Invading the Grave: Shadow Lives in <i>The Revenger’s Tragedy</i> and <i>The Duchess of Malfi</i>

Susan Zimmerman

in The Early Modern Corpse and Shakespeare's Theatre

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print February 2005 | ISBN: 9780748621033
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652198 | DOI:
Invading the Grave: Shadow Lives in The Revenger’s Tragedy and The Duchess of Malfi

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This chapter concentrates on two major tragedies that are steeped in a far more unsettling, if no less sensational, graveyard ambience: Thomas Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. The analysis of the Duchess emphasizes the sophisticated modes by which Webster inscribes psychological complexities in scenes of extraordinary barbarism, thereby evoking the eroticism implicit in the violation of taboo. Both plays are tragedies imbued with the power of death – not only its inevitability, but more particularly, its insidious permeation of life. They ironically focus on the corpses of women, such as that of the Duchess in Webster's play and Antonio's wife in Middleton's. Benjamin has argued that no playwright matches Shakespeare in this transformative skill, but it is noteworthy that only Webster made a woman/boy actor the ethical and structural centrepiece of a tragedy about sexual obsession.

Keywords: Revenger's Tragedy; Duchess of Malfi; Thomas Middleton; Webster; death; corpses; wife; Shakespeare; graveyard

Chapter.  20968 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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