Contemporary Revenge Tragedy

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Last updated: April 4, 2019

The conventions of revenge tragedy were established early in the evolution of the genre. These conventions were bound by the creators’ desire to captivate their audience and attract spectators to the stage. As early as the age of Ancient Greece, a period in which Euripede’s Medea graced the stage, blood and violence has been synonymous with the genre of revenge tragedy.

Medea broke away from certain confines of not only revenge tragedy, but the stage, in that the avenger was a woman. This was unusual in the patriarchal society however the act of poisoning remained in line with the committal of the revenge.This said, Medea’s violence in her act of infanticide demonstrated Medea’s ability to take the role of the avenger further than the typically female act of poisoning. Infanticide would be condemned as evil in today’s society, and in Ancient Greece was met with the same moral disgust. The social world that Medea was created in expected a woman to be weak and easily influenced and manipulated.

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The shock created by a female protagonist who was both influencing and manipulative, and the fact that she was of a class deemed beneath the audience, that is a barbarian, generated an interest that refreshed the genre even at this early stage.The English Christianity did not even curb the revenge tragedy genre. The commandment Thou shalt not kill was trounced by the quote in the Bible of St Paul “Vengeance is mine”. Revenge throughout history has been seen as a duty to one’s own personal stature and values, his or her family and society itself. If injustices were allowed to occur with impunity, then the social structure and balance would not be able to allow evil and goodness to coexist comfortably. The tragic element of the genre is the moral implications, religious or otherwise, of any form of evil act, that is: tragedy is the price that the avenger must pay.This is the sacrifice that the protagonist makes to allow justice and social balance to be restored.

Medea recognises and feels the strength of moral corruption of the King and Jason, representative of society’s arrogance and selfishness. The King thinks nothing of Medea’s future and being after losing Jason, demonstrating his lack of honour hence his society’s lack of honour. He is taught his lesson through the loss of his daughter and society is shown the effects of dishonour and arrogance through the act of infanticide which is seen as a blow to the social world in the same way that crimes are seen as injustices against the state.High Noon is staged in another discordant society. The western genre element that is incorporated into this film adds a further dimension in which the audience feels somewhat comfortable in, however the element that is missing from both the western and revenge tragedy genres is that of violence and blood. So if the attraction of revenge tragedy was the ‘blood and guts’ nature of the genre, then why is it that High Noon managed to be successful? It must be considered that in Elizabethan (Shakespearian) times and Jacobean times, and particularly ancient times, the populus engaged in gory entertainment as a means of socialising.Bear baiting, gladiator challenges and such ‘sports’ were accepted, encouraged and most definitely thoroughly enjoyed by all classes of the empires. However in today’s more modern society, such sports are not engaged in by the majority and most condemn such violence and cruelty.

This opinion of the moral world has been transmitted into the revenge tragedy genre. In High Noon the action is quick and clean, one may even claim it is an anti climax. The key to the film’s attraction is the suspense. The motif of the ticking clock and in particular the song ‘Do Not Forsake Me O My Darlin’.

This song builds suspense in the minds of the audience- the medium of film allowing the story to penetrate the viewer’s sense of hearing and render the experience even more fulfilling. The song also represents other conventions of revenge tragedy. A chorus would most certainly look out of place in this film, however in Medea a chorus was perfectly acceptable to comment on the action.

Medea’s chorus also provided comment from the moral and social world which within Medea existed. “… weiughowiugoew do not murder your chidlreneigg..

. “.The chorus’ purpose was to establish to the viewer the opinions of society, in the way the writer translated them. ‘Do Not Forsake Me O My Darlin’ also represents the indecision on Amy’s part.

Will she desert Kane as everyone else has done, or won’t she? This is a unique way of portraying a predictable scenario, an inventive technique that has come about with ingenuity on the part of the film makers and made possible with the availability of the medium of film and technology. Nineteen-Fifty-Two, the year that High Noon was released, was many years after the conventions of the genre of revenge tragedy had been established.However at this time, the Salem Witch Trials were inciting fear in the form of McCarthyism throughout America. McCarthyism was wreaking havoc within the film industry, the cinematographer and one of the actors even being blacklisted. Although claimed by those in favour of McCarthyism, and indeed Senator Joseph McCarthy himself, that High Noon was ‘un-american’, the film is a product of the context within which it was created. The genre of revenge tragedy is successful in epitomising the writer’s evaluation of the time and his conclusion that self preservation is the most valued principle of mass America.High Noon depicts a town that is the epitome of this concept- a town who will not face a murderer or support its courageous mayor, for fear of their own individual lives and disturbance of their sleepy existence.

Howe says “… the public doesn’t give a damn about integrity. A town that won’t defend itself deserves no help.

.. “.

Fear causes the residents of Hadleyville in the film, and the citizens of America, to conform to populist beliefs, leaving Kane to fend for himself. It also emanates Hollywood’s reaction to McCarthyism- ignorance. A convention of revenge tragedy is that the avenger is isolated.They are detached from family and friends and those in power. They are often detached in a vicious, cruel manner to the extent that the institutions meant to protect and support them intentionally deviate from the individual’s cause and are responsible for their actions. High Noon utilises this convention in that Kane is given up on by the town- from the major to his own wife. Although it is noted that Kane is not the character who initially seeks revenge- Miller is the man on the mission, however it is Kane who the duty of restoring order and justice lies with.He feels it is his duty to the town and his duty to his own personal morals.

