Date of Award

5-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Misty G. Anderson

Committee Members

John P. Zomchick, Jenn Fishman, Christine A. Holmlund

Abstract

Revenge on the English stage has long been associated with Elizabethan and Renaissance revenge tragedies, and has been all but ignored in Restoration theater history. While the shortage of scholarly work on revenge in Restoration drama might seem to indicate that revenge is not a vital part of Restoration drama, I argue that revenge on stage in the Restoration is connected with important late seventeenth-century anxieties about monarchy and political subjecthood in the period. This dissertation examines how Restoration tragic drama staged during Charles II’s reign (1660-1685) depicts revenge as a representation of an unrestrained passion that contributes to the ‘seditious roaring of a troubled nation’ of which Thomas Hobbes writes in Leviathan. This dissertation suggests that we need to assess Restoration tragic drama’s employment of acts of vengeance in order to better understand how tragic drama of the period narrates crises of kinship, kingship, and political subjecthood.

In chapters addressing blood revenge, rape, female passion, and personal ambition, I examine revenge in a number of Restoration tragic dramas written for the stage between 1660 and 1685. This project shows that characters’ claims to redress wrongs committed against the civil notion of justice collapse into private, individual desires that are pathological and destructive of the state. This project on revenge has the potential to shape the way we think about revenge on stage by calling attention to revenge as a sign of self-interest at the end of the seventeenth century, an age in which a shift in thinking about monarchy and personhood was taking place. Just as Hobbes warns against the “excessive desire of Revenge,” this dissertation shows how playwrights stage revenge as a warning about the potentially destructive consequences of revenge: revenge puts not only private bodies in danger but also the public well being of the state.

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