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The Sacralization of Revenge in Antonio's Revenge Phoebe S. Spinrad Among all John Marston's plays, Antonio's Revenge seems to be the hardest to pin down. Critics have long disagreed about whether the play is moral, immoral, or amoral; whether it accepts or rejects the idea of revenge; and even whether it is meant to be a serious play, a comic parody, or an early version of the theater of the absurd.1 To be sure, it foUows many ofthe conventions ofthe revenge playofits time—a blood crime to avenge,a ghost,a rantinghero,feigned and real madness,a longsuffering woman or two, and,finaUy,the drawn-out death ofthe villain— but it also violates many ofthe conventions,the most important ofwhich is that the revenger himself must die at the end of the play. Indeed, so widespread is this last convention that Fredson Bowers, in his seminal work on revenge tragedy, seems to forget about Antonio when he outlines the conventions, stating categorically, "No slayer in Elizabethan drama escaped some penalty, and thatpenalty was usually death."2 Only later must Bowers acknowledge that Antonio seems not to have been punished at all; but he makes no attempt to account for the anomaly, other than attributing it to "Marston's Senecan morality."3 Other critics, both before and after Bowers, have similar difficulty with this anomalous ending to the play, disagreeing with each other and at times with themselves, and also have difficulty with another scene in the play, Antonio's killing of young Julio. Each critic's reading of the play's final "message" about revenge shapes his or her reading ofthe scenes, so that ultimately the individual scene analyses become begged questions: either we are supposed to be sympathetic toAntonio, or we are supposed to be revolted byhim, or, in the recent postmodern readings, we are supposed to see his whole world as absurd and not reaUy care. 769 170Comparative Drama In this essay, I do not propose to settle forever the larger questions of authorial intent, although I hope to make at least as good a guess as that ofanyone else.What I do propose is a closer scrutinyofthe two problem scenes, not only in the context of their own play, but also in the context of other revenge plays ofthe time, plays that might have shaped the expectations of Marston's audience. Within those contexts, for whatever reason, it appears that Marston is going beyond the attempts of other playwrights tojustify the sensational violence in their plays and even to allow the audience to retain some admiration for the revenger without faUing afoul of the censor. Through the visual effects of the Julio scene and the scene in which Pandulpho brings the corpse of Feliche to Antonio , together with the final vengeance scene and the closing passages in which the revenge quartet takesleaveofVenice and the audience,Marston uses both Old and New Testament imagery to sacralize revenge. It is important, then, to establish exactly what does happen in the closing passages of this play, passages that mark the part of a play in which playwrights traditionaUy signal their audiences how to view what has gone before. The primary anomaly,noted by all critics,is simplythat Antonio, alone of all Renaissance revengers, survives his revenge. But even more to the point are two other events: the praise ofAntonio by the Venetian senators, and the determination ofAntonio and his friends to retire to a monastery. Notably, the senators do not merely find extenuating circumstances for the slaying of a tyrant, or pity for the revenger's wrongs, or even admiration for the slayer who, nevertheless, must die or in some other way pay for his role in the killing. Rather, they offer Antonio a triumph, a cash reward, and a role in Venetian government: "First Senator: What satisfaction outward pomp can yield, / Or chiefest fortunes of the Venice state, / Claim freely" (5.3.140-42).4 Furthermore, before this practical offer is made, the Second Senator has virtually canonized Antonio and his friends, making them not just good citizens but patron saints of Venice: "Blessed be you all; and may your honors live, / Religiously held sacred...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 169-185
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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