may not have happened. Though largely biased, and in essence mere islands of history in a sea of fiction, Virgil’s take on historical events were intended to have an effect on the Roman reader every bit as powerful as Livy’s purposeful and scholarly documentation. The first obstacle to cross when discussing history in the context of Ancient Rome is what history meant to the Ancient Roman. In discovering this, it can be shown that whilst Virgil was a poet, and Livy a historian, they were both equally able to employ history as a tool to strongly influence a Roman reader. In antiquity, history was not the same as the modern sense of the word and consequently, the line between the fact and fiction of the past would have been a lot thinner to an ancient Roman. Today, history is a rich academic pursuit intended to provide society with an understanding of the past as full and informed as possible. It is often taught as an obligatory subject to younger students, and continues as an optional one through all tiers of education, providing much of the populace with a rudimentary ability to interpret history. In Rome, par contra, history was not an academic profession in nearly the same way. Instead, only those with enough financial freedom and time on their hands could pursue the writing of history, meaning most average Romans had to rely upon the collective memory of the Empire, something created and sustained by public objects, statues and engravings.
Though masses of Romans would not have been able to read Virgil or Livy, by contributing to the legends of well-known figures like Aeneas and Romulus, both writers would have had an indirect effect on a Roman’s take on their Empire’s history as people who did read them would have attached the contents of poem and histories alike to figures or events from the distant past. Both writers enjoyed intimacy with the Emperor, and widespread respect, further increasing their influential capacity, leading to the conclusion that whether poet or historian, the average roman would have taken their inputs to history seriously. The first point of comparison to consider is why each writer set out to present their writings in the way that they did. This consideration reveals the intent of the poet and the historian was one and the same. Traditional values that permeated Rome at the time of both writers included military prestige and pietas – devotion to one’s Gods and society. Livy and Virgil both played on these values in an effort to improve their readers in some way.
At the start of his prolific series of histories, Livy states ‘The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind… fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.’ It is clear here that one effect he intended to have on a reader is for them to learn from the mistakes, and emulate the positive deeds of the past, thereby improving themselves in the process. When taken in conjunction with his opinion that the Roman society of his own time was tormented by troubles, it can be postulated that Livy wished for his histories to ameliorate Roman society. Virgil’s Aeneid too includes similar themes. As a confidant of Augustus, Virgil presumably wrote the epic as an elaborate piece of propaganda, and in doing so, he would have tried to invoke in readers respect for Roman values and society. The description of Aeneas from Darius Phrygius depicts him as eloquent, courteous, prudent, pious, and charming, meaning Virgil had presented the progenitor of Rome as possessing a number of upstanding Roman values, intending to have them rekindled in those who read his work.
Livy and Virgil could have also sought to improve their societies by making Augustus an emperor to admire, raising the standard of pietas in Rome. Virgil constructs a tacit link between Aeneas and Augustus, founder and re-founder, and if the aforementioned qualities of Aeneas are used in this context, then readers may well have been encouraged to consider Augustus equally great. The perfect line to use as an example would be ‘Augustus Caesar… the man who will bring back the golden years to the fields of Latium’, and of course Vulcan’s depiction of Actium and Augustus’ behavior after the battle also present the emperor as pious and mighty. If readers were convinced to follow their emperor with the same zeal as those who in the past followed Aeneas to the great deeds he achieved, it would serve to bolster patriotism and respect for Rome and its emperor, aiding social cohesion and development. As said before, this was the intended aim of Livy’s histories and a similar reference to Augustus can be observed in the sentence ‘Augustus Caesar brought peace to the world by land and sea’, used in comparison to the paragon Numa Pompilius. These examples serve to show that both Livy and Virgil presented historical figures as to be emulated, then went on to compare the best of them to Augustus for as much positive impact as possible on society as a whole.
After establishing why each book was written, the question of how each writer presented their history unveils a new similarity. This lies in the shared reliance on the nature of historical characters to develop an account of the past. This can be seen quite evidently in Virgil’s Underworld procession, and indeed throughout all of Livy’s writing. The view was posited by Ogilvie that Livy sought to recreate the style of Thucydides, on the basis that human nature was constant and thus predictable. For example, he praises to a great extent the aforementioned Sabine king Numa Pompilius. In doing so, he was attributing a good reign to a man who was said to be just, wise and pious. His race would have impacted on a reader too; as a Sabine, he was theoretically a foreigner at the time. Livy portrays him as a good king in spite of this, encouraging the acceptance of and goodwill towards non-Roman people.
By contrast, his account of the despotic Tarquinius Superbus is less than flattering. Asserting that his ‘brutal and unbridled lust’ and ‘arrogant and tyrannical behavior’ was not to be emulated, he was attempting to ward off like-minded behavior in his own society. The list of characters goes on, a couple more being Lucius Brutus as the Republican hero and Appius Claudias as the ‘heartless tyrant’. Howe draws attention to some of the behavioral patterns of Aeneas’ character too – his devotion to family and in particular the mercy and tenderness displayed at the funeral games of Anchises. When Dares draws near to death against Entellus, Aeneas checks the fury of the latter and prevents further harm from being done, something Virgil clearly saw to be a noble gesture, emphasized so as to be repeated. The subsequent quote from Aeneas to Dares: ‘yield to God’ also adds a measure of piety, another commendable value. Howe goes on to say that the passages wherein Aeneas is presented as having such worthy virtues are ‘so rich’ that ‘space forbids a mere enumeration of instances of it’, serving to demonstrate just how much effort Virgil expended in order to make Aeneus as impactful a character as possible on the reader.
The underworld procession also provides some evidence to suggest Virgil’s writings can be viewed as historical. The characters in this procession are presented as prophecy to Aeneas but would have been history to Virgil’s audience. Virgil hails Romulus with grandiose language, ‘the man who founded Rome in all her glory… whose spirit shall rise to the heights of Olympus’, thereby attempting to invoke a sense of reverence towards such a founder, and a possible desire to see Virgil’s words come to fruition by working to improve the Roman empire. Ancus is said to be ‘overly boastful, too fond even now of the breath of popular favour’. This is rather difficult to interpret, but a return to Livy’s assertion that his society was in decay could suggest Virgil was attempting a warning, using Ancus as an example. Historically, this king was responsible for the ascendancy of the Tarquin kings in letting Lucumo gain political prominence. If Virgil was implying that Ancus was not politically aware enough, overly-comfortable in his position, it is possible he intended to spark some social awareness in readers by referencing this past mistake.
