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'Superfluous death' and the mathematics of revenge

Dunne, Derek 2014. 'Superfluous death' and the mathematics of revenge. Journal of the Northern Renaissance 6

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‘Oh…Millions of deaths’ complains the Duke as he expires in Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (3.5.186), thus fulfilling Vindice’s fantasy of ‘constant vengeance’ (3.5.109). John Kerrigan and others have long recognised the excessively reciprocal nature of revenge on the early modern stage. This article seeks to quantify that process, or rather to survey the quantities that recur with surprising frequency in the genre of revenge tragedy. n Antonio’s Revenge, Pandulpho wishes to prolong his enemy’s death ‘till he hath died and died/ Ten thousand deaths in agony of heart’ (5.5.78), while Hamlet’s Laertes curses whoever has made his sister mad: ‘O, treble woe/ Fall ten times double on that cursed head’ (5.1.235). On the one hand this can be linked to the competitive intertextuality of the genre itself, where each author tries to outdo his predecessor – the logical conclusion of Renaissance emulatio. But might it also point to a deeper psychology of revenge, that struggles to equate life with life, and refuses to accept parity? In King Lear Shakespeare demonstrates how love cannot be quantified, through the motif of Lear’s diminishing train of knights: ‘Thy fifty yet doth double five and twenty,/ And thou art twice her love’ (2.2.448). Revenge tragedy is similarly interested in arithmetic, where the variable is not love but vengeance.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Publisher: Journal of the Northern Renaissance
ISSN: 1759-3085
Last Modified: 05 May 2020 15:15

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