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Literary Essay: Influence Of Gender Norms On The Revenge Concept


Write a 2000-2500-word comparative literary essay on the topic question: On balance, does revenge ultimately reinforce or disturb and question gender norms?



As discussed herein literary essay, the interrelation between revenge and gender norms is historically evident as a key part of English literature. Revenge is known as the action taken by an individual based on the intention of harming another person, and it is a response to perceived wrongdoing or harm caused by the other party. Revenge fantasies are the descriptive thoughts of an individual and are influenced by gender stereotypes (Goldner, Lev-Wiesel, and Simon, 2019). The common norms for men are status striving, emotional stoicism, competition, agency, and toughness; on the contrary, the common norms regard women are modest, caring, aggressive, and stubborn. In the case of retaliatory violence such as revenge, the concept for men and women are differently developed. Men are encouraged to exhibit revenge and aggressive behaviors, whereas women tend to adopt submissive behavior and avoid aggression (Goldner, Lev-Wiesel, and Simon, 2019). The essay aims to reflect on the influence of gender norms on the revenge concept and how revenge reinforces or questions gender norms. The reflection of the essay topic will be based on different scholarly sources along with the support of two plays, Hamlet and Spanish Tragedy, to support how the relationship between gender norms and revenge are reflected at different periods. 

Relation between gender norms and revenge

The thoughts related to revenge largely differ based on gender characteristics and behavior. The dysregulated temperaments in women mostly exhibit revenge, and it is sometimes directed against self-harm, such as suicidal thoughts. The self-harming behavior of women indicates the self-silencing nature of women. The feelings and thoughts of women are limited due to patriarchal systems that force women to cope up with the norms and limit their choices. On the contrary, manhood is illustrated as elusive status and known for its aggressive behavior that includes revenge (Goldner, Lev-Wiesel and Simon, 2019). Such action and behavior of men can be interpreted as their attempt to maintain their manhood and raise a concern about their status when it is threatened. Expansion of western ideas related to revenge in the literary works also illustrates how the concept of revenge vastly varies among men and women. In literary works, revenge is mostly shown as a repressive cultural spirit rather than a liberating form of empowerment (Pirie, 2020). In different literature, the concept of revenge and its relation to gender norms are presented differently. In most of the literature, revenge is illustrated as an action that upholds the honor of a man and his status in society. In Old Icelandic literature, revenge is shown as the central aspect to honor a man and social order. The ideas regarding justice and manliness in Greece literature are bound to the ideas of retaliation and based on the ideas of punishment to justice, revenge, and law case, so retaliation is considered as a central thing to masculinity in Greece literature (Pirie, 2020). 

Illustration of revenge reinforcing gender norms

The literary works also indicate the concept of revenge as a matter of inheritance that excludes women, specifically daughters. There are many literary works that illustrate different ideas of revenge and include women characters as a key part of revenge. The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet are known as popular revenge tragedies in literature. Hamlet is the revenge tragedy by Shakespeare, and Spanish Tragedy is introduced by Thomas Kyd. In Hamlet, the intention for taking revenge on Hamlet's father's death is initiated in act when the ghost of Hamlet's father talks to him and tells him to take revenge for his death on Claudius. While speaking with the father’s spirit, Hamlet gets to know about the actual truth behind his father’s death (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5, lines-19-25). After knowing the truth of his father's death, at first, Hamlet was decided to take revenge on Claudius, but later on, he gets tangled between revenge and the right thing to do. The role of Ophelia is also crucial in the tragedy "Hamlet" as Ophelia is highly related to the main character Hamlet. The aggression of Hamlet towards women and towards his mother was revealed on Ophelia (Bosak, 1992). 

Hamlet centralizes the aspect of how women are ruled by men, and in the play, Ophelia is illustrated as a loving daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes, and lover of Hamlet (Bosak, 1992). The feelings and emotions of Ophelia were controlled by her father and brother. At initial part of the play reflects suggestions of Ophelia's father and brother admonish here to not trust the love of Hamlet (Hamlet, Act 1, scene 3, lines-1-11). Hamlet is also an illustration of women's life and how it is controlled by a patriarchal system. The character of Ophelia in the play indicates the key characteristics and attributes of women in the sixteenth century and also acts as a gender norm. The dutiful and obedient nature of Ophelia in the play illustrates how ideal women act according to societal norms and obey the men in the family. The play also illustrates the different views on revenge for men and women. Hamlet takes revenge for his father's death, but on the contrary, the aggressing about Ophelia's father's death was relieved by drowning herself (Bosak, 1992). At the time when Ophelia gets to know that the death of her father was caused by Hamlet, she loses her control and decides to put an end to it (Hamlet, Act 4, scene 5, lines-23-30).  On the contrary to Hamlet's concept regarding revenge on his father's death, the concept of revenge for Ophelia is totally different. Hamlet thought of murdering Claudius to take revenge on his father's death, but Ophelia decided to end herself and committed suicide by drowning. 