As is now evident, both writers clearly portray the characters of historical figures to present contemporary readers with examples to follow or disregard. One area in which both writers certainly differed were their attitudes towards history, yet both attitudes may nevertheless have created the same effect on a reader. It is clear that, as a poet, Virgil had little interest in sticking to fact, and indeed, even if the foundation myth of Aeneas was believed, there would even then have been a dearth of evidence with which to write a whole book. In contrast, Livy explicitly states that he wishes not to make ‘extravagant claims’, and his treatment of Roman myth is refreshingly fleeting, as he progresses swiftly on to more reliable periods of time. Consequently, Virgil’s epic only employed history if it meant it could make Rome appear worthier to a Roman; whereas Livy employed history for history’s sake. Yet as Ogilvie states, Livy’s historian predecessors were all senators writing in the interest of Rome, much like Virgil. With the works of these men being sources used by Livy, alongside his clear love for Rome inevitably affecting his bias, the effect of his history may have been strikingly similar to Virgil’s regarding the creation of patriotism and love for Rome.
It is apparent that there were fewer differences between Virgil and Livy than may have been assumed. While the poet was inevitably more flamboyant than the historian, both approached their historical narratives with the same desire; to instill within readers a set of positive Roman values and a love of their Empire intended to improve a society ‘in love with death both individual and collective’. Both writers were in an excellent position to manipulate the collective memory of the Empire and so whatever they wrote would have impacted somehow on the populace. Finally, the early history of Rome is a time for which little evidence has ever been accessible – the first historian to write on it did so 200 years after the monarchy. As such, all ‘history’ for this period is subject to debate, and it can be argued that the impact on the reader of such writings is more important than the accuracy of the history itself, creating a similarity between Livy and Virgil that disregards their genres.
Howe, G. (1930), ‘The Development of the Character of Aeneas’. The Classical Journal. The Classical Association of the Middle West and South: 182-193
S?lincourt, A. and Ogilvie, R.M. (1971), Livy. ‘The Early History of Rome’. Penguin.
West, D. (2003), Virgil. ‘The Aeneid’. Penguin.
 Sempronius Asellio, Rer. Ges. Lib. 1  Pliny, Epistles 2.3  Livy, Early His. 1.0  ibid  Dares Phrygias, His. Troy  Virgil, Aeneid 6.792-793  ibid 8.675-728  Livy, Early His. 1.18  Virgil, Aeneid 6.  Ogilvie 1971:2-3  Thuc. 1.22.4  ibid 1.18  Livy, Early His. 1.59  ibid 1.57-1.59  ibid 3.44  Howe 1930:191  Virgil, Aeneid 5.462-464  ibid 5.467  Howe 1930:192  Virgil, Aeneid 6.781-783  ibid 6.818  Livy, Early His. 1.34  ibid 1.0  Ogilvie 1971:7  Livy, Early His. 1.0  ibid  Ogilvie 1971:7
Analysis Of Tess Of The D’Urbervilles As An Ancient Greek Tragedy
Indubitably, Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ is largely reminiscent of the archetypal Grecian tragedy; evoking an overwhelming sense of pity/catharsis for the female protagonist. However, the constituents of said ‘tragedy’; though in essence prevalent throughout, are discordant throughout the majority of Hardy’s novel. It is generally stipulated than in order to be defined as a ‘Greek Tragedy’; a number of elements must work in unison: the protagonist, though critical to the plot, must remain emotionally detached- the plot propelled by action; irrespective of the thoughts and psychology of the central character and often, as a result, omitting the presence of a consistent narrative. Aristotle stated that tragedy, at its core is ‘an imitation, not of men, but of action and life, of happiness and misery’- a plot in which the characters serve to purge the emotions of the spectators and create a focus of empathy, in a tale compelled by nothing more than the misfortune of fate, the cosmos and the Gods.
However, discrepancies arise when looking into the semantics of Hardy’s novel- Tess’ fate, cannot be prescribed to the fault of the Gods, nor the work of higher beings; Tess possesses no credible form of hamartia, as the faults which seem to denounce her recognition as a ‘virtuous being’ are prevalent within all other central characters: her ‘defining’ sexual impurity, almost satirically paralleled by the acts of her ‘spiritually enlightened’ husband. Therefore, it is not through the Victorian prism of purity that Tess is assigned her hamartia; Tess’s one and only fatal flaw is that which, ironically, coincides with Aristotle’s theory of tragedy in the sense that it is beyond her control: she is a woman. It is her gender which serves to condemn her.
Hardy seemingly inverts the concept of tragedy, insofar that, as opposed to an imitation of the joys and dejections of life, Tess is used on an individual level to paint a bitter portrait of realism and inculpate the society which dictates such melancholy. Rather than purging the audience of their inner turmoil through a, typically male protagonist; Hardy humanizes Tess’s condition: men embodying the authority of God- the figures of Angel (biblically symbolizing the hope of redemption for the fallen woman ) and Alec (signifying impious temptation) dominating the course of the maiden. The cosmos and God’s which are to blame for our misfortunes are demeaned to a very factual level: it is men whom oppress her through ignorance of their own faults and exacerbation of hers; as she is ultimately judged by societies’ delineation of ethics.
In a sense, Hardy mirrors the ideology of the Greek tragedy, to the extent that, just as the knowledge that the perennial intervention of the God’s relieves us of the blame for our destinies; the invisible construct of society with its judgments on sexuality, womanhood, morality and status are entirely accountable for the demise of Tess. Hardy propagates this concept of accountability through the unorthodox addition of a narration throughout; often satirically mocking the concept that Tess is vilified by the God’s for her actions- noting that ‘Providence must have been sleeping’ at the moment in which the maiden’s fate is determined by rape. Rather than being propelled by action, Hardy speculates on the events occurring, the human witness punctuating the novel, suggesting that intervention and a divergence of fate is entirely possible; just as, as the author, Hardy has the ability to manipulate and/or alleviate the deterioration of Tess.
Cumulatively, the nature of Tess’s death serves to mock the Victorian detachment from the plight of the ‘fallen’ woman- the penultimate scene, whereupon Tess’s symbolically sacrificial demise in the ruins of Stonehenge occurs, vitriolically described as ‘justice’ by the author. However, the detachment from the constraints of Victorian society and the unrefined and essential ‘purity’ of Tess in terms of her authenticity as a woman upon her death is clearly perpetuated- the historical burial ground in which she lies possessing no respect or glorification of wealth, lineage or sexual purity, the stones- ‘Older than the centuries; older than the d’Urbervilles!’- belittling and trivializing the matters which have disproportionately denounced Tess throughout.
