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The Role of Madness in The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet

The role that madness plays in The Spanish Tragedy and in Hamlet, indeed in all revenge tragedies, is a vital one; it provides an opportunity for the malcontent to be converted by the environment into the avenger.

In almost all revenge tragedies, the malcontent takes the form of a renaissance man or woman who is confronted with a problem – the deed to be avenged. This crime, and the criminals that perpetrated it, effect that surroundings to such an extent that it is impossible to remain unchanged by them. At this point, the malcontent is addressed with the question that Hamlet asks:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by doing so end them.

Hamlet 3 i 56-60

Or as Hieronimo put it in The Spanish Tragedy, while holding a noose (this is to symbolise suicide, which is the ultimate form of withdrawal from the world) and a dagger (the tool that is most appropriate for the avenger to interact with the world with):

This way or that way? Soft and fair, not so:

For if I hang myself, let’s know

Who will revenge Horatio’s murder then?

The Spanish Tragedy 3 xii 16-19

This question is the central dilemma of revenge tragedy; whether it is better to brave what fate can throw at you and remain passive and inactive, or to ‘take arms’ against them and to actively end them. It is the process of finding the answer to this question that drives the malcontent mad, then to becoming an avenger. The fact that the malcontent is a renaissance figure is also important. This means that they are in possession of a renaissance mind, a mind constantly seeking for knowl…

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… she acts in a very similar manner to how an avenger would, and to some extent is better at it than the main avengers.

The decision to pretend madness is a decision by the avenger to adopt the machiavellian nature of the villains. It is this decision above that irredeemably compromises the revenger. The compromisation of interacting with the vile and corrupt world is a necessary part of the revenge tragedy, as without it, there could be no dilemma about the legality and morality of revenge. In addition, the decision on the part of the avenger to take up the tools of the machiavel, to become mad, represents the dilemma faced by the renaissance that not all things can be solved solely through the application of reason

homeschool learn spanish

An Allegorical Reading of Rip Van Winkle

An Allegorical Reading of Rip Van Winkle

In Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” an allegorical reading can be seen. The genius of Irving shines through, in not only his representation in the story, but also in his ability to represent both sides of the hot political issues of the day. Because it was written during the revolutionary times, Irving had to cater to a mixed audience of Colonists and Tories. The reader’s political interest, whether British or Colonial, is mutually represented allegorically in “Rip Van Winkle,” depending on who is reading it. Irving uses Rip, Dame, and his setting to relate these allegorical images on both sides. Irving would achieve success in both England and America, in large part because his political satires had individual allegorical meanings.

In an English interpretation, one could see Rip Van Winkle as the mother country or England. Rip is “a kind neighbor, and an obedient hen-pecked husband .” (430) To an English citizen reading this story, it could easily represent the English monarchy. For years before the revolution, America had defied the King by refusing to pay taxes; support the militia that was protecting it from the French, Spanish, and Indians; and in many ways hindering progress in the colonies. England could easily have been seen as “hen-pecked” in the ways in which it handled the colonies. Many of the tax acts, such as the Stamp act, were ignored and monarchy was viewed as inept in dealing with the colonies. The Crown levied no penalties against the colonist when these acts were defied. The Crown just accepted not getting the money.

Rip is viewed in the town as a person who helped everyone with anything, except his own family- “…he was a simple …

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Irving uses many other images and scenes within this story that could be delved into further. However, I believe these three main points, along with the knowledge of the political climate of the times, shows Irving’s genius in representing both sides of the political gamut. Irving was able to cater to both the British and the Colonist without offending either side. Irving’s genius was that even though this was an allegory of its time, its elements could represent either or both sides of the conflict during the Revolution. This dual representation in an allegorical story ensured his success, in both countries as a writer. It allowed Irving to make a political statement without taking sides.

Works Cited:

Irving, Washington. “Rip Van Winkle.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Bayn. New York: Norton

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