Vengeance, Variously: Revenge Before Kyd in Early Elizabethan Drama

  • Bradley J. Irish University of Texas


Though it is a critical commonplace that English revenge tragedy began with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, there has been little systematic discussion of how revenge fared as a dramatic theme before Kyd’s inaugural work. This essay reexamines the importance of revenge in early Elizabethan drama, by broadly surveying its thematic and rhetorical prominence in the corpus of extant plays that predate Kyd’s tragedy. The prominence of revenge in pre-Kydian drama reveals that The Spanish Tragedy intensifies and systematizes structurally a theme that had for decades already been a well-worn mainstay on the English stage. A study of early dramatic revenge provides the basis for a more contextually sensitive account of revenge tragedy’s origin, and of its larger relationship to contemporary Elizabethan theatre.