As a result, the audience, though reluctantly, enters the cathartic stage stipulated within the theory of tragedy, however, distinguishable, not for the emotions of their protagonist and the concurrent sense of self-gratification gained, but a purging of their own guilt and prescription to the immorality of the society which murdered what, in the end, is portrayed to be nothing more than a girl. It is this realism which resonates until the final word: Tess is not a victim of the God’s, the cosmos, or the divine- she is a victim of humanity… and that is the most tragic reality of all.
Absolving Frankford: Analyzing “Kindness” in a Woman Killed with Kindness
It is easy for a modern audience to look upon the actions of Master Frankford in Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness and recoil in disgust. While his actions may be starkly seen as emotional abuse today, within the world of the play his punishment for Anne is praised as a gentlemanly solution to his wife’s adultery. Close readings of the text provide insight into Frankford’s actions and allow the reader to see beyond their initial perception that he is more a domestic abuser. By analyzing the way A Woman Killed with Kindness presents its acts of kindness committed by Frankford and the subplot characters, the difference between the emotions found in the main plot and subplot, and the way it juxtaposes his actions with alternative solutions he could have taken, I will attempt to prove through comparisons with the side story involving Sir Francis, Sir Charles and Susan that A Woman Killed with Kindness views Frankford’s actions as genuine acts of kindness.
The most immediately apparent signifier that Frankford’s actions are genuinely kind is how the play distinguishes false kindness from true kindness. Juxtaposing the actions of the characters brings the differences between the sincere acts and the disingenuous acts into sharp relief. For example, after offering a loan to Sir Charles and hearing him declare that he has only a small sum of money and a summer home in his possession, Shafton says in aside, “That must I have it, it lies convenient for me… ‘Tis not for love I proffered him this coin, / But for my gain and pleasure” (5.49-53). The text wastes no time in explaining what Shafton is truly after; it is stated plainly with very little room for interpretation beyond speculation. Another example can be found with the “kindness” Sir Francis Acton shows Susan after Sir Charles is placed in debtor’s prison: “Woo her with gifts I cannot… How then? / Well, I will fasten such a kindness on her / As shall overcome her hate and conquer it” (9.62-67). This is an even more obvious display of false kindness. Unlike Shafton, Sir Francis does not even bother to put on any pretence about why he wishes to be generous to Susan. Both shows of “kindness” clearly define what Shafton and Sir Francis are hoping to gain through their actions — the Mountford summer home and Susan’s favour, respectively — and how they hope to achieve it. These two instances serve as contrasts for Frankford’s two main acts of kindness. The first, offering his home to Wendell, displays none of the “tells” discussed in the previous two. When Frankford propositions Wendoll to take lodging in his home there is no aside or any mention of an ulterior motive. The only explanation given as to why Frankford is doing this is that Frankford has “preferred [Wendoll] to a second place / In [his] opinion and [his] best regard” (4.32-33). Frankford’s other main act of kindness, sending Anne away once he has discovered her affair with Wendoll, is more controversial but is still portrayed as having no ulterior motive. There are no asides detailing a master plan to shame Anne to her eventual death, nor does the text provide any reasons for Frankford to discard Anne aside from the ones he openly says. He does it because he feels betrayed and because he fears the corruption Anne has suffered will reflect poorly on their children, calling their legitimacy into question. To summarize: if the play wanted the audience to view Frankford’s actions as falsely kind, it would be more obvious about it, as it was with the actions of Shafton and Sir Francis. Following this pattern, it becomes evident that Frankford’s actions throughout A Woman Killed with Kindness are viewed by the play as true acts of kindness.
Much like how the play subtly conveys the difference between true kindness and false kindness to highlight Frankford’s true nature, a key piece of evidence proving that A Woman Killed with Kindness views Frankford’s actions as genuinely kind is the indications of emotions that accompany the acts of generosity throughout the play. For instance, compare Frankford’s emotions during his acts of kindness to those of the subplot characters. During his confrontation with Anne after discovering her affair, Frankford expresses his sorrow at his wife’s betrayal, saying, “Spare thou thy tears, for I will weep for thee / And keep thy countenance, for I’ll blush for thee” (13. 84-85). Here, Frankford is vulnerable, almost empathetic. His confession both recognizes Anne’s humanity by acknowledging that she feels sorrow and shame and prohibits her from feeling anything because his own feelings take precedence. He was the one that was betrayed by his spouse and best friend, not Anne. This is significant because it further proves that Frankford’s intentions have been pure. Were he to have planned to cause the downfall of either Anne or Wendoll, he would not exhibit nearly the level of emotion he does with no hint to the audience that there was a sinister intent behind his actions. The play allows the audience to sympathize with Frankford. Contrast this with Sir Francis, who becomes smitten with Susan and resolves to free her brother from prison so that she will have no choice but to have sex with him: “In her I’ll bury my hate of [Sir Charles]” (9. 72). Sir Francis’ emotions tend to focus on less sympathetic outlets. Yes, he states that he will renounce his hate, but his phrasing is oddly sexual and exploitative. It is an uncomfortable pun to those who notice it and further depicts Sir Francis as an uncaring man to Frankford’s wronged philanthropist. This parallel further proves that Frankford’s actions throughout A Woman Killed with Kindness are viewed by the play as true acts of kindness.
Not only does A Woman Killed with Kindness express it viewpoint that Frankford’s acts are genuinely kind through its indications of emotions, it also conveys its viewpoint by hinting at an alternative, more severe action Frankford could have taken. To begin, when he finally discovers Anne and Wendoll in bed together, he contemplates killing them but stops himself, saying, “But that I would not damn two precious souls / Bought with my Saviour’s blood and send them laden / With all their scarlet sins on their backs” (13.44-46). This parallels an earlier scene where Sir Charles murders two of Sir Francis’ men in a fit of rage: “It was not I, but rage, did this vile murder” (3. 51). It serves as a reminder of what men in the world of the play can do when enraged. And yet he does not take violent action. True, he is noted in the stage direction to be chasing Wendoll off-stage with his sword drawn, but he does put a scratch on him. This speaks to his character as being fundamentally superior to many men of his time who would have continued chase even after the maid attempts to stop him. This is also reflected in Anne’s gruesome expectations for Frankford’s punishment when her affair with Wendoll is discovered; this can also serve as another example of an alternative path Frankford could have taken. As she kneels, guilty before her husband, Anne says, “Though I deserve a thousand thousand fold / More than you can inflict… mark not my face / Nor hack me with your sword” (13. 94-99). This once again was the expectation of the time, that cuckolded men were to severely punish their adulterous wives. It seems as if every character in the play is expecting Anne to be put to death for her crime. As Sir Francis says when he hears of Anne’s situation,
My brother Frankford showed too mild a spirit
In the revenge of such a loath?d crime;
Less than he did, no man of spirit could do.