The different views on revenge and gender-specific attributes indicate the revenge concept reinforces gender norms. The thought of revenge for women takes place as self-harming as Ophelia did. Similarly, Thomas Kyd's play Spanish Tragedy is a great illustration of revenge and justice. In the play, the revenge of Hieronimo takes place for seeking justice for his son's murder. In this play, the thoughts regarding revenge are different based on gender and illustrate a different way of seeking justice (Source text, 2018).  Hieronimo wants to take revenge for her son's murder, but on the contrary, Isabella, the wife of Hieronimo, suggests that God will punish the murderers (Spanish Tragedy, Act 2, scene 5, lines- 14-44). The thoughts of Isabella presented in the play indicate how the revenge concept and gender norms are strongly related to each other and influenced by different beliefs, perceptions, and views of men and women. Even on the murder of the son, the perspectives regarding revenge and seeking justice are different for Hieronimo and Isabella. In Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, the role of and gender norms related to revenge are shown more clearly (Source text, 2018). The illustration on views regarding revenge has shown differently from Hamlet. In Hamlet, the revenge and relation to gender norms are mostly illustrated by the actions undertaken by men and women, whereas in Spanish Tragedy, the gender norms and their relation to revenge are illustrated as actions and views on it. Finally, in the play, Hieronimo takes revenge on Lorenzo and upholds justice. 

Illustration of revenge questions gender norms

There are different roles of women characters shown in Shakespearean literature, which reflects the role of women can also be crucial in revenge and vengeance. Lady Macbeth and Tamora are known as characters in Shakespearean literature that broke the boundaries of traditional femininity. Such characters are more considered masculine than feminine. Lady Macbeth and Tamora are known as revenge characters in Shakespeare's plays and known as tragic heroines (Fitzgerald, 2008). The sacrifice of Lady Macbeth is more intense compared to Tamora as she is ready to sacrifice her children for personal gain. Lady Macbeth portrays a different side of women that they can also be the source of evil and violence. The violent behavior of Macbeth encouraged by Lady Macbeth is also a part of her revenge. The character of Lady Macbeth questions the gender norms and their reinforcement on revenge as the women characters can also be violent and cruel can actively take part in revenge (Fitzgerald, 2008). The character of Lady Macbeth illustrates that the concept of women regarding revenge can be as ambitious as a man. Shakespeare, in his plays, shows that how women take part in manipulation and deception to achieve personal gain rather than personally using violence (King, 2020). The illustration of women in Lady Macbeth is different from the women's illustration in Hamlet. 

Similarly, in Titus Andronicus, the character of Tamora is also illustrated as a strong women character who takes part in revenge. Tamora is illustrated as involved in savagery, barbarism, and unrestrained lasciviousness. In the tragedy, Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare illustrates Tamora as a completely ruthless and cruel character who do not even show mercy or sympathy to other women. On the contrary, the play Titus Andronicus shows a different women character Lavinia, who suffered a lot in the play and is portrayed as a victim (, 2016). The Titus Andronicus illustrates two different women characters; one is based on the societal norm and completely feminine (Lavinia), and the other is based on completely opposite to societal norm regarding a woman (Tamora).  Tamora encouraged her sons to take brutal actions against Lavinia and rape her, which illustrates the character does not know about the meaning of pity (, 2016). In the play, the women character Tamora takes steps towards violence, which is similar to Lady Macbeth. In the tragic plays of Shakespeare, the role of women and its impact on men surrounded by them are shown in a completely different way than Hamlet.

In Hamlet, Ophelia, the female character, is shown as an obedient and calm woman who follows the suggestions of her father and brother and takes care of her lover. Even the death of her father was caused by her lover; she did not take revenge on him but put an end to it by harming herself. On the contrary, the female characters- Tamora and Lady Macbeth show a completely different view of women's perspectives and their role in society. These two characters are known for their ruthlessness and evil nature. The plays also reflect how these two characters ordered and manipulated the men around them and conducted the act of violence done by the men. The female characters such as Lady Macbeth and Tamora questions the reinforcement of gender norms on revenge concept. The illustration of women in those plays shows a different view of women and their participation in violence and revenge. The different illustration of women characters often raises questions regarding traditional gender norms and revenge concepts. 

There is other evidence in the literature that shows different views on women and portrays them differently from traditional societal norms regarding women. The violence and participation of women characters in revenge indicate revenge and violence not only plotted by men and considered as manliness but also acts as part of women's pride and their self-gain. The different illustration of women's character questions the influence of gender norms on revenge, violence, and justice. Based on two different illustrations and gender norms and their relation to revenge, it can be said the revenge concept for men and women is somehow balanced between reinforcement and question against the role of gender norms.


The essay provides an in-depth illustration of the essay question and depicts two different views on gender norms and their relation to revenge based on literary works. The different illustration of women and their actions regarding violence and revenge indicates it is not necessary that revenge can only be carried out by men, and all the violent and ruthless actions are taken by men. The essay reflects on the character of Hamlet and Hieronimo, which supports the fact revenge are taken by men based on gender norms, and women in such case provide different views on revenge (Isabella) or end up harming self (Ophelia). Such illustration supports that revenge is mostly reinforced by gender norms. On the contrary, the women characters such as Lady Macbeth and Tamora show brutality and cruelty among women that are opposite of gender norms and societal prejudices. It indicates women often can be as ruthless and cruel as men and can actively take part in revenge and violence. The illustration of different views on gender norms and revenge provides balancing views on gender norms and their relation to revenge in the essay. 


Bosak, J. (1992). The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. [online] Available at:


Goldner, L., Lev-Wiesel, R. and Simon, G. (2019). Revenge Fantasies After Experiencing Traumatic Events: Sex Differences. Literary essay Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 10. Available at: [Accessed 6 Mar. 2020].

King, S. (2020). Violence, Justice, and Revenge. [online] LitCharts. Available at:

Pirie, J. (2020). Revenge and Gender in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Women’s Writing, [online] 27(3), pp.395–397. Available at: [Accessed 17 Dec. 2021]. (2016). Titus Andronicus. [online] Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Available at:

Source text (2018). The Spanish Tragedy. [online] Available at:


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