From The Oxford Companion to English Literature:
revenge tragedy, a dramatic genre that flourished in the late Elizabethan and Jacobean period, sometimes known as 'the tragedy of blood'. Kyd's *The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1587), a much-quoted prototype, helped to establish a demand for this popular form; later examples are Marlowe's *The Jew of Malta, Shakespeare's *Titus Andronicus, *The Revenger's Tragedy, and, most notably, *Hamlet; there are also strong revenge elements in *Webster. Common ingredients include the hero's quest for vengeance, often at the prompting of the ghost of a murdered kinsman or loved one; scenes of real or feigned insanity; a play-within-a-play; scenes in graveyards, severed limbs, scenes of carnage and mutilation, etc. Many of these items were inherited from Senecan drama, with the difference that in revenge tragedy violence was not reported but took place on stage: as Vendice in The Revenger's Tragedy rather baldly puts it, while in the process of slowly murdering the duke, 'when the bad bleeds, then is the tragedy good.' The revenge code also produced counter-attacks, as in *The Atheist's Tragedy, in Chapman's *The Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois, and again in Hamlet, in which the heroes refuse or hesitate to follow the convention.
The Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois, a tragedy by G. *Chapman, written 1610/11, printed 1613, a sequel to *Bussy D'Ambois.
Clermont D'Ambois, brother of Bussy, described by his close friend the duc de Guise as the ideal 'Senecal [i.e. stoical] man', gentle, noble, generous, and 'fix'd in himself', is urged by his brother's ghost to avenge his murder, but will only do so by the honourable method of a duel. He sends a challenge to Muntsurry, who reads it; urged again by the ghost, he introduces himself to Montsurry's house, forces him to fight, and kills him. He then learns of the assassination of the Guise, and, refusing to live amid 'all the horrors of the vicious time' as 'the slave of power', he kills himself. The hero's reluctance to exact revenge recalls certain aspects of *Hamlet (See also REVENGE TRAGEDY.)
The Revenger's Tragedy, a tragedy published anonymously in 1607, and from 1656 ascribed to *Tourneur; its authorship has been disputed since 1891, with some scholars defending the traditional attribution and others championing the rival claims of *Middleton and others.
The central character is Vendice (or Vindice), intent on revenging the death of his mistress, poisoned by the lecherous old duke. The court is a centre of vice and intrigue; the duchess's youngest son is convicted of rape, she herself seduces Spurio, the duke's bastard, and her two older sons, the duke's stepsons, plot against each other and against Lussurioso, the duke's heir. Vendice, disguised as Plato, appears to attempt to procure his own sister Castiza for Lussurioso; she resists, but their mother Gratiana temporarily succumbs to his bribes and agrees to play the bawd. Vendice murders the duke by tricking him into kissing the poisoned skull of his mistress, and most of the remaining characters kill one another or are killed in a final masque of revengers and murderers; Vendice, who survives the bloodbath, owns up to the murder of the duke, and is promptly condemned to death with his brother and accomplice Hippolite by the duke's successor, old Antonio. He is led off to execution, content to 'die after a nest of dukes'. The play is marked by a tragic intensity of feeling, a powerfully satiric wit, and passages of great poetic richness, all combined, for example, in Vendice's address to 'the bony lady', his dead mistress: 'Does the silkworm expend her yellow labours / For thee?' (III. v. 71 ff.) (See also REVENGE TRAGEDY.)
The Duke of Milan, a tragedy by *Massinger, printed 1623, one of his earliest independent plays and a popular one. It is based on the story of Herod and Mariamne as told by Josephus.
Lodovico Sforza, duke of Milan, has, in the war between the Emperor Charles and the King of France, allied himself with the latter. On their defeat, he goes to surrender himself to Charles, but, fearing for his life, leaves a written instruction with his wicked favourite Francisco to put his beloved wife Marcella to death if he himself is killed. Francisco, seeking to corrupt Marcella in revenge for the dishonoring of his own sister Eugenia by Sforza, reveals the existence of the warrant to her, but fails to move her chastity and only incenses her against the duke, so that on his return after a reconciliation with Charles she receives him coldly. This, coupled with accusations from various quarters of his wife's intmacy with Francisco, makes the duke suspicious of her. Francisco now tells Sforza that Marcella made amorous advances to him, which so inflames the duke with anger that he stabs her to death; dying, she reveals the truth, leaving her husband distracted with remorse. Francisco flees, then returns to court diguised as a Jewish doctor and undertakes to restore Marcella to life. He is discovered and tortured, but not before he succeeds in poisoning the duke.