I am so far from blaming his revenge
That I commend it; had it been my case,
Their souls at once had from their breasts been freed. (17. 16-21)
It could be argued that simply because Frankford does not take certain more abusive actions towards Anne and Wendoll, it does not automatically make him kind. However, this ignores the result of his less violent actions. Looking back on his initial reaction to seeing them in bed together, the footnote states, “44-8.] If Frankford had killed Anne and Wendoll before they had a chance to repent, according to traditional theology, their souls would have gone to hell” (13). The text implies that this weighs heavily on him, as he rests and contemplates for a moment before Anne and Wendoll are woken up. Deeming their souls “precious” denotes that he finds value in them despite how they have wronged him. Frankford not only grants them their lives but the opportunity to save their immortal souls by repenting for the sins they have committed against him. Given the facts, it is near irrefutable that Frankford’s actions throughout A Woman Killed with Kindness are viewed by the play as true acts of kindness.
In a cast full of men who manipulate and abuse others for personal gain, Frankford is a notable character for being portrayed by the viewpoint of the play to be genuinely kind. It shows through its portrayal of kindness, its difference it the emotional complexities of the characters and finally, in the actions that could have been taken, that Frankford’s actions throughout the play are meant to be interpreted as genuine acts of kindness based on the play’s viewpoint. While the results are unfortunate, it is refreshing to know that Frankford was not ill-intended. However, given that almost every male character is shown to in some way be underhanded or manipulative, it is easy to perceive Frankford in the same way. It is a shame that his subtle kindness will go unnoticed to most modern audiences who will end their understanding of the character at his seemingly cruel ministrations.
Analysis Of Whether Hamlet Truly Loved Ophelia
The play, The Tragedy of Hamlet The Prince of Denmark, follows the story of Hamlet after his father’s murder. Hamlet learns that Claudius, his stepfather and uncle, poisoned his brother and his father wants his death to be avenged. Claudius spies on Hamlet after discovering Hamlet has learned the truth of his father’s death by using Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius, and Polonius’s daughter Ophelia to reveal his true feelings. After Hamlet discovers this, he decides to act mad to undermine Claudius. He even acts insane around his lover Ophelia, who is described as being “…a cult figure embodying their own turbulent hopes,” (Romanska 485). This begs the question of whether Hamlet truly loved Ophelia because if he truly loved her, he would still act like a gentleman rather than a madman. By the way he acted around Ophelia when he was alone with her, he showed that his feelings for her were true. Hamlet’s actions throughout the play show that he was really in love with Ophelia. The audience can see that Hamlet really did love Ophelia when he told her, “I did love you” (Shakespeare III 125).
In this scene, Hamlet confesses that he loved her, but then goes on to say that he never loved her. This could be due to the fact that Hamlet knew his conversation with Ophelia was being watched which explains the confusion on whether he loved her or not. Additionally, in the love letter he wrote for her, Hamlet wrote “never doubt I love” (Shakespeare II 127). He tells her that among everything else around her that may not be true, his love for her is real. This is the one time before Ophelia’s death that Hamlet reveals his true feelings. This could be due to the fact that, once Ophelia received the letter, she gave it to her father. Hamlet did not trust Polonius, and from that moment on, Hamlet knew he had to hide his love for Ophelia and act mad to protect her. Throughout the entire play, Hamlet’s love for Ophelia is questioned like when Laertes said “Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting.” (Shakespeare I 7-8).
What Hamlet is really doing is trying to throw off the other characters and make it seem like he did not love Ophelia, even though he really does. Hamlet did not want Ophelia to become involved in case Claudius decided to get revenge on Hamlet. Hamlet shows his love for Ophelia when he confesses to her that he loves her, when he tells her to go to a nunnery to protect her, when he sends her the letter, and when he finds out that she has died. Although many could argue that Hamlet never loved Ophelia, he was just trying to throw the spies in a different direction but indeed did love her.
King Arthur: Two Stories About One Tragedy
As one of the most important figures of bravery, goodness and heroism in British legend, the idea that, as a tragic hero, Arthur Pendragon might have deserved his fate, is an uncomfortable one. However according to Aristotle’s Poetics, there can be no escaping the fact that the protagonist’s tragic flaw is the sole cause for their downfall. While the Alliterative Morte Arthure’s Arthur is certainly a flawed man, and elements of the reversal and recognition we might expect are present, the poet’s introduction of the wheel of fortune suggests that there are more factors at work. Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, whilst certainly tragic in tone, similarly subverts the readers’ expectations of the genre, creating less of a personal tragedy than a tragedy of the whole realm, using this to comment on the failures of chivalry.
In the Alliterative Morte Arthure it is not difficult to determine a tragic flaw in Arthur, as his pride almost overwhelms the reader at times. Although his campaign against Lucius is initially just in nature, his military success soon causes him to become arrogant and corrupt, fighting instead ‘for raunson of red gold’. This is perhaps best demonstrated through the parallels between Arthur and the giant of St. Michael. The giant’s demands for ‘the berdes of burlich kinges’ initially seems outrageously arrogant to the reader, however before long Arthur similarly attempts to humiliate the defeated Roman Senators, as we are told that ‘They shoven these shalkes shapely thereafter/To reckon these Romanes recreant and yelden’. Most telling, however, is that both Arthur and the giant are said to rule ‘as lord in his owen’. These similarities reveal that Arthur’s pride has changed him from the heroic figure we see towards the beginning of the text into a greedy tyrant, exactly the same as the monsters he set out to defeat.
Indeed, even the narrator seems to judge Arthur’s actions, asking in the opening lines for God to shield him and the reader from ‘shamesdeede and sinful workes’ such as will be found in the text. This gradual diminution in legitimacy is thrown into sharp focus when a cardinal ‘kneeles to the conquerour’ and begs Arthur ‘to have pitee of the Pope, that put was at-under’ by his forces. No longer waging a just crusade against Saracens, Arthur has begun to wage war on the Pope and even the Church itself, something which Matthews notes is ‘in defiance of medieval doctrine’. Combined with Arthur’s borderline blasphemous statement at the siege of Metz that as a ‘crownd king’ he cannot be harmed, it quickly becomes clear that his hubris has reached an almost frenzied level. Towards the end of his campaign, Arthur’s pride becomes so great that he seems determined to conquer all within his sight. As this desire increases, the reader cannot help but be reminded of Alexander the Great, also a conqueror of the known world from, at that time, a small and insignificant country.
