In The Tragedy of that Famous Roman Oratour Marcus Tullius Cicero (1651) Antony's wife Fulvia longs to publish her revenge on Cicero who accused her of corruption against Rome: ‘Had I his damned tongue within my clutches, / This bodkin should in bloody characters / Write my revenge.’ Writing in ‘bloody characters’ with a ‘bodkin’, a particularly female weapon, is a means for Fulvia to mark her revenge as part of a long tradition in which revenge is feminised. From the Erinyes, or Furies of Greek mythology, to the terrifying figure of Medea, and to Tamora's impersonation ‘I am Revenge, sent from the infernal kingdom’ in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (5.1.30), the sphere of vindictive action is defined as a passionate, feminine alternative to the masculine law. Vengeance is ‘a kind of wild justice’ as Bacon called it. This chapter will extend the central argument I put forward previously about revenge being a feminine genre which overturns conventional appearances, gender identities and forms of behaviour and taps into fundamental fears about maternal power and female agency. I situate these arguments within the early modern practice of re-marking revenge tradition, and the affective power of performance. Employing techniques from corpus linguistics to survey the rewriting of revenge from 1580 to 1700, I ask whether revenge tragedy is primarily an Elizabethan genre or whether it endures over time. I consider how revenge is self-consciously re-marked (rehearsed, repeated, rewritten) in performances across the seventeenth century that look back to the feminised figures of the Erinyes and Medea. I draw on neuroscience to explore how the affective power of performance engages with our own cognitive hardwiring, arguing that revenge involves a complex engagement of both human intellect and emotions. I then speculate on how its enactment in staged representations carries a heightened affective resonance for spectators, thus opening up questions about its ongoing appeal.
Over fifty years before Fulvia vowed to ‘write my revenge’, Bel-Imperia in Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (1582–92) had sent Hieronimo a ‘bloody writ’, an injunction to ‘revenge Horatio's death’ penned in her own blood. Hieronimo exacts revenge through a performance of his own dramatic writing, ‘Soliman and Perseda’, and concludes by biting out his own tongue.