As the Elizabethan era gave way to the reign of James I, England grappled with corruption within the royal court and widespread religious anxiety. Dramatists responded with morally complex plays of dark wit and violent spectacle, exploring the nature of death, the abuse of power and vigilante justice. In Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy a father failed by the Spanish court seeks his own bloody retribution for his son’s murder. Shakespeare’s 1603 version of Hamlet creates an avenging Prince of unique psychological depth, while Chettle’s The Tragedy of Hoffman is a fascinating reworking of Hamlet’s themes, probably for a rival theatre company. In Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge, thwarted love leads inexorably to gory reprisals and in Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, malcontent Vindice unleashes an escalating orgy of mayhem on a debauched Duke for his bride’s murder, in a ferocious satire reflecting the mounting disillusionment of the age. Emma Smith’s introduction considers the political and religious climate behind the plays and the dramatic conventions within them. This edition includes a chronology, playwrights’ biographies and suggestions for further reading.