The poet makes effective use of this by reminding the reader through Arthur’s dreams that he too was brought low by his hubris. Like Arthur, Alexander is said to have ‘rought I nought elles/But rivaye and revel and raunson the pople’, and we are clearly shown that Arthur’s reward for this behaviour is to be ‘damned forever!’. Karl Heinz Goller suggests that Arthur’s bloodthirsty nature and warmongering in this text may be ‘a pacifist indictment of warfare itself’, and this comparison with and judgement of Alexander would certainly support his theory. Like Arthur and Alexander, Edward III, the most likely monarch at the time of writing, waged endless military campaigns that became disastrous later in his reign. Similarly, these campaigns were largely based upon a proud, greedy desire for a crown that he arguably had no right to. By creating a link between Arthur and Alexander, the poet may have been subtly suggesting the illegitimacy of his own king’s actions through their tragic falls from glory.
Arthur’s reversal comes swiftly on the heels of his greatest triumph, not even having time to be crowned before receiving the news of Mordred’s betrayal. His eventual anagnorisis is amongst the most moving scenes in Arthurian literature, Arthur is describing himself as being ‘utterly undone’ as he cradles Gawain’s lifeless body, lamenting the fact that ‘he is sakless surprised for sin of mine one!’. However there does not appear to be any recognizable sense of catharsis for Arthur’s knights or for the realm as a whole. While this prevents the Alliterative Morte Arthure from being considered an Aristotelian tragedy, catharsis is not an essential part of a medieval variation on this: the tragedy of fortune. Matthews states that, much like an Aristotelian tragedy, ‘the medieval tragedy of fortune normally describes the fall of some ruler or other noble person from success or happiness into ruin or misery’. The hero is often still brought low by some sinful quality rather than fate, however the theme of the fickleness of fortune is introduced as a way to comment upon the inevitability of the hero’s downfall.
In the Alliterative Morte Arthure this theme is explored through Arthur’s dream of the Duchess of Fortune and her wheel, who initially will ‘lift [him] up lightly with lene handes’, yet soon shows her fickle nature ‘and whirles [him] under,/Til all [his] quarters that while were quasht all to peces’. It is worth noting that the six fallen kings do not blame the wheel of fortune for their fall, but rather their own hubris. This further emphasizes that, although the fickleness of fortune is a factor in Arthur’s tragedy, he is still ultimately responsible for his own undoing. The Duchess’ exclamation, ‘Crist that me made!’ suggests that she is actually meting out God’s justice through her punishments, rather than simply causing strife for the sake of it. The Alliterative Morte Arthure certainly demonstrates the balanced structure characteristic of this form of tragedy, with Arthur’s victorious conquest taking up roughly the same proportion of the text as his downfall.
This sense of balance is only heightened by the parallels between Arthur and his former enemies, as previously discussed. Where Malory’s Le Morte Darthur is concerned, the difficulty is not whether or not the protagonist can be considered a tragic hero, but rather finding a character that could not be considered so. Indeed, Malory depicts the dissolution of the Round Table as a universal tragedy affecting all involved. However this is not simply a melancholy parade of dark fates intended to evoke pathos, as nearly every character suffers from the same tragic flaw: devotion to a limited and unpractical chivalric code, upon which the Round Table is built. The inadequacy of this code is primarily demonstrated through the downfall of Arthur, Lancelot and Gawain, each of whom demonstrate a distinctly dangerous aspect of chivalry. From the very beginning of Arthur’s rule, the contrast between his style of ruling and his father’s is stark. Uther demands unquestioning obedience from his subjects, going so far as to make war on the Duke of Tingatel simply for ‘departyng [court] soo sodenly’. In contrast, Arthur’s very installation of a round table reveals that he has attempted to create a relationship that is more fraternal than patriarchal. While this relationship with his lords creates deeper bonds of affection between them and creates the ‘fayryst felyshyp of noble knyghtes that ever hylde Crystyn kynge togydirs’, it also weakens his power over them. By founding the Round Table and lowering his own status to first among equals, Arthur has moved from the absolute monarchy of his father into a more unstable feudal monarchy. As a result he is entirely dependent on the good will of his lords and his ability to ‘holde hem togydirs with [his] worshyp’ to keep control of the realm.
Perhaps the best example of this is Arthur’s response to Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair. Agravain expresses his disgust that the Knights of the Round Table ‘be nat ashamed bothe to se and to know how Sir Launcelot lyeth dayly and nyghtly by the Quene – and all we know well that hit ys so’. This statement suggests that the lovers are so openly involved that Arthur himself may know of their affair. Indeed, we are told that he has a ‘demyng of hit’, yet initially chooses to ignore Guinevere’s betrayal rather than risk destabilizing the kingdom by confronting Lancelot and admitting one of his own knights has cuckolded him. So long as it is not acknowledged, Arthur is able to maintain the illusion of control, as emphasized through Gawain’s plea that Agravain forget the matter, lest ‘thys realm [is] holy destroyed and myscheved, and the noble felyshyp of the Rounde Table shall be disparbeled’. Yet once Agravain insists on making it a public matter, Arthur is forced to publicly respond to save face. However the damage has already been done, as demonstrated by Sir Madore’s refusal to accept Arthur’s word of Guinevere’s innocence and insistence that she be tried, as despite his kingship, Arthur’s lords have realized that he is ‘but a knight as [they] ar, and [he is] sworne unto knyghthode als welle as [they] be’, and is therefore vulnerable. The chivalric code of the Round Table, based on personal relationships rather than unquestioning loyalty to the king, forces Arthur to act according to Gawain’s wishes in attacking Lancelot to retain his support rather than reconciling the two parties for the good of the realm.
Lancelot’s own strict adherence to the Round Table’s chivalric code establishes him as, in Moorman’s words, ‘the perfect earthly knight’, yet this is precisely the problem, as Malory demonstrates that the ‘earthly’, secular focus of the code conflicts with the religious code that Lancelot should instead aspire to. This incompatibility is initially revealed through his failure to attain the grail. As the most audacious quest set before the Round Table, it would seem natural to the reader that the grail should be won by its greatest knight, yet Lancelot is deemed to be unworthy by the hermit due to him being ‘lyckly to turne agayne’ to Guinevere. Whilst chivalry encourages this behavior as courtly love, Christianity condemns his lechery, therefore he cannot attain the grail and remain true to himself as the ‘the best exemplar of Round Table civilization’. Indeed Gawain remarks that in rescuing Guinevere from Arthur’s punishment ‘he hath done but knyghtly’, despite the fact that being knightly in this context has meant going against the justice of an anointed king. As Lumianski states, according to the code of chivalry ‘all challenges must be met and all fellows must be revenged’, regardless of how just one’s cause is or the effect on the realm, making it almost impossible to ‘take no batayles in a wrongefull quarell’.
