The Revenge Tragedy


In a revenge the protagonist is motivated by a desire to take revenge for some offence, which frequently involves the harm or murder of a loved one. That means that the tragedy is about seeking retribution for an injustice or wrong.


We can identify its roots in ancient Greek and Roman plays, especially in Euripides' "Medea" and Seneca's "Thyestes." However, the genre gained popularity during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, with works like Kyd's "The Spanish Tragedy" and Shakespeare's "Hamlet".


- Presence of a vengeful protagonist

- Complex plots: The plot is full of turns as the protagonist plans and carries out their vengeance;

- Supernatural elements: Some supernatural elements, such as ghosts or omens, make the story dreadful;

- Moral ambiguity: These plays frequently highlight the moral implications of vengeance,


Retribution: Seeking justice and vengeance for a wrongdoing.

Corruption and Deceit: Uncovering hidden secrets and conspiracies.

Madness: The psychological toll of seeking revenge.

Mortality: Reflection on the fragility of life.


"Hamlet" by William Shakespeare: Hamlet seeks to avenge his father's murder.

"The Spanish Tragedy" by Thomas Kyd: Hieronimo seeks revenge for his son's murder.

"The Revenger's Tragedy" by Thomas Middleton: Vindice seeks retribution for his fiancée's death.

Thomas Kyd, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Thomas Kyd, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Vocabulary List:

  1. Retribution: The act of seeking or exacting revenge or punishment for a wrongdoing. In the context of revenge tragedies, it often involves the protagonist seeking retribution for a harm or injustice.

  2. Complex Plots: Intricate and multifaceted storylines with numerous twists and turns. In the context of revenge tragedies, this refers to the intricate nature of the narrative as the vengeful protagonist plans and executes their revenge.

  3. Supernatural Elements: Elements or occurrences that go beyond what is natural or explainable by scientific laws. In revenge tragedies, these elements, like ghosts or omens, add an eerie and mysterious dimension to the story.

  4. Moral Ambiguity: A situation or character's actions that lack clear moral right or wrong. Revenge tragedies often delve into moral ambiguity, exploring the ethical implications of seeking revenge.

  5. Corruption: Dishonest or unethical behavior, often involving deceit, fraud, or betrayal. In revenge tragedies, this theme relates to uncovering hidden secrets and conspiracies.

  6. Deceit: The act of intentionally misleading or concealing information from others. In the context of revenge tragedies, it often involves characters hiding their true intentions or actions.

  7. Madness: A state of severe mental illness or a sense of being mentally disturbed. In revenge tragedies, this theme explores the psychological toll that seeking revenge can have on characters, leading them to madness.

  8. Mortality: The state of being subject to death; the condition of being mortal. In revenge tragedies, this theme involves reflecting on the fragility and impermanence of life, often as a consequence of the actions taken in the pursuit of vengeance.

  9. Vengeful Protagonist: The main character in a story who is motivated by a strong desire to seek revenge for a perceived offense. In revenge tragedies, this character often takes central stage as they plot to avenge a wrongdoing.

  10. Injustice: Unfair or unjust treatment, actions, or circumstances, often involving harm or wrong inflicted upon individuals. In the context of revenge tragedies, the central theme is the retribution for perceived injustices.

  11. Euripides' "Medea": A reference to the ancient Greek play "Medea" written by Euripides. This play serves as a foundational work in the revenge tragedy genre, where the titular character, Medea, seeks revenge against her unfaithful husband.

  12. Seneca's "Thyestes": A reference to the Roman tragedy "Thyestes" written by Seneca. This play is another influential work in the revenge tragedy genre, known for its themes of vengeance, betrayal, and retribution.

  13. Elizabethan and Jacobean eras: Historical periods in England during the 16th and early 17th centuries. These periods are known for their flourishing of dramatic literature, including the popularization of revenge tragedies.

LnT suggests

LnT visiting the page about 'Tragedy'

LnT exploring 'Hamlet': a presentation on the eight literary elements