0 13 2011

Seeking Vengeance: Revenge Tragedy, Coherence and Scepticism from Sophocles to Shakespeare

Fionnuala ONeill


Literary representations of revenge frequently encourage us to question the motivations behind such an impulse towards symmetry and coherence, as well as the outcomes of such a quest. In this sense, such literary representations relate closely to tragedy itself, the dramatic genre in which revenge is most often given aesthetic form in the shape of revenge tragedy. While this particular sub-genre is principally located on the Renaissance stage, it has its roots in the Senecan tradition, which itself draws on classical Greek drama. This article aims to explore representations of revenge in tragedy from Sophocles to Shakespeare, focusing on the scrutiny under which such representations repeatedly place the idea of "coherence", the attempt to find pattern, meaning and justice in the midst of tragic horror and destruction. In so doing, it aims to draw parallels between the drive towards revenge and the quest for coherence in tragedy, suggesting that an obsessive attempt to find satisfaction in order and symmetry is repeatedly found to be ethically questionable, as it can be both punitive and violent.

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ISSN 1749-9771

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