This is demonstrated particularly poignantly through Gawain’s insistence on avenging the death of Gareth despite the knowledge such an action would not only destroy the Round Table, but also force him to kill his brother in arms. By forcing Gawain to choose between his loyalty to Lancelot and the chivalric need to preserve the honor of his family at any expense, Malory reveals that the code of the Round Table is so focused on maintaining appearances that it does not allow its followers to compromise for the greater good. The tragic irony of Gawain’s adherence to the code is that, in waging a pointless war against Lancelot on the grounds that he has been ‘false unto [his] uncle Kynge Arthur’, he actually facilitates Mordred’s genuine treachery. Gawain’s recognition on his deathbed is perhaps the most tragic of all, as he not only realizes that ‘thorow [his] wylfulnesse [he] was causer of [his] own dethe’ P681, he sees the greater implications of his dedication to chivalry on the realm, as he states that his refusal to ‘accord with [Lancelot]’ P681 has cause ‘all thys shame and disease’ throughout the land. The chivalry of medieval romance is, at its core, too idealistic to be of any practical use in a less than ideal world. In a medieval society largely founded on the concept of original sin, any attempt to create a perfect kingdom with imperfect man alone is doomed to fail before it begins.
Vinaver states that Malory was unconcerned with the ‘internal and spiritual problems that confront a political body’, yet just the opposite is true. It is Arthur who does not give enough attention to spirituality in the creation of the Round Table, and Malory clearly reveals how catastrophic such an oversight can be. The code of the Round Table is repeatedly shown to be uncompromising and too secular because it assumes the best in men, that they have already reached individual spiritual stability, and leaves no room for the inevitability of human nature. England in Malory’s own time was just as tumultuous as in his work, as the War of the Roses was well under way. Vinaver notes that ‘as a Warwickshire man, Malory must have followed the shifting policies of Warwick’. In and out of jail but never formally tried or convicted, it is reasonable to assume that Malory’s imprisonment was politically motivated due to this.
Whilst the tragedy of Arthur’s downfall in the Alliterative Morte Arthure is a personal tragedy commenting on the sins of one man, Malory’s tragedy affects the whole realm, as the elite’s disagreements plunge the kingdom into civil war. Much like the Houses of Lancaster and Tudor, Malory reveals that personal feuds in the highest ranks of the country has a serious effect on all, not just the king. The Alliterative Arthur’s fall is arguably a blessing for the world he intends to conquer, however in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur the fall of the Round Table has terrible implications for Britain. By exposing the flaws in chivalry in this manner, Malory has not only shown the reader the collapse of a perfect society; he has also revealed that such a society is unsustainable in our imperfect world, that the romantic dream of chivalry is a lie and that in a real world our unreal heroes would fail.
In conclusion, both the Alliterative Morte Arthure Arthur and Malory’s Le Morte Darthur can be considered tragedies; however the Alliterative Arthur’s fall is a more traditional tragedy of fortune, focusing on the downfall of one man due to pride, whilst Malory’s text has several characters who could be seen as tragic heroes. This being the case, the Alliterative poet has created a far more personal tale, which does not consider the effects on his downfall on the realm beyond catharsis. In contrast Malory, by exploring the breakdown of personal relationships and personal conflict, has explored the wider effect on society and civil war. By revealing the inadequacy of chivalry and the code of the Round Table, Malory has instead essentially created a tragedy of idealism. It is this that ultimately makes Malory’s Le Morte Darthur the more poignantly tragic retelling of the legend, as the Alliterative Arthur has brought about his own downfall through pride and greed, whereas Malory’s Knights of the Round Table, despite their flaws and inability to choose between morality and chivalry, consistently have the best of intentions at heart.
Alliterative Morte Arthure’, in King Arthur’s Death: The Middle English Stanzaic and Alliterative Morte Arthure, ed. by Benson, Larry D. (Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994), <http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/benson-and-foster-king-arthurs-death> [accessed 3 January 2016]
Bennett, J. A. W, Essays On Malory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963)
Goller, Karl Heinz, The Alliterative Morte Arthure (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1981) Keiser, George R., “Edward III And The Alliterative Morte Arthure”, Speculum, 48 (1973), 37 <http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2856268>
Kennedy, Beverly, Knighthood In The Morte D’arthur (Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 1985)
Krishna, Valerie, The Alliterative Morte Arthure (New York: B. Franklin, 1976)
Loomis, Roger Sherman, Arthurian Literature In The Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959)
Lumiansky, R. M, Malory’s Originality (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1964)
Lynch, Andrew, Malory’s Book Of Arms (Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 1997)
Malory, Thomas, and Stephen H. A Shepherd, Le Morte Darthur, Or, The Hoole Book Of Kyng Arthur And Of His Noble Knyghtes Of The Rounde Table (New York: Norton, 2004)
Matthews, William, The Tragedy Of Arthur: A Study Of The Alliterative “Morte Arthure” (University of California Press, 1960), p. 134 McCarthy, Terence, Reading The Morte Darthur (Cambridge: Brewer, 1988)
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Francis Golffing, The Birth Of Tragedy And The Genealogy Of Morals (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956)
Pochoda, Elizabeth T, Arthurian Propaganda (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971) 
‘Alliterative Morte Arthure’, in King Arthur’s Death: The Middle English Stanzaic and Alliterative Morte Arthure, ed. by Larry D. Benson (Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994), <http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/benson-and-foster-king-arthurs-death> [accessed 3 January 2016] l. 1528  Ibid. l.1002  Ibid. l.2234-5  Ibid. l.997, 3092  Ibid. l.3  Ibid. l.3178  Ibid. l.3180 
William Matthews, The Tragedy Of Arthur: A Study Of The Alliterative “Morte Arthure” (University of California Press, 1960), p. 134. 
