While this is a Shakespeare blog and Shakespeare is undoubtedly the focus, there were many other wonderful playwrights and plays from the 16th and 17th centuries. This year, the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater will present Hamlet, so I thought I'd list some of my other favorite revenge tragedies of the period.
As anyone who came to the lecture two weeks ago knows, I love Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy. What's not to love about a play where Revenge and a ghost watch the entire action, where the revenge takes place in a play within a play where each character speaks a different language, and where the main character bites out his own tongue?
Another weird and wonderful play of the period is The Revenger's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton. The world of the play is deeply cynical, but the language is beautiful and Vindice (the main character) is fascinating--what Hamlet would have been like if he'd brooded on revenge for years instead of days. This is the only play of the period for which there is a good film version.
The Duchess of Malfi Homepage calls it "one of the greatest achievements of English Renaissance drama" and I agree. The Duchess is the equal to Shakespeare's Cleopatra in the richness and majesty of her character, the love between her and Antonio is, hands down, the most moving portrait of married love created in the period, and the psychological tension is almost unbearable.
Finally, I have to mention the fabulously named 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, about which I have only one thing to say: Romeo and Juliet with incest. Okay, I'll say one other thing. You will actually find yourself rooting for the brother and sister/lovers. Really.
While it would be wonderful if we could see these plays acted, they all read very well (especially 'Tis Pity She's a Whore) and all the plays are available in reasonably priced, well footnoted editions. So if you're looking for something to while away the long winter nights, any of these plays would go wonderfully with the dark and cold of late November!