The words "Renaissance" and "revenge" are usually followed by a third: "tragedy." This seminar will indeed survey selected Renaissance revenge tragedies, those bloody, perverse, ironic plays written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. But this seminar will also consider other Renaissance works driven by revenge, including comedies and poems. It will trace the roots of Renaissance revenge in works such as Seneca's Thyestes and Machiavelli's The Prince and the legacy of Renaissance revenge in works such as Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and Tarantino's Kill Bill. We will study revenge as a means of balancing a plot (one injury initiates the action; another ends it), as economic exchange (the inexact calculations of payback), as an aesthetic form (heads baked in pies, corpses arranged in tableaux), as political resistance (the state's revenge is called "justice"), and as grounds for theological questioning (when is an avenger an instrument of divine will?). We will ask, finally, about revenge as a component of modernity, inherited from the Renaissance and canonized in the most conspicuously modern of early modern plays, that masterpiece of Renaissance revenge called Hamlet.
First-year students require permission of the instructor. (Not offered Fall 2014.)