Following Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the new court of King James was beset by political instability and moral corruption. This atmosphere provided fertile ground for the dramatists of the age, who explored the ways in which social decadence and the abuse of power breed resentment, leading inexorably to violent retribution.
In Cyril Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, the debauched son of an Italian Duke attempts to rape the virtuous Gloriana—a veiled reference to Elizabeth I. John Webster’s The White Devil depicts a sinister world of intrigue and murderous infidelity, while The Changeling, perhaps Thomas Middleton’s supreme achievement, powerfully portrays a woman bringing about her own unwitting destruction. All three are masterpieces of brooding intensity, dominated by images of decay, disillusionment, and death.
- The introduction explores the plays’ major themes and places them within the turbulent cultural and social context of their time of composition
- Previously published as Three Jacobean Tragedies