‘Alliterative Morte Arthure’, l.2447  Ibid. l.3274-5  Ibid. l.3277  Karl Heinz Goller, The Alliterative Morte Arthure (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1981), p. 446  Ibid. l.3966  Ibid. l.3986 
Matthews, The Tragedy of Arthur, p. 105  Ibid. l.3349  Ibid. l.3388-9  Ibid. l.3385 
Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, ed. by Stephen H. A. Shepherd (London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004) p. 3  Ibid. p. 657  Ibid.  Ibid. p. 646  Ibid. p. 647  Ibid.  Ibid. p.591 
Charles Moorman, “The Tale of the Sankgreall” in Malory’s Originality, ed. by R. M Lumiansky, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1964) p. 191 
Malory, Le Morte Darthur, p. 948  Moorman, “The Tale of the Sankgreall”, p. 191  Malory, Le Morte Darthur, p. 658 
R. M Lumianski, “The Tale of Lancelot” in Malory’s Originality, ed. by R. M Lumiansky, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1964) pp.133-4  Malory, Le Morte Darthur, p. 77  Ibid. p. 669  Ibid. p. 681 
Lumianski, “The Tale of Lancelot”, p. 109  Euguene Vinaver, “Sir Thomas Malory” in Arthurian Literature In The Middle Ages, ed. by Roger Sherman Loomis (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959) p. 542
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 to identify and sympathize with him until his death in the end. This pattern of either objectification or identification with the revenger-protagonist ultimately proves to be critical in the overall effectiveness of the works as both a revenge play and a tragedy, as garnering these duel emotions from reads proves to be a challenge that is not always met within the genre.
Though The Revenger’s Tragedy and The Jew of Malta end with two different effects on its readers, both works start out similarly, pursuant to the revenge tragedy form, as the protagonists are wrongly injured by corrupt characters in positions of greater social status. For example, in Malta, the play begins with authorities telling the protagonist, Barabas, that they must seize his money because he is a Jew. As readers at this point in the play, the sympathy is automatically with Barabas, a man having done no harm, yet being taken advantage of by a figure higher up than he. It is hard not to identify with Barabas, who having committed no foul, claims that he simply wants to live in peace and keep his money to provide it for his daughter. Barabas states, “Give us peaceful rule; . . . I have no charge, nor many children, But one sole daughter, whom I hold dear . . . And all I have is hers” (Marlowe I.i. 132-137). Readers are exposed to the original foul against Barabas, as Ferenze, the governor of Malta, says to him,
. . . Jew, like infidels, for through our sufferance of your hateful lives, Who stand accursed in the sight of heaven, These taxes and afflictions are befall’n, And therefore thus we are determined. Read the article of our decrees . . . ‘First. . . each of them to pay one half of his estate. . . Secondly, he that denies to pay shall straight become a Christian. . . Lastly, he that denies this shall absolutely lose all he has’” (Marlowe I.ii. 63-77).
Again, at this point in the play readers witness the protagonist deprived of his money for no warrantable reason, which makes sympathizing with him as the Other quite easy for an audience who likewise has probably felt alienated as an Other himself before as well. Barabas’s poignant reaction to being wronged by these authorities also assists in readers’ identification with him as he cries ,“You have my wealth, the labour of my life, The comfort of mine age, my children’s hope; And therefore ne’er distinguish of the wrong . . . Your extreme right does me exceeding wrong” (Marlowe I.ii. 150-155). At this point in the play, Marlowe has made it quite easy for readers to sympathize and identify with Barabas, a man seemingly robbed by society and a man that readers can likely see themselves in as well.
This sympathy originally garnered for Barabas in turn works to align readers with the notion that Barabas deserves to be avenged for the unwarranted crime against him. Barabas later swears to seek this revenge on Ferenze, the man who took his money, “Whose heart [he] will have,” claiming that he cannot “so soon forget an injury” (Marlowe II.iii. 15-19). At this point in the play, this need to have revenge for the wrongful act readers previously witnessed appears both warranted and just, demonstrating both the sympathy readers have acquired for the injured protagonist and the identification felt in the necessity of a “just” retribution.
Additionally, in Middleton’s Revenger’s Tragedy readers also see the protagonist immediately victimized in the beginning by a corrupt social force, an act that similarly works to gain the sympathy of readers and as well as their identification with the wronged protagonist. For example, within the first scene of the play readers witness the protagonist, Vindice, longingly speaking to his late wife’s skull as he states the crime against her and promises to make up for it saying,
The old Duke poison’d, Because thy purer part would not consent Unto his palsy-lust; for old men lustful Outbid like their limited performances. Age, as in gold, in lust is covetous. Vengeance, thou Murder’s quit-rent, and whereby Thou show’st thyself tenant to Tragedy . . . Hum, who e’er knew Murder unpaid? Faith, give Revenge her due. . . (Middleton I.i. 32-41).
Through readers learning of the atrocious crime committed against Vindice’s wife for an even more atrocious reason in her failure to consent to his lust for her, Middleton immediately puts readers on the side of the protagonist-revenger, as viewing such a crime committed against the innocent, as in Barabas’s case, makes revenge not a crime, but an act of justice and rightful retribution, again a feeling that is easily identified with as audiences have the tendency to identify with the downtrodden Other—in this case two innocent men wronged by corrupt authoritative figures. Additionally, it is this tendency which goes into making the sympathy for the protagonist-revenger and his future acts a force that, when properly utilized, makes the play effective as a revenge tragedy as well.
As both plays continue, readers remain on the side of the protagonist-revengers and their mission to attain revenge for the suffering they wrongfully incurred. As each play hits its climax, readers eventually experience this shared catharsis in the protagonists’ success in enacting their revenge. For example, in Malta, Barabas coyly arranges a duel in which Ferenze’s son, Lodowick, will meet his death in. Barabas, before the duel, eagerly speaks of his eagerness in “seeing [Lodowick’s] death” and excitedly tells his slave Ithamore about the plans, as Ithamore responds, “As meet they will, and fighting die. Brave sport!” (Marlowe III.i. 31). During the duel itself, Barabas witnesses the death of Lodowick first-hand, sarcastically noting afterwards, “Ay, part ’em now they are dead. Farewell, farewell” (Marlowe III.ii. 9). At this point readers can simultaneously breathe a ‘sigh of relief’ as Barabas has successfully avenged his persecutor. Even after witnessing a character’s death one cannot help but feel that it was justified under the “eye for an eye” mentality present in this genre; again illustrating that the sympathy in the play has remained with the protagonist, because of the notion that ‘justice’ has finally been served after the original act committed against Barabas.
Readers experience this similar catharsis in the justified act of revenge in Revenger’s Tragedy as Vindice also arranges and accomplishes his act of revenge on the Duke in his elaborate scheme in which he poisons him using the very skull of his late wife. Vindice states his plan saying, “This very skull Whose mistress the Duke poison’d with this drug, The mortal curse of the earth, shall be reveng’d In the like strain and kiss his lips to death. As much as the dumb thing can, he shall feel: What fails in poison we’ll supply in steel” (Middleton III.v. 101-107). Even during the act itself, readers remain on Vindice’s side, as an “innocent villain,” as he says to the Duke before his death, “Tis I, ‘tis Vindice, ‘tis I” and “Mark me, Duke” (Middleton III.v. 165,175). The readers’ steadfast sympathy with Vindice at this point in the play makes this act of revenge interpreted as perfectly justifiable under the circumstances of the play and the Duke’s original crime at the beginning. Furthermore, identification with the protagonist-revenger is again not broken with the ‘lex talionis’ mentality that an audience is both capable understanding in the situation, and has more likely than not, used before.
