Patterns of Revenge and Reconciliation
In many works involving revenge, a major theme is that of decay and regeneration. Antagonism and revenge are often linked with patterns of death and decay, which can end in two ways. The antagonism can play itself out, causing the work to end in barrenness, as happens in The Spanish Tragedy. However, if the characters are able to make peace with each other, this need not happen. In this case, the destructiveness of revenge is replaced with growth and the beginnings of new life, exemplified in the unification of couples and the creation of a new order. One can see this model in John Pickering's Horestes. In these works, revenge and growth are opposing forces that cannot coexist; one of the forces must defeat the other. It is evident that revenge must be driven out by cooperation and amity in order for life and civilization to continue.
In The Spanish Tragedy, the will to vengeance drives out cooperation, leaving revenge as the ultimate victor. The character of Revenge, confident that before long he will turn the characters' "friendship into fell despite,/ Their love to mortal hate, their day to night,/ Their hope into despair, [and] their peace to war" (Spanish Tragedy I.v.6-8), is able to use Hieronimo to carry out his will. In this world Revenge is destined to be the victor; even when he sleeps, "[his] mood solicit[s] their souls . . . For in unquiet, quietness is feigned" (Spanish Tragedy III.xv. 20-24). As Hieronimo cannot forget his son's death, it is inevitable that he will take revenge upon the murderers rather than attempt reconciliation. It is not long before Hieronimo is driven to "ere long determine of their deaths/ that causeless thus have murdered my son" (Spanish Tragedy IV.i.44-45). From this point forward, compromise and cooperation are impossible, and revenge takes over.
The loss that comes hand in hand with revenge permeates the later sections of the play. When speaking about the play-within-the-play, Hieronimo makes reference to "the fall of Babylon" (Spanish Tragedy IV.i.195). The allusion to the decimation of the play-world carries over to the 'real' one, as both civilizations are annihilated through the act of revenge. Isabella's destruction of the garden also mirrors the dissolution that exists in the larger scheme of the play. Vowing to "revenge [her]self upon this place/ Where thus they murdered [her] beloved son" (Spanish Tragedy IV.ii.4-5), she tears the garden apart, leaving it lifeless and barren. As a 'revenger', she is an overseer of destruction:
Burn the roots from whence the rest is sprung
I will not leave a root, a stalk, a tree,
A bough, a branch, a blossom, nor a leaf,
No, not an herb within this garden-plot.
Accursed complot of my misery,
Fruitless for ever may this garden be! (Spanish Tragedy IV.ii.9-14)
Significantly, the garden, symbolic of growth and fertility, is destroyed and made barren in a world dominated by revenge. The end of the play also conveys the sense of loss caused by Hieronimo's revenge. The Spanish king mourns the loss of "the whole suceeding hope/ That Spain expected after [his] decease" (Spanish Tragedy IV.iv.203-204). After revenge has played its course, he is "the next, the nearest, last of all" (Spanish Tragedy VI.iv.208). The monarchy, and, by extension, the kingdom, is left as barren and fruitless as Isabella's garden. Revenge's triumph is accompanied by the desolation of Spain itself.
Unlike The Spanish Tragedy, Horestes ends in a rebirth of society and civilization. Though beginning in an atmosphere of vengeance and chaos, the play ends in an atmosphere of rebirth and reconciliation. This harmonization is due to the characters' willingness to leave the motive of revenge in the interests of society at large. The contrast between the decadent and destructive world created by revenge and the world that is created in an atmosphere of cooperation is an important theme of Horestes.
Horestes demonstrates the chaos and destruction that occurs once revenge is allowed to take control. Pickering shows the audience the destructive tendencies of revenge early on through the example of Rusticus and Hodge as well as Nature's warning to Horestes. Rusticus and Hodge are an example of how revenge can destroy relationships. Though they are friends at the beginning of the scene, the intervention of the Vyce turns them against each other. Because they are intent on getting even, they neglect their friendship, and will "be no frendes, [they'd] rather be hanged - / Tyll [they] have that oulde karle wel and thryfteley banged" (Horestes 126-127). The conflict between the revenge ethos and the natural order is also shown in the conversation between Horestes and Nature. Horestes is determined to be revenged, as his "hart can not agre,/ [His] father slain in such a sorte and unrevengyd to be" (Horestes 410-411). However, Nature tries to dissuade Horestes by pointing out the connection between revenge and destruction. Telling Horestes to "remember the decaye/ Of those which hereto fore, in south, their parents sought to slay" (Horestes 438-439), she tries to link desolation with the forces of revenge. Nature's warning is another demonstration that revenge can only lead to decay and destruction. Finally, the results of Horestes' act of vengeance demonstrate the destruction that is intimately linked with revenge. In the course of his revenge, Horestes wreaked destruction throughout the kingdom:
His crueltie is such, in south, as nether tower ne towne
That letted once his passage, but is brought unto the ground.
The fatherless he pyttyed not, where as he ever went,
The aged wight whose yeres before their youthly pore had spent,
The mayd whose parents at the sege defending of their right
Was slaine, the same this tyrant hath oppressyd through his might (Horestes 960-965)
Thus Horestes' revenge was a fountainhead of decay and ruin, causing the destruction of towns as well as mass killing. These examples all point to the destructive tendencies of revenge.
In addition to indicating the destruction linked with revenge, Horestes demonstrates the defeat of revenge through amity and reconciliation and the rebirth that is connected with this defeat. The pattern of rebirth is first demonstrated with Hodge and Rusticus, who are able to rebuild their friendship once they are away from the presence of the Vyce of Revenge. Rusticus is able to make amends with Hodge, proposing "letes be frendes, and chyll in good part" (Horestes 165). This reconciliation exists in the main plot as well, since Menalaus' cooperation with Horestes allows revenge to be driven out and the kingdom to be reborn. Menalaus' decision to befriend Horestes and give him his daughter's hand in marriage prevents the Vyce from reentering and making mischief. When Revenge tries to return, he is foiled by the reconciliation: "Master Amyte/ Sot by Menalaus and bore him companye;/ On the other syde, Dewtey with Horestes bore swaye,/ So that [he] could not enter by no kynde of waye" (Horestes 1076-1079). This arrangement allows the kingdom to flourish once again. Unlike the finale in The Spanish Tragedy, which shows a barren and desolate kingdom, Horestes finishes on a positive note. The kingdom is renewed under the rule of Horestes, with the marriage of Horestes and Hermione demonstrating the growth and continuation of this new order.
These texts demonstrate that "desention and stryfe is the path to decaye" (Horestes 1168) and that revenge must be passed over in order for rebirth to occur. A world driven by revenge, like the Spain of The Spanish Tragedy, is destined to become barren, whereas a world in which people can pardon and compromise is able to flourish. The encouragement of cooperation and forgiveness is significant and demonstrates the fact that it is necessary for people to work together if they want to live in a civilized society. The civil and religious virtues that are encouraged by these works demonstrate the very nature of society.
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