T.S. Eliot recognized the dominance of the Senecan mood in drama during the era of the revenge tragedy when he suggested, “No author exercised a wider or deeper influence upon the Elizabethan mind or upon the Elizabethan form of tragedy than did Seneca” (Arkins 2).
Any analysis of the revenge play genre centers on two particular plays, which both typify and transcend the revenge play genre Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy and ur-Hamlet. The blueprint of the revenge tragedy is laid out and executed here to brilliant and devastating effect, an effect which indeed defined the notion of how revenge was to be played out on stage. There is of course significant disagreement to how the concept of revenge was interpreted via Elizabethan mores, whether the multitude of avengers in the various stage dramas put on during the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries represented immoral exemplars, examples of Anglo-Saxon barbarianism combined with un-Christian Senecan ethic (Broude 39), or perhaps something more noble like retribution in the mode of divine justice.
Regardless, the ethical valence in the standard form of the revenge tragedy was generally unambiguous and robustly on the side of revenge and its attendant carnage. As as interesting caveat to this, Shakespeare’s Hamlet often seen as a response to the non-extant ur-Hamlet offers a level of ambiguity that does not so much negate the vengeful mood of the play but nuances it in such a way that makes Hamlet the singularly important and influential play it is today. A purer example of the revenge tragedy is perhaps Cyril Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy. Though as we will show, while it is most obviously ruled by many of the conventions of the revenge tragedy and is clearly meant to fall within it as an artful example of the genre, it does not adopt all of its conventions carte blanche. In order to make sense of this it will