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Jacobean Tragedies

Jacobean Tragedies


A Jacobean period is also popular for the tragedy plays produced by the playwrights of this period. During the Jacobean era, tragedy as a genre of play was fully developed. Tragedies had a dark mood in the drama. Some of the popular tragedies were written by playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Kyd etc.

What is a Jacobean revenge tragedy?

The tragedy plays written and performed during the Jacobean era in which revenge was a prominent motive were known as a Jacobean revenge tragedy. It was a very popular form of English tragedy during the Elizabethan and Jacobean era.

Who is the father of the revenge tragedy?

Thomas Kyd gave birth to the genre of revenge tragedy with his extremely popular text – Spanish Tragedy in 1587. Shakespeare’s Hamlet was also based on a play by Kyd called Ur-Hamlet.

Jacobean Tragedies

1) William Shakespeare

He primarily belonged to the Elizabethan era, but most of his popular work was written during the Jacobean period. He was a writer, poet and even an actor. Shakespeare is known to have written his plays in verses. Popular tragedy plays King Lear and Macbeth were written during this time. Shakespeare was also known to have invented several words and phrases that are used today in our everyday communication.

Is Othello a Jacobean tragedy?

Othello is a Jacobean tragedy. Jacobean plays often dealt with themes like betrayal, trickery, cuckoldry etc. which are all features of Othello as well.

Revenge tragedy Hamlet –

Although unconventional in plot and style, Hamlet is one of the finest revenge tragedies ever written. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from Thomas Kyd’s work, but instead of following the usual aspects of revenge tragedy, he subverted many of them through his play.

Unlike most heroes of popular revenge tragedies, Hamlet himself becomes his greatest obstacle. his only obstacle lies in his head because he is unsure as to what he should do. Shakespeare imparted a lot of depth and shade to his characters, making them multi-dimensional. Hamlet displayed that successfully.

Jacobean Tragedies

2) John Webster’s tragedy

He wrote plays during the same time as Shakespeare. His best work includes tragedies like The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi. Webster as a Jacobean dramatist overlapped the career of William Shakespeare. Webster was most probably also an actor and collaborated with other prominent writers of his time to produce plays.

His main collaborator was Thomas Dekker. He also wrote plays like Westward Ho in 1604 and Northward Ho in 1605. He also worked with Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, William Rowly etc.

Jacobean revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi was written during 1612 – 1613. It was based on Senecan tragedy and contained almost all the features of a revenge tragedy. There is an abundance of revenge motives along with violence, horror and contexts of plotting and scheming.

The Duchess Malfi is actually a love story where the duchess marries below her status. Her two brothers seek revenge and in the process end up unleashing terrible violence and tragic loss.

The Duchess of Malfi also considered a social tragedy

He also wrote a tragicomedy titled The Devil’s Law Case.

John Webster jacobean playwright

3) Tragedies by Thomas Middleton

He was considered to be one of the best playwrights of this time. His comedy and tragedy were well appreciated. ‘The Challenging’, ‘Women Beware Women’, ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’, ‘Timon of Athens’ were well appreciated tragedy plays. He wrote tragicomedies like ‘A Fair Quarrel’, ‘The Old Law’, ‘No Wit, No Help Like a Women’s’. He even wrote a play based on Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’.

Thomas Middleton

The Changeling Jacobean tragedy

The Changeling was a play written by Thomas Middleton along with William Rowley and first performed in 1622. It is often regarded as one of the best tragedies of the Jacobean period as well as the English Renaissance.  It was published in 1652.

5) Thomas Kyd’s famous tragedy

He wrote revenge tragedy titled ‘The Spanish Tragedy’.

Thomas Kyd Playwright

Jacobean tragedy features –

The Jacobean playwrights wanted the tragedy plays to be the reflections of the reality of society. They often contained violence, bloodshed and corruption. The plays were moulded with a mood of cynicism. They dealt with the themes of the moral degeneration of society.

The plays also depicted sexual regeneration and often tended to be cheaply sensuous. Vengeance was also a popular theme mostly in the revenge tragedies.

Jacobean tragedies list –

Hamlet –  William Shakespeare
Macbeth – William Shakespeare

King Lear – William Shakespeare

The Spanish Tragedy – Thomas Kyd

The Challenging – Thomas Middleton

Beware Women Beware – Thomas Middleton

The White Devil – John Webster

The Duchess of Malfi – John Webster

Some examples of Jacobean revenge tragedy are:

Hamlet, The Duchess of Malfi, Antonio Revenge, Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois, The Tragedy of Hoffman, The Revenger’s Tragedy etc.

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