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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: Revenge
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0916  Thursday, 27 April 2000.

From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Apr 2000 11:19:29 -0700
Subject: 11.0897 Re: Fortinbras
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0897 Re: Fortinbras

I do not know whether David Bishop took the time to look at Honor
Matthews's "The Primal Curse" (1967), to which I referred in support of
my statement that "revenge" and "justice" were synonymous in
Shakespeare's day, but it would be a shame if the members of this list
take his statement as authoritative, that the two words had the same
meaning then as they do now. He may of course disagree with Matthews and
me, but one has only to look at two examples from Shakespeare himself
(among many other examples supplied by Matthews) to see the strength of
the claim that the words were interchangeable.  Going back to the
Biblical image of Abel's blood crying out from the earth to accuse Cain,
we have in Richard II

    "Which blood like sacrificing Abel's cries
    (Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth)
    To me for justice and rough chastisement"

and in King John, based less noticeably but quite certainly on the same
image

    "The earth hath not a hole to hide the deed
    Murder as hating what himself hath done
    Doth lay it open to urge on revenge"

It is obvious that even years later, when Bacon defined (described?)
revenge as a kind of wild justice, the distinction he made was not
between justice and crime (i.e., revenge as unlawful and unjust), but
between private justice and institutionalized justice.   Perhaps there
was a circle of Elizabethans who reserved the one word exclusively for
lawful punishment and proportionate retribution and the other for its
unlawful and potentially disproportionate and socially disruptive evil
twin (and I'd be glad to know who they were), but it is hard to imagine
that even as to that hypothetical circle Bishop is right in claiming the
words conveyed the same different meanings they have now.

Insofar as Bishop agrees with me, I applaud with gratitude his admirable
sensitivity and insight.

    Tony B
 

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