The subjectivity of revenge : Senecan drama and the discovery of the tragic in Kyd and Shakespeare
This thesis re-examines the relationship between Senecan drama and the emergence of the public
tragedy of the 1580s and '90s. In criticism, this relationship has been understood as a continuation of
the 'influence' Seneca had been exerting on the Universities and the Inns-of Court since the 1560s. This
thesis challenges this established view on the grounds that it fails to explain the innovativeness of the
public tragedies: the formative impact of Seneca could not be the same on conventional academic
authors as on creative public dramatists.
Chapter I of this thesis explores and formulates this unresolved problem. Challenging the
established view depends on the possibility of a Seneca who could offer a tragic vision alternative to
Chapter II is concerned with showing that the plays ofthis Seneca dramatize not moral certitudes
but tragic contradictions~ the (tragic' Seneca is made possible by an unstable conception of the individual
- who is simultaneously individual and social, or individual because social. The privileged tragic
expression of this ambiguous selfhood is revenge.
Essentially, this thesis attempts to demonstrate that Senecan revenge so understood was
fundamental to the earliest masterpieces of public revenge tragedy, The Spanish Tragedy and Titus
Andronicus, and that Kyd's and Shakespeare's new treatment of revenge was facilitated by a rediscovery
of Senecan tragedy as opposed to Senecan sensationalism.
Chapters III and IV (on The Spanish Tragedy) and Chapter V and VI (on Titus Andronicus)
attempt to show that this recognition has been impeded by the inadequate notion of revenge that has
dominated modem criticism.
Founded upon the orthodox pieties that Kyd and Shakespeare challenge, much of this criticism
has obscured the distinctiveness of the Senecan avenger as against the Machiavel. This thesis conceives
the would-be a-social Machiavel and the highly-socialized avenger in opposition to each other, but in
order to reveal the inescapable social condition of the individual in both cases. At its moment of
inception public revenge tragedy appears as a synthesis of tradition and modernity, social commitment
and individual endeavour.