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A Short Analysis of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy

An introduction to a classic revenge tragedy

The Spanish Tragedy is one of the lesser-known gems among surviving Elizabethan drama – at least, it’s less well-known than the works of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Its influence on later plays in the ‘revenge tragedy’ genre was considerable – most notably, on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Indeeed, Kyd, who died shortly after being tortured for information about his friend Kit Marlowe, is the leading candidate for the authorship of the ‘UrHamlet’, which served as the prototype for Shakespeare’s play. (We discuss the ‘two Hamlets’ in our book, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History.) What follows is a short introduction to the play, and an analysis of some of its themes and features. Those who wish to avoid spoilers of the play are advised to skip the next couple of paragraphs! Read the rest of this entry

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The Best Henrik Ibsen Plays Everyone Should Read

The best plays of Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) is undoubtedly the most famous Norwegian playwright who has ever lived. He wrote a number of classic plays in a variety of modes and genres, so in this post we’ve limited ourselves to five of Ibsen’s very best plays.

Hedda Gabler. The role of Hedda Gabler is often considered ‘the female Hamlet’, since actresses want to tackle the role and offer their own interpretation of the character. When her father died, the headstrong Hedda married Tesman, a struggling history lecturer, but soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. This 1890 play is one of Ibsen’s finest achievements, with the tragedy of Hedda’s life unfolding before us on the stage. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserv’d

An introduction to a forgotten masterpiece

Venice Preserv’d has been called a ‘masterpiece’ by the theatre critic Michael Billington and ‘the last great verse play in the English language’ by the fascinating critic and provocateur Kenneth Tynan. Yet it’s rarely read, studied, analysed, or staged nowadays. But this brief introduction to Thomas Otway’s Restoration tragedy about sex, politics, betrayal, and – for want of a better word – ‘bromance’ hopes to bring this underrated classic to a few more people’s attention. So it’s our job to try to explain why Venice Preserv’d is so good.

The Restoration period (following the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660, and lasting until nearly the end of the seventeenth century) is known for its comedies: the ‘Restoration comedy’ used to be a popular ‘theatre style’ in its own right, sent up on the popular TV improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway? But the tragedies have not lasted so well as, say, Aphra Behn’s The Rover or William Wycherley’s The Country Wife. Who now reads John Dryden’s tragic dramas, save scholars? We read and watch Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra rather than Dryden’s Restoration rewriting of it. But there is one play which is, or should be, the exception to this, and that play is Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserv’d. Read the rest of this entry