The Characteristics Of Jeronimo And The Revenger's Tragedy

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‘He that will swear Jeronimo [...] the best plays yet, shall pass unexpected at here as a man whose judgement shows it is constant, and hath stood still these five and twenty, or thirty years’
--Ben Jonson (Bartholmew Fair, 1614)

Jonson, ever caustic, made no bones about his disdain for sensationalist tragedies that catered to the bloodlust of the ‘groundlings,’ yet even such an inveterate critic as he, was forced to admit that these melodramas had withstood the test of time. I would like to discuss two plays for this question – ‘Jeronimo’ or Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy performed in 1587 or 1588 and Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, a play that appeared almost at the end of the period entitled ‘the golden age of revenge tragedy’
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Both dramatists stick to the formula in that sense with Hieronimo and Vindice but also expend effort in giving their protagonists, psychological depth, setting them apart from the one-dimensional avengers that one would expect from a formulaic play. Kyd carefully structures the process by which Hieronimo, a tragic subject, comes into being, while in Vindice, that process has already taken place, nine years ago. The frustrated fury of Hieronimo, a fury that arises in part from an inability to locate justice in the universe, is depicted with understanding. ‘For in revenge,’ he cries, ‘my heart would find relief.’ He is aware even before he carries out his vengeance, that it is the only act that will provide some relief to his anguish. By contrast, in Vindice, Middleton creates a ‘revenger’ with a past forgotten by all but him. He is a figure that stays on the margins whether as Vindice or as Piato - irony is central to his manner and his view of life. His own sexual anxieties are evident, paradoxically enough, especially in his ‘test’ of Gratiana and Castiza and his exuberance and zest in his own actions are reminiscent of a Volpone or Mosca. In the end though, both recognise the essential futility of their actions even while acknowledging its inevitability. ‘Tis time to die when we are ourselves our foes, ’says Vindice, a phrase that beautifully captures the mental emptiness of revenge. Apart from the protagonists, other characters too are finely sketched. Bel-Imperia’s character is an intriguing one - she is no uni-dimensional puppet caught between a dynastic marriage and romantic love. It is clear that she is far from being sexually innocent and in fact, the catalyst in Hieronimo’s revenge. She has been read in many different ways but what emerges at the end, is her strength of convictions and her desire to control her own destiny. In The Revenger’s Tragedy,

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