The Face of Comic Revenge in Jonson's Alchemist
When one thinks of early modern dramatic examples of revenge, the first titles that spring to mind may include Titus Andronicus, Hamlet, and The Spanish Tragedy. These three and others adhere to a rough template: first, the play begins with social or political unrest; second, the conflict comes to a head through the action of the play; and third, the conflict is resolved by the final act, often with few survivors. You may even be familiar with the phrase: "In the Fourth Act the die is cast. In the Fifth Act the cast dies." These qualities can be anticipated in tragedies, but can also be found as tragic elements encompassed within other genres. Revenge can be found in comedies alongside other stereotypes and expectations: the restoration of social order and a marriage or at least the implication or anticipation of a marriage (Hopkins 16). Dramatic expectations and stereotypes were formed through years of perfecting and use by Renaissance dramatists; however, as soon as they were established, playwrights began to break with dramatic expectations and blur the lines between tragedy and comedy. Shakespeare created plays like The Tempest in which both tragic and comic circumstances fuel the plot and the conclusion includes both a death, as Prospero abandons his magic, and an impending marriage between Ferdinand and Miranda. Ben Jonson, too, contributed to this new genre and engaged tragic themes within comedy.
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