The value he places on his manhood lies within his courage to face the monster, it is his duty “… I’ve got to, that’s the whole thing… ” says Kane.

Miller is given a threatening presence with the audience not being shown him in full stature. The clock, in real time, indicates time imperative and this motif increases the suspense, an important feature of revenge tragedy. This is another element of High Noon in which conventions of the genre have been altered, illustrating how the genre is adaptable.The Bank employs secrecy to build suspense. Elements of David Wenham’s character are hidden to the responder.

This Australian film was created at a time when people were suspicious of institutions such as banks and insurance companies. The ‘aussie battler’ hadn’t long been out of practice of hiding money in his or her mattress and banks were a black box to many, let alone the stock market. After the depression and the collapse of Wall Street, the faith in the economy and the ability of those institutions to handle one’s life savings was dwindling.Revenge tragedy has a tendency to appear in times of crisis, when artists believe that there is an imbalance in good and evil in society and feel the need to comment on it. Feel the need for a strong character who is willing to sacrifice himself or herself for the greater good- the stability of that society. Wenham’s character is quiet and withdrawn, the audience underestimates him through his quiet voice, understated remarks and apparent naivety. However we can sense an undercurrent of determination in his steely presentation to ieugieughwrogh.

Afgoef on the other hand represents the banks themselves, and those in power. He is loud, arrogant and bloodthirsty. Not blood thirsty in the traditional revenge tragedy manner.

Like High Noon, The Bank doesn’t employ violence and gory imagery. The context of the film, the society for whom it was created was more concerned about their money, their savings. Hence jefeg is bloodthirsty for money.

He isn’t concerned about ruining entire economies, so long as his business’ portfolio is successful. This demonstrates that conventions of the genre are effectively able to be adapted to suit the context.The Star’s Tennis Balls features Ned, a near perfect character as far as English society is concerned. This novel portrays the conventional ‘institution’ in a particularly negative light. The avenger is isolated, and in Ned’s case, abused by the higher power, that is the English Secret Service and police force. It is their duty to protect the country, however Ned sees the injustice and experiences it first hand.

He as an individual suffers great injustice and has the strength of character and the determination to seek revenge.The novel is very honest in that Ned’s acts of revenge are described with little emotion on Ned’s behalf. This allows the responder to bask in the fascination that is revenge- the art-like qualities it possesses, and this encompasses a large portion of the attractiveness of revenge tragedy. This novel, although it is a contemporary piece, takes most of the conventions of revenge tragedy even to the extent of keeping them in chronological order and places it in the twenty first century.The reason that the novel seems fresh and holds the responder’s interest even though the storyline is predictable, is this emphasis on the art of revenge and the tragedy that inevitably follows.

It is a lesson taught to the moral world. Not only that revenge does not occur without sacrifice and the avenger is a self sacrificing, courageous person, but that evil is perpetual hence there will always be a need for these protagonists. We can them translate that to perceive that there will always be a need for the revenge tragedy genre. It is not human nature to seek revenge to the extent that the protagonists in the genre do themselves.

Thus the acts of revenge they carry out, their logistical planning and plotting and their personal turmoil provide a fascinating, even sadistic pleasure for the audience. The plot of revenge tragedy is defined as a genre, however audiences will not become tired with it due to the morbid human fascination with evil and the results of this evil. The avengers are not perfect beings, each have flaws and it is these flaws that are exploited by the genre to the extent that they become heroic and courageous in their deeds that are otherwise wrongful.The fascination of the audience ensures the genre remains popular. Why is it that we are so readily accepting, at least understanding of Medea’s act of infanticide? Why do we still feel sympathy for Ned even after he has caused so many deaths? Why do we still believe Wenham is an innocent young man even after he has caused the collapse of a bank and jeopardised other people’s futures? Revenge Tragedy is not a static genre, it is dynamic and ever changing as the contexts through which it survives are ever changing. The society in which revenge tragedy is set is unbalanced.There is corruption and injustice, hence the need for an avenger to seek justice and return the society to a balance that is tolerable enough for good and evil to coexist.

As the moral and social world in which we exist evolves, injustice inevitably rises to the fore hence there is once more a need for revenge tragedy to appear. The genre comments on this moral and social world. Writers through the ages will experience different crisis’ and will exist through different periods. Hence their personal contexts will change, so their interpretation of the crisis will naturally depend on the context in which it occurs.The revenge tragedy genre is dynamic and ever changing, and adaptable enough so that it is able to change to fit the creator’s needs. The texts that are referred to cover a broad spectrum of time- from Ancient Greece, to the twenty first century.

Although the conventions remain somewhat stable, allowing the genre to be recognised, they are manipulated and altered due to the context of the works. The success of this moulding of the genre is evident, the effectiveness proven by each text’s own individual success.

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