Though both protagonists appear to be successfully avenged after these incidents all while simultaneously holding the sympathy of the reader, the events that occur hereafter serve to highlight the marked differences in the ability of the plays’ audiences to remain identified with the protagonists. In The Jew of Malta, Barabas’s future actions indicate that he had become too wrapped up in the notion of revenge, and in overstepping his boundaries his continued heinous offenses ultimately serve to objectify him in the eyes of readers, as the original sympathy for a once innocent man wronged by a corrupt figure turns to apathy for a sociopath that readers simply can no longer identify with.
For example, Barabas’s first transgression that serves to commence this objectification by readers occurs when he plans to murder his own daughter for her decision to convert to Christianity. It is at this point in the play where readers can no longer sympathize with an innocent victim who simply wants to seek his own form of social justice, and instead begin to see a lone character so obsessed with revenge that it is hard to determine what he is even seeking to accomplish in doing so. Barabas appears to experience no remorse after killing his only daughter, and rather than stopping there, this alienation of him as a character soars even higher with Barabas’s plan to kill again. According to the protagonist, “For he that [converted his daughter] is within my house. What if I murdered him ere Jacomo comes? Now I have such a plot for both their lives . . . One turned my daughter, therefore he shall die; The other knows enough to have my life; Therefore ‘tis not requisite he should live” (Marlowe IV.i. 119-124). Through these lines, it is clear that Barabas is no longer seeking to mitigate his own suffering he originally incurred; rather he has simply taken on a new obsession with killing for any reason he can find. Later in the play, Barabas hatches an additional plan to kill his slave, the slave’s mistress and the mistress’s pimp as well, again illustrating not a sympathetic man that a reader can see himself in, but a blood-hungry sociopath—a man in which readers can no longer identify with—and thus the sympathy originally felt for him ultimately plummets with each subsequent mindless act of murder that Barabas commits.
By the end of the play, Barabas, as with all tragic figures, eventually meets his demise at his own hands as he ends up getting tangled in his own murderous plot, burning to death in the very cauldron he had designed to kill others. By this point in the play, all sympathy for Barabas is lost and his death appears justified and in accordance with his actions and plans previously committed. The eventual death of Barabas, as he dies cursing those around him, screaming “Damned Christians, dogs, and Turkish infidels!” (Marlowe V.v. 85) officially marks the long transition from a man readers could identify and sympathize with—having been victimized by society and by which an act of revenge appeared justified—to a deranged tragic figure that became so obsessed with the idea of revenge that became objectified in the eyes of readers dying as a man who got what he deserved for his. The impossibility to sympathize with Barabas by the end of Malta proves that the play itself, though effective in accomplishing the theme of revenge and one’s fall in seeking it, was not so effective in garnering the sympathy of its audience as the protagonist became completely alienated through this, making him a tragic figure in theory, yet markedly less tragic to readers in practice.
In opposition to this gradual loss of sympathy and eventual objectification of Barabas, the audience of The Revenger’s Tragedy never appears to lose identification with Vindice, as he remains focused on the corrupt Duke and his family and does not appear overstep his boundaries in revenge as Barabas had. After the Duke’s death at the hands of Vindice, his court turns into a circus as his sons, each eager to make their way to the throne by any means possible, prove to exemplify the very corrupt traits that ran in their father, stipulating that perhaps this corrupt force Vindice looked to avenge and eliminate had not in fact been accomplished yet. By the end of the play, with all four of the sons fighting over who will become Duke, a bizarre string of events leads Vindice to complete his revenge, with the help of these doomed sons, as all four end up stabbed fighting for the throne. By the end, with each of the four sons dead, Vindice whispers to Lussuriouso, “. . . ‘twas Vindice murder’d thee — . . . murder’d thy father—and I am he. Tell nobody…” (Middleton V.iii. 74-78). At this point, however, the sympathy is still with Vindice, as the play has nearly reached its conclusion, and he appears to have finally avenged his wife’s murder and eliminate the corrupt courtship that was the cause to it. Unlike Barabas, Vindice did not get carried away and remained focused on the corrupt Italian court, which is the precise reason readers both sympathize and identify with him until the end, as a part of them as human beings additionally wishes to see this corruption eliminated as well. By the end of the play, Vindice realizes he too must die for his actions, but unlike Barabas’s cursing of those around as he died, Vindice realizes that his goal had been accomplished and is accepting of what is to come, stating, “Is there one enemy left alive amongst those? ‘Tis time to die when we are ourselves our foes” (Middleton V.iii. 109-110). Vindice’s valiant death to complete the vengeance he sought after mercilessly the entire play ultimately serves to keep readers aligned with the tragic hero, as sympathy for him and his mission of a ‘just revenge,’ plays to the sympathies of an audience who likewise, wished to see the corrupt Italian court suffer justice. Unlike Marlowe’s Barabas, who took his revenge quite too far, readers sympathize with the death of Vindice, seeing it as a tragic event, rather than a fate that he undoubtedly deserved as Barabas had.
The genre of revenge tragedy is unique in that it leaves room for a variance in the audience’s acceptance or rejection of a character who must pull off an evil act without also becoming evil himself. As witnessed in Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, the protagonist-revenger Barabas fails in doing this, as his obsession with revenge ultimately leads to his complete objectification in the eyes of an audience that was originally aligned with him and his plight. Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, however, proves to accomplish this difficult feat through its own protagonist-revenger, Vindice. Through Vindice’s commitment to avenge his wife’s murder without getting too involved in the corrupt world of Italian politics himself, he not only succeeds in his vengeance, but also remains in favor with the audience, who both sympathize with his suffering and can agree with his “justified act of revenge,” which ultimately makes the play succeed as both a revenge drama and as a tragedy in readers’ shared sympathy for his eventual death. Though the Chinese proverb placed at the beginning of Alan Cox’s Revenger’s Tragedy film, “Let the one who seeks revenge remember to dig two graves,” undoubtedly holds true in both of these plays and in the revenge tragedy genre in general, it remains up to the reader to determine whether or not the revenger deserves to lie in his grave, which, as evidenced by the two places discussed, inevitably leads to this unique variance in character identification that can be found within the revenge tragedy genre itself.