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The Supernatural: A Complete History

2. Revenge Tragedy

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the influence of 16th- and 17th-century revenge tragedy in the development of the supernatural in literature, focusing in particular on the death and extreme violence that these plays depict, the use of masks, disguises and concealment, the dangerous, hallucinogenic quality of theatre itself, and the appearance of ghosts, fairies and – in John Webster's Duchess of Malfi – a werewolf.

Reading List:
– Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (1582-92)
– William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus (1588-93)
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1599-1602)
– Thomas Middleton, The Revenger's Tragedy (1606)
– John Webster, The White Devil (1612)
– John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi (1612-13)


In this course, Professor Nick Groom (University of Exeter) explores the history of the supernatural in English and American literature. The course begins by thinking about two of the key sources of supernatural literature, looking in the first module at the popular ballad tradition in Renaissance England, and in the second at the genre of Revenge Tragedy that flourished on the English stage in the late 16th and early 17th century. In the third and fourth modules, we turn to the figure of the vampire, looking first at the earliest vampires in Classical and Judaeo-Christian mythology, before turning in the fourth module to the vampire in Victorian England – culminating with Bram Stoker's Dracula at the end of the 19th century. After that, in the fifth and sixth modules, we think about the experience of the uncanny, first in general terms and then in relation to Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the seventh module, we think about the presentation of ghosts in English literature, before moving on in the eighth and final module to think about how supernatural literature developed in America – and looking in particular at Toni Morrison's 1987 novel, Beloved.


Nick Groom is Professor of English Literature at the University of Exeter, a critically acclaimed author on subjects ranging from the history of the Union Jack to Thomas Chatterton, has edited several books and regularly appears on television, radio and at literary festivals as an authority on English Literature, the ‘Gothic’ and ‘British’ identity.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Groom, N. (2018, August 15). The Supernatural: A Complete History - Revenge Tragedy [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Groom, N. "The Supernatural: A Complete History – Revenge Tragedy." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,