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Revenge tragedy published anonymously in 1607, and for a while attributed to Cyril Tourneur (1575? - 1626), although more usually now attributed to Thomas Middleton (1580 - 1627).

Regardless of who wrote it, the play is particularly impressive. Vindice's girlfriend, Gloriana, is murdered long before the play starts by the Duke, because she won't sleep with him. Vindice keeps the skull of Gloriana as a memento mori, and, when given the opportunity of working as a pimp for the Duke (oh the irony!) takes great delight in dressing the skull up with a mask and hair (and a dress, we assume) and using it as a sort of glove puppet. He smears the same poison that the Duke used to kill Gloriana around the mouth of the skull. He then arranges for the Duke to meet them at the summer house, so that the Duke can enjoy himself away from the court. He also arranges for the Duke's wife, the Duchess, to woo the Duke's bastard son (hilariously called Spurio (meaning 'doubtful')) in the same summer house.

The Duke arrives, and, as it's a bit dark, and he's a bit old, and more than a bit desperate, he is impressed with the woman that Vindice (or Piato as he calls himself; he is in disguise) has arranged for him to meet. He kisses the skull (no insignificant pecks on the cheek here), and as his lips begin to be eaten away, Vindice (and Hippolito - his brother, who's also in on the scam) keep him quiet with threats of stabbing. The Duke is forced to watch his wife flirting with his son. When the flirting is over, Vindice and Hipplito stab him, and jump up and down on him. Great stuff.

Even better is the final mask scene. The new duke, Lussurioso (means randy, sort of) is watching a dance. The dancers have already planned to kill Lussurioso (as they stand next in line to the dukedom). Vindice and his friends have watched the rehearsals for the dance, though, and sneak on stage first. They perform the dance and stab Lussurioso and the rest of the top table party, giggle a lot, and then leave. The second dance (the real, legitimate one) comes on, and performs the dance again, only this time, and unbeknown to them, to an audience that is already dead! When they realise, they are a little shocked. One of them then realises that that makes him duke. His brother immediately stabs him, and pronounces himself duke. The next brother stabs him, and pronounces himself duke. The last dancer, just a lord, kills the third brother for killing the duke: he then realises he is left alone, with seven corpses and a bloody sword. Vindice reenters, with the law, and arrests the lord for what are, essentially, his own crimes.

Not only all this, but the playwright also manages to include some excellent meditations on life, morality, decadence and power. It's a great piece of writing, whichever post-rennaissance chap ends up being responsible for it.

Marvellous.

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