BBC's In Our Time last week contained a discussion about Elizabethan and Jacobean Revenge Tragedy. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth and King James I (1558 - 1625) the motif of revenge was very common in the theater and very popular as well.
The program discusses a number of plays, the most famous among them of course Shakespeare's Hamlet. I was struck however by another one, I think it was The Spanish Tragedy in which the revenge is played out in a play. The revenging character devises a scene in which the object of his revenge is an actor that needs to be stabbed. He replaces the stage dagger with a real one. But of course that real one is a stage dagger in The Spanish Tragedy.
The irony seems to be that revenge as a social phenomenon fits more in the Middle Ages and here, in this era, the State of England is being built and is furnished with a legal system and revenge is worked out of society. It is as if the stage plays represent the public mourning over a way of compensation they have to give up. Later on, revenge continues to be a motif in the theater, but not the only one and not as drawn out and central is in this time.
More In Our Time:
The Augustan Age,
The trial